So why is it, that when it comes to our beauty routines, we’re not considering our stress levels?
In fact, experts are warning that in the current world we live in, stress could be one of the main causes of our beauty hiccups.
From breakouts and signs of premature ageing to more severe issues like psoriasis and hair loss, chronic stress is a key contributor to both new encounters and exacerbation of skin and hair disorders.
Given that we’ve just had Stress Awareness Week, it’s the perfect time to check in with ourselves and assess our lifestyles – especially seeing as the past couple of years have been exceptionally stressful for everyone.
LOUM Psychodermatologist, Dr Francisco Tausk explains: “Stress is defined as when the environmental demands exceed your expectations of your ability to cope, making it different from person to person.
There is no single disease (and this includes skin issues) that get better with stress.”
“Stress is a normal emotional response to the unpredictability of situation we’re all in right now. I’m seeing worsening of existing skin conditions, as well people with new skin conditions.
The problem is, skin and scalp-related stress issues become a vicious cycle,” says Psychodermatologist for Head & Shoulders, Dr Alia Ahmed.
If you ask us, we think it’s about time we stopped blaming ourselves for our beauty hang-ups and instead give stress more credit for the ways it can impact our beauty routines.
To help get to the bottom of our stress-related beauty issues, this is everything you need to know about how stress impacts our bodies and what you can do about it in terms of skin and hair issues.
What actually is stress?
It’s easy to think the reason we feel worse about the way we look when we’re stressed is through lack of trying. We tell ourselves we haven’t had the time to wash our hair or carry out every step of our usual skincare routine.
We just love finding ways to blame ourselves. But the truth is, stress is doing its dirty work internally. In fact, functions relating to stress are some of the most well-evolved reactions in the human body.
“Acute stress has been developed through hundreds of thousands of years of evolution,” says Tausk. “Our ancestors needed a way to survive so that when they encountered a predator, there was a fight or flight reaction.
Acute stress causes the heart rate to increase, blood pressure to go up, blood to be diverted to the limbs in order to escape and energy to be mobilised from fat so that all other body functions can be put on hold. It’s how our ancestors survived.” And it turns out this type of stress is actually very important in keeping our immune systems functioning.
This changes though when we don’t get a sense of post-stress relief. “In the modern world, our stressors don’t end suddenly in the way that acute stress should end. Our ancestors either survived or died and the stress ended in one way or another. Now we are developing a chronic stress concept.
You could be overworked, burned out, have deadlines or marital problems, you could just be stressed about the pandemic. If one thing is causing you chronic stress, your stress levels are full,” says Dr Tausk. And it’s through this period of chronic stress that skin and health issues are likely to arise.
So, what exactly does stress do to our skin?
In short, chronic stress results in inflammation throughout the whole body. When talking about our bodies, it can be easy to forget that our skin is our biggest organ, therefore feeling the impact of whatever is going on internally.
“Hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline are secreted into our circulation. Our nerves also secrete adrenaline right into the tissue, along with neuropeptides substance P or CGRP which cause enormous amounts of inflammation. All of this produces redness, pain, burning and oxidative damage,” explains Dr Tausk.
Because of this, stress can manifest in breakouts and premature ageing (oxidative damage attacks collagen production), as well as redness and increased sensitivity.
Those already susceptible to inflammatory conditions such as acne, psoriasis and eczema will also likely experience flare-ups during times of stress.
It is also important to remember that our scalps are affected by skin changes too. “During times of stress, people might experience hair loss and even develop alopecia areata,” says Dr Ahmed. “Your scalp is very stress responsive. It can make the scalp more oily, more flaky and itchier. On top of that, habits such as hair-pulling can also also be exacerbated by stress.”
What can we do about it?
Most importantly, dealing stress-related skin concerns starts with acknowledging the cause. “It all comes down to mental health awareness,” says Dr Ahmed. If you have noticed that someone you live with or know appears to be struggling with stress and is showing physical signs of this through their skin or their hair, it’s worth a conversation.
“Language is very important. Instead of saying ‘You’ve got really spotty’ or ‘You’ve got a bald patch’, ask how that person is doing and let them know you’re there for them if they need anything. It’s hard to get a positive outcome from negative comments,” explains Dr Ahmed.
If you are seemingly coping with your stress levels but are concerned that it could be a contributing factor to your skin issues, Dr Tausk recommends incorporating antioxidants into your skincare routine where possible, as well as restorative ingredients to minimise the symptoms of inflammation.
“Most inflammatory diseases like acne, psoriasis and eczema impair your system through oxidative damage, so be sure to apply significant antioxidants. When substance P is secreted into the skin when stressed, it can also be very irritating,” he adds, so be sure to incorporate products that soothe inflammation.
LOUM Pure Serenity Golden C Serum, contains vitamin C to deliver antioxidant benefits, as well as the brand’s Tri-Serene Complex, which helps to minimise the inflammatory effects of substance P. If stress is exacerbating your eczema or psoriasis, CeraVe Moisturising Cream, contains essential ceramides to help strengthen a weakened skin barrier as a result of inflammation.
For the scalp, inflammation can result in increased itchiness and flaking, so be sure to tailor your hair wash routine around this. Head & Shoulders Itchy Scalp Anti-Dandruff Shampoo, is an affordable option to reach for when your scalp is misbehaving because of stress.
When does stress become more serious?
Stress-related skin issues can really take their toll on our mental health and it’s important to know that medical help is available. “We need to normalise these conditions and show that they’re not reflective of being unkempt,” says Dr Ahmed.
If you feel as though your stress levels are becoming unmanageable and affecting your appearance, it’s important to seek medical advice.
“A Psychodermatologist can help treat the problem medically while also treating the psychological distress through things such as talking therapies and cognitive behavioural therapy,” adds Dr Ahmed.
This story originally appeared on Glamour UK | Author: Shannon Lawlor and Lottie Winter