When skin becomes stressed -- whether from diet, lifestyle, emotions, or trying one too many new products in a flurry of exploration -- these are the remedies we turn to so soothe irritations and calm things back down to our baseline.
I’m getting a tale of two cities right now from clients: one group is saying that safer-at-home is granting them new-found time to practice self-care, while the other group is reporting seriously stressed-out skin. At the start of isolation, I fell squarely into the latter camp. Within days of being home, my psoriasis AND acne flared. For me, I know that these reactions are driven by many factors, including my general stress level, quality of sleep, types and qualities of food I eat, caffeine intake, exercise, meditation, and how well I’m keeping up with my herbs and supplements. (I know, geesh; I’m an Italian sports car). For those of you whose skin is stressing right along with you, I feel you. I hear you. I see it, too.
In this post, I explore the solutions I turn to again and again — for myself and for my clients — when I need to calm it all back down. Whether I snuck a crust of PB&J (peanuts! gluten!), lost 4 hours of sleep from anxiety, or tried a new topical product that just didn’t agree with me, here are my go-to tips for clearing it out and moving on. The skin is a wise organ. It wants to heal. We need only get out of its way.
Increase your water intake. (Gosh, is this the most boring beauty advice you’ve ever heard?)
I’m sorry for delivering something to you that you already know. But here’s why I am bothering you to remind you at this particular moment:
- Has being safer-at-home impacted your water intake? For some reason, it certainly has for me. I find myself sometimes needing to chug a few glasses in the evening — not because I’m tracking toward a daily quota, but because I’m just that thirsty. I’ve noticed I’m drinking more tea, perhaps because warm tea soothes my anxiety. And, I’m not exercising at even 1/10th of my prior capacity — a result of the social distancing, but also my broken foot (perfectly timed with the first day of stay-at-home, of course!), which just seems to reduce my overall desire to drink water. If you’ve noticed any changes to your water intake, consider this your reminder to work on new at-home habits that will ensure adequate intake. If you’re eating plenty of juicy fruits and fresh vegetables, 6 big glasses or so is plenty; up your intake accordingly.
- If you’ve eaten something that is causing a reaction in your system (anyone else’s food intake quality suffering?!), by increasing your water consumption, you help the body process it and excrete wastes more quickly. Personally, I can use my face as a map to tell what I’ve ingested that isn’t agreeing with me: corn — blisters at edges of eyebrows and forehead welts; peanuts — forehead welts; gluten — bumps and inflammations on the jaw and chin (not to mention mega cramps); steroids (for my asthma) — whiteheads around mouth and chin. If I follow these reactions with tons of water intake, they calm and soothe more quickly.
- Anxiety may be the main cause of your skin’s response, as our anxious bodies, entering into fight-or-flight mode, release excess cortisol into the system — and you aren’t burning through it by fighting or fleeing. Drinking plenty of water will help flush excess cortisol, giving you better energy to deal with your stress and clearer skin.
Simplify your diet. It’s rare that I meet someone whose skin doesn’t react in some way to what they eat. (And I think the rest of you are in denial. LOL. JK. But maybe not really?!?)
The skin is, quite simply, a magnificent organ of expression. It is happy to tell you *exactly* what it thinks about your chips-and-guac-and-margs night. Or those increasingly frequent bites of chocolate you’ve been sneaking. Or the fact that you’ve gotten complacent about chopping enough vegetables. We just need to listen with our eyes to hear exactly what the skin is saying.
When my skin goes haywire, I return to a diet of simple staples and my core supplements and herbs until I’m back to balance. For me, this means quinoa or buckwheat, roasted or sautéed veggies, fresh herbs (usually softened by being tossed with hot quinoa or hot veg), and a drizzle or dollop of healthy fats. My favorite drizzling oils — which are also fabulous skin food — are EVOO and hemp seed oil. For my healthy fats, I’m liberal with avocado and homemade nut cheeses / pastes / hummuses. (I really need a better name to call these easy, tasty concoctions.) Your simple diet may be different. But I am confident that if you pause and think about what that means to you, you’ll intuitively know what to feed your skin.
Boost your circulation.
Whatever you can do to promote good circulation will also help move things through and out of the system, especially if you can get to the point of sweating daily. For most people, this is known as exercise ; ) But if sheltering at home is limiting how you can increase your heart rate, like it is for me, here are some of my key tools for getting my blood flowing**:
- I try to feel a little sweat on my face daily. Because vigorous — or even somewhat effortful — exercise is out of the question for me (broken foot situation), I’ve been relying on a warm-to-hot bath regularly, adding some magnesium flakes to help with sleep and dead sea salt to soothe my skin. After my bath, I lie down under some blankets to try to keep the light sweat going a bit longer.
