Cleanser: check. Moisturizer: check. Serum: check. Sunscreen: check. Just because your whole skin care routine is in check, doesn't mean your skin will be absolutely perfect. It’s not just the skin care products you use that have an influence on your skin. That doesn't mean ditch your skincare routine in a hopeless surrender — because it is still wildly important to your hygiene and skin health, and the lifestyle we lead and habits we form can all affect our skin as well, be it good or bad. Luckily most of these factors are within your control in some way, and if they’re not, then you can make some tweaks to our skin care routine to adapt.
How Stress Affects Your Skin
While it may seem like it’s purely mental, stress can have a huge impact on your physical health, including your skin. When you’re stressed, your body is basically convinced it’s in danger so it goes into overdrive to protect itself. Our body releases the hormone cortisol among others, and cortisol increases sweat production and suppresses the immune system. The excess sweat can clog pores and your immune system is focused on basic functioning rather than fighting acne and inflammation on your skin. This combination is especially harmful for the skin of those with inflammatory conditions like rosacea or eczema.
Read more about how stress affects your skin.
Diet’s Impact on Skin
You probably immediately notice the difference in the way you feel when you start incorporating more nutritious, whole foods into your diet, and your skin will sing its praises too. You may also see increased breakouts after consuming an increased amount of processed, sugary, greasy foods or excessive dairy.
Vitamin C, essential fatty acids, probiotics, and multiple other nutrients found in a variety of fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and whole grains are the basis of a healthy body, and therefore, healthy skin. The best diet for healthy skin allows for sweets and treats in moderation but centers around nutrient rich whole foods. So do your best to make some smart swaps in your diet. Instead of sour candy, try pineapple or grapes with a squeeze of lime juice, instead of fats from fried foods and refined oils, get healthy fats from avocado toast on whole grain bread, instead of potato chips, snack on roasted almonds, instead of ice cream, spoon some yogurt with berries and a low-sugar granola. A pint of ice cream or some french fries every once in a while won’t hurt — moderation is key, but a varied diet full of colorful fruits and veggies and healthy proteins and fats are what your body thrives off of. Your skin will be more radiant than ever, but more importantly, you’ll notice a difference in your energy levels, mental health, digestion, and sleep schedule, which moreover will help your skin out.
Is Exercise Good for Your Skin?
Diet and exercise are the dynamic duo for promoting overall health, so it’s no surprise that exercise is next on the list. When your heart rate goes up, your blood vessels expand and are able to carry more oxygen and nutrients to your cells, and healthy skin cells = glowy, plump skin.
There are some side effects that may occur from heavy exercise if you have a sensitive skin condition such as rosacea which can flare up when the body heats up. If this is the case, exercise in an air conditioned gym or room and do moderate exercises like an incline walk on the treadmill, yoga, or light lifting.
Your post-workout behavior is also a factor in your skin’s health. Shower, wash your face, and change into clean clothes as soon as possible after your workout is completed. If you let sweat linger for too long, and cause clogged pores and irritation. So, if you’ve had a recent bout of backne in the shape of a racerback sports bra, that could be a sign that your post-gym hygiene isn't quite in check.
Keep a 2-in-1 face and body wash in your gym bag for a quick shower with minimal products (you can even use it as shampoo), and bring a clean change of clothes for the best post-gym skin care.
Beauty Sleep for Your Skin
“Get your beauty sleep” isn’t just a baseless proverb. Getting an adequate amount of sleep is crucial for not only your physical health and mental health, but also your skin’s health. If you regularly get less than 6 hours of sleep, it can have a negative impact on your skin. Sleep gives your body time to slow down, and focus on restoration: your skin produces more collagen, your body boosts blood flow to your skin, and any products you used before bed have time to deeply penetrate your pores. Getting enough sleep can give you a natural, glowy complexion, help reduce the appearance of wrinkles and puffy dark undereye circles.
It’s not just how much you sleep, but also, how you sleep.
- Why You Need to Take Your Makeup Off Before Sleep - That renewal that your skin craves during your eight hours of sleep is hindered if you leave your makeup on before hopping into bed. Sleeping with makeup on can lead to premature aging, eye infections, chapped lips, dry skin, and excessive oil production which can cause clogged pores and acne breakouts.
- The Best Sleep Environment for Your Skin - The environment you sleep in can help produce a deeper, more restorative sleep. Set the thermostat to around 60-67 degrees, dim the lights and make sure all electronics are off at least an hour before bedtime, and when you finally lay your head down, turn off all lights completely.
