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This is how cortisol impacts the health of your skin

Stress doesn’t just have an impact on your peace of mind, it’s doing damage to your skin too shares Etre Vous expert Dr Vincent Wong

As a nation we are more stressed than ever, and anxiety is on the rise too with numbers trebling among young adults over the last decade – seeing 30 per cent of women aged 18 to 24 dealing with this debilitating condition. Figures have also increased across the board among men and women under 55.*

It’s really no surprise, as we have had the 2008 financial crash, austerity, Brexit, climate change, the rise of social media and most recently Covid-19 to deal with. But when it comes to stress, it’s not just big issues like a pandemic that can spike our stress responses – work deadlines, and an ever growing to-do list can do that too.

“When everything gets a bit too much for us to handle, the amygdala ­– the area of the brain that processes emotions – sends messages to the hypothalamus, which triggers our fight or flight response. This response triggers adrenaline to course through the body, diverting blood to your muscles and spiking our senses, essentially putting us on high alert. We also release cortisol when we are stressed. Usually, it’s needed to regulate blood pressure, blood glucose levels, energy, mood, the sleep cycle as well as the breakdown of carbohydrates, proteins and fats.

"However, when we are stressed, cortisol helps prepare the body for the inevitable fight or flight response by increasing energy levels, promoting tissue repair and shutting down non-essential functions,” explains Dr Vincent Wong, Founder of Vindoc Aesthetics, London.

Cortisol levels usually decreases after the pressure, danger or stressful moment has passed, and blood pressure and other body systems tend to return to normal. However, when we are under chronic stress, cortisol levels remain elevated and various systems within the body work at a limited capacity. This can lead to a number of health conditions such as weight gain, poor digestion and nsomnia, and can have a major impact on your skin.

How does too much cortisol impact the skin? 

“High cortisol can lead to a reduction in elasticity and the breakdown of collagen fibres resulting in wrinkling, thinning and sagging of the skin. It can also increase inflammation of the skin, speeding up ageing and exacerbating conditions such as acne, eczema and psoriasis. Plus, when it comes to acne, cortisol plays another major role, as it increases the activity of sebaceous glands leading to increased production of sebum which can cause blocked pores and breakouts. You can also expect skin to become dehydrated as cortisol inhibits the skin’s ability to produce hyaluronic acid and it increases transepidermal water loss by reducing skin surface lipid. This leads to flare ups of eczema and psoriasis, as well as leaving the complexion dull in nature,” shares Wong.

How can you treat skin that has been impacted by cortisol?

Reducing stressors is all important, but we know that’s easier said than done! So, what’s the next best thing?

“Lifestyle changes such as healthy eating habits, meditation and sufficient sleep will help improve the quality of the skin. When it comes to skincare, vitamin C, ceramides, and peptide packed serums can help reduce inflammation, and trans-epidermal water loss by supporting the skin barrier function. Hyaluronic acid is a hero too, as this gold standard hydrator increases elasticity, plumps and smooths the skin,” explains Wong.

*Study carried out by The Health Improvement Network on over 6 million patients.

Vincent Wong, Cosmetic Doctor

Dr. Vincent Wong is one of London’s leading cosmetic doctors. He is trained in advanced non-surgical cosmetic treatments...

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