There's never a good time to get a huge pimple, but have you ever noticed how they always seem to appear at the actual worst time, like right before that first date, or the morning of a party you've been planning for weeks? Turns out, there's a reason. Stress totally messes with your skin, causing breakouts, flare-ups, and even wrinkles. (Like you needed one more thing to worry about…?)
Here's how stress affects your skin and what you can do to stay in the clear.
It leads to skin conditions and inflammation.When you're stressed, your body pumps out . These hormones direct blood away from your skin, sending it to fuel your muscles and organs instead.
"Chronic stress deprives your skin of oxygen and essential nutrients, which leads to skin conditions and inflammation," says Whitney Bowe, M.D. a dermatologist in New York. One stress hormone, in particular, cortisol, can also cause your oil glands to go into overdrive, so if you're acne-prone, you may notice more breakouts.
You literally lose sleep.
When your brain is going a mile a minute, it can be hard to power down at night. But don't skimp on shut-eye because sleep is super important for healthy skin (and healthy everything, really). "Sleep is a time for your body to repair itself from the day," Dr. Bowe says.
Lack of sleep can boost your cortisol levels, which—along with the whole sebum-overload thing—can make it even harder to sleep. Less sleep = more cortisol = more stress = less sleep. "It's a vicious cycle," Dr. Bowe adds. "Not getting a good night's sleep, paired with more stress, can weaken the immune system and leave you with dull skin and more pronounced lines."
It makes your current skin issues worse.
If you deal with chronic skin conditions like eczema, psoriasis, or rosacea, you may notice they flare up when you're feeling overwhelmed. "It's usually not the sole cause for these conditions, but in someone who is already genetically predisposed, stress can be the last straw," Dr. Bowe says. If your eczema suddenly gets worse, that may be a cue to decompress.
Nervous habits are harder to break.
The ways you cope with stress could actually be damaging your skin. "You may start biting your nails, picking at your skin, or twisting your hair without realizing it," Dr. Bowe says. All that nail-biting and pimple-popping can transfer bacteria onto your skin, making you more prone to acne breakouts. And even if you feel like you need a venti triple-shot latte just to keep up with life right now, keep in mind that caffeine can make those nervous habits worse, so Dr. Bowe suggests sticking to water instead.
It ups your skin cancer risk.
Don't panic—stress won't give you skin cancer. But it can raise your risk. "Stress lowers our immune system in general, but now researchers have found that your immune system's response to fighting basal cell skin cancers is also affected," Dr. Bowe says. Keep slathering on that SPF—it's still your best defense—but try to find some stress-busting techniques to keep your immune system on its A-game.
It speeds up aging.
Okay, so you're probably not counting your wrinkles just yet. But too much stress now could translate to more fine lines in a few years. "Stress hormones lead to accelerated aging in the skin because your body is busy fighting stress instead of protecting you against environmental stressors such as UV rays, cigarette smoke, and pollution," Dr. Bowe says.
The good news? A few simple stress management techniques could work wonders for your beauty regimen (and your sanity, obviously). The next time you're feeling frazzled, go for a walk, do some or deep-breathing exercises, or call a supportive friend to vent. These can all lower your cortisol levels, which can help clear your mind and your skin.
This article originally appeared on Cosmopolitan.com/uk. Minor edits have been made by the Cosmo.ph editors.