Oh no. Lockdown hit and your skin went mental. Correct? It happened to most of us, with spots appearing where they haven’t trespassed for years and dryness wreaking havoc on once-smooth skin. The various stressors of lockdown—disrupted routine, being furloughed, working longer hours, the list goes on—don’t only lead to emotional turbulence, but to skin issues, too. “Psychological stress and skin are closely linked,” says Dr Alia Ahmed, consultant dermatologist and skin wellness expert. “Stress causes skin disease and skin disease causes stress.”
Ahmed, who specialises in the psychological impact of skin conditions (otherwise known as psychodermatology), puts this uptick in red, itchy skin—not to mention lines, wrinkles, pigmentation, dullness, acne, flushing and sweating—down to the sudden anxiety many of us are experiencing due to Covid-19 measures. “The brain has a stress-activated pathway that causes the release of various chemicals and hormones that drive inflammation (which causes all manner of skin issues) in both the body and skin. Feelings of emotional distress lead to the release of the stress hormone, cortisol, which is known to affect the immune system (making the skin worse at defending itself), delay healing and disrupt the skin’s natural barrier,” she says.
In a cruel catch-22, the worse our skin looks, the more it can impact our mental wellbeing, prompting feelings of low self-esteem, anxiety and, well, misery. In clinic, Ahmed (who works for the NHS and privately at Eudelo) sees clients who come to her with all manner of issues, ranging from acne and rosacea to eczema and psoriasis—all of which can be severely emotionally draining. A huge 85 per cent of dermatology patients feel that psychosocial factors are a major component of their skin disease, with 17 per cent requiring psychological support to cope with their condition.
So, what can be done? Well, first of all, it’s important to tackle the problem from all angles—because, alone, even the most brilliant skincare routine won’t do the job. Make sure your diet includes protein, carbohydrates, good fats and natural sugars, as well as masses of antioxidant-rich leafy greens; consume two litres of water a day to reduce the effects of dehydration on the skin and body; and sleep at least eight hours a night to allow the skin time to repair itself.
Alongside a consistent exercise routine—whatever gets your heart going—look to slow, mindful activities to switch off the sympathetic nervous system (which is responsible for our anxious fight or flight response) and kickstart the parasympathetic nervous system, which lowers cortisol levels and calms us down: “Women who practice yoga three times a week have lower cortisol levels than age-matched women who don’t,” says Dr Tara Swart, neuroscientist and Aromatherapy Associates spokeswoman. “Supplementing with magnesium can also reduce cortisol levels and is best taken trans-dermally through a body lotion or bath salts.” Try Better You’s Magnesium Salts.
A dedicated self-care bath can also be a chance to breathe deeply. Swart recommends combining breath work with aromatherapy since the two combined “induce positive emotions that have a double effect on calming the nervous system and skin since the olfactory nerve is directly connected to the brain’s emotional centres”. Try Aromatherapy Associates Deep Relax Bath and Shower Oil or anatomē’s Recovery & Sleep Rollerball.
Skincare is integral to de-stressing skin, too, with many key beauty brands launching anti-stress skincare lines. Utilising ingredients ranging from skin barrier-building ceramides to hydrating hyaluronic acid and anti-inflammatory honey, they feed skin what it needs to calm down. Incorporating one or two into your routine can cosset and calm an angry visage. Pai’s Copaiba & Zinc Perfect Balance Blemish Serum uses healing and oil-reducing zinc to take inflamed spots (and skin in general) back to its chilled self.
Employing a targeted moisturiser is another brilliant way of bolstering skin. Kate Somerville’s new DeliKate range comprises of a Ultimate Recovery Intense Cream that’s designed for those SOS moments to hydrate, bolster the skin barrier and take down irritation –in short, it’s excellent. Avéne’s A-Oxitive Antioxidant Water Cream and Lancôme’s Hydra Zen Anti-Stress Moisturising Gel-Cream are also great choices. Avoid heavy creams, ointments, oils and anything highly fragranced.
At nighttime, look to Aurelia’s Overnight Recovery Mask, which includes probiotic extracts and shea butter to gently remedy dryness and sensitivity. The way you apply it is important, too. “Consider gentle facial massage to improve circulation, lymphatic drainage and collagen production, while prompting the body to relax,” says Ahmed.
It’s also important to protect skin from further aggravation, so an antioxidant-enriched SPF is key. Sisley’s Phyto Blanc Brightening Daily Defense Fluid may be expensive but it does it all, with an SPF of 50 and shield-like sensibility. Skinceuticals’s Physical Fusion UV Defense SPF 50 is another skin-safe option. Meanwhile, spritz Sarah Chapman’s Liquid Facial D-stress over your face regularly throughout the day to refresh and hydrate while combatting external stress on the skin.
As for spots, try not to worry—it will only make them worse. Instead, look to pimple-positive patches, like ZitSticka’s KILLA patches, which deliver a concentrated stream of acne-fighting ingredients, including niacinamide, salicylic and hyaluronic acids, and oligopeptide-76 via microdarts into the spot to target inflammation right where it needs it. Starface’s new Glow-In-The Dark Pimple Patches also make having a spot that little bit more enjoyable. And finally? Seek solace in the fact that we’re all in this skin stressed moment together. See you on the other side.