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Here’s how SAD can impact your skin and what to do about it

Everything you need to know about seasonal affective disorder and how it can lead to skin ageing, plus expert tips on reversing the damage

Does your mood improve exponentially when you’re basking in the sunshine, but plummet when temperatures fall, and days are darker and shorter? If the latter applies and your skin is also spottier, drier, dehydrated, and generally lacklustre in appearance, it’s likely you’ve got yourself a case of seasonal affective disorder (SAD).

“SAD is a type of depression that occurs during the winter months, followed by remission in spring and summer," explains Dr Charlotte Gribbin from the Dr David Jack clinic. "It affects up to three per cent of the population in parts of the world where four clear seasons exist, and affects women more than men.”

If low mood wasn’t bad enough, depression tends to lead to a wealth of behavioural and physiological changes that can all royally screw up your skin–think over sleeping, comfort eating, and anxiety that’s linked to inflammation, glycation, and chronic cortisol spikes. Let’s take a closer look…

Too much sleep

“One of the common symptoms of SAD is an increased need for sleep, so people with the condition may find themselves sleeping more than usual, experiencing difficulty waking up in the morning, and having low energy levels throughout the day,” shares Andy Daly, Nutritional Therapist at Dr David Jack.

And while experts extol the beauty benefits of sleep, there is in fact a caveat. Sleeping before midnight and getting eight hours is great, however, any more than that over the course of weeks and months can lead to an increase in inflammation in the body, a decrease in immune function and can even lead to chronic disease, according to advisory board The Sleep Foundation.

But what does chronic inflammation mean for your complexion? “Over time, inflammation can exhaust the skin's natural repair mechanisms and lead to what has been dubbed inflammaging. Think dehydration, laxity, hyperpigmentation, and the onset of lines and wrinkles,” explains Gribbin.

Try to maintain a consistent sleep schedule and invest in anti-inflammatory skincare that contains actives such as niacinamide (vitamin B3), which helps decrease redness, even out skin tone and alleviate dryness; aloe, a gold standard skin soother that’s packed full of repairing amino acids and antioxidants vitamins A, C, E and B12; and vitamin E which bolsters the skin barrier to keep skin hydrated, while also fending off UV light so you don’t have to contend with another source of inflammation.

Comfort eating 

“SAD can lead to changes in appetite, often resulting in increased cravings for carbohydrates and sweet foods as well as unhealthy fats and other highly processed foods. This can be linked to the hormonal changes and neurotransmitter imbalances associated with SAD,” shares Daly.

Weight gain can become a problem during the winter months due to SAD, but that’s not all. “The increased intake of sugary and high carbohydrate foods can contribute to blood sugar dysregulation, and conditions like acne are often associated with imbalances in blood sugar levels,” adds Daly.

But spots aren’t all that a pack of Hobnobs before dinner will gift you. “Too much sugar can speed up glycation, which is a process where sugar molecules attach to your collagen and elastin to form skin damaging by-products called advanced glycation end products (AGEs). These AGEs degrade your collagen and elastin fibres and leave them less resilient in the process, inducing wrinkles and fine lines,” explains Gribbin.

Do your best to fight those carb cravings and get a good mix of wholegrains, lean proteins, fruits, and veg in your diet. To reverse the damage already done, “book in for a radio frequency microneedling session and tag team it with a dose of exosomes,” advises Aesthetic Doctor and Founder of the Dr David Jack clinic and skincare line, Dr David Jack. A huge fan of the Morpheus8 device which uses ablative radio frequency microneedling to boost collagen and improve skin texture and reduce laxity, Jack likes to add exosomes into the mix to speed up and enhance the process.

Feeling anxious

The effects of depression can lead to feeling incredibly stressed, and anxiety and depression tend to go hand in hand. When we’re stressed our bodies produce cortisol which is great in small doses and at the right time of day such as first thing in the morning when we need to get into gear and off to work. However, it's not so great if we’re so anxiety-ridden that our cortisol levels are constantly elevated.

“Cortisol and stress have an impact on skin inflammation and ageing, this is known as the "Brain-Skin Connection,” explains Gribbin. "Our skins' mast cells are activated by stress, and in turn they also produce stress hormones and inflammatory factors–this could lead to a vicious cycle of stress-induced inflammatory events.”

It also means more collagen and elastin degradation, and a higher incidence of acne (as cortisol speeds up sebum production), as well as eczema and psoriasis. Cortisol also inhibits hydrating hyaluronic acid production and compromises the skin barrier–cue dehydration.

Add glycolic acid to your arsenal as studies have found that regular use of the stuff can significantly reduce both inflammatory and non-inflammatory acne lesions. But don’t stop there, you can mainline hyaluronic acid straight into your skin thanks to Profhilo. “A mix of high-molecular-weight hyaluronic acid and low-molecular-weight hyaluronic acid, it's an injectable moisturiser that draws moisture up to the surface of the skin leaving it instantly plump and luminous. Long-term it also stimulates collagen and elastin, making it the perfect antidote to all that cortisol,” says Gribbin.

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