Eczema flare-ups and unusual breakouts could be a sign of stressed skin – but here’s how you can solve it

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Ever find your usually well-behaved skin just suddenly seems to play up, and you can’t quite put your finger on why? Perhaps it feels more sensitive than normal or you noticed a scattering of new spots. Maybe even a long-dormant skin condition such as eczema or rosacea pops up to say hello again.

It could be that your skin is stressed – and to be honest, who would blame it after this year? This stress could be caused by a number of reasons: lack of sleep, a change in diet, using products that irritate, environmental factors such as sun exposure, hay fever and temperature changes – plus, of course, actual mental stress.

“Stress has been shown to alter the immune functions of the skin and skin barrier function so it has the potential to aggravate pretty much any skin concern,” explains consultant dermatologist Dr Justine Kluk. Which means that if there are any underlying issues that you usually manage to keep under control, they may make a sudden and unwelcome reappearance.

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But instead of telling your skin to reach for a bottle of wine and a family-sized bar of Dairy Milk, here are a few common skin stressors and what you can do about them…

Too much sun

Aside from the obvious after-effects, sun exposure can also exacerbate existing sensitive skin conditions such as redness and rosacea, explains Lucy Xu, skin specialist and founder of London Premier Laser and Skin Clinics. The usual suncare advice applies – wear a high SPF every day and keep your face out of direct sunlight wherever possible.

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“Also try a soothing facial mist,” Lucy says. “Use it throughout the day to keep skin hydrated.” Beauty Pie Uber Youth Super Elixir Microbiome Mist (£17.43 members’ price, here) is not only refreshing on a hot day but also balances your microbiome, which contributes to a healthy skin barrier.

Overdoing the active ingredients

With retinol, vitamin C and exfoliating acids frequently hailed as the ultimate anti-ageing ingredients, it can be hard to resist diving headfirst into the highest percentages you can get your hands on. And let’s not forget the rise of at-home pampering during lockdown, thanks to the absence of salons and clinics (and perhaps a little boredom). But overusing aggressive products can have the opposite effect, aggravating the skin and resulting in an irritated complexion.

Leave off all active ingredients until your skin feels like it is back to normal, and then you can gradually start to reintroduce them back into your routine.

Internal stress

There’s no denying the last few months have brought with them a whole new load of challenges, and internal stress can show on the outside, too.

Spots are a common result. “High stress levels cause an increase in hormones which may result in skin issues such as acne, especially around the chin and mouth,” explains Lucy. “So it’s essential to try and remedy whatever is making you stressed.”

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While on paper that sounds about as useful as telling someone to “cheer up” or “be careful”, but some of the common practical tips for de-stressing – aromatherapy oils, relaxing baths, pillow sprays – can all help, and many people swear by the calming effects of a few drops of CBD under the tongue. Try CBII CBD Oil, from £29 here.

Wearing face masks

If all this wasn’t enough to contend with, most of our skins are now facing something new – having a layer of fabric or gauze regularly pressed against it. We’ve all seen the shocking images of frontline healthcare workers’ faces after wearing PPE for hours on end, but many others are reporting an increase in skin conditions from wearing medical or fabric masks, even for short periods of time.

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“There are many ways in which wearing a mask could mean your skin will start to suffer, from friction causing irritation to bacteria transferring onto your face,” explains Lucy. The increased moisture levels from your breath can also alter the skin’s microbiome, exacerbating other inflammatory conditions such as eczema and rosacea.

To help avoid this, use a mask made from breathable cotton or silk, only wear them when you need to, and wash them regularly using an unscented detergent.

Your basic skincare toolkit

Look for products that are suitable for sensitive skin, free from fragrance and designed to soothe and repair.

A gentle cleanser

Cetaphil Gentle Skin Cleanser, £9.50 here, is often recommended by dermatologists and is a favourite with celebrities such as Reese Witherspoon and Charlize Theron. And go easy with the flannel, advises Lucy.

A simple serum

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The whole La Roche-Posay range is brilliant for sensitive skin, but Hyalu B5 Hyaluronic Serum, £38 here will boost the skin’s repairing process while plumping out fine lines.

A soothing moisturiser

“Hemp seed oil is rich in fatty acids, omega 6 and omega 3 – ingredients that have soothing, hydrating properties,” explains Dr Justine. Try Garnier Organic Hemp Multi-Restore Gel Cream, £7.99 here.

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