What Is Anti-Stress Skincare & How Does It Work?  

As stress levels hit their peak, could the antidote lie in your skincare cupboard?


Stress (in its many different forms) can manifest on skin. Here's what to do about it. Photo / Babiche Martens

Look, we’re all a bit stressed out right now, and it’s showing up on our skin.  

The link between our mental health and our complexions is well-documented, with a number of bio-chemists and skincare enthusiasts alike charting its effects.  

A recent medical journal written by Ying Chen and John Lyga titled Brain-Skin Connection: Stress, Inflammation And Skin Ageing* unpacked how clinical observations linked psychological stress to the onset or aggravation of skin diseases.  

One section reads: Recent research has confirmed skin both as an immediate stress perceiver and as a target of stress responses. As the largest organ of the body, skin plays important barrier and immune functions, maintaining homeostasis between external environment and internal tissues”. 

The journal goes on to explain how stress manifests on skin through the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, which spurs on a cascade of hormonal and immune responses in the body.  

This not-so-fun cocktail of stress hormones can cause dryness and sensitivity, while laxity-inducing cortisol (aka the collagen killer), which may induce sebaceous glands to switch into overdrive, causing blemishes or acne.  

The sensorial nature of some beauty products has meant that some level of mental stress relief has always been present in formulas, but in 2021 brands are stepping it up with therapeutic blends and adaptogenic ingredients said to restore a state of Zen for your skin, too.  

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HOW STRESS AFFECTS SKIN

Stress comes in a number of different forms — physical, environmental, emotional or psychological — all of which can exact their toll on skin.  

A deep dive into the science of stress on skin reveals that the body’s endocrine system (which dictates hormone function) behaves in a very orderly fashion when body and mind are relaxed. 

However, when any type of stress presents itself, the system may waver and aggravate skin concerns like eczema or breakouts.  

Skin can’t tell the difference between which form of stress the body is experiencing, but can decipher whether the stress is acute or chronic (the most problematic of the two).  

The primary purpose of anti-stress skincare is to soothe inflammation and fortify the skin barrier. Photo / Babiche Martens

WHAT THAT LOOKS LIKE 

Acne 
An unanticipated rush in cortisol can also disrupt other hormones, causing an increase in sebum production which may lead to breakouts. Not only this, but stress can interrupt the delicate balance between good and bad bacteria in the gut, thereby contributing to acne flare-ups.  

Premature ageing  
The aforementioned study also examined how stress can negatively impact the skin’s barrier function, which can contribute transepidermal water loss and the breakdown of collagen tissue that accelerate skin ageing.  

Redness  
A compromised immune system when facing stress is to blame for inflammation in both skin and bodyexacerbating certain skin conditions like psoriasis, eczema and atopic dermatitis. Nervous tendencies to pick, scratch or itch irritated skin when stressed only serves to further aggravate them, so try not to touch.  

Dark circles 
Due to sleep disturbances or insomnia, fluid can collect in the under-eye area, thereby increasing the appearance of dark circles. It’s not helped by gravity when you climb out of bed, which can further worsen its effects.  

THE RISE OF ANTI-STRESS SKINCARE 

A salve for fatigued skin and stressed mind, anti-stress skincare may help assuage uncertain times like these. 

Unless formulated with aromatherapeutic ingredients, anti-stress skincare won’t do a helluva lot to alleviate mental stress, but it can soothe the physical manifestations of it.  

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Simply put, anti-stress skincare targets inflammation caused by stress and repairan impaired barrier function.  

Where anti-stress ingredients are concerned, expect to see hyaluronic acid and ceramides to soothe and hydrate, antioxidants for protection and peptides to counteract skin laxity. Adaptogens may also make a cameo here, with reishi, ashwagandha, turmeric and holy basil commonly found in anti-stress skincare.  

