When the stress hormone cortisol gets punched up by a rapidly approaching deadline, an argument with a spouse, or a barrage of pings from your phone, it affects many of our organs, including the skin. There’s an increase in inflammation and oxidative stress in that moment, which can trigger acne breakouts, slower wound healing, and even the thinning of our skin. Cortisol is also thought to have a hand in hyperpigmentation and gradual textural changes to our skin.
Cortisol can bind to cells, where it can then deteriorate collagen and elastin. Our stores of both deplete naturally as we age, but cortisol speeds up the process.
I realize I’m painting a pretty gloomy picture here. There are two reasons for that. First, I want to underscore just how detrimental chronic stress can be to the health of our skin. No one avoids stress altogether these days. Nor will occasional bursts of cortisol cause most of the effects above. But chronic stress – the kind experienced for days and weeks on end – can and will.
The second purpose of this blog post is to highlight the growing research into offsetting these effects because it’s finally beginning to bear fruit. It’s becoming increasingly clear that certain ingredients could physically interfere with cortisol.
Marine microalgae is one such example. It’s been shown to shield cells from cortisol. Stress is believed to generate cytokines, which are inflammatory molecules that can make skin sensitive, dry, and red. Microalgae has been shown, in numerous studies, to also reduce levels of cytokines in the skin.
Serums containing a microalgae-derived oil are already on the market.
As a reaction to the presence of higher-than-normal cortisol levels, our central nervous system releases a neurotransmitter called substance P that accelerates sebum production. Sebum is integral to a healthy skin barrier, but too much can cause enlarged pores, oily skin, and breakouts.
A gentle toner, applied after cleansing, can balance the pH of the skin barrier and remove lingering oil.
Finally, researchers also traced the deterioration of the skin barrier to psychological stress. When the skin barrier isn’t functioning as it should be, it leaves us even more susceptible to damage from UV rays and a host of environmental pollutants.
Here, a tried-and-true ingredient, vitamin C, combined with sunscreen should provide all the support that’s needed for a compromised skin barrier.