Guest article by Dr Linda Papadopoulos
It seems that our lives are becoming ever more stressful – we all expect so much of ourselves now. With emails and phones we are available 24/7, no matter where we are. We rush from one thing to the other with barely any time to process what is happening to us. With tv, i-pods, and non-stop traffic we so rarely sit in silence. So is it any wonder that the demands we make of ourselves are becoming apparent visually on our skin?? We accept that stress can cause skin conditions such as eczema – but research has shown that in fact stress is also one of the biggest contributing factors to ageing skin.
A healthy mind means healthy skin
As an expert in psychodermatology, the study of how our mental and emotional state affects the skin, the effects of this phenomenon is something that I see and work with all the time. There is scientific evidence that stress can affect the health, condition and ageing process of our skin. My philosophy is simple – a healthy mind means healthy skin.
But how to achieve this? One of the ways to create a healthy mind and therefore healthy skin is to encourage a positive body image – for far too long we have been conditioned to gaze into the mirror to pinpoint what we don’t like about ourselves. This time should be used for positive reinforcement – break old habits of negativity and take time to enjoy using the products, slow down, relax shoulders and facial muscles and breathe. If you leave your image with negative thoughts this will cause a vicious circle – try to identify what you like about yourself and concentrate on the fact that you have nice eyes and walk away from the mirror in a positive frame of mind.
If you are unhappy, you will look unhappy which can be terribly ageing. A smile can lift the face so it is important to encourage a positive body image for healthy skin. We all get older – try not to fixate on that in a negative way.
How stress ages the skin
So, how does stress actually affect the skin? The skin and the central nervous system are embryologically related as both the skin and the central nervous system are derived from the embryonic ectoderm and the skin plays a cardinal role as a sensory organ in the socialization process from early infancy throughout the entire life cycle. The earliest social interactions between the infant and its care givers occur via the body through touch. One most certainly affects the other.
Stress not only affects such things as acne flare-up, in general it worsens the
overall skin condition. It induces the adrenal glands into over production of cortisol, a steroid, which in turn makes sebaceous glands produce more oil and make skin more oily. Why acne? Stress stimulates adrenal glands to produce more hormones and then also slows down the healing process. It has also been established that
psychological stress can decrease the wound healing capacity of immune systems up to 40%.
Stress can cause premature ageing
But stress can also cause premature ageing. Chronic stress causes the adrenal glands to over produce cortisol which decreases the skin’s ability to regenerate – also leading to wrinkles and sagging skin. When cortisol is high, we also see a drop in the production of the anti-aging hormone known as dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA). We have naturally high levels of DHEA when we are young, but experience a steady decline as we age.
So, what to do? The first thing is to try to slow down, to take some time for yourself to allow your body to come out of ‘fight or flight’ mode. Take time to breathe, to experience your life rather than rush through it. Take time to be thankful for the things you have rather than the things you do not have. Take a few minutes every night before sleep to deliberately think of the nice things that have happened that day – the simple acts of kindness that make life worth living. Try positive thoughts when looking at your reflection. If you feel yourself automatically frowning, try to relax your face and your thoughts. Being stressed can be habit forming and it’s time to break the habit!
Dr Linda Papadopoulos has developed her own skincare range LP Skin Therapy