A Little Sweetness for Stressed Skin
Skin problems often show up at the most inconvenient times. That isn’t due to coincidence or even Murphy’s Law. There is a relationship between bad levels of stress and skin inflammation. Both physical and psychological stressors can impact our skin and hair, as can oxidative stress. Stress may show up as short-lived skin irritation or contribute to ongoing skin concerns or premature aging. I’ll share some examples and insight into how that happens along with some simple steps to soothe and mitigate the impact of physical and emotional circumstances on skin health and appearance.
We have all experienced how a scrape or a little too much sun can disturb the epidermis, our protective, outermost layer of skin. Our skin can be stressed physically like this by cold air during snow sports or the abrasion of sand and salt water on a beach vacation, even if we feel completely relaxed. This makes sense because we require an intact epidermal barrier to maintain healthy skin, shield us from damage and hold moisture in. If a physical stress penetrates the top of layer of the skin, it can allow entry to harmful microbes, prolong repair of any irritation, and even contribute to chronic conditions.
That means that wounds, eczema, and psoriasis will be worse if we have a compromised skin barrier. But what is even more fascinating to me is the stress doesn’t need to be external or physical in nature to affect our skin. Psychosocial stress has been directly linked to these skin conditions too. Acute psychological stress can cause us to perspire or develop a hot red stress rash right before an important presentation (do not ask me how I learned this), and if the stress is chronic, it may even cause a build up of some hormones that over time may weaken the immune system's ability to fight off viruses like the ones that cause cold sores or warts.
Key stress response hormones called catecholamines can stimulate itching sensations in the skin. Release of these compounds due to emotional stress can also inhibit hair growth, resulting in hair thinning, or can deplete pigment-producing cells in the hair follicle, leading to gray hair. Additionally, although the understanding of the relationship is not completely clear, the brain-skin axis is a bidirectional pathway. That means that it can translate psychological stress into production of local skin inflammation, and skin irritation can also affect our psyches.
The negative effects of psychosocial and oxidative stress can be related to flares in skin problems, whether they be bumps, boils or ‘bacne’ (back acne). One study of healthy people with and without warts showed that those with warts had more markers for oxidative stress. This could mean that improving the balance between oxidants and antioxidants in the body may help them. Because of all these links, it makes sense to me to have some self-care practices up our sleeves for those times when stress gets under our skin. If we can incorporate soothing habits into our lives, we can tackle the effects of these various stressors.
Here are some of my favorite cheerful treatments, made with antioxidant and antibacterial ingredients. These soothing recipes are also non-toxic, they are completely edible, using healing and aromatic materials. Try to meditate for anywhere from 5 minutes to 30 minutes while enjoying your steam or face mask. Regular practice of meditation has been shown to lower stress chemicals over time, and we know that meditation and other relaxation techniques have been shown to help skin conditions including psoriasis.
Use about one teabag’s worth of an herbal infusion that you enjoy. Chamomile, calendula, and holy basil all have antioxidants and soothing and calming effects and will work wonderfully to help you and your skin relax.
Bring 3-4 cups of filtered water to a boil and pour into a clean glass bowl. Add herbs to the water, cover with a pot lid and steep for 5 minutes. Drape a towel over your head and remove the lid from the bowl. Maintaining a distance of at least a few inches for comfort and safety, tent the towel around and above the bowl to allow the steam to reach your face. Unwind, close your eyes, and breathe deeply for several minutes or until the steam has dissipated. Enjoy the sense of relaxation. If you wish, you may drink the infusion. Now that the tea is warm and not hot, it is an ideal time to stir in some manuka honey.
Dab this aromatic paste on bites, cystic acne, pimples, stings, and blackheads. Appropriate for oily or congested skin. For those with sensitive skin, dermatitis, or other types of dry irritation, skip the clay and replace with aloe gel freshly squeezed from the plant. Leave on as long as is comfortable and then wipe off.
- 1 drop Flora Mānuka Oil
- 1/2 tsp Flora Mānuka Honey MGO 250+ or higher
- 1/8 tsp fine ground dried rosemary or ginger powder
- 1 tbsp bentonite or kaolin clay
Healing Green Mask
Provides a dose of healing nutrients and antioxidants to encourage revitalization and skin renewal. Gentle enough for everyday use. Appropriate for dry, dull or aging skin. Leave on as long as is comfortable and then wash off with lukewarm water. Rinse in cool water to close pores.
- ¼ cup mashed ripe avocado (optional, adds more moisture for very dry skin)
- ½ tsp unpasteurized honey like Flora’s Mānuka Honey MGO 100+ or Mānuka Honey Blend MGO 30+
- 1 tsp spirulina powder, such as Gandalf Organic Spirulina from Flora
Golden Glow Mask
Use this golden mask to brighten dull skin and prevent hyper-pigmentation. Keep on skin for 20 minutes before washing off with warm water and rinsing in cool water. Repeat often for several weeks.
- ½ ripe banana
- 1 tsp unpasteurized honey, such as Flora Mānuka Honey Blend MGO 30+
- 1 tsp turmeric powder
- ½ tsp fresh lemon juice