Maybe you've noticed your skin gets worse during times of stress and worry. It's unlikely that stress is the root, or sole cause of spotty skin. There are usually more deeply embedded issues that prompt acne breakouts, which you can read more about here. However, periods of stress can lead to acne getting worse and chronic stress has a big impact on your overall health, including your skin.
Today's blog will investigate the following ways stress influences acne:
Vitamin and mineral depletion
When you undergo periods of stress, the body's stress hormone (cortisol) rises. This is relevant for your skin because cortisol triggers sebum production.
Sebum is an oily substance that our body naturally produces to keep our skin soft and supple. Sometimes our body can get a little over-zealous with its production and we end up with oily skin. This is a nightmare for acne-prone skin, as oily pores can trap bacteria inside and cause spots to form.
Unfortunately, stress and sleeplessness often come as a package. The knock-on effects stress has on your sleep pattern come from the chemicals that are released as part of the 'fight or flight' response. This in-built stress response is designed to keep you alive in dangerous situations. It's slightly outdated now that we rarely have to run away from bears; yet the cascade of reactions is still the same. As I mentioned above, cortisol will be released when you are stressed. This could potentially upset your sleep cycle by inhibiting your production of melatonin, the sleep hormone.
A lack of sleep affects skin health in lots of ways. Sleep deprivation is connected with higher levels of inflammation in the body. It can impair collagen production, which worsens skin texture and appearance. It can slow down wound healing too, which for those with acne can be quite detrimental.
The digestive system struggles to function well when we are stressed. There are many reasons for this.
When we're stressed, all of our body's energy goes towards essential functions. Digestion is not seen as one of them in times of stress, so the processing of food slows down.
This impacts the health of our skin for a number of reasons. Toxins are not excreted efficiently and end up recirculating looking for another escape route. A sluggish bowel also puts more pressure on the liver. The liver is responsible for tonnes of important things, one of which is recycling hormones. We all know that excess hormones running amuck in the body can cause skin outbreaks - just think back to your teenage days!
Without the proper nutrients, our skin won't thrive. Sluggish digestion negatively impacts our ability to absorb nutrients from our food. No matter how many healthy foods and vitamin tablets you eat, if your digestion isn't working, the nutrients won't be absorbed efficiently.
Stress messes up our nutrient levels in other ways too. Which brings me on to my next point.
Vitamin and mineral depletion
Firstly, and most simply, when we are stressed, we make poor dietary choices. We reach for the quickest, easiest food, which is usually something highly processed and lacking in nutrients. So, from the get go our body isn't getting enough nutrients to create healthy skin, if we are not feeding it right.
Secondly, being in state of chronic of stress puts our body under a significant amount of pressure and actually uses up nutrients. Key nutrients for skin health, such as zinc, magnesium and selenium are often depleted when we are stressed, and this could lead to acne flare-ups. B vitamins are vulnerable to stress too, as they are not stored in the body. Running low on B vitamins during stressful times can create a vicious cycle, as these vitamins actually help your body cope with stress, as well as promoting healthy skin.
How to prevent stress affecting your skin
Completely eliminating stress from your life is impossible. But, having stress management strategies for when times are tough is essential. If you can manage stress and the effects it has on the body, acne flare-ups will be easier to manage too. Here are some of my favourite stress management practices.
Have you ever noticed how you breathe when you are stressed? I'll give you a hint – not much! Our breathing tends to be shallow and rapid during stressful times. This is really unfortunate, because this type of breathing only leads to more stress and anxiety. Build a habit of checking your breathing at different points throughout the day. Just place one hand on your stomach and the other on your chest. You want to feel your belly move in and out as you breathe. This is a good indicator that you're breathing deeply.
Incorporating movement into your day is helpful for preventing and shifting stress and tension. Walking in nature, yoga and gentle stretching are great ways to wind down. Dancing or running can really burn off some excess energy in a more vigorous way. Work out which suits your needs best.
Cut out stimulants
When I am stressed, I mistakenly think that coffee or sugar will give me the burst of energy I need to deal with whatever stress is in front of me. In actual fact, it does the opposite. Caffeine and sugar are stimulants, and they tend to wind us up further, which makes us more stressed rather than more productive. Swapping stimulants for calming herbs like Chamomile, Passiflora and Avena sativa eases stress and tension and provides the mental focus you need to be productive.
Being well-prepared for stressful times can mitigate the effect of stress on our skin. I like to have some essential items ready for when stress arrives.
Digestive aids – For times when our digestion is affected by stress, taking a remedy like Digestisan can ease bloating, discomfort and wind.
Vitamin and mineral supplements – If stress is affecting your food choices or your ability to absorb nutrients, Balance Mineral Drink is good to have on hand. It's packed full of magnesium and zinc (both really important for skin health) as well as vitamin D, calcium, and potassium. Add one sachet to a homemade smoothie for a quick, nutrient-dense breakfast.
A fridge full of fresh fruit and vegetables, oily fish and lean protein, and cupboards full of healthy wholegrains and pulses. Or even better, a freezer full of batch-cooked healthy meals that you can lean on when you are too stressed to cook yourself a healthy meal from scratch. Have a look at our recipe section for some inspiration.