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How Stress Might Be Ruining Your Beauty Routine

Cystic acne, puffy eyes, fine lines, & a permanent frown: Here’s why we all need to calm the eff down.

how stress ruins beauty routine
Is it just us, or does holiday vacay feel like it was months ago? Because when we look in the mirror, all we see are fine lines, puffy under-eye bags, and a battlefield of blackheads around our T-zone—so pretty much the physical manifestation of nonstop work deadlines, hour-long commutes, and heavy dietary reliance on ramen and cold brew. But if you think this reality is one to which we’ve wearily resigned, you’ve seriously underestimated how much the prospect of a thinning ponytail (or any other side effects of stress, for that matter) TERRIFIES us. Bills and ever-mounting to-do lists are one thing; waking up to a face that bears unmistakable evidence of a 65-hour workweek is something else entirely.

Determined to end this vicious cycle and return our skin to its former glory, we called up New York City dermatologist Julie Russak, M.D., and acupuncturist Shellie Goldstein, author of Your Best Face Now, who explained the connection between stress and beauty and rattled off 10+ reasons (cystic acne, anyone?) we should all just calm the fuck down.

 When stress is written all over your face

“In Chinese medicine, we believe that energy moves in pathways called meridians. How and where a problem manifests can provide insight into the root of that problem. For example, if you’re dealing with depression or exhaustion, your skin will appear pale and puffy. Battling nervousness, and you’ll start to develop more wrinkles. With digestive problems, you’re going to start seeing breakouts. And for someone who has that pounding feeling in their chest—so, heart palpitations—that person is going to experience rosacea or flushing.” —Goldstein

The one time stress actually helps

“Stress is a physiological response to a demand or threat in our environment. When we’re under pressure, our nervous system responds by releasing certain hormones, which in turn causes our heart to beat faster, our blood pressure to rise, and our impulses to sharpen. This fight-or-flight reaction serves an evolutionary purpose of making us more alert to our surroundings, but under conditions of chronic stress, this stamina turns into fatigue or exhaustion.” —Goldstein

On breaking out

“I see younger women especially affected by stress and anxiety in my practice. Never before have I performed so many cyst injections along the jawline—cysts being a direct hallmark of stress. That’s unprecedented.” —Russak

“Breakouts can provide clues into how your body is internalizing stress. With breakouts around the chin or the mouth, we’re going to treat digestion. Dry breakouts on the cheeks, and we’re going to treat circulation. And with all-over breakouts, we start by treating the lungs.” —Goldstein

When you’re 25 and no longer getting ID’d

“Stress causes the hormone cortisol to rise, and when cortisol is high, you break down proteins like collagen at a much faster rate. Collagen helps our skin stay supple and elastic, and without it, you’re going to start aging prematurely and developing those fine lines. These days, I’m seeing twenty-year-olds struggling with collagen depletion because they’re so overworked and overtired.”—Russak

The hair-raising truth of it

“I have one patient, an artist, who develops alopecia areata every time she has a gallery opening. Alopecia is a condition that results in loss of hair from the scalp and elsewhere on the body, and is directly correlated to stress. When cortisol levels soar, the hair goes through its cycle much faster, which causes follicles to detach more easily from the scalp. This is when you see shedding, more hair in the drain, hair on the carpet, etc.”—Russak

How stress messes with your metabolism

“When we’re under stress, our body thinks it’s under attack, so it tries to hold on to energy molecules as best it can. As we know, those energy molecules are stored as fat, so what this means is that if you’re stressed, you’re going to have a harder time losing weight. In my practice, we find that high-stress patients undergoing weight-loss procedures don’t actually see results until they bring their cortisol levels down.” —Russak

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