Festive indulgence—namely, excessive eating and drinking—often means rules go out the window; after all, mixing margaritas is one way to pass the time during that strange no-man’s land period between Christmas and New Year. Unfortunately, it’s rather less cheery news for your skin.
When the body is exposed to high levels of glucose (or sugar) collagen and elastin proteins in the skin become impaired, causing a breakdown of its springy structure. As well as skin losing its elasticity it can also lead to increased sebum production, dehydration and a rougher, more uneven skin surface. Copious amounts of sugar in alcohol are also problematic for skin. “Alcohol is a diuretic and leads to dehydration of our skin and body,” says Dr Zainab Laftah, consultant dermatologist at HCA The Shard. “It makes the blood vessels in our skin dilate and leaky causing flushing, redness and puffiness. Alcohol is also a known trigger for rosacea and psoriasis.”
It’s not just our propensity for excess which can cause problems during the festive season; according to the Mental Health Foundation, a third of UK adults felt stressed or anxious in the run up to Christmas this year, while more than half were worried about the mental health of a loved one. When you consider the enormity of the year we’ve all endured and the reality of spending Christmas away from family and friends, it’s inevitable that stress will creep in. “Stress increases stress hormones levels of cortisol and leads to inflammation, worsening inflammatory skin conditions such as acne, rosacea, eczema and psoriasis,” says Jason Thomson, dermatologist, head of medical at Skin+Me, a direct-to-consumer customised prescription-strength skincare brand designed by dermatologists.
“Cortisol can also indirectly affect the activity of oil glands and contribute to acne [and] stress increases the skin barrier permeability leading to increased water loss and dehydrated skin. Stress can also reduce collagen synthesis leading to a loss of elasticity and skin thickness.” Stress can cause changes in the way we implement our skincare routines too. “We shouldn’t underestimate the impact stress plays on our daily skincare routines which are often thrown by the wayside,” says Dr Ophelia Veraitch, L’Oréal Paris consultant dermatologist. “Our skin thrives on having a daily routine and if this is interrupted for some reason, such as stress, then it can aggravate issues and cause flare ups. At times when we are under stress, we may find ourselves skipping out usual skincare routines… which negatively impacts our skin.”
While the experts are divided on what the concept of detoxing actually means in relation to your skin—while your skin is adept at protecting itself from external irritants via the skin barrier, it’s not medically possible to purge toxins from the body via the skin—most will agree that all seasonally sluggish skin can benefit from a reset. “There’s no good evidence backing up any form of ‘skin detox’,” says Malvina Cunningham, consultant dermatologist at Skin+Me. “It’s a balance between looking at what you use on your skin in terms of active ingredients and cosmetics with the aim to calm and hydrate your skin plus looking at your general health and reducing known stresses on the skin such as lack of sleep, too much alcohol, unbalanced diet, smoking and pollution,” she adds. Here’s Vogue’s guide to how to tackle skin that could do with a festive break all of its own…
Do embark on a double cleanse routine
It’s a skincare cliché for a reason but double cleansing (the process of cleansing twice both morning and evening) is a really effective way to remove all traces of make-up, impurities and pollutants from the skin, not to mention the 30,000 – 40,000 cells that skin sheds every day. Not only can inadequate cleansing contribute to congestion, breakouts and dullness, but not getting all that deep-set dirt out of your pores will render much of what you apply afterwards virtually useless – including that expensive serum that Santa was kind enough to deliver. Balms and cleansing oils that dissolve grime and penetrate deep into the skin are good first cleanse options, while creams, gels and micellar waters make for appropriate second cleanses. While Laftah recommends CeraVe’s Hydrating Cleanser, which contains three essential ceramides to help nourish the skin during the cleansing process, Cunningham makes a case for “cleansers with mild acid such as PHA (polyhydroxy acid—gentler than its cousins AHA/BHAs)” which will add “mild exfoliation to help brighten dull-looking skin without compromising barrier function.”
