De-Stress FOR GREAT SKIN!
Everyday tension can actually make you look older. Here’s info you need to know.
FFew of us are strangers to the stress-induced breakout. It happens because anxiety triggers hormones and neurotransmitters that inflame your skin and thereby stoke acne. But as researchers are discovering, the damage that life’s pressures can cause doesn’t stop at a few pimples. “Stress appears to play an important role in ageing processes in general, and this probably includes skin ageing,” says Barbara Gilchrest, M.D., a professor and chair emeritus of dermatology at Boston University School of Medicine. Which is why it’s crucial to get caught up on the latest science so you can strategise the best way to fight the destructive process. Because, as we’re also learning, there are ways.
Your skin on anxiety
When your brain senses psychological stress, it turns on the spigots of certain hormones. The result is a cocktail of adrenaline, cortisol, free radical– triggering angiotensin, and inflammation-generating cytokines that courses through your body, eroding your skin’s plumping collagen and precious defenses.
Here’s the domino effect: you panic. There’s a looming deadline, you haven’t had time to work out, your commute is a nightmare – whatever the daily issue, it prompts your brain to signal your adrenal glands to release adrenaline, which steals some blood from your skin and shuttles it to your power muscles in case you have to fight or take flight. That can immediately make you look washed-out and pale, says Amy Wechsler, M.D., a dermatologist and psychiatrist in New York City. The adrenaline then triggers your brain to pump out cortisol, the mother of all stress hormones.
In the short term, this isn’t a problem. One little heart-racing blip won’t do damage. The trouble is when the cortisol spigot never turns off, as when you’re persistently battling normal life factors that leave you with a knot in your stomach. Skin then gets continuously bathed in the hormone, which can damage your complexion from the inside out. Over time, the increased exposure to cortisol can inhibit the growth of fibroblast cells (which make new collagen), but it doesn’t slow the breakdown of old tissue; this may lead to skin-tissue loss, says John Koo, M.D., the vice chairman of the Department of Dermatology at the University of California, San Francisco. Cortisol may also itself break down collagen, Dr. Wechsler says. The result: skin may become thinner (a hallmark of ageing) and more prone to wrinkles.
Chronic stress also boosts the production of free radicals (oxidised molecules that can damage skin cells) and reduces protective antioxidants, Dr. Koo says, making your skin more vulnerable to wrinkles, pigmentation spots, and dullness.
It gets worse.“Skin inflammation often occurs in response to emotional stress, as if the body has to fight bacteria,” Dr. Koo says. Call it skin’s go-to defense mechanism when it senses a threat. This inflammatory process may damage and age the skin. Here’s why:
your immune system is not meant to be turned up 24/7, and that constant, low-grade inflammation may further degrade collagen and hinder skin’s ability to replenish it. Plus, inflammation compromises your skin’s barrier function, which can leave your complexion drier, duller, and more prone to irritation. Bottom line: “When you live in a constant state of stress, it becomes harder for skin to repair itself naturally, form healthy collagen and elastin, and deal with damaged areas,” Dr. Wechsler explains.
Start your damage control back at the DNA level
It sounds a little sci-fi, but it’s possible to wring the effects of stress out of your body’s very building blocks. Telomeres are tiny caps on the ends of chromosomes – the parts of cells that house our DNA – and they get shorter each time a cell divides. Studies suggest that chronic stress causes telomeres to shorten prematurely, and once a cell’s telomeres get too short, the cell can no longer divide. At this point, the cell becomes senescent. What that means for skin: senescent cells produce the aforementioned cytokines that contribute to inflammation, Dr. Gilchrest says.
The good news is that researchers recently found a way to maintain telomere length in mice, and one of the many positive outcomes was that their skin stayed more youthful. “Skin normally gets thinner with age, and that was less pronounced. Older skin is also more prone to injury and heals more slowly, and those things were also less pronounced,” Dr. Gilchrest says. Much more research needs to be done to understand telomeres’ role not only in skin but also in disease in general before there’s, say, a telomere-lengthening treatment. For now, though, there’s a natural way to maintain telomere length, decrease cortisol and inflammation, and look younger, fresher, and healthier: exercise more and stress less.
You already know that exercise is a proven stress buster and circulation booster, but research suggests it may specifically keep telomeres longer and cells more youthful as you rack up birthdays. One recent study in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise found that the more moderate and vigorous exercise people did, the more likely their telomeres were to be long for their age.
Now, about those other 23 hours of your day. There are small things you can do to suppress stress hormones; we’re talking scientifically proved and easy. For starters, listen to a soothing playlist on your commute. A recent review at McGill University found that relaxing music reduced cortisol
and markers of inflammation. And take in the scenery as you drive or do errands. Being around green space reduced perceived stress and levels of cortisol in anxious adults in a recent study from the U.K.
At the end of the day, take a minute to write down three things you’re grateful for. Practicing gratitude is one of the simplest ways to beat stress and feel happier, says Emiliana Simon-Thomas, Ph.D., the science director of the Greater Good Science Center at the University of California, Berkeley. “You don’t have to go on a 10-day silent retreat to make a significant impact on stress,” Simon-Thomas says. “There’s a lot of potential in these other, simple behaviours.”
Adopt a stress-fighting skin-care routine
There are three key products you must have in your beauty arsenal, says Dr. Wechsler. The first two: an antioxidant serum and a prescription retinoid. “Topical antioxidants can help stabilise skin during periods of stress and increase antioxidant levels in skin to bolster its defenses,” she explains. Go for a serum (or moisturiser if you’re not into layering) with vitamins C and E, an antioxidant combination known to trigger new collagen production. Try Fresh Lotus Youth Preserve Radiance Lotion With Super 7 Complex (RM165; SEPHORA). Retinoids are also tried-and-true collagen builders that help mitigate some of the damage from cortisol and free radicals. “They’re a great solution for stressed-out skin,” Dr. Wechsler says. Apply them both at night so they can work while you sleep. Also, remember this word:
ceramide. For the morning, you need a cream containing this protective substance, Dr. Wechsler says. Try Elizabeth Arden Flawless Future Cream. Ceramides are one of the best ingredients to protect and strengthen the skin’s barrier function, helping it stay hydrated and block out potential irritants.
And don’t forget the skin on your body. Minimising below-the-neck contact with cleansing ingredients will help maintain your skin’s barrier, Dr. Gilchrest says. Aside from the areas that emit odors, skin doesn’t need daily washing and scrubbing; a simple rinse in the shower can keep you plenty clean and your skin soft and glowing. That’s welcome news: with everything else you’ve got going on, your skin is the last thing you need stressing you out.
Zen for your skin: exercise, music, and gratitude reduce the hormones that leave you prone to wrinkles.
CHEW ON THIS Stress doesn’t just
cause breakouts. It gives you lines and