Skin & emotions: the two are more connected than most of us care to admit.
I first realized this when I was in an incredibly stressful job and my acne was off the charts. During that time, my skin became overly sensitive and reactive (in part due to products I was using from said job) – all in all, it was not a fun time for my outward appearance. Have you experienced emotional skin?
Think back to times of utter stress or pure joy:
- Stress: dull, sallow skin, red flare-ups on cheeks, acne trails along jawline (or wherever your problem area lives), more pronounced lines
- Joy: lit-from-within glow, rosy (not red) tint to cheeks, plump, radiant skin
“Skin is one of the biggest indicators of our state of mind,” according to Merrady Wickes, the head of content and education at The Detox Market. Which can be great for those blissful IG-worthy moments, but confidence-stripping during those stress-induced moments, too. We have our genetics to thank – good ol’ fight or flight stress response. “When you face something stressful, your adrenal glands secrete hormones, including cortisol, epinephrine [commonly known as adrenaline], and small amounts of testosterone, which trigger a cascade of reactions that can lead to excess oil production, decreased immunity [which can spur cold sores and psoriasis], and increased blood in your vessels [which can cause undereye circles and puffiness],” says NYC-based dermatologist Neal Schultz, M.D. With all of that, also comes the potential added fun of a breakout or rosacea.
More than just skin deep…
Of course, we can’t talk about negative emotions without talking about negative emotions’ impacts on our habits. Yes, negative emotions can present themselves through skin ailments as I just shared above, but have you also ever been going through a stressful time and couldn’t bring yourself to maintain your routine? Real life example: A few months ago, I was prepping my Director for a big presentation. I spent days filming a video, created and recorded scripting for said video, created my Director’s talking points, revised her talk points no shy of 4 times into the wee hours of the morning, re-edited said video, all to have had that hard week pay off in a flawless presentation and recognition.
But, and I do need to emphasize the “but” here, with all of that stress and anxiety rollercoaster of last-minute requests, my emotions had been put through the ringer and I felt so incredibly numb from mental exhaustion I couldn’t bring myself to do my nightly routine. For two nights in a row. For someone who is super in tune with their skincare routine, you may be familiar: as soon as you deviate from your routine, your skin acts up lol or at least mine does! And according to science, I’m not alone. “We tend to let our skincare routines fall by the wayside, failing to take off our makeup and clogging our pores, or skipping moisturizer, which can leave us looking weathered. We might also lose sleep, which triggers the release of cortisol, or stress eat foods with refined sugar, which causes insulin to rise and then testosterone,” Dr. Schultz says.
What about the positives?
While positive emotions’ reaction on our skin and hair have not been tested, the science-backed hypotheses should still get you hyped: “It wouldn’t surprise me if these chemicals could have an effect on barrier function, helping our skin stay better hydrated and appear more radiant,” says David E. Bank, M.D. a dermatologist in Mount Kisco, New York. “It’s even possible that the release of feel-good hormones causes the little muscles around the hair follicles all over your body to relax, leaving your skin feeling softer and smoother.” NOTE: Dr. Bank stresses that these are hypotheses with “plenty of science to support them,” but no study for direct findings was shared.
Long term solution?
As much as I hate to admit, stress management and learning ways to better manage your emotions will help with certain things that arise on your complexion. Why do I hate to admit this? Because it takes time to understand yourself and what your triggers may be, but it is SO worth it! Once I got my stress-induced-anxiety more under control, my jawline and neck acne did start to go away. And when I’m actually having an easy-going day, I even catch a little glow in my reflection…in the flourescent-lit bathrooms at work. Products in your arsenal do factor in, but first things first: learn to better manage your emotions and stress levels before playing into the trial-and-error loop with products. ✨
NOTE: The photo for this post was taken on an iPhone XS using the standard camera lens and is completely unedited – only adjustment made to photo was for lighting; no color or true Photoshopping was touched.