, The Science Behind Your Stress-Induced Breakouts

The Science Behind Your Stress-Induced Breakouts

This is not a self-care, beauty-is-a-ritual kind of story. It’s a science-driven-formulas kind of story. We’re here to talk about products that block the dulling, pore-enlarging effects of the stress hormone cortisol, which gets mainlined into your bloodstream by deadlines, arguments, and endless smartphone pings.

“When stress hormones are dialed up, we get a downstream effect on many organs, including the skin — an increase in inflammation and oxidative stress, which can lead to acne breakouts, slower wound healing, thinning of the skin, and it’s thought to contribute to hyperpigmentation and textural changes over time,” says Whitney Bowe, MD, an assistant clinical professor of dermatology at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City. “We are learning more about these effects and how applying certain ingredients directly to the skin can help mitigate them.”

One way that cortisol affects skin is by binding to cells where it can accelerate the loss of collagen and elastin, says Dendy Engelman, MD, a dermatologist in New York City. But certain ingredients may create a physical blocker against cortisol. This is the claim behind Omorovicza Cushioning Day Cream and Midnight Renewal serum, both of which contain a microalgae-derived oil.

“There have been studies done that show how marine algae substances can work as protectants for our skin by absorbing UV rays and acting as antioxidants,” says Dr. Engelman. “In addition, it’s been shown that microalgae can shield cells from the hormone itself.”

Omorovicza Cushioning Day Cream

Midnight Renewal serum

Stress may also generate cytokines, inflammatory molecules that can make skin dry, red, and sensitive. And algae, like the kind in Loum’s Pure Serenity Golden Vitamin C Serum, can help there too. “Marine microalgae is clinically proven to reduce levels of cytokines in the skin,” says Francisco Tausk, MD, a psychodermatologist at the University of Rochester Medical Center, who has published numerous research articles on the topic.

Loum’s Pure Serenity Golden Vitamin C Serum

A third way stress affects skin is through the central nervous system, which releases a neurotransmitter known as substance P that ramps up sebum production. Although sebum is an important part of a healthy skin barrier, too much can result in enlarged pores, oily skin, and breakouts, Dr. Engelman says. “After cleansing, use a gentle toner to balance the pH of the skin barrier and remove lingering oil and potential causes of acne, while nourishing the skin.” (She likes Humphreys Witch Hazel Toner.)

Humphreys Witch Hazel Toner

According to an article published in the journal Scientific Reports, psychological stress also deteriorates the skin barrier function. “This leaves us susceptible to increased damage from external aggressors like UV rays and pollutants,”says Dr. Engelman. Tried-and-true ingredients like vitamin C — and, you know, sunscreen — can combat that. Shiseido’s new WASO Yuzu-C Sleeping Mask is infused with vitamin C-rich Shikuwasa lime extract and moisture capsules that made this tester’s skin look markedly less dull after a week of nightly use — without getting deadline extensions or pausing all notifications.

Shiseido’s WASO Yuzu-C Sleeping Mask

This story originally appeared in the August 2022 issue of Allure. Learn how to subscribe here.

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