- It’s also helpful to send your legs up the wall, or at least elevate them above your heart to boost blood flow to the face. Perhaps while you’re reading, catching up on Netflix, or trying to catch a moment of calm mid-home-school-math.
- Dry brushing. Use a stiff-bristled brush to stimulate the flow of lymph just under the skin’s surface. Focus on legs, belly, low back, seat, and arms, brushing in the direction of the heart. For the love of all things, do not dry brush your face or I will cry.
**Skip these, of course, if you know they’re not suitable for your blood pressure.
Simplify your skincare routine with three key components.
1: Cleanse + moisturize using one ingredient.
I recommend every skincare kit include a single-ingredient facial oil that you love. This is exactly what it sounds like: a facial oil with just one ingredient. Don’t get me wrong: I love and adore a facial oil blend, with numerous carrier oils, essential oils (in intelligent concentrations), and herbal infusions and macerations. Every oil has its own individual personality and benefits, and so do the additional plant components formulators add. But when havoc has been wreaked on skin — from sources whether internal or external — I use and recommend something simple.
A single-ingredient facial oil can be used for cleansing *and* moisturizing, even when skin is at its most frazzled. Use a pipette of oil to cleanse, by massaging it directly onto a dry, dirty face and removing with a warm, wet-but-rung-out washcloth. Repeat if you don’t feel that your skin is clean. When using a washcloth, be especially gentle on any red, inflamed areas to avoid spreading any infection or over-exfoliating sensitive skin. Follow your cleanse by moisturizing with another 1-3 drops of your simple oil on your damp skin.
I adore a facial oil high in skin-healing vitamin E. My choice is La Bella Figura’s Barbary Fig Seed Oil, which has been my loyal, ever-companion for some 5 years. Barbary fig seed oil, also known as prickly pear seed oil (same plant, different continents), is extremely rich in naturally occurring vitamin E. This makes for a high-viscosity, rich, golden oil. Vitamin E helps heal all manner of skin aggravations, from acne to newly forming scar tissue.
If oil cleansing just doesn’t cut it for you, and your skin is asking you for something more (and it will speak to you, if you listen closely), the Black Clay Facial Soap from Osmia is a fantastic reset cleanser. It features Australian clay and Dead Sea mud to help draw out the stuff your skin is trying to release. As with the oil cleanse, follow with 1-3 drops of your single-ingredient oil.
My go-to reset toner / mist is the Dewy Facial Mist from de Mamiel. It’s a delectable alchemy of skin-loving ingredients, but I think one of the most important ingredients for rebalancing your skin is the pre- and probiotic content. By encouraging a healthy microbiome on the surface of your skin, this fine mist helps the skin be resilient in response to external stressors; balance hydration levels; and calm any inflammatory response. Additionally, the aromatherapeutic benefits help to reduce the overall emotional stress that can cause skin irritations.
3: Treat what your skin is presenting.
In times of skin aggravation, I recommend a twice-weekly mask to help calm and soothe the skin. Depending on the type of aggravation your skin is showing, you can consider either a calming, soothing mask or a drawing, purifying mask. Of course, I’ve curated a collection for you. Email me if you need guidance.
When your skin has gone haywire, it can be tempting to way over do it with masks and speed-date a different one each night. Unfortunately, this can actually cause further aggravation of the skin. If you have a mask you love, and that you know your skin loves back, use it. Trust your skin to lead you well.
Finally — but most importantly — proactively manage your stress, not just the body’s response to it.
Everything above is helpful for remedying the stress that is already showing. But let's also work to prevent these aggravations from surfacing in the first place. Quarantine, as they're saying, is a great time to create new habits. There are four key stress management practices I recommend you prioritize every single day:
- Incorporate meditation: Try for 15 minutes a day to start. If you don’t have enough time to meditate, it probably means you could benefit from meditation even more! Usually I meditate right after school drop off and right before school pickup. Given these are no longer options in my life, I let the kids watch a show they love, and sneak in my meditation then. The key is to MEDITATE FIRST — before you start doing the other 100 things you need to do with that “free time.”
- Prioritize quality sleep: In addition to meditation, sleep is the second key way we can give our brains the time to process, well, all sorts of things! Including the anxieties that may be impacting our skin. For more on my sleep routine for adults, check out this post.
- Spend time in nature: Whether you live in the sky in a high rise or have acres of land at your disposal, make time every day to tune into your senses in nature. Simply be outside and then slow down enough to notice what you can see, hear, smell, touch and even taste. This is also a wonderful practice to share with the kiddos.
- Connect with loved ones and allow yourself to be loved. Talk about powerful healing.
How has your skin reacted to your new daily life in the time of COVID19? Do you see the stress you feel emotionally on the surface of your skin? Do you believe, like me, that the skin is trying to tell you something?