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5 signs your skin is stressed out—and how to deal with it


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Not a day goes by where I don’t either a) complain that I’m stressed out or b) hear from my friends about their stress. It’s just (unfortunately) a standard affliction of American life.

One of the worst parts of it, besides feeling scatterbrained going through your to-do list and the immense levels of cortisol coursing through your body? Stress shows up on your skin. (Ugh.)

Though plenty of people experience stress-induced acne and have, at one time or another, felt so overwhelmed that they even look frazzled, most don’t wind up creating their own beauty brands to tackle the issue. But that’s just what Sarah Kugelman, the founder and CEO of Skyn Iceland, did.

“I was so worn down because I was working a zillion hours and not eating the right things,” Kugelman says. “It messed up my immune system, and all that stress made me really sick.” It was evident if you looked at her, she says.

“[Stress] releases hormones into the bloodstream and creates different reactions in the skin.”

“I had cystic acne, signs of aging, and I lost my healthy glow,” says Kugelman. “So I spent a year and a half studying the connection between stress and skin, and found that basically when you’re going through a fight-or-flight response, it releases hormones into the bloodstream and creates different reactions in the skin.”

The thing is, as she points out, most people only pay attention to stress when they’re sick. “But when you’re under constant pressure, what’s really happening to your body leads up to that breakdown moment,” she says. “When your skin’s out of balance and not behaving the way it normally does, it usually means you’re stressed out.”

Thankfully, there are ways to look for—and prevent—stress from taking a toll not only on your mind, but also on your healthy glow. And it doesn’t involve overloading on topical skin-care solutions. “People start to use as many products as possible to fix the issue,” says Kugelman. “This can worsen your skin. The best thing to do is actually pare down your routine and start with a couple of basics, then slowly introduce one product at a time.” Then, of course, it’s good to engage in whatever de-stressing methods you prefer. Whether it’s sniffing soothing essential oils, practicing meditation, using breathing techniques, or boxing it out, do what you can to stay cool (and therefore glowing).

Keep reading for the signs to watch out for when your skin’s feeling stressed.

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stressed out skin
Graphics by Abby Maker for Well+Good

Irritation

Have you noticed that when you’re super stressed, minor things can really irritate you? Well, the same goes for your skin. “When you’re going through a fight-or-flight response, your body sometimes releases a histamine,” says Kugelman. “That’s linked to an allergic response, so you might see hives, itching, and redness.” She notes that this can ultimately lead to skin conditions such as rosacea, cirrhosis, and eczema. “These are all influenced by stress,” she says.

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stressed out skin

Adult acne

One of the worst feelings is getting a breakout after a high-stress day, and then stressing even more because of that uninvited guest on your face. “Hormones and chemicals that occur because of stress make your skin act differently,” says Kugelman. “Some people who never broke out before can wake up with pimples. It gets back to that imbalance in your body.” Typically, she says, stress-induced acne shows up around the mouth and chin area.

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stressed out skin

Accelerated aging

Intense stress doesn’t only make you feel like it’s aging you. Cortisol has been scientifically linked to breaking down collagen and elastin in your skin. “When you’re stressed out, the cortisol disrupts your circadian rhythms and breaks down your skin structure,” says Kugelman. “One study showed that your telomeres, the cells responsible for aging, shorten during stress—so they produce wrinkles and make the skin more lax.” The good news: This can be reversed as you learn to manage challenging times.

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stressed out skin

Dullness

Sadly enough, stress causes your skin to slack off in its job (as you’re struggling to hang in there). “The healing of your skin in times of stress starts to slow,” explains Kugelman. “Your skin doesn’t renew itself as quickly as it normally does—which results in a dullness of your complexion.” To help with this, she recommends regular exfoliation to eliminate dead skin cells and expedite cell turnover. Your glow will be back in no time.

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stressed out skin

Dehydration

Another way your woes can impact your radiance? Draining that healthy plumpness from your face. “Stress can impair your skin’s barrier function,” says Kugelman. “The outer layer of your skin protects you from bacteria and all kinds of things that can penetrate it, but it is lacking when cortisol is high.” The result is a dull complexion. Feeding your skin nourishing omega fatty acids can help deliver essential nutrients and restore that dewy glow. “I also encourage people to eat healthy fats like salmon, almonds, and avocados,” she says. And, of course, stay hydrated—you practically can’t drink enough water.

Other ways that could help your glow include these 10 stealth ways to de-stress at your desk, or learning the best way to manage stress for your Myers-Briggs personality type.