Rethink your routine
Skin that’s having to contend with an onslaught of a poor diet, lack of sleep and extra stress needs no extra complication in the form of fussy routines, which many of us found ourselves implementing during lockdown. “Using excessive amounts of acids and actives [results] in sensitivity, irritation and compromising your skin’s barrier function. If you have sensitive, irritated skin, then stopping products and going back to a gentle and supportive skincare routine can be considered a type of ‘skin detox’ and will help you to get your skin back on track,” notes Cunningham.
Start by stripping your regime right back to a gentle cleanser and moisturiser which won’t irritate or disrupt already compromised skin. Adding a brightening antioxidant such as vitamin C into your daily routine will help stimulate collagen, offer a brightening wakeup call and counteract oxidisation caused by inflammatory free radicals; we like Typology’s Radiance Serum 11% Vitamin C. “Consider adding in an active to your nightly regime… Retinols and retinoids are backed up with the most scientific evidence. They have been proven to stimulate collagen synthesis, even out skin tone and reduce inflammation. The key is to start slow with a retinol, initially once to twice a week and build up gradually to nightly use over a period of weeks,” adds Laftah. Try Murad’s Retinol Youth Renewal Serum which delivers all the benefits, minus any associated irritation.
Look after your gut
Easier said than done, but banishing chocolate, salt-laden canapés and fatty foods from your daily diet is vital if you want skin that sings instead of groans. “A healthy diet is important for the gut-skin axis and skin homeostasis,” says Laftah. In other words, keeping your skin healthy means keeping your gut and its delicate microbiome healthy. It’s not just food that contributes to poor gut health either; alcohol causes an inflammatory response in the gut which can result in digestive discomfort including abdominal pain and bloating. Alcohol also inhibits the production of digestive enzymes which can make it more difficult for your body to breakdown, digest and absorb nutrients from your food. If you can, aim to remove booze altogether from your festive diet, but if the holiday season feels too alien without a glass in your hand, make it a glass of red; according to a recent study, red wine drinkers are more likely to have a healthy mix of bacteria in their gut than those who consume other forms of alcohol.
Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate
Excess sugar, alcohol and elevated stress levels impact the skin in various ways but one problem they all contribute to is chronic dehydration, a condition which leaves skin looking uneven, dull and dry. You may also experience fine lines and can even be hit with itchiness and flakiness. If that’s you, take a two-pronged approach to rehydration by addressing the issue inside and out. “Don’t forget to drink lots of water to keep all your organs well hydrated,” advises Veraitch. “For the largest organ of our body—skin—an increased water intake ensures skin cells are well hydrated, reducing dryness and increased skin elasticity. Drinking water also helps to get rid of toxins which can cause inflammation.”
To rebalance skin, look for hydrating products that contain hyaluronic acid, which as well as restoring hydration, helps repair the skin barrier which can easily become damaged after too much festive excess. “L’Oréal Paris Revitalift Filler Hyaluronic Acid Serum contains macro hyaluronic acid that sit higher in the skin to hydrate and smooth the skin’s surface, and micro hyaluronic acid to provide a deeper plumping action,” according to Veraitch. “Make sure you’re using a moisturiser with barrier friendly, moisturising ingredients to counter the dehydrating effects of alcohol and the reduced humidity associated with the cold weather and central heating,” adds Cunningham.
While it’s tempting to indulge in a little too much Netflix and not enough quality shut eye during the festive season, neglecting a regular sleep routine is bad news for skin. When we sleep our skin goes into regeneration mode, replacing damaged or dead cells with fresh, new ones and repairing any environmental damage. Good sleep also increases blood flow to the skin and contributes to its essential structural work such as rebuilding vital collagen and elastin, the very proteins that festive excesses damage. Skipping those precious hours (at least eight, more if you can) prevents all of this vital maintenance work from happening and instead increases levels of inflammation, slows down healing and repair systems and aggravates conditions including acne, eczema, psoriasis and allergies. “Sleep is nature’s best medicine and the same applies when it comes to looking after our skin. Eight hours sleep is another thing to try to get regularly, if not daily, to allow your body to rest and restore itself for the next day,” agrees Veraitch.