The Visible Effects of Stress

Get a Grip on Anxiety and Ease a Troubled Face — and Mind

These days stress is more often induced by threats of the psychological or emotional kind, but the response is the same. While stability-shattering events such as divorce, illness, or job loss take their toll, it’s the low-grade, chronic stress — commuter traffic, rebellious computers, overbooked schedules — that does the greatest damage to body, mind, and even appearance. In addition to the well-documented stress-related illnesses such as heart disease, insomnia, and backaches, chronic stress increases oil production, exacerbating acne, eczema, atopic dermatitis, and psoriasis.

It’s Written All Over Your Face

Stress is a major deterrent to having good skin. Even if you eat a perfect diet, if you’re under stress you’re not going to like the way it looks on you.

The link between stress and skin is becoming clearer all the time. There are many studies that show the direct connection between the brain, endocrine system, and your skin. In a study published in 2001, researchers found that stress causes deterioration in the skin’s permeability barrier, which is the body’s front line of protection against the outside world and essential to our survival. According to Peter Elias, a professor of dermatology at the University of California, San Francisco who led the study, when that barrier breaks down, there is havoc: Molecules are released whose job it is to shore up the barrier, but they also initiate inflammation on deeper skin layers.

When you’re stressed the barrier function of your skin gets damaged, and there’s transdermal water loss. This means fluid is lacking in all layers of the skin, which causes a dull complexion and exacerbates wrinkles.

In regular, peaceful circumstances, the stressor goes away and hormones return to normal levels. But chronic stress — the scourge of modern life — can have long-lasting, chaotic effects on the body’s biochemistry. Instead of dissipating, cortisol lingers in the body, which depresses the immune system and brings on hormonal imbalances, causing increased sebum production. Skin gets oilier and breakouts occur.

Erasing the Effects of Stress

The good news is plenty can be done to ease stress, minimize its effects, and benefit skin and all-around health. In addition to stress-reducing practices, nutrition supplements play an important role. “There are several important nutrients for skin that few get in sufficient quantities, particularly when under stress.

The most important for skin is gamma linolenic acid (GLA), found in borage oil, black currant seed oil, and evening primrose It’s been shown to be an effective treatment for inflammation and moisture loss associated with dry skin and aging, and a potent anti-inflammatory. Studies have shown that borage oil applied topically has a very dramatic healing effect on eczema, psoriasis, and contact dermatitis.

Techniques and products

Techniques used by estheticians include facial steaming, wrapping, exfoliation, waxing, pore cleansing, extraction, and chemical peels. Creams, lotions, wraps, clay or gel masks, and salt scrubs are used. Machines may also be used to help deliver high-tech services.

Some common therapies:

  • Chemical Peel

    An exfoliation process, very effective in treating a large range of skin concerns such as aging, sun damage, acne, mild scarring, improving overall skin brightness and evening skin tone. Peels can be light, moderate or deep. Light peels require no down time from work or normal activities. Moderate peels may require a day or two of down time, and deep peels can require a week or more to allow the skin to fully heal. Estheticians who are not working in a medical setting perform light to moderate peels only. Deep peels are performed by a physician, or under a physician’s supervision, for your safety.

  • Microderm Exfoliation

    The removal of dead skin cells manually (scrubbing, brushing, or using a system such as microdermabrasion), with a chemical peel (a product that causes dead skin cells to shed) or with an enzymatic product that digests dead skin cells.

  • Extraction

    This is the process of deep cleansing the pores, either manually (using gloved hands and cotton or tissue around the fingers, with gentle pressure to remove the impacted pore) or using a metal extraction implement designed to clear blocked pores. This can also include the use of a lancet (a small sharp blade to lift the dead cells of the skin prior to extraction).

  • Facial

    A facial is the most popular treatment performed by estheticians. It is a good way for your therapist to get a good understanding of your skin prior to suggesting more aggressive treatments. A facial generally includes makeup removal and skin cleansing, exfoliation by mechanical, enzymatic or chemical means, steaming, extractions, facial massage, a treatment mask, serum/moisturizer and sun block. For most people, facials can be scheduled every four weeks, although your therapist may recommend a different schedule based on your individual needs.

  • Microdermabrasion

    The process of resurfacing the skin using a machine that sands the skin’s epidermal (outer) layer, using either a wand tipped with crushed diamonds, or a spray of special crystals which are then suctioned back up along with the dead skin cells. It can be very helpful in improving skin texture, fine lines and the effectiveness of home care product penetration.

  • Waxing

    Waxing removes unwanted hair at the root. There are two different types of waxes: hard and soft. Soft wax is applied warm to the skin in a thin layer in the direction of hair growth. Cloth strips are then applied to the warm wax, rubbed in the direction of hair growth, and quickly pulled off in the opposite direction. This method is best used on larger areas of the body such as the legs, back or chest. Hard wax is used without cloth strips. It is applied warm, in a layer about the thickness of a nickel, allowed to dry and then removed quickly in the opposite direction of hair growth. Hard wax is less irritating to sensitive skin and is excellent for the bikini, underarm and facial areas.


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