The human body is cruel. When you’re at your lowest your skin can suddenly break out in a way unlike anything you’ve seen since your teens. It feels completely unnecessary and only serves to make you feel even less like the original you.
By knocking your confidence when you’re already down, stress-induced problem skin can affect your relationships, your sex life, your career, everything really.
In October at the ripe old age of 27, I came back to London after a year travelling around South and Central Asia. As you can imagine, I spent the year completely makeup free and with large doses of sun, sea, and happiness, my skin was great and became something I didn’t have to think about for the first time in my life.
Due to the extortionate London rent prices and my current jobless state, I moved back in with my parents after 8 years of independence and began the grueling and terrifying job hunt.
My skin reacted badly to these changes and quickly reverted back to that of my teenage self with spots, dry patches, and pigmentation issues, and it’s still recovering 6 months later.
With the rise in social media platforms like Instagram, where hashtags like #iwokeuplikethis and #facegoals are prevalent, having anything but perfect skin or a perfect body makes you feel socially inferior and less worthy of people’s time. We know this is a load of airbrushed bull, but when your confidence is already on the floor, this warped fallacy beauty does not help.
I tried everything I could get my hands on to sort my skin out. Everybody is different but for me, a more regimented skin care regime (previously non-existent) including products like salicylic and glycolic acids, a post-acid moisturiser, and an oil-based cleanser, really helped. All sound too complicated? Read our beginner’s guide to acids (for your skin), right here. I also took the plunge and forced myself out of the ‘more makeup’ cycle and let my skin breath as much as I could.
You have to find what works for you, and ultimately with stress-induced skin, the only thing that will make sure it goes away for good, is to reduce the stress, which is easier said than done.
In the meantime here are some expert tips from Sam Larkin, beauty expert and founder of NuYu London, and also Dr. Martin Heardman, a GP with a dermatological background.
Most people experience bad skin at some point in their lives whether due to stress or other reasons. It’s normal, but a lot of people are embarrassed or fear the stigma attached to having bad skin. How often do you get clients coming into NuYu London with skin problems?
SAM @ NuYu:
We have clients coming on a daily basis with skin complaints. For everyone – whether the problem is severe acne, or mild pigmentation problems, in the eye of the client, it can have a huge impact on how they feel about themselves.
I have a lot of clients in their 20s and 30s who are still experiencing spots or acne. Living in London, the lifestyle is fast paced and full on and with the added impact of pollution, it can massively affect the skin. Dietary and hormone issues can also have a huge impact on the skin.
How do you go about finding the best treatment for a client?
SAM @ NuYu:
We obviously treat skin problems externally, but this often has to be combined with an understanding of what’s happening on the inside. With some clients, I will often refer them to their GP to do further investigations. Classically in the past, some forms of the pill would help control skin breakouts, but I’m finding more and more that most women are not keen to go onto the pill or medications.
All of our clients as individuals; no two people are the same, so it stands to reason no two skin types are the same. Your skin is as individual as your personality, so we always start with a basic consultation. This will uncover the clients’ thoughts on their skin type, understand their skincare routines and discuss lifestyle as well as previous treatments.
Can you tell us about the options on offer – treatments, and products that are specifically for problem or spot prone skin?
SAM @ NuYu:
There are so many treatments on the market so it can be confusing for a client at first. While a basic facial is lovely from a relaxing point of view it never really address skin concerns.
We offer treatments that are effective in managing skin conditions and concerns like microdermabrasion, chemical peels, dermarolling and skin tightening using lasers. I believe in understanding the client’s skin and gradually building up treatments to get the desired effects, especially when it comes to peels. With any of the treatments, to achieve the best results clients should be using pre and post skincare.
The skin needs to be prepared and the protected post-treatment. Depending on the skin concern and type this will determine the treatment plan and the number of interventions and frequency of treatments. I can be seeing clients weekly in order to get on top of the problem. Some clients only need a short course which would be followed up with maintenance treatments.
Skin is like fitness you can’t get fit then stop exercising you have to upkeep with great skincare and treatments. At the clinic we use Medik8 products, they are an award-winning British cosmeceutical brand and their motto is results without irritation.
They have a great blemish range for spot prone skin. Their blemish formulas avoid harsh chemicals like Benzoyl Peroxide that can damage, strip, redden and dry the skin. There’s no need to resort to harsh teenage formulas that don’t meet the needs of adult skin.
