Soothe your skin with effective, hard-working products.

By Melanie Rud
Updated March 25, 2021
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Stress affects just about every part of your body. "The brain and skin are intimately connected,” explains New York City dermatologist Joshua Zeichner, M.D. "The way our bodies naturally respond to stress is meant to be a defense mechanism, but that response can have negative effects on our skin." The root of the issue is the hormone cortisol that spikes whenever we're stressed, and this can cause breakouts, dryness, and inflammation. When you become stressed, you'll soon see the effects of it on your skin. And once your complexion isn't looking its best, you might feel even more anxieties, kick-starting a vicious cycle, points out Chicago dermatologist Emily Arch, M.D. To help take care of your stressed skin, you'll need a few products and a little patience.

woman applying face cream
Credit: mapodile/ Getty Images

For Breakouts

Stress triggers the production of cortisol, which prompts oil glands to crank out more oil, Arch explains. Increased oil production can lead to clogged pores, which in turn causes inflammation, another factor that exacerbates breakouts and causes blemishes, she says.

Fast Fix: When a pimple pops up, keep your fingers off it with a stick-on patch like the Peace Out Salicylic Acid Acne Healing Dots ($19, Sephora). "When we’re stressed, we’re more likely to pick at blemishes," Zeichner says. That major no-no only worsens matters and prolongs healing time.

Prevention Plan: Switching your face wash can be a simple and effective way to manage oily skin. Zeichner advises using a cleanser containing salicylic acid, which breaks up and dissolves excess oil before it can clog pores. Try CeraVe Renewing SA Face Cleanser ($10, Walmart).

For Dryness and Irritation

Excess cortisol can weaken your skin’s protective barrier, leaving it vulnerable to moisture loss and outside irritants, plus cause inflammation.

Fast Fix: After washing your face, try Arch’s soak-and-seal method. "Start by applying a serum or sheet mask that contains hyaluronic acid. The ingredient attracts moisture to the skin," she says. Try Olay Regenerist MAX Hydration Serum with Hyaluronic Acid ($17, originally $44, Olay). Immediately after the serum soak, layer on a cream to seal in the moisture.

Prevention Plan: Use a moisturizer that contains ceramides daily. Think of your skin cells as tiles; ceramides are fat molecules that act like the grout between the tiles, ensuring that the skin barrier stays strong, healthy, and intact. Find them in Paula's Choice Water-Infusing Electrolyte Moisturizer ($28, originally $35, Paula's Choice).

For Dullness and Sallow Skin

A consequence of chronic stress is that your body starts to send more blood to the vital organs and less to the skin. Decreased circulation means your skin gets fewer nutrients and less oxygen, leaving it looking dull, sallow, and generally lackluster. Stress also slows the rate at which your skin cells naturally turn over and ultimately slough off, Arch says

Fast Fix: "A facial massage can both boost blood flow and help you relax," Zeichner says. Use your hands or a face roller on freshly moisturized skin whenever your complexion needs a little pick-me-up or you’re feeling extra stressed. Try Pacifica Crystal Wand Rose Quartz Facial Roller ($19, Ulta).

Prevention Plan: Be diligent (but gentle) about exfoliating. Clean with an exfoliator a few times a week to maintain a healthy glow. Try Murad Vita-C Triple Exfoliating Facial ($79, Murad). Zeichner advises applying in a circular motion.

Along with these products, make sure you're giving your body some time to relax. It’s just as important to address the root of these skin problems, which is stress. Carve out some time each day to do whatever makes you feel calm, whether that’s five minutes of meditating, a yoga class, or a chat with a friend. Your skin and mind will thank you.

And no matter what your routine entails, make sure you keep it as consistent as possible. "Keep your skin on track. You may not be able to control the stressful environment around you, but you can control your skincare routine," Zeichner says. "Protect your skin in the morning with antioxidants and sunscreen, and repair it in the evening with moisturizers and collagen stimulators like retinol or glycolic acid."

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