It’s easy to become overwhelmed when it comes to skincare. There are countless amounts of oils, serums and creams out there, and that’s before you throw in an on-trend product like an ice roller or LED light mask. There is also plenty of contradicting information, which can put even the most enthused of skincare users off creating a lasting routine.
This can create an increasingly stressful foundation. For me, the relationship between stress and my skin is cyclical. I have suffered from fluctuating eczema and hormonal acne throughout various points in my life. I often have very red blotches and painful, itchy skin. Having ‘bad’ skin always made me more stressed, as I felt so out of control. Equally, this stress would make my skin flare up even worse.
It’s not surprising then that a study commissioned by skincare brand E45 found a huge 81 percent of us had experienced a problem with our skin, with over a quarter (26 percent) saying that it makes them feel depressed. But, there are ways that the link between both conditions can be managed.
I spoke with consultant dermatologist Sreedhar Krishna about the closely linked cycle of stress and skin to find out why building a therapeutic skincare routine can be beneficial.
Psychodermatology And Mindfulness
As more people have begun to open up about their mental health and skin health, a rising interest in the field of psychodermatology has followed suit, along with a rise in the treatment of skin diseases using psychological techniques.
Krishna explains that our hormones can trigger and worsen existing health conditions, with acne a common example. “Stress results in the sebaceous glands (which produce the oils on our skin) becoming overactive and producing excessive amounts of sebum. Facial skin contains a high concentration of sebaceous glands which means that stress can disproportionately affect the face.”
In the last few years, I have managed to combat a lot of my night-time-related stress by creating a therapeutic skincare routine that I do before bed. This routine has a positive cycle effect — my skin breaks out less because I am less stressed and have a better night’s sleep, and in turn, I feel less stressed out about my skin.
A routine provides stability, which has a great impact on our wellbeing, offering up a time in the day where the focus is solely on you.
Krishna explains that we of course need to look for diagnosable skin diseases and problems, and treat them with medication. But beyond that we have to look at our skin type and devise a more holistic and personalised skincare regime. Krishna advocates “mindfulness techniques that empower individuals to better manage their stress, which centres on the fact that we choose how we respond to a stressful event”.
Here’s a guide to creating your own therapeutic skincare routine then with the help of Krishna, so that you can begin to balance the cyclical relationship of ‘bad’ skin and stress.
How To Build A Therapeutic Skincare Routine
Set the scene
Make sure that you set time aside for you and your routine. If you’re feeling rushed then you’re unlikely to feel any wellbeing benefit from your skincare routine.
Line up your products and light some candles where possible. I usually put on calming music and soak some muslin cloths in hot tap water, ready for cleansing.
The soothing nature of aromatherapy scents which are often used in creams can stimulate the smell receptors within the nose. Krishna explains that “this then sends a calming signal to your nervous system to let it know that it is in a safe space. Preliminary studies have also shown that aromatherapy can help relieve symptoms of anxiety and depression.”
The First Step
Firstly, you need to understand your skin type. If your skin is greasy around your t-zone and around your jawline then you’re likely to have an oily skin type. If your skin lacks elasticity then it may be dry or dehydrated. Many high street drug stores will have counters that specialise in skincare products and can help you determine your skin type.
Being able to determine what your skin needs to thrive will help eliminate further stresses and unnecessary problems later down the line.
Wash The Day Away
It’s very important to make sure that your skin is clean, both day and night. Krishna says that “for the rest of the regime to work, the skin must be cleared of any dirt or grime. If not, the subsequent agents won’t absorb properly.”
There are plenty of different kinds of cleanser to use – from milks and creams, to balms and foaming washes. A simple one-step cleanse in the morning is usually sufficient, but it’s worth deep cleansing in the evening – known as double cleansing. As we go about our day, we pick up bacteria and expose ourselves to pollution, so it’s important to wash it all away.
To double cleanse, first use a micellar water, balm or cleansing oil that will help break down any makeup, SPF and dirt on the outer surface of the skin. Follow this with a product that offers a deeper cleanse such as a foaming wash or gel. This will help to remove any old skin cells and bacteria.
When cleansing, use medium pressure with your finger tips and work in a circular motion. Work outwards from the middle of your face and splash with cool water when you’re finished cleansing. This will begin to refresh and awaken your skin whilst keeping you calm and collected.
Acupressure in this way has been shown to help alleviate symptoms of depression in a Korean research study. Krishna explains that “this may be due to the enhanced blood supply that comes after acupuncture which can help detox the skin.”
Tone It Up
Krishna explains that “toners help other products to be absorbed”, removing any last traces of dirt and creating a clean foundation for your creams and serums.
A niacinamide toner will offer hydration while helping shrink pores and work towards preventing blemishes.
As you’re sweeping your skin with the toner soaked cotton pad, close your eyes and breathe in deeply for five seconds, and out for five seconds.
Repeat this for about 30 seconds while swiping the cotton pad upwards on your face — a sustainable, re-usable cotton wool pad, of course.
Serums, Spot Treatments And Eye Creams
Understanding what order to put the rest of your skincare on can be quite daunting. The correct order is serum, eye cream and then any spot treatments.
Krishna describes serums as “one of the most important steps” of the skincare routine, offering the skin the nourishment that it needs.
This is where you can really begin to feel the benefit on both your mind and skin. Just a few droplets of serum on your forehead, cheeks and chin is enough. Use your middle finger to press the serum lightly into the skin, then introduce two more fingertips to create pitter patter motions across the face. Here, you’re reinvigorating your skin and the repetitive motion will release the happy hormone, serotonin.
Using a roller during this part of your routine can alleviate puffiness and help with circulation. Krishna explains that “the use of rollers has been scientifically shown to help lift your mood, which may be the result of endorphin release.”
With your eye cream, repeat light circular motions around the eyelid and under eye to relieve tension and hydrate tired eyes.
Make sure to moisturise
“There is some confusion about moisturiser being bad for oily skins,” Krishna explains. But don’t be fooled, a good moisturiser helps to protect the skin by acting as a protective barrier. In the evening you may opt for a night cream to lock in extra moisture.
After you’ve applied your moisturiser, start to sweep your fingers lightly down your nose and across the high points of your face (your cheekbones, jawline) before pushing a bit more firmly upwards and outwards. You’re offering your face a massage here, sweeping across your skin, increasing elasticity and relieving built up tension you have accumulated throughout the day.
Krishna says that “the therapeutic effects of massage are thought to play out by a variety of mechanisms: Firstly, massage can reduce your heart rate putting you into a state of relaxation. Secondly, the pressure of massage can help relax muscles. Finally, massage can help release pleasure chemicals known as endorphins. These calm the nervous system and help reduce the production of stress hormones with the end result being that you feel less anxious.”