Can Skincare Products Really Make You Look Less Stressed-Out?

The answer isn't so black and white.

calming skincare stress free
Photo: Photo by Park Street on Unsplash

It's impossible not to feel stressed out when the world is literally on fire, and there's a global pandemic with no end in sight — on top of, you know, dealing with your own life.

And the stress of this year actually can manifest itself on your face.

Experts suggest there is a brain-skin connection, with intense or chronic stress causing premature skin aging, inflammation, and increased acne.

"Your skin reflects your internal health, as it is the largest organ and very metabolically active," says board-certified dermatologist Dr. Jessie Cheung. "Stress releases cortisol, the hormone that primes your body to fight-or-flight, but at the expense of your immune system's ability to defend and heal, while driving inflammation."

Acne breakouts caused by excess cortisol production, along with pre-mature signs of aging due to a lack of collagen and elastin are a few ways stress can manifest itself on your face. Intense stress can also cause with flare ups of chronic skin conditions such as eczema, psoriasis, and rosacea.

Extreme cases of stress can also create a continuous cycle, causing more worry because of a breakout, for example, that's popped up because of the initial stressor.

"Some people, for a variety of reasons, some unknown, are prone to more flare ups during heightened emotional states like stress, anger, irritability," says Matt Traube, a licensed clinical therapist who specializes in psychodermatology. "Unfortunately it can be caused by a world problem and then they see it on the skin, and it exacerbates the problem and keeps people in a challenging place."

That's where anti-stress skincare comes into play, products labeled with promises to soothe and calm "stressed-out" skin. But, what exactly is anti-stress skincare?

"Anti-stress skincare is all about nourishing the skin barrier and calming inflammation," Dr. Cheung explains. "Oils and ceramides to balance hydration and soothe, anti-oxidants to repair and protect, and growth factors and peptides to maintain collagen synthesis."

Dr. Cheung says that stressed-out skin is less resilient, so skin has more difficulty defending itself from the environment and staying hydrated. This can cause skin to get dried out and irritated more easily, which is why the function of many anti-stress skincare products is to hydrate and calm skin.

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While adding these products into your skincare routine might help mitigate the physical effects of stress, it's also important to deal with your emotions and be easier on yourself to slow down or stop the perpetual cycle.

Traube says he works in conjunction with dermatologists to get patients with chronic skin conditions like eczema dermatological treatment, but he also teaches them ways to get to the roots of their stress and understanding their triggers.

"If it's something that can easily be resolved, I always say go fix or solve it," he says. "With something like COVID, we have no idea when it's going to end or what things will look like afterwards. At that point, I teach people more acceptance-based strategies, to learn how to better sit with your feelings and create more psychological flexibility. Then, it doesn't feel like there's such a threatening relationship between you and whatever is causing the stress."

Dr. Cheung also recommends getting enough sleep, supporting your gut with probiotics, fiber, and antioxidant-rich foods to curb the effects of cortisol on your body, as well as taking supplements to build up your body's resilience to stress.

"Look for supplements that include ashwagandha, ginseng, rhodiola, bacopa, eleuthera, and schisanda," she says. "Certain vitamins and amino acids will calm the mind and support serotonin and dopamine production, such as folic acid, inositol, magnesium, 5-HTP, L-taurine, L-theanine, L-tyrosine, and GABA."

And if you want to add in some anti-stress skincare products to your routine, the following five are great options.

Dr. Dennis Gross Stress Rescue Super Serum

Anti-Stress Skincare Products

This supercharged serum contains niacinamide, superfoods, and adaptogens to help minimize the five signs of stress-induced aging: fine lines, wrinkles, redness, dullness, and uneven texture.

To buy: $74;

REN Clean Skincare Evercalm Gentle Cleansing Milk

Anti-Stress Skincare Products

Designed specifically for sensitive skin, this hydrating cleanser rinses away dirt, excess oil, and makeup, while supporting the skin barrier to prevent dryness and irritation.

To buy: $32;

Chantecaille Stress Repair Concentrate+

Anti-Stress Skincare Products

This rich cream packed with firming, soothing, and de-puffing peptides and botanical stem cell extracts leaves skin soft and supple.

To buy: $198;

This Works Stress Check Face Oil

Anti-Stress Skincare Products

Thanks to calming essential oils and soothing omega 3, and vitamins C and E, this lightweight face oil hydrates skin while simultaneously providing a sense of physical and mental calmness.

To buy: $74;

Youth To The People Adaptogen Deep Moisture Cream with Ashwagandha + Reishi

Anti-Stress Skincare Products

This moisturizer harnesses the power of adaptogens such as ashwagandha and reishi. Together, these ingredients work to hydrate, brighten, and prevent signs of aging, especially for reactive, sensitive skin types.

To buy: $58;

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