Wondering how to protect your skin from stress this winter? We asked two experts!
By Chere Di Boscio
Has there ever been a more stressful time in history?
Living in the strange times of Covid impact us all, and leads to stress, anxiety and lack of sleep. Add to that shorter, darker, colder days and staying indoors, and it spells disaster for not only our mood and health, but how our skin looks, too.
The beauty of your skin may not be your top priority now, and that’s understandable. Mental health comes first! And without a doubt, that needs to be managed. But you’ll know that you’re successful in doing so if your skin starts to look better.
We asked clinical pharmacists, Sultan Dajani and Dr Catherine Hood for tips on how to protect your skin from stress this winter. Here’s what they had to say.
How To Protect Your Skin From Stress This Winter
Winter is coming! But do shorter days affect our skin?
Whether we like it or not, the clocks are turning back and shorter, darker days are upon us. And whilst we all know that overexposure to the sun’s rays can be harmful to our skin, increasing the risk of skin cancers, skin ageing and wrinkles, the right balance of sunlight exposure can actually help some skin conditions. In fact, The World Health Organisation (WHO) suggests that some (but not too much) sun exposure might help to treat some skin conditions, such as acne, eczema and psoriasis.
When we stay inside more as the days shorten, and especially if we are working more at home, this can impact our skin health in other ways. The air indoors is often drier than the air outdoors. We heat the inside of our homes and offices and the air is recirculated resulting in a dry atmosphere, which can play havoc with our skin. It can lead to cracked lips and heels, flaky, dry and dull skin on the face and body.
What’s more, when we are working at home, may of us neglect our daily skincare routine. Since we’re not going out in public, we tend not to wash, tone and moisturise our skin first thing in the morning. It’s important to maintain a good routine!
A lot of people are feeling more anxious under lockdown. Does that impact our skin?
Living with the stress and anxiety of COVID adds to the impact of spending more time indoors on our skin health. The relationships between stress, anxiety and skin health have been studied since ancient times. All the body’s organs respond to stress and as the largest organ in the body, the skin is not immune to the effects of stress.
The skin is highly innervated and the primary sensing organ for external stress. The receptors in the skin transmit stress signals to the brain. The brain responds to these signals, which in turn influence stress responses in the skin such as inflammation.
Stress exerts its effects on the skin mainly through the hypothalamus and pituitary (located in the brain) together with the adrenal glands (this is known as the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal – HPA axis). Stress leads to increased production of the stress hormone cortisol, which can also impact on the skin’s quality through increasing inflammation and destabilising the immune system. This can aggravate skin problems like acne and eczema.
So, acne is directly related to stress then?
Stress has also long been thought to impact on acne and this was confirmed for the first time in a well-controlled study in 2003. In a sample of 22 university students, those with acne experienced worsening of the disease during examinations with changes in acne severity highly correlated with increasing stress. I’m sure a lot of students knew this anyway!
A 2017 study looked at the effects of stress in female medical students between the ages of 22 and 24. The research found that higher levels of stress correlated with the severity of acne. What’s more, a South Korean population-based study examined factors that aggravate acne in 1236 people. They found that stress and lack of sleep were amongst the factors that make acne worse.
What are some other impacts of stress on our skin?
Stress can also impact on the skin’s main function, which is to act as a barrier preventing the penetration of microorganisms and the loss of water from the skin’s surface. Poor skin barrier function can lead to a loss of elasticity, and hence wrinkles, dryness, inflammation and entry of infection through the skin’s surface, and even into to the rest of the body. When your skin barrier is not working as it should, your skin can become dry and itchy. This is even more true for those with dry skin to begin with.
A study of 27 students with no skin disease evaluated the impacts of psychological stress on skin barrier function (i.e. the ability of the skin to heal itself). When placed in a high-stress situation, the students experienced delayed recovery following reduced skin permeability caused by the application of cellophane tape.
The greatest deterioration in, and delay to return to, a healthy skin barrier function was observed in those students who experienced the most psychological stress. This study demonstrates a clear link between stress and impaired skin barrier function, which can precipitate skin inflammation.
Another study, this time of 25 healthy women, found that nring under job interview stress delayed the skin’s barrier function recovery, and increased cortisol levels and several inflammatory and immune factors, too.
We all know we look worse without a good night’s sleep. But why is that, exactly?
A good night’s sleep is important for overall health, and sleep is important for the growth and renewal of our body’s cells and organ systems. Even one bad night’s sleep can wreak havoc with your skin.
I recall a study in which 40 observers were asked to rate 20 facial photographs for tiredness, facial cues and sadness. The faces they were asked to rate were those who had slept normally or those who had a sleep-deprived night, with only five hours of sleep. The faces of sleep-deprived people were perceived as having more hanging eyelids, redder eyes, more swollen eyes, paler skin, more wrinkles/fine lines and more droopy corners to the mouth.
Another study involving 25 participants photographed after 2 days of sleep deprivation, with their photographs rated by 122 people, showed that sleep-deprived individuals were rated as less attractive, less healthy and as looking sleepier.
Facial communication is important in everyday life, so these signs of sleep deprivation can have important impacts on your working and social life. In this study I just mentioned, the raters of the photographs said they would be less inclined to interact with sleep-deprived individuals.
Poor sleep can also impact on your skin’s health and functioning, and even cause premature ageing of the skin. A study in good sleepers (aged 30-48) and poor sleepers (aged 31-49) found that trans-epidermal water loss (TEWL), a measure to assess skin barrier function was higher in poor sleepers than good sleepers.
Good sleepers showed greater recovery of skin barrier function than poor sleepers, too. Clinical signs of skin ageing (measured using the SCINEXA score) were significantly higher in poor sleepers than good sleepers, with slightly more wrinkling, loss of skin elasticity and uneven skin pigmentation in poor sleepers.
There was also a difference in the recovery of the skin after exposure to ultraviolet B (UVB) light. Good sleepers demonstrated a more efficient recovery from redness 48 hours after simulated solar radiation exposure than poor sleepers did.
But with more people feeling more stressed, it’s harder to sleep! I feel like it’s a Catch 22 situation…
It’s important to focus on getting a good night’s sleep. While occasional insomnia shouldn’t be a problem, if sleeping is consistently difficult, there are a few things you can do.
For example, The World Health Organization (WHO) has recognised that CBD oil can improve the quality and length of sleep. In fact, there’s plenty of evidence of CBD having a calming effect in the central nervous system, mediated by CBD’s interaction with the CBD 1 and 2 receptors, amongst others.
Alternatively, you can try meditation. This has also been proven for centuries to not only aid sleep, but to help reduce anxiety and stress, too.
Products To Help Protect Your Skin From Stress This Winter
As the medical experts above recommended, the power of plants can help relax your body and mind, and send you to sleep! This is a great option if it’s legal in your country or state.
This is one of the easiest ways to protect your skin from stress! Containing essential oils proven to help calm the mind, this pillow spray may just help send you off to the Land of Nod.
Once again, the power of aromatherapy comes to the rescue! This time, essential oils are used in several products: bath and shower oils and gels, a scented roller ball perfume, muscle gel rub, and facial cream.
Here, sage and lavender scents assist with slumber while your body soaks up organic sunflower oil and organic shea butter, to hydrate dry skin and improve the skin’s barrier function.
These two powerful solutions solve all. your facial skin issues! Use the oil free serum first. The scent of Ylang Ylang will soothe the spirit, while aloe vera will calm inflammation. Then, top off with the cream, which will protect your skin’s barrier function with carrot root oil, citrus rind, grapefruit seed oil and more plant-based goodness.
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