"While staying indoors can help with ample sun protection, it can also have a negative impact on our skin health," explains Y. Claire Chang, MD, a board-certified cosmetic dermatologist at Union Square Laser Dermatology in New York. "Spending more time indoors comes with changes in our diets, activity levels, the air quality, and mental health." Below, she lays out exactly what might be causing your skin to be looking and reacting differently than usual.
5 things that could cause skin issues during social distancing
1. Changes in your diet
If you've been snacking on processed food, dairy, or carbohydrates during quarantine time, it may explain some of your sudden breakouts. Research has shown that diets rich in sugar, processed carbohydrates, and dairy can all make acne worse, and to combat this, Dr. Chang recommends trying to eat as many whole grains, vegetables, fruit and protein as possible (if you need some ideas, there are about a million things you can do with chickpeas that cover all of the above). In addition to what you're eating, what you're drinking may have an effect on your skin, too. Alcohol consumption, says Dr. Chang, changes the hormonal balance in skin, making it more prone to redness and inflammation. "Alcohol is known to flare acne and rosacea, and excess alcohol also causes dehydration of the body and skin, which can cause dull complexion and worsened fine lines," she explains.
2. Changes in activity level
Considering you're stuck inside, you're likely not getting as much exercise as you were pre-quarantine, simply because you aren't moving around as much. "Decreases in routine activity level and exercise while staying indoors can lead to lower circulation to the skin," says Dr. Chang, which can lead to skin swelling as well as a dull complexion. To keep yourself active, try one of these streaming workouts that you can do in your living room.
3. Air quality
Whether you're sitting in all-day heat or AC, the low humidity of the air inside your bunker can significantly dry out your skin. "Constantly being exposed to air conditioning or the heater lowers the humidity in the air, which can lead to dry, irritated skin," says Dr. Chang. Because of this, it's extra important to layer on hydrating and moisturizing ingredients when spending a lot of time indoors. It is important to keep our skin hydrated and moisturized when spending a lot of time indoors, so remember to layer on a hyaluronic acid-packed serum, and consider investing in a humidifier, like the Pure Enrichment MistAire ($40). Because we also know that the air indoors can be more polluted than the air outdoors, an air purifier may help the situation, too.
The stress-skin connection is real, and is particularly heightened at a time when the nation's collective anxiety is seriously spiked. "Stress leads to excess cortisol levels and overproduction of inflammatory cytokines, which increases inflammation in the skin and worsens inflammatory skin conditions, like acne, rosacea, eczema, and psoriasis," says Dr. Chang. Stress has also been linked to an increase of oil production in your skin, which can cause acne to flare up. Consider integrating stress-fighting activities into your day, like journaling, sanity walks, and meditation, to help keep you calm combat these issues.
The best quarantine skin-care routine
"Staying at home does not mean you can forget your daily skin-care routine," says Dr. Chang. "Many people forget to wash their faces and apply their antioxidant serums, moisturizers, retinoids, and sunscreen while staying at home, but it's important to keep up with your daily skin-care routine during this time." Here, she lays out the products you need to keep your skin happy and well-functioning.
Even if you aren't wearing makeup right now, it's still important to wash your face in the morning and at night. "Use a gentle cleanser to rid your skin of all the oil, dead skin cells, and bacteria that has accumulated—it's important to de-clog your pores and allow your skin to breath," says Dr. Chang. A gentle cleanser, like Cetaphil, will remove dirt and debris without stripping your skin of its natural oils. Or, if you're acne prone, opt for something like La Roche Posay Effaclar Medicated Gel Acne Cleanser ($15), which has benzoyl peroxide to help decrease inflammation and destroy acne-causing bacteria beneath your skin.
2. Apply an Antioxidant Serum
While you may only use your vitamin C serum in the morning during regular life, Dr. Chang suggests doubling up and using it in the a.m. and p.m. during quarantine times. "Your skin and body will become stressed at times, and antioxidants can help soothe the skin and fight damage from stress and free radicals," she says. She suggests this serum, which is gentle enough to be used on all skin types and contains vitamin C and ferulic acid to help soothe and protect skin.
3. Moisturize all day long
Since the indoor air is so dry, you'll want to apply moisturizing ingredients throughout the day in order to keep skin healthy and hydrated (this, it's worth noting, is a lot easier to do when you don't have any makeup on).
4. Don't forget to wear sunscreen
Even though you aren't going outside, it's still important to protect your skin from UV rays, which can penetrate through windows and glass, and the blue light from your screen. This one is a dermatologist-favorite mineral sunscreen, which shields against both UVA and UVB light. "It also contains antioxidants, like niacinamide and vitamin E, to further soothe, repair, and protect the skin, and it has hyaluronic acid to help keep skin hydrated without clogging the pores," says Dr. Chang.
5. Remember your retinol
If you're a diehard retinol wearer (which, according to derms, most everyone should be once they hit 30), now is not the time to ditch your usual routine. "For those who are acne-prone, I recommend using retinoids nightly to prevent and treat acne, because retinoids help fight inflammation and normalize skin cell turnover," says Dr. Chang. This option will only run you $13, and you can grab it at the drugstore on your next toilet paper run.
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