Your skin and brain are closely interconnected. If you’ve ever developed a stubborn breakout before a big event or battled a flare-up of irritated skin at the most inconvenient time possible, this probably isn’t news to you. Stress, as it turns out, doesn’t just take a toll mentally but could also impact your skin’s appearance. It’s part of the reason why maintaining healthy lifestyle habits like drinking plenty of water and getting enough sleep is important.
That said, knowing stress could impact your skin’s appearance and knowing why are two completely different things. To help us better understand, we chatted with Kiehl’s expert and board-certified dermatologist Dr. Michelle Henry. Ahead, Dr. Henry breaks down the details on what stress does to your body, how that can manifest itself via visible skin concerns, and what you can do to help keep your skin looking its best (even if you’re stressed). Read on for Kiehl’s guide to stress and skin.
What Is Stressed Skin?
We use “stressed skin” as a catch-all term for skin that is affected by stress in one way or another. There are a few different types of stress. Stress is most commonly associated with emotional stress—the kind that you have when a work deadline is looming, for example—but there’s also external stress, like that caused by exposure to air pollution or over-exfoliating your skin.
According to Dr. Henry, generally speaking, acute emotional or physical stress can cause an increase in oil. “That’s why we find that we often break out when we’re stressed,” she explains. We’ll explain more of how stress can affect the skin’s appearance below.
Stress Might Trigger Breakouts
As noted above, stress could lead to increased oiliness, which can contribute to visible blemishes, such as blackheads and whiteheads. Studies have found that not only can stress be linked to breakouts, but the more stressed you are, the worse the breakout tends to be.I Dr. Henry notes that stress is especially associated with comedonal acne—like those pesky blackheads and whiteheads—but also deeper pimples and cysts, as well.
If you’re struggling with blemishes—stress-induced or otherwise—Dr. Henry advises reaching for “gentle products that are effective but tolerable.”
When you do notice a breakout emerging, reach for a spot treatment, like Breakout Control Targeted Acne Spot Treatment. Made with mineral sulfur and niacinamide, this powerful spot treatment is clinically-demonstrated to rapidly reduce the appearance of acne blemishes.* It also helps prevent new spots from forming and absorbs quickly to promote visibly clearer skin over time.
*Tested in a dermatologist-controlled clinical study.
Stress May Weaken Your Skin’s Natural Moisture Barrier
Stress “can really take a toll on [y]our skin[‘s appearance],” Dr. Henry says. In addition to increasing oiliness, stress can also exacerbate other concerns, like dryness and irritation. She explains, “When you’re going through stressful situations, your skin loses its adaptive capabilities.” Continuing, Dr. Henry says, “It doesn’t rebound as quickly from whatever insults [you’re] taking on, and it can’t protect itself [as well] from environmental aggressors.” In other words, stress damages the skin’s natural moisture barrier and hinders its ability to do its job. If not addressed, this can “make all [of your] skin conditions worse,” Dr. Henry adds.
To help manage a compromised skin barrier, Dr. Henry recommends reaching for products formulated with “ingredients that can fortify your skin barrier...like ceramides [or] hyaluronic acid.” After cleansing and toning your face, apply a hydrating serum, like Vital Skin-Strengthening Hyaluronic Acid Super Serum. The powerful formula is clinically-demonstrated to double skin’s strength and helps neutralize the effects of external stressors. When used consistently, it also helps boost resilience and improves skin’s texture to give way to a more youthful, radiant appearance.*
*Based on a four-week clinical study of 58 subjects tested in urban and polluted environments. Skin strength index = composite average score of clinically-graded parameters after using the product for four weeks vs. one week of use.
Alternatively, reach for Hydro-Plumping Hydrating Serum. This unique formula helps stimulate the skin’s natural production of hyaluronic acid to improve the appearance of dehydrated skin. Over time, it also helps plump the skin and boosts elasticity.
Then, finish your routine with a moisturizer. We love Ultra Facial Cream, which is formulated with olive-derived squalane and glycerin. This Kiehl’s classic is pH-balanced and absorbs easily to infuse the skin with long-lasting moisture. The gentle formula is suitable for all skin types and can be used daily for visibly healthier skin.*
*Average result for improvement in skin dryness based on a two-week clinical study on multiple skin tones and ethnicities.
Stress May Contribute To Premature Signs Of Aging
One of the most well-known effects of chronic stress on the skin is visible aging. As noted above, chronic stress can make your skin more vulnerable to environmental stressors like pollution and UV exposure. These stressors can, in turn, cause the body to create free radicals, which can accumulate over time and may be damaging to the skin’s natural moisture barrier. But using products with antioxidants like vitamin C and ferulic acid helps “neutralize those free radicals that are looking to cause [skin] damage” and limits the effect they can have on your skin.
We recommend supplementing your anti-aging skincare routine with an antioxidant treatment, like Ferulic Brew Antioxidant Facial Treatment with Lactic Acid. This rejuvenating facial essence helps protect against damaging free radicals and supports the skin’s natural recovery processes. The fast-absorbing formula also helps remove dull surface skin and visibly reduces fine lines over time, leaving the skin with a healthy-looking glow.*
*Results based on expert grading in a four-week consumer test on 60 subjects.
We also recommend completing your morning skincare routine with a broad-spectrum sunscreen, like Super Fluid Daily UV Defense 50+. The lightweight formula, which also contains vitamin E, provides long-lasting protection against UVA and UVB rays as well as pollution. It’s non-comedogenic and suitable for all skin types, including sensitive skin.
What Else Can You Do For Stressed Skin?
In addition to using the products recommended here to help address your skin’s needs, practicing self-care may also help minimize stress, which, in turn, could reduce its impact on your skin’s appearance. While everyone has different methods of stress relief—for some, an intense workout is a great way to release tension; for others, meditation does the trick—Dr. Henry recommends scheduling your “you” time “as rigidly as [you’re] scheduling work time” to help keep your mind and body (and, by extension, skin) healthy.
Next: Learn how to pamper your skin with a relaxing at-home facial in our article How To Apply a Face Mask The Right Way.
Source I. Zari, Shadi, and Dana Alrahmani. “The association between stress and acne among female medical students in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.” Clinical, cosmetic and investigational dermatology vol. 10 503-506. 5 Dec. 2017, doi:10.2147/CCID.S148499