How To Care For Stressed Skin?

How To Care For Stressed Skin?

Photography, iStockphoto


How To Care For Stressed Skin?

We know the stress of the last two years has taken its toll. It stands to reason, then, that the anxiety we’ve felt could be the cause of those itchy patches, that recurring acne and that thinning hair. But there may be some additional factors at play, too. Read on for a primer on the brain-skin connection.

While they may seem like totally separate systems, different parts of the body are connected and often impact one another. In fact, derma­tology and psychology can be closely intertwined, says Laurent Misery, a professor of dermatology and a researcher at the University of Western Brittany in France,
in one of his academic papers. He found that many patients who suffered from chronic inflammatory skin concerns, such as eczema or psoriasis, also suffered from higher levels of stress.

Whether the skin concerns were the result of stress, or the stress actually came from the condition itself, the research shows us that our skin and brain are linked. When we experience changes in one area, it can lead to changes in the other.

Does stress have an impact on the skin?

So can stress contribute to our skin problems? It's possible, but many other factors need to be considered, says Quebec-based dermatologist Dr. Geneviève Thérien. Our skin won’t become dry the moment we feel a bout of tension coming on.” Stress won't cause itching right away, but eventually the strain can actually cause people to develop bad habits like nonstop scratching, hair pulling or nail biting,” she says.

Likewise, a single episode of acute stress is unlikely to escalate into a skin disease like eczema or psoriasis, she says. On the other hand, chronic stress, which lasts for an extended period of time, has the potential to cause a domino effect that impacts the skin. This type of stress can lead to the exacerbation of symptoms or the onset of inflammatory skin problems in people who may already have a genetic predisposition to suffer from these conditions.

The same goes for other inflammatory conditions like rosacea and acne, says Dr. Thérien. “It’s a butterfly effect: The increase in cortisol—the stress hormone—causes a drop in immunity, as well as a hormonal imbalance which can lead to more inflammation.” That’s why people with acne-prone skin are more likely to experience another breakout when they’re stressed.

A tough cycle to break

Sometimes the situation is such that the stress that’s affecting the skin turns into even more stress, because we’re worried about the worsening of our dermatological symptoms. This can lead to a cycle that’s difficult to stop. “In patients with chronic inflammatory skin diseases,” Misery writes, “psychological stress is an important issue, requiring specific attention and personalized psychological support.”

For people with skin diseases, it’s easy to understand how anxiety and depression can stem from the symptoms. Issues with body image and self-esteem can come just by being diagnosed with a condition, as well as feelings of shame or embarrassment. Learning effective coping strategies or seeking psychological help can aid those of us suffering with these negative feelings to finally put a stop to the vicious cycle.

Stress and hair loss

Alopecia, the medical term for hair loss, can also be affected by intense stress. It’s not uncommon for protracted worry from things like the loss of a loved one, a breakup or even burnout at the workplace to cause hair loss, thinning or breakage. The good news is that stress-related hair loss is often temporary, says Moncton-based Dr. Houfar Sekhavat, founder of the biotechnology firm Triple Hair, which specializes in developing hair growth solutions. Initial hair regrowth can take three to six months, the length of a regular hair growth cycle, he says.

Other effects of stress on the body’s largest organ are still being researched. Chronic stress, and the increase in cortisol, in particular, could be linked to the slower growth of nails, as well as premature aging, some researchers suggest—all the more reason give self-care and stress management top priority in your life!

5 steps to care for stressed skin

According to Quebec-based dermatologist Dr. Geneviève Thérien, maintaining the barrier function of the skin is key to its good health, whether you’re Zen or stressed. Here are her five tips for a skin barrier boost:

• When in the shower, avoid using extremely hot water and opt for a soap-free cleanser, which is more gentle on the skin and helps to maintain its protective layer.

• Regardless of your skin type, use a moisturizer that contains ceramides, which can also help fight dryness and itching.

Protect yourself from UV rays at all times by applying a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30 every day. Protect skin with long-sleeved shirts and full-length pants (some clothing even includes built in sun protection!) and wear a wide-brimmed hat when you’re in the sun.

Adopt a healthy lifestyle: move as much as possible, incorporate more fruits and vegetables into your diet— also excellent for countering oxidative stress in general—and don't smoke.

• Because lack of sleep has damaging effects on the skin, make sure you get enough Zs. This will help eliminate puffiness and dark circles and combat inflammation.

Our product picks


Photography, © Bruno Petrozza


1. This spray strengthens, thickens and adds density to hair while encouraging growth and nourishing both roots and scalp.

PLENTY NATURAL Hair-Densifying Spray, $60,

2. This ultra-light mask with thermal water works to soften skin during sleep.

URIAGE Eau Thermale Water Sleeping Mask, $21,

3. In addition to reducing the look of dark circles and fine lines, this anti-aging treatment protects against damage caused by free radicals triggered by blue light.

ESTÉE LAUDER Advanced Night Repair Eye Supercharged Gel-Creme, $92,

4. Stress can trigger nail biting that’s hard to stop. Trying to kick the habit? This varnish is designed with a bitter taste to discourage biting, and a strengthening formula to repair damaged nails.

VITRY Anti Bite Nail Varnish, $18.50,

5. Vitamin C, a well-known anti­oxidant, helps reduce the appearance of dark circles and increase skin’s radiance.

BURT’S BEES Illuminating Eye Balm, $20,

6. A highly hydrating serum that harnesses the power of vegan collagen and hyaluronic acid to achieve dewy, moisturized skin.

PACIFICA Vegan Collagen Complex Serum, $32,

7. The refreshing texture of this concentrate with a helps regenerate and strengthen the skin barrier.

VICHY LABORATOIRES Minéral 89 Probiotic Fractions Concentrate, $50,

8. This tinted mineral sunscreen made in Canada protects, evens out and illuminates the complexion, while providing skin with active anti-aging ingredients.

DAVINCIA Sunbrella Mineral Sunscreen Cream SPF 30, $115,

9. This product allows for double cleansing all in one step. The oil phase removes sebum, makeup and pollution and the hydro-milk phase captures impurities and rinses them away without stripping the skin.

TEAOLOGY Peach Tea Milk Oil Double Cleanser, $29,

10. A leave-in treatment that aims to curb hair loss with a formula that boosts the cellular metabolism of the scalp and activates growth.

KLORANE Hair Strengthening Serum with Quinine & Edelweiss, $40,

11. Sea salt exfoliates and ashitaba extract cleanses the scalp and hair by ridding them of impurities,
all while providing a refreshing cooling sensation.

SHU UEMURA ART OF HAIR Ashita Supreme Intense Revitalization Scrub, $83,

12. Suitable for sensitive skin, this cream enriched with jojoba seed, borage seed and coconut oils offers intensive and long-lasting nourishment to dry hands.

WELEDA Unscented Hand Cream, $14,

13. Lightweight, versatile and with 10% MSM (skin-soothing organic sulphur), this moisturizer has it all!

MOOGOO Natural Soothing MSM Moisturizer, $23,

14. The regenerating formula of this gel, enriched with hyaluronic acid, hydrates and plumps all skin types, even the most sensitive.

SVR [Hyalu] Biotic Regenerating Plumping Gel, $67,


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How To Care For Stressed Skin?