Left to right: Lancome Hydra Zen Nuit Anti-Stress Moisturising Night Cream; Dermalogica Stress Positive Eye Lift; Dr. Dennis Gross B3 Adaptive SuperFoods Stress Repair Face Cream; Darphin Vetiver Aromatic Care Stress Relief Detox Oil Mask. Photos / Supplied

HOW TO INCORPORATE IT INTO YOUR ROUTINE  

Struggling with skin on the fritz thanks to a wired mind or lack of sleep? Here's eight products to try (all of which are available online and will ship to your home when restrictions ease).  

Melt away the day’s stresses and signs of fatigue with the Lancome Hydra Zen Nuit Anti-Stress Moisturising Night Cream, $107, which recruits French rose extract, mu dan pi and moringa to protect skin from the visible manifestations of stress. It also boasts the unique ingredient Neurocalm, which not only soothes skin, but also helps to diffuse the impacts of emotional and environmental stress on skin while you slumber.  

If sleep is hard to come by, then consider adding a two-in-one eye treatment and masque to your repertoire, like Dermalogica’s Stress Positive Eye Lift, $128. The cooling gel-cream works wonders on the delicate under-eye area — tackling puffiness and dark circles, while boosting skin luminosity and restoring the skin’s barrier function.  

Loaded with barrier-boosting niacinamide is the Dr. Dennis Gross B3 Adaptive SuperFoods Stress Repair Face Cream, $116, which provides protection against oxidative stress. It's cocktailed with a blend of superfoods and adaptogenic herbs like Shatavari which build up the skin’s resilience to stress while battling free radical damage.  

Smooth on the Darphin Vetiver Aromatic Care Stress Relief Detox Oil Mask, $88, and allow the deeply restorative formula to undo the visible effects of lack of sleep and stress. The gel-to-milk texture melts easily into skin, while the calming scent works to alleviate feelings of overwhelm.  

Left to right: Kiehl’s Skin Rescuer Stress-Minimizing Daily Hydrator; Tahi Skincare Marino Wellness Oil; Givenchy Ressource Rich Moisturizing Cream – Anti-Stress; This Works Stress Check Face Mask. Photos / Supplied

Designed with stressed-out skin in mind is Kiehl’s Skin Rescuer Stress-Minimizing Daily Hydrator, $60. It works by halting the skin’s inflammation response, thereby lessening the appearance of the visible effects of stress on skin like dullness, redness, blotchiness and fatigue. Nourishing ingredients like rosa gallica botanical extract, mannose and chamomile serve double duty to fortify the skin barrier while leaving skin feeling soothed and comfortable.  

Local skincare maker Tahi Skincare offers the perfect salve for mature, stressed or scarred skin. Its Marino Wellness Oil, $69, can be used as a balancing facial cleanser, a calming night cream, an aromatherapy bath oil, a gentle body wash, hydrating moisturiser or to soothe burns or irritation.  

Givenchy’s new Ressource skincare range comprises four anti-stress facial products, including two day creams, a treatment lotion and concentrated serum. Viva loves the Givenchy Ressource Rich Moisturizing Cream – Anti-Stress, $119, a hydrating rich crème which offers skin a burst of moisture for up to 72 hours while protecting against pollution, blue light, lack of sleep and hormonal stress, for a complexion that’s dewy, plump and balanced.  

Calm an irritated complexion with This Works Stress Check Face Mask, $72. The skin-soothing treatment mask is formulated with a botanical oil blend alongside peppermint extract, turmeric oil, giant hyssop extract and rose root to defend against internal aggressors (stress) and environmental aggressors (pollution).  

STOCKISTS: Darphin, Dr. Dennis Gross and This Works from Mecca or online at Meccabeauty.co.nz; Dermalogica from Dermalogica skin centres, department stores, Life pharmacies or online at Dermalogica.co.nz; Givenchy from Themarket.com; Kiehl’s from the Westfield Albany or Sylvia Park boutiques, selected department stores or online at Themarket.com; Lancôme from selected department stores and pharmacies, or online at Themarket.com; Tahiskincare.com.  

*Source: Journal published on the US National Library Of Medicine National Institutes Of Health: Ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4082169 

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