Stress. It’s happening all the time to our skin whether we like it or not. Internally, we’re dealing with mountains of modern-day mayhem that sends stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol soaring. Externally, we’re confronted with environmental aggressors such as UV exposure and pollution that can take a toll on our complexions. And when you add all of this up, you’re often left with breakouts, redness, and an overall compromised skin barrier.
When you’re stressed internally, your body goes into fight-or-flight mode. “It goes back to when human beings were living in prehistoric times,” says Dennis Gross, MD, board-certified dermatologist and founder of Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare, a brand that just released a trio of skin-care products formulated for stressed-out complexions. “It wasn’t about anything more than survival, so when faced with animals like a saber-toothed tiger, they’d react with the fight-or-flight response. It’s the same in the modern day. When you get an email from your boss, you get increased elevations of adrenaline and cortisol.”
With these two stress hormones pumping throughout your body, certain physiological things happen. “You have to ration your blood flow, so you’d have to send more blood to your heart so it can pump faster, more blood to your lungs so that they can expand, and more blood to your brain so you can make split-second decisions,” says Dr. Gross. Because these reactions are happening to keep your vital organs operating at their optimal function, your skin suffers. “When you’re stressed, you get less blood flowing to your skin, so it’ll have fewer nutrients, less oxygen, and fewer antioxidants,” he says.
Because all of this is happening throughout your body, skin looks dull, dry, blotchy, red, and generally compromised. “Skin will have an unhealthy look, and can be paler or drier,” says Dr. Gross. “You can get red blotches and pigments forming, you see breakouts, and fine lines look worse—these are the classic signs of stress. It all goes back to a reduction in circulation because the skin’s not working optimally.”
It may sound like an intimidating problem to solve—especially considering how stressed out our population is—but it just takes three skin-care ingredients and a single practice to help undo the damage. Keep scrolling to find out the three-part equation for happy, chill skin on repeat.
1. Superfoods and adaptogens
“Superfoods and adaptogens are food sources that have incredible superpowers in the human body,” says Dr. Gross. Adaptogens (plants that are used to help the body find equilibrium) can aid skin even more than regular antioxidants. According to Dr. Gross, mushrooms are top notch, as they reduce inflammation and combat oxidative stress (this comes from environmental aggressors such as UV radiation or pollution). Then there’s goji berry, which “helps to balance the skin’s microbiome,” he says. Superfoods such as avocado extract, kiwi, and kakadu plum can help to nourish your skin and boost the barrier, which can become depleted with stress—and these are found in Dr. Gross’s Stress Rescue Super Serum ($74) and Stress Repair Face Cream ($72).
Niacinamide, or vitamin B3, is essential in repairing stressed-out skin. “Niacinamide helps dark circles that come from stress and puffiness around the eyes,” says Dr. Gross. “It improves moisture in the skin, supports the skin’s barrier, and helps repair the complexion even under stress.” Ever notice how your skin can get red and blotchy when you’re stressed out? Dr. Gross points out that niacinamide can help reduce this by giving skin the nutrients it needs. “It also helps regulate oil production,” he says. “A lot of times people who are stressed complain that their skin is so oily.” The ingredient is in every product in the new Dr. Gross line, and is the star of the SOS Eye Cream ($65).
3. Facial massage
The last part of the equation for stressed skin is incorporating facial massage into your beauty regimen, which will help revive the circulation that’s been reduced. According to Dr. Gross, the circulatory system helps to distribute nutrients to skin; however, when this function is impaired due to stress, it can cause a ripple effect that causes the lymph to back up and skin to get puffy. Massaging your face, whether with your hands, a gua sha stone, or some sort of facial roller, will help drain that excess fluid through the lymphatic system and promote circulation throughout the skin, keeping stress away from your skin, and if only temporarily, out of your life.
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