Since I have found myself with some spare time on my hands, it’s safe to say that I have been spending more time than one probably should scrolling through social media. After a week or so into nationwide social distancing, I started to notice a common topic of conversation taking place across all of my social networks: Since staying at home, people’s skin is starting to seriously freak out, and nobody really knows what to do about it.
And actually, for the first time in months, mine has too. Despite the fact that my skin had been behaving itself for months and looked the best it had for years, the minute I started working from home and only leaving the house for an hour a day, my chin developed what can only be described as a mountain range of cystic spots. So what is going on? Why are we all breaking out like it’s nobody’s business? And what can we do about it? It turns out there’s a very simple explanation for it all. Keep scrolling to discover the four most-likely reasons your skin isn’t behaving itself right now.
There’s no doubt that we’re all feeling a little bit more stressed than normal right now. From health to work, we’re all stressing about something, even if we’re not physically showing it. And unfortunately, stress has a lot to do with the condition of our skin. Get ready to stick your science cap on. Pamela Marshall, clinical aesthetician and co-founder of Mortar & Milk, explains, “When we experience stress, our body releases its fight-or-flight hormone, cortisol. When it’s in abundance, cortisol lowers our oestrogen production, which subsequently makes our androgen levels high.”
Keeping up? “Androgen has many functions, but one of them is to send messages to our sebaceous glands. This means under stress, our sebaceous glands are overproducing oil,” says Marshall. As soon as our pores detect an abundance of any one thing, they swell to a close in order to try and protect themselves, resulting in an inflammatory response and, low and behold, a spot.
Another big reason we’re all more prone to spots right now? If you have recently changed your diet (which many of us have), your skin might not be agreeing with it. Not only do limited shopping hours make it difficult to get hold of the foods that we might usually buy, but the situation also makes it all too easy to eat out of habit. “When we are rundown for whatever reason, we have an innate need to comfort-eat. Comfort-eating is bad for the gut and the skin and will ultimately add to hormonal changes,” reveals Marshall.
And it turns out it’s not just what we’re eating right now that could be causing issues; it’s what we’re drinking, too. Susan Mayou, consultant dermatologist at the Cadogan Clinic, explains, “With people not having to rise as early in the morning for commutes, they may be drinking more than normal in the evenings. (Wine shelves at supermarkets have certainly indicated an increase in consumption.)” Increased alcohol consumption can lead to skin dehydration, which can cause a long chain of issues, including spots. “Alcohol can deprive your skin of vitamins and nutrients, dull the complexion and cause puffiness,” says Mayou.
The thing that confused me the most about my own breakouts was how aggressively they came on despite the fact I wasn’t inflicting polluted commuter air upon my skin every day. However, it turns out that not giving my skin the fresh air (and light) that it’s used to could be where my issues lie. “UV exposure helps our bodies to synthesise vitamin D, which is necessary to cell health, its metabolism and repair,” says Marshall.
Not only that, but vitamin D is also crucial in the production of serotonin. A reduction of serotonin can lead to a feeling of depression and anxiety which increases cortisol and starts a whole new reason for breakouts.
Among complaints of spot breakouts on social media were also comments about troubled sleep patterns. With heightened stress and anxiety, getting the right amount and quality of sleep can be tricky, and it turns out this issue could also be contributing to skin troubles. Consultant dermatologist Catherine Borysiewicz at Cadogan Clinic explains, “The body repairs itself as we sleep, so when we are sleep-deprived, it quickly shows in our appearance. Studies have suggested that a lack of sleep impairs wound healing, affects skin barrier function and reduces the skin’s ability to repair itself.”
What Can Be Done?
It’s true that, right now, it’s harder than ever to control the external factors that could be causing spots. And yes, the experts do advise that keeping up a regular skincare routine might help minimise your skin issues. “While makeup may not have been applied through the day, dead skin cells, dirt, bacteria and skincare products should be cleansed off both morning and night,” says Mayou.
Above all, though, the expert advice is to try and find some sense of normality in your routine. “Humans feel safe with some sort of routine. Don’t become lax in your skincare routines. Continue with your daily, morning and evening routines, but keep it simple. Make sure you’re getting in plenty of water, omegas and sleep,” advises Marshall.
In the meantime, if you’re desperately looking for a way to keep your spots at bay, keep scrolling for the best products for breakout-prone skin.
This is probably my favourite cleanser of all time, and it's only £8. Whenever my skin starts breaking out in blackheads, a few days of using this sorts me out.
Although this product isn't specifically formulated for spots, there isn't a single skin concern Advanced Night Repair can't help. Designed to give your skin everything it needs to function healthily, using this both morning and night will definitely help keep things in check. Plus, for a limited time only at Harvey Nichols, you can receive a complimentary gift set worth £94 when you spend £90 or more on Estée Lauder. So that's a bonus.
If you find too many exfoliators harsh on the skin, this gentle, creamy exfoliator soothes as it works. It's my go-to when my skin is in distress.
Brand new from one of the best skincare brands out there for problem skin, this clay cleanser works to balance out oily skin and keep breakouts at bay.
Not only does this daily moisturiser help reduce the appearance of current breakouts, but it also contains an active ingredient derived from milk thistle that acts as a sebum regulator to prevent further issues.
This is without a doubt one of my favourite clay masks out there. After just 10 minutes, skin feels deeply cleansed, pores look clearer and any unwanted shine is massively reduced.
Using strong acids such as glycolic risk upsetting your breakouts even more if you use them incorrectly. This PHA toner uses larger acid molecules to offer exfoliation without irritating the skin.
Considered just about the best beauty product in the game, especially when it comes to spot-prone skin, Effaclar Duo+ uses niacinamide, glycerin and salicylic acid to dramatically reduce the appearance of breakouts.
Recommended by Mayou, Bioderma's Sébium range works to prevent and soothe blemishes and breakouts.
A personal favourite, this gel cleanser is gentle enough that it doesn't strip the skin but also offers a deep enough cleanse and exfoliation to reduce the chances of getting spots.
Using a combination of both alpha and beta hydroxy acids, this serum really helps to keep dead skin from blocking pores and works to restore glow.
Speaking of glow, this toner is glow in a bottle. Simple apply to a cotton pad and sweep over cleansed skin once or twice a week to encourage a clear, radiant complexion.
Whereas so many exfoliators struggle to find the perfect balance between not doing enough and doing too much, this two-minute treatment gets it right every time. It's seriously powerful but will leave your skin the smoothest it's ever felt.
Using a vitamin C derivative to brighten and salicylic acid to gently exfoliate, this overnight mask really works to unclog pores.
Also harnessing the power of PHAs, these exfoliating skin pads are so good Marshall swears by them. Simply swipe over the face once a day for all of the hydrating exfoliation you need.
If you have one spot, in particular, that is proving more stubborn than the rest, these dot stickers deliver salicylic acid straight to the blemish to help banish it.
Moisturiser might not seem like the first thing you want to reach for when you are breaking out, but it's important to keep hydration levels up. This oil-free formula soothes skin without clogging pores or making things worse.