- Clean Sheets for Clear Skin - Let’s face it, keeping up to date on changing your sheets can often fall toward to bottom of the to do list, but try your best to change your sheets at least every other week. Otherwise, bacteria, dead skin, and dirt will build up on the fabric, and be transferred back to your skin, which can lead to acne on your body and your face (yes, even if you flip your pillowcase over).
Does Cell Phone Usage Harm Your Skin?
Your cell phone can quickly become a breeding ground for bacteria, makeup, oil, and other environmental toxins. The moment you take a call, and hold your phone up to your ear, all of those germs are being transferred back to your skin, creating prime real estate for breakouts. Use disinfectant wipes or even a bit of hand sanitizer on an anti-scratch cloth (the kind you use on your glasses) to clean your phone screen at least twice a day to keep bacteria at bay.
Even if you text more than talk (it’s 2021 we all do), there’s still other problems that can arise from constant phone usage. For instance, phone cases often contain nickel which is a common allergen that can lead to contact dermatitis (an itchy rash caused by an allergic reaction) on your hands or face, so if you notice a rash at any point of contact, switch to a plastic phone case.
There’s also the topic of blue light and what it can be doing to our skin. Some research shows that blue light can lead to cell shrinkage, accelerating the aging process, and an increase in hyperpigmentation, but there isn’t enough data to completely confirm this. We’ve only had electronic screens for a short amount of time so it’s hard to come to any conclusion as of now, but in general, limiting your screen time is beneficial for your mental and (possibly) physical health, so set time limits on your phone and pick up a new book or invest more time in a hobby. Who knows, maybe 20 years from now your skin will show the difference.
Any influencer or celebrity with perfect skin will tell you the first step to their skin care routine is drinking lots of water. It may sound unrealistic, and yes, there are often a lot of dermatology treatments and high end skin care products that give them their flawless skin, but hydration is still a crucial building block for healthy skin. While there’s no significant evidence that drinking more water than the standard 2-4 liters a day will help hydrate severely dry skin, a lot of the population is under-hydrated and getting that base level amount of water is a necessity for our overall health, which you should know by now, impacts the skin’s health.
Smoking and Drinking's Effect on Skin
The sallow, wrinkled skin you see on anti-smoking advertisements isn’t enhanced to prove a point, it’s the reality of what can happen to your skin if you smoke cigarettes. Nicotine narrows blood vessels and reduces blood flow to cells, and the various chemicals present in cigarettes reduce the collagen and elastin in your skin which are responsible for its plump, lifted appearance. It also creates free radicals which are another common culprit for signs of aging. The heat emitted from smoking can dry out your skin, making the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles all the more visible.
You’ll likely be parched after a night of drinking, and your skin will experience this dehydration too, and dryness, wrinkles, and inflammation are on their way to your face. Everything is fine in moderation, so one glass of wine won’t hurt, and actually has some health benefits, but if you hit the bottle nightly, consider scaling back for the sake of your skin.
When exposed to pollution in the air, tiny particles of smog, smoke, acids, soot, and other pollutants can enter your pores and infiltrate the deeper layers of your skin. Short-term, this will lead to dryness, irritation, clogged pores, and breakouts, but consistent exposure that reaches the skin cells can cause more lasting damages like a loss of elasticity and premature aging. If you are confined to a pollutant filled environment, make sure you use skin care products with powerful antioxidants like Vitamins C and E, which help fight free radicals and use a mineral sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30 to protect your skin from UV rays that we are exposed more to due to ozone layer damage from pollution.
Read more about how pollution affects your skin.
If you’ve noticed your skin gets a bit dryer in the winter and more acne-prone in the summer, it’s likely due to the change of climate throughout the season. Likewise, you may experience a change in your skin if you move from the northeast to the southwest and encounter the shift from a humid and snowy environment to a dry, warm environment.
Hot and humid climates cause more sweat and oil protection which as aforementioned, typically leads to clogged pores and breakouts if not properly taken care of, and cold dry climates (especially windy ones) strip moisture from the skin, leaving it dry, itchy, and irritated. If/when the weather is dry and cold, implement a heavy, thick moisturizer with sodium hyaluronate, and when it’s hot, make sure to cleanse daily, don’t neglect moisturizer even if your skin is oilier than normal (that can stress your skin and cause it to over-produce oil), and use a kaolin clay mask to clear out clogged pores.
Oh, and sunscreen is a necessity regardless of the weather. No ifs, ands, or buts.
So before you throw out all of your skin care products because you're convinced they aren't working, make sure that your lifestyle habits and environment are in the best shape possible, and then make some subtle changes to your routine if necessary.