You might start by noticing fine lines around the eyes or across your brow. You may catch sight of yourself in a mirror and barely recognise the reflection, with a complexion that has completely lost its glow. You may be suffering from acne or breakouts and can’t put your finger on why it’s happening. You aren’t a teenager anymore – what’s going on?
The chances are, your skin is responding to stress – and with more and more of us pushing our bodies to the limit for careers and families, it’s on the rise. ‘When people are chronically stressed, they look tired and feel tired,’ says Canada-based stress specialist Dr David Posen, author of Is Work Killing You? ‘Due to high stress, we can develop frown lines and furrows, while the texture of our skin can become dry, dull, and with increased oil production, very prone to breakouts.’
They say that skin reflects inner health – so it should probably come as little surprise that our complexion tells the tale when we are exhausted, anxious, and overworked.
So why does it happen? When we’re tense, our brain releases the stress hormone cortisol into our bloodstream. That prompts oil glands to increase production, which leads to breakouts. Stress also dilates blood vessels, which causes redness and aggravates rosacea. Skin is prone to becoming dehydrated, sensitive, and more susceptible to damage. And as well as lines forming from furrowing your brow, stress also makes you look markedly older. We already lose one per cent of our skin’s collagen supply every year after we hit age 20 – and stress will accelerate that.
‘Younger women are coming into my office with wrinkles and older ones are still fighting acne,’ says Dr Howard Murad, a US-based top dermatologist and founder of Murad skincare range (www.murad.com). ‘These issues are caused in large part because patients are more stressed out than they were even five years ago. Triggers might include relationships, money, work, family; but I’ve also seen a rise in cultural stress – the feeling that women expect perfection from themselves in all areas at all times. We know stress is unhealthy for the heart and brain, but it’s just as bad for your skin.’
So how do we fight back? The simple answer is to relax, drink more water, get more sleep, and switch off those gadgets – but with high-powered careers and busy family lives, it isn’t always as easy as flicking a switch. Thankfully, there are other options…
Fine lines and wrinkles
F or most of us with stressful jobs, the average number of hours spent staring at the computer per day often runs into double figures – and if we feel stressed while doing so, the facial expressions we repeatedly make (such as a furrowed brow or a scowl) can quite literally become etched on our face. The result is fine lines and wrinkles – and they can be among the deepest and hardest to treat.
That’s not all. Dr Tom Mammone, executive director of skin physiology and pharmacology, Clinique, believes the body’s response to stress hinders our skin’s ability to repair itself, which contributes to accelerated ageing of skin. He says: ‘Our lifestyle has a significant impact on how quickly we may age – and there’s a distinct biological pathway where mental stress contributes to visible ageing.’
So short of binning the gadgets and self-imposing lots of early nights, how can we repair our skin?
Dr Mammone suggests an antioxidant-rich cleanser and exfoliant and a collagen-stimulating serum to boost firmness. Make sure that moisturisers contain broad-spectrum protection and choose an active night cream to assist with repairing the day’s damage while you sleep. Key ingredients to keep in mind are hyaluronic acid and vitamins A and C.
Caudalie Instant Foaming Cleanser Dh190 (Bin Sina Pharmacies), is a great choice as it is packed with extracts of antioxidant grapes, while In&Out Normalizing Face Exfoliator, Dh312 (Paris Gallery), is formulated to purify the skin and accelerate cellular renewal process. Elemis Pro-Collagen Quartz Lift Serum Dh857 (Elemis.ae) tightens and rejuvenates the skin, while smoothing out wrinkles.
Dermalogica Dynamic Skin Recovery SPF30 Dh319 (Basharacare.com) works well as an everyday, broad-spectrum moisturiser, while Murad Essential C Night Moisture, Dh350 (Glamazle.com) contains a patented formula with vitamins A, C and E to encourage cell turnover and improve skin firmness as you sleep.
Dryness and dullness
Gone is the glow of your youth – and in its place is a complexion that is lacklustre, dry, and definitely giving away the secrets of a high-paced, stressful lifestyle.
It’s down to the release of that stress hormone cortisol, with a recent study in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology proving that when women experience psychological stress, skin becomes more easily dehydrated. The lack of moisture can cause psoriasis and eczema to worsen too, which starts a vicious circle of a stressful lifestyle causing skin problems – and skin problems causing even more stress.
So short of handing in our notice, skipping out of the office, and jetting off to a tropical island to de-stress (we can always dream), what can we do to bring back the glow? A great start is to add products with ceramides and hyaluronic acid to your daily skin routine. Dr Howard Murad of Murad skincare explains: ‘The products will absorb water and surround each dead skin cell with lipids, making the cell more able to hang on to water.’
A good start is Dr Dennis Gross Age Erase Recovery Masks Dh250 (basharacare.com), which are infused with professional-strength hyaluronic acid to moisturise from within. Follow with TNS Ceramide Treatment Cream Dh325 (basharacare.com), which contains patented ceramide technology to restore moisture balance and give you plumper, more radiant skin. Another product to add to the list is Clinique Redness Solutions Daily Relief Cream Dh520, which contains caffeine and glycine to reduce redness and inflammation.
‘You can also try a nightly 20-minute bath – that’s not super-hot – before you apply a moisturiser,’ says US-based dermatologist Dr Noëlle Sherber. ‘For patients with stress-related dryness, it hydrates the skin and also builds in time to unwind.’
Acne and breakouts
Remember when you were getting ready for a big party as a teenager and right on cue, a spot appeared? It was no coincidence. Acne is a very common consequence of stress, as the release of cortisol prevents skin from staying hydrated and causes sebaceous glands to overcompensate by increasing oil production. This excess oil can cause inflammation under the skin and lead to breakouts.
If you are struggling with stress-related breakouts, the key is exfoliating to unclog pores. ‘Instead of a gritty scrub exfoliant, which can cause further redness, use a product with lactic acid, which hydrates as it removes dead skin cells,’ says dermatologist Dr Noëlle Sherber. ‘Then follow with an oil-absorbing kaolin clay mask and treat blemishes with a salicylic acid gel.’
For the cleanser, Murad AHA/BHA Exfoliating Cleanser Dh200, and Murad Acne Spot Treatment Dh120, (both Glamazle.com) are ideal choices with formulas containing salicylic acid to slough away dead skin cells and banish bacteria. Finally, Eisenberg Purifying Mask Dh350 (Paris Gallery) contains green clay and kaolin to absorb excess sebum and rebalance the skin, helping to banish those breakouts for good.