How to Deal With
Stressed-Out Skin

Your skin is trying to tell you something

Best skin care treatment for stress

We’re living in stressful times. I don't need to further stress you out by listing them here. But suffice it to say that all this uncertainty and anxiety takes its toll on our bodies. It's during these times that my skin betrays me any chance it gets. Because while I should be meditating more, getting better sleep and maybe drinking less, I'm not. And while I try to play it cool (who needs a full seven hours of sleep, anyway?), my skin displays the truth in the form of angry pimples or redness and irritation or dry, itchy patches.

There are two different types of stress: acute stress and chronic stress. A quick surge of “flight or fight” adrenaline isn't bad for you. It happens and it's gone. But our bodies were not made for a near-constant stream of stressors, says dermatologist Joshua Zeichner, MD, Director of Cosmetic and Clinical Research, Department of Dermatology at New York's Mt. Sinai Hospital. “Our bodies respond by boosting levels of a hormone called CRH—this increases cortisol levels to prepare our bodies for the stressful environment, but it also disrupts our natural oil production leading to both breakouts and dryness.” Those high cortisol levels take a toll on our whole body, of course, but a compromised complexion is what we often notice because it's the only organ we can see, says the doc.

So what's a guy to do? Focus on your skin barrier. You've likely heard the term before but Dr. Whitney Bowe, dermatologist and author of The Beauty of Dirty Skin describes it like this: Your skin barrier traps moisture in and keeps allergens, irritants and pollutants out. It requires three things in order to thrive: oil, water and the good bacteria that live on your skin. Unfortunately, cortisol depletes them all, and without that protection your skin gets its ass kicked, so to speak. Because chronic exposure to cortisol also inhibits the production of hyaluronic acid and collagen, which keep the skin smooth and plump. When you don't have that, skin gets thinner which makes it easier for lines and bags to appear.

And there's only so much that piling on products can do, both dermatologists confirmed. The key is gentle products that cleanse the skin, provide the necessary moisture and help restore the skin barrier to a more healthy place. Get that right, and maybe a few extra hours of sleep, and you should be able to de-stress your skin. I'll certainly be trying it. Sadly, the same simple strategy cannot be used to simply our lives.

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A Stressed
Skin Regimen

On-The-Spot
Acne Treatment

For pimples, dab them with a benzoyl peroxide cream. “This ingredient lowers levels of acne causing bacteria to reduce inflammation and dry out the pimple,” says Dr. Zeichner. But less is actually more in this case. “For example, Neutrogena's spot treatment contains 2.5% benzoyl peroxide, which is as effective at treating angry pimples as products with higher concentrations but is associated with less potential skin irritation to keep redness at a minimum.”

$8.79 by Neutrogena

New Moon Balm

This nourishing balm is basically your skincare first-aid kit. Apply a little to the aftermath of a blemish to help it heal and reduce any scarring. Smear it into dry patches, redness, razor burn or anywhere that is feeling particularly sensitive or raw. Panthenol and Vitamin E help restore skin barrier function, while allantoin helps speed up skin recovery and boost skin cell turnover. Since it's petroleum-free, it won't leave behind a greasy, oily finish either.

$12 by good light

Stress Rescue
Super Serum

If your stressed skin is less irritated and more ruddy/dry and making you look older than you really are, then this potion is what you're looking for. Yes, it's pricey but that's because it's packed with active and anti-inflammatory ingredients aimed at brightening dullness, reducing redness and softening the look of fine lines. Just a few drops of this serum packed with niacinamide, adaptogens and a proprietary superfood blend goes a long way.

$72 by Dr. Dennis Gross

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Clear Complexion
Foaming Cleanser

Dr. Zeichner suggests swapping out your regular facial cleanser for a gentle one that also contains salicylic acid. He often recommends Aveeno Clear Complexion—a simple, yet effective foaming cleanser that contains 2% salicylic acid. “This beta hydroxy acid removes excess oil and dead cells from the surface of the skin to keep the pores clear,” he says. He also says to give the cleanser time to work—just like with washing your hands.

$8.69 by Aveeno

Squalane + Probiotic
Gel Moisturizer

When your skin is irritated, Dr. Bowe says it's important to hydrate and protect the skin barrier. Otherwise, you'll end up with more inflammation. This gel moisturizer absorbs quickly into skin and is infused with natural squalane and ginger extract to reduce redness and even skin tone. Plus, it's got probiotics known to calm and soothe irritation while supporting your skin's microbiome. Use both in the morning and at night.

$52 by Biossance

SOS Daily Rescue
Facial Spray

If you really want to keep redness at bay, this spray is designed to do just that. The simple but effective daily treatment contains hypochlorous acid. This is naturally produced by our immune system as a first line of defense to fight irritation and defend against bad bacteria. When applied topically, it soothes sensitive or stressed skin—leaving it looking clear and healthy.

$28 by Tower 28

FYI

There is a right way to wash your face. Warm water is best as hot can strip the skin of its natural oils and cold does not allow the pores to open to remove dirt. Apply some cleanser and rub gently in a circular motion from the forehead, around eyes, down the cheeks, finishing at the chin. Rinse with warm or cool water and pat dry.

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