Is Your Skin Stressed?

You’re aware of how your eating plays into the state of your skin, but have you ever considered what your mental state is doing to it?

If you’ve been reading about skincare and, you know, living with skin for a while, I’m sure you’re familiar with the idea of “you are what you eat” as it pertains to your skin. Everything you put in your mouth has an impact on what shows up on your face, good and bad. Maybe your nemesis is dairy that results in a cystic flareup around your jaw or the sugar that makes itself known on your forehead the next day. Or, on the other side of the spectrum, the glow you get when you drink a lot of water all week.

So yeah, you’re aware of how your eating plays into the state of your skin, but have you ever considered what your mental state is doing to it? Ever been in an excellent mood (maybe you’re newly in love or particularly happy about something) and had someone say you were glowing? That’s an actual thing thanks to the dopamine, oxytocin, serotonin, and endorphins triggered by warm, fuzzy feelings.

Unfortunately, that means the opposite types of feelings, particularly stress, can have an equally noticeable effect on your skin. Whether it’s a never-ending to-do list, work or school deadlines, FOMO, or just generally being a person in the world, stress is felt by everyone at one point or another. And while some short-lived stress is actually good for us — it “primes the brain for improved performance” — anything chronic is problematic on several levels.

How does chronic stress affect skin?

Aside from a constantly-furrowed brow and dark under-eye circles due to stress-induced lack of sleep, stress also triggers our inherent fight-or-flight response, which in turn causes blood to pump to the vital organs that are necessary for choosing fight or flight: heart, lungs, brain. Because blood is being rerouted, it’s not going to the skin. Stress also means a rise in adrenaline and cortisol, two hormones that don’t play nice with clear skin.

Less circulation leads to a lack of oxygen and other vital nutrients in the skin, which means the production of skin’s necessary building blocks — collagen, antioxidants, fresh skin cells — slows down. A hormonal imbalance means an out-of-whack endocrine system and a compromised immune system. Not a great time for skin! 

How do I know if my skin is stressed?

You’ll know. If you’re feeling stressed mentally and emotionally, it’s almost guaranteed your skin is feeling it, too. If you’re not sure, check in with your skin: is it doing weird things? Is it behaving in an atypical way? Has there been a sudden change in moisture/oil/texture that can’t be explained by an environmental or product change? It’s probably a reaction to something that’s stressing you out.

Telltale signs of stressed skin + how to treat them

Blemishes: It’s no secret that stress often presents itself in the form of flare ups on our faces, and for that we have cortisol to thank. Also known as the stress hormone, cortisol can cause sebum and oil production to rev up, thereby igniting oily skin, acne, and other inflammation-based skin issues like eczema and rosacea. While you may want to take drastic measures, step away from the harsh toners and peels! Fight fire with fire here and oil cleanse (like attracts like and an oil will bind to the excess sebum), then gently exfoliate to remove dead skin cells before they get trapped in your, and finish with some serious hydration in the form of moisturizing, calming essential oils so your oil glands don’t go into overdrive. 

Under-eye circles: One of the first things that gets messed with during stressful periods is sleep. It’s a vicious cycle: you lay awake at night thinking about what’s stressing you out and then you stress more about the fact that you’re not sleeping. Before you know it, your alarm is going off and dark circles become de rigueur. (Thanks, cortisol!) To help with under-eye puffiness or shadows, look for an eye cream or serum formulated with the same stuff you’d reach for to perk you up: caffeine. Sunday Riley’s Auto Correct Brightening and Depuffing Eye Cream is packed with ingredients like caffeine, Brazilian ginseng root, shea butter and horse chestnut, all of which help you look more awake.

Dull skin: As previously mentioned, stress equals less blood to the skin, which means less frequent cell turnover, resulting in a buildup of dead, dull skin cells. To give those skin cells the nudge they need to get moving, you’ll need exfoliating ingredients like the AHAs and BHAs found in REN’s Daily AHA Tonic. Finish with an omega fatty acid-packed serum (like The Super Couple Face Oil Serum from Maya Chia), and you’ll be glowing in no time.


*This is not intended to be treated as medical advice. If you’re experiencing chronic stress, please seek advice and help from a medical professional. If you or someone you love is experiencing a debilitating anxiety attack, call the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Helpline: 1-800-950-NAMI (6264) or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255).