The Unexpected Reason The Past Year Made Your Skin Drier, According To This Derm

mbg Beauty Director By Alexandra Engler
mbg Beauty Director
Alexandra Engler is the Beauty Director. Previously she worked at Harper's Bazaar, Marie Claire, SELF, and Cosmopolitan; her byline has appeared in Esquire, Sports Illustrated, and Allure.com.
Woman Applying Skin Cream in a Handheld Mirror

We've long believed that your skin and emotional health are intimately connected. Losing a good night's rest can show up as sallow, dull skin the very next day. Stressful periods can appear as bouts of breakouts or flare-ups. Chronic, prolonged stress can show up as premature aging over time. Yes, any number of mental and emotional stressors can appear on the skin. 

Well, recently I was chatting with mindbodygreen Collective member and board-certified dermatologist Whitney Bowe, M.D., about stress and the skin barrier function. She's one to stay on top of the research—and in a recent episode of mindbodygreen's beauty podcast Clean Beauty School, we talked about how stress from the unlikeliest of circumstances can affect the skin in very strange ways.

How stress makes your skin drier & why you may have noticed it this past year.

This past year, I had a very specific skin complaint I spoke at length about with anyone who would listen: My skin is so dry! I've always ebbed between oily-prone and combination skin, but for the past several months, it seemed that just about everything I did to hydrate my skin was for naught: I found thicker creams than I used to wear. I layered hydrating serums. I topped it all off with occlusive oils and sleeping masks before bed. And, yet, my skin was dehydrated. 

And I wasn't the only one—anecdotally, most people I knew were suffering from parched, dull skin. Well after my chat with Bowe, I think I know the reason why.

"I was reviewing some research about the brain-skin connection, and in one study there were these poor mice. They deliberately put them in overcrowded conditions, and mice, well, they liked their space. Putting all these mice in this very tight space—it's almost like us in a pandemic with a house full of like five screaming children. That's the level of stress they're measuring—so a lot of stress," she says.

She goes on to explain that because of the intense stress the mice were under, "they developed leaky skin," she says, noting that leaky skin is how we describe a barrier that is not able to keep moisture in. "They actually measured something called transepidermal water loss. So they looked at how much water was actually being evaporated, leaving the mice's skin, and they found that they were completely dehydrated. Just from being stressed out!" 

There are even several (early) reports that quarantine has triggered dry and inflammatory skin conditions to even just your basic itchy, dry skin

And here's the thing: Despite our best efforts to tame it topically, stress still does a number on the body. "So they're drinking water all day long, you know; they're using their mouse moisturizer religiously," she jokes. "But you know, their skin is getting bloated, dry, and they actually develop wrinkles. I think that that just speaks volumes to the idea that stress really affects how we look." 

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The takeaway. 

One of the most important things you can do to help your skin is to find a stress management technique that can work for you—be it breathing exercises, yoga, or meditation. If you've noticed that this last year, which has certainly taken a toll on many of us, is showing up on your face–you're not alone. And there's research to back it up. 

Enjoy this episode! And don't forget to subscribe to our podcast on iTunes, Google Podcasts, or Spotify.

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