We all know people whose emotions are written all over their faces. But more of us might fall into that camp than we realize. That’s because our moods really can affect how our skin looks. If you’ve ever had a pimple right before a stressful event, you know this is true. But the effects don’t stop there!
The appearance of your skin can tell you more than you might realize about your internal state. People who have calm, clear skin are typically calm and peaceful on the inside as well. And if you’re angry or worked up much of the time, your skin is likely to reflect that too. The good news is that there’s a lot you can do to improve your mood – and you’ll reap the benefits internally and externally.
Most of us have a general idea of how our skin responds to stress. Acne is a very common reaction to spiking cortisol. But that’s not all that’s going on. When we feel stressed, our adrenal glands start pumping out hormones. The hormones drive the fight-or-flight response. And when your skin goes into fighting mode, it may make you want to flee!
Cortisol is one of these hormones. But you’ll also get a good dose of epinephrine (you may know this as adrenaline) and a little bit of testosterone.
This cocktail of hormones causes oil production to dramatically increase and often cause immune dysfunction. This is a key cause of breakouts. So you could end up with a cold sore or psoriasis flare.
How Stress Robs Your Skin of Nutrients
Plus, when you feel stressed, your body redirects energy to where it needs it the most and conserves the rest. Researchers have found that an increase in cortisol can decrease your skin’s energy metabolism by up to 40%. That means your skin cells won’t be spending time dealing with that breakout or rebuilding collagen.
Skin woes could very well be at the root of your stress. But remember, your adrenal system can’t distinguish between the stress of fleeing a hungry tiger and the modern stress of a high-school reunion. You don’t care how healthy your skin is when you’re trying to avoid being a wild animal’s lunch.
Of course, we talk a lot about healthy habits here. You know that to have healthy skin, you need to follow a skincare routine, eat right, exercise, and sleep well. But many of these good habits are the first to go when we’re stressed or in a bad mood.
Stress, fatigue, or sadness can encourage us to choose unhealthy foods. Anxiety can keep us tossing and turning. A packed calendar can mean you have time to exercise or get enough sleep, but not both. And we all know what it’s like to want to fall into bed without bothering to remove makeup.
However, eating too much sugar can cause your insulin levels and even testosterone to spike, perpetuating the cycle. And leaving makeup and grime on your skin will clog up your pores, triggering more breakouts. Exercise is a known stress reducer, so if you skip it, your skin and your mood may continue to suffer even after the inciting stressor is in the past. Turning to alcohol to dull stress can affect your sleep, dehydrate your skin, and up your sugar levels.
Pumping Nutrients Into Your Skin
The good news is that the reverse of all this is true as well. When you’re in a good mood, your body is still pumping out a cocktail of hormones. But these feel-good chemicals include endorphins, oxytocin, serotonin, and dopamine. And while research directly linking these chemicals to skin function is scarce, many dermatologists agree that the effects they see in their practices are evidence enough of the connection.
People with positive moods often have radiant-looking skin. It may be that these chemicals improve the skin’s barrier function, helping your skin maintain hydration.
One dermatologist even postulates that having a relaxed mood can help your muscles relax. And that effect could extend even to the tiny muscles that surround your hair follicles. When these muscles are all relaxed in unison, your skin will appear smooth and soft.
Of course, if you’re in a good mood, you’re likely to smile more. And a smile can go an awful long way toward enhancing your appearance! You can even give it a try if you aren’t feeling very positive. Acting the way you want to feel can actually change your mindset.
If mood really does play a role in the skin’s appearance, it’s important that we take steps to manage it. You already know the basics, like controlling your calendar. But certain strategies can directly benefit your skin and your mood simultaneously. And that can create a positive ongoing cycle. I think most of us agree that having great skin can help put us in a great mood!
Ancient Treatment Helps Both Mood and Skin Health
One of the best strategies for skin and mood health, believe it or not, is acupuncture. You might think that having tiny needles anywhere near your body sounds like the opposite of relaxation. But this practice actually tells your body to make and release more serotonin. You’ll get a mood boost and help stabilize your nervous system.
Plus, acupuncturists have helped patients treat various skin conditions for thousands of years. This practice is particularly good for a variety of skin issues. And you can talk to your acupuncturist for further recommendations about dietary changes, herbal remedies, and other lifestyle practices that can help with your specific skin issues.
Many acupuncturists are skilled in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and, as a result, have a variety of time-proven strategies for many different skin woes. To stay on top of stress and keep your skin healthy, consider visiting an NCCAOM certified acupuncturist every four to six weeks.
Even if you aren’t interested in acupuncture, you might want to consider TCM for other skin issues, particularly eczema. According to TCM, eczema is due to a buildup of heat in the body. External or internal factors, such as a wool allergy or a weak immune system, can contribute to this issue. However, a number of emotional conditions can exacerbate a buildup of heat, including anger, rage, jealousy, and stress. Internalizing these emotions can create inflammation.
Practitioners of TCM will take your emotional state as well as physical factors into account as they seek to help you correct imbalances in your body and release the buildup of heat and inflammation that's triggering the eczema. Beyond acupuncture, they may recommend a combination of dietary changes, herbal solutions, or even emotional releases that will help you resolve what's actually causing the problem from within, rather than just offering topical solutions that only help once you've experienced an outbreak.
Herbs Can Help as Well
Of course, in today’s world, we’ll never be able to get rid of stress altogether. And some days you just wake up on the wrong side of the bed. But if these days become more common than not, you may be burning out your adrenal system. Adaptogenic herbs, such as Rhodiola rosea, can help you cope.
You might fall somewhere in the middle. You often feel stressed but not necessarily burned out. If that’s you, I hope this information provides a gentle reminder to make some changes. Stress can decrease our overall health. Joy and calm can actually increase it. So look for opportunities to incorporate relaxation and fun into your life.
You’ll really benefit your skin if you can reframe activities like exercising or taking off your makeup at the end of the day as soothing self-care rituals. But even activities that don’t seem to have anything to do with your health, like reading a book or spending time crafting, can actually benefit your skin.
I know that a skincare routine can often feel like one more box you have to check in an already full day. But viewing taking care of yourself this way can actually be counterproductive. You’ve chosen your products with care, so apply them the same way. Whether you’re applying moisturizer in the morning or applying a special treatment around your eyes or to your neck in the evening, take some time to enjoy the process.
Mindfulness might be trendy right now, but that’s because it really can help boost your mood. Stay present as you move through your skincare routine. You’ll likely feel calmer and more grounded by the end. And that good mood will actually make your products seem even more effective. That’s definitely a skin win-win.