Are there any natural ways you know of to improve wellbeing and therefore skin?
SAM @ NuYu:
Avoiding certain foods like dairy can help but it really is down to the individual. Eating lots of fruit and vegetables is great as the antioxidants are amazing for the skin. Beetroot, kale, and blueberries are some of the best.
It hasn’t been officially proven yet and everybody is different, but cutting out dairy, or at least milk has really helped a lot of people. The hormones found in a lot of milk, given to the cows, can potentially wreak havoc on the skin.
All exercise is very good for the skin because it gets the blood flowing which is great for a natural glow. A healthier lifestyle promotes healthier skin, however, after exercise be sure to wash the skin so that your sweat doesn’t block your pores.
What about vitamins?
SAM @ NuYu:
Vitamin C serums are a great source of antioxidants. Vitamin A, specifically, Retinol is great for anti-aging. Getting some sun and soaking up some natural Vitamin D is great for the skin but make sure to always wear a daily SPF.
GP Dr. Martin Heardman gives a professional opinion on the link between stress and skin and what you can do.
Would you recommend people go and see their GP if they start suffering with adult acne?
Mild acne can be treated with Benzoyl Peroxide creams like Acnecide from a pharmacy. When applied to the skin it works by reducing the amount of acne-causing bacteria and causes the problem area to dry. If your acne is moderate or severe and not responding to treatment I would recommend seeing your GP so they can talk you through the best course of action specifically for your skin.
What are the main causes of adult acne or random skin issues?
Adult acne is probably caused by small natural changes in hormone levels that increase skin grease and the skin cells that block hair roots. The causes for these hormone changes can range hugely. Occasionally prescription medication is the cause and bodybuilding steroids are a cause.
What happens in the human body when stress causes spots? – chemical/ hormonal imbalance?
The connection between stress and acne is not well understood. It is probably not the underlying cause of acne however, stress can reduce your immunity by reducing the number of white blood cells that fight of antigens like bacteria, which may cause the bacteria that inflame acne spots to be more active.
What would you prescribe for people suffering from stress-induced acne?
All acne is treated in a similar way. For mild acne, I would recommend creams with either Benzoyl Peroxide, Retinoic acid or Azelaic acid. For moderate acne try a 3-4 month low dose of antibiotics like Stiemycin then use a continuing cream, and for severe acne, you would need to speak to GP for a hospital referral to start treatment with isotretinoin, an effective treatment for serious acne that can be used as a gel or in a capsule form.
From a medical point of view what lifestyle choices have been shown to better/worsen adult acne?
Generally one of the best things you can do involved washing and skin care to try and prevent breakouts. Try not to wash the skin more than twice a day and use a mild soap and lukewarm water so doesn’t get over dry and can produce its own oils. Also don’t over scrub or irritate the skin and the use of abrasive soaps and exfoliators can make already irritated skin worse. Astringents like the common witch hazel and calamine lotion can also be harmful. I would recommend using a soft cloth or fingers instead.
Don’t try and ‘clean’ blackheads either, scrubbing and picking will probably worsen the condition and could lead to scars.
How about make-up?
Ideally, avoid excessive use of makeup and cosmetics. Although I understand the desire to cover up problem skin so I would advise that a non-comedogenic (in layman’s terms, a product that is designed not to block pores), water-based product should be used sparingly. Also really try and remember to remove all makeup with a gentle cleanse at the end of every day, otherwise this will lead to more blocked pores and more trapped,
What if the skin is already dry?
Several acne drugs do dry the skin so I would say use a fragrance-free, water-based moisturiser. Using ointments or oil-rich creams can clog pores even more.
Have you ever had a patient that has suffered from a mental health problem (depression, anxiety) due to skin problems caused by stress? How would you treat them?
Acne has often been a part of mental health problems in patients I have seen. Lack of confidence is usually a part of anxiety and depression which can affect so many aspects of life. Having spots is not helpful in this situation. I think encouraging patients to keep trying acne treatments and to come back to step up or change treatment if the first options don’t work. Don’t give up hope if the first thing you try doesn’t work, remember that acne can nearly always be very much improved.
Acne is never going to be judged or treated as a trivial condition by GP’s and we will be very aware of the knock-on effects it will be having on your life. We are always here to see and treat even very mild acne.