Caring for Your Skin During the Stressful Times of COVID-19
Has the prolonged stress of the coronavirus and the subsequent mask-wearing taken a toll on your skin? Last month, we explored the effects of stress on your oral health and the ways in which we might manage stress during the pandemic. Now, let’s look at how stress can affect your skin and what you can do about it.
Why Stress Damages Our Skin
When we are stressed out, our body releases a chemical in the body that leads to inflammation. And inflammation can lead to skin problems, such as psoriasis, eczema flare-ups, increased oil production, and higher cortisol levels. Cortisol is a stress hormone that stimulates glands to overproduce oil that can cause skin issues.
Most of us are experiencing some level of stress right now. Whether we are feeling it overtly or just beneath the surface, we are adapting to new routines and habits as we navigate our way through this in-between time. For instance, it’s not just our keys and phones that we grab as we walk out the door. Masks have become a necessity—a current, protective measure that we don’t leave home without. This default accessory has served to slow down the spread of COVID-19. But prolonged periods of mask-wearing can wreak havoc on our skin. How can we protect our skin as we seek to protect ourselves and those around us from contracting the virus?
How Stress Affects Our Skin
We all react to stress in different ways, and our bodies do too. But our bodies can’t tell the difference between the various kinds of stress—environmental, psychological, physical, and emotional. They do categorize stress as either acute or chronic. And it’s chronic—the prolonged— stress that most negatively affects our skin. Here’s how:
When we are stressed out, our adrenaline spikes which cause us to sweat more. Sweat leads to dehydration if we fail to replenish it with water. Be sure to keep yourself hydrated during this pandemic.
As mentioned above, hormones—that cause inflammation—are released during stressful times. If you already struggle with eczema or psoriasis, chances are you’ve experienced a flare-up. Inflammation can trigger an eruption of a variety of predisposed skin conditions.
The brain is an amazing thing that produces hormones that prepare our body for stress. However, our skin sometimes gets the short end of the stick as the number of hormones, like cortisol, increase. Cortisol spurs on the sebaceous glands which then overproduce. This extra oil block pores and leads to acne breakouts.
Why Mask Wearing Can Irritate Skin
Mask wearing has the tendency to lock in moisture created by sweat, humidity, and saliva, and this microclimate under the mask makes the skin susceptible to irritation. Trapped moisture disrupts the skin’s natural balance which can lead to a bumpy rash called perioral dermatitis. Also, the tightness of medical masks can put pressure on soft tissue, causing a pressure ulcer, especially on areas where the skin is close to the bone. If you can, avoid long periods of masks wearing.
Best Ways to Prevent Irritated Skin
The best way to take care of your skin is rather simple: cleanse and moisturize. If you are wearing masks often, moisturize about half an hour before putting on the mask to avoid friction between the mask and skin. And as we all endure the stress of these strange days, do what you can to fight it by making an effort to get 7-9 hours of sleep, exercise 3-4 times a week, and regularly practice meditation or a deep breathing exercise.
What to Do When Your Skin Is Irritated
If you’ve used gentle and hypoallergenic cleansers and moisturizers, and your skin is still dry, raw, or irritated, try using Vaseline petroleum jelly. If that doesn’t work, we may be able to prescribe something for you. If you are a health care worker on the frontline who has to wear a mask for long stretches of time, a barrier cream, such as Desitin, may be helpful as it blocks what is being created in the mask, like humidity or rubbing. If you have found that you’re allergic to the cloth or mask material and have developed allergic contact dermatitis, make sure to wash the mask if it’s made of fabric, and try different kinds until you find one that doesn’t aggravate your skin.
Remember that we are all suspended in an uncertain moment that will eventually pass. Much of what we are going through doesn’t make sense to us, and the stress of the unknown can take a toll on our skin. As can mask-wearing. But we do know how to combat stress: ample exercise, healthy food, and rest. And as we wait out the strangeness of this pandemic, we can go above and beyond our regular skincare regimen by consistently applying gentle moisture after cleansing our skin thoroughly. Give your skin the care it deserves, and you’ll more easily maintain a clear and radiant glow.
Keep an eye out for our next blog, coming out in July: 3 Warning Signs You Have Sleep Apnea and What to do Next
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