Ev­ery­day ten­sion can ac­tu­ally make you look older. Here’s info you need to know.

Shape (Malaysia) - - FRONT PAGE - By BETH JANES

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 justcause break­outs. It gives you lines andwrinkles, too.

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