As we approach week 9 (58? 102??) of quarantine, many of us are noticing that our skin is reverting back to its acne-riddled high school days. Seriously, what the hell? We’re not spending much time outside getting attacked by free radicals and pollutants, and we have more time than ever to do our involved skin care routines. So, what gives? Dr. Shari Marchbein, a New York-based dermatologist and Clinical Assistant Professor of Dermatology at the NYU Grossman School of Medicine, spoke with us about why our skin is still not behaving even when we’re in quarantine, and what we can do about it.
Why Quarantine is Causing You to Break Out
According to Dr. Marchbein, hormones are a crucial reason our skin is breaking out rn. There’s no way to pinpoint just one culprit, she says, since our sleep, work, and skin care routines are all out of whack from sheltering in place. The key ingredient in all of these, she says, is stress.
When we think about hormones, our minds typically wander to testosterone, progesterone, and like, things that relate to the pill or middle school health class. However, Dr. Marchbein explains, the hormone causing our current skin woes is cortisol, “which increases in the blood at times of stress or with lack of sleep and can trigger acne breakouts by stimulating sebaceous glands to make more oil.” Increased cortisol, she says, “can worsen other skin conditions such as eczema, acne and psoriasis, as well as cause an increased breakdown of collagen and hyaluronic acid, which is the good stuff that gives skin its glow and plumpness.” Yeah, no thanks.
How to Prevent Stress-Related Flare-Ups
To avoid flare-ups in the first place, Dr. Marchbein recommends several ways to de-stress. “First and foremost, get plenty of sleep,” she says. When our body is sleep-deprived, it makes more cortisol, causing inflammation and bodily stress. Staying active is also important, according to Dr. Marchbein. Her go-to ways to de-stress are meditating and taking a yoga class. To help reduce your cortisol and stress levels, you can also go for a socially distanced walk, if possible.
And just like your mom’s been telling you for years, “maintaining a healthy, well-balanced diet and drinking plenty of water are key.” By following this advice, which tbh you should be doing anyway for your general health, you can be like that meme that’s like, “my skin is clear, my crops are flourishing, my depression is gone” (but like, with actual, non-sarcastically clear skin).
How to Treat Acne Flare-Ups
If you’ve got a particularly aggressive breakout, don’t freak out, because here are a number of treatment methods to try. Under normal circumstances (lol what are those), Dr. Marchbein would advise visiting your dermatologist for a steroid injection. These injections “reduce the pain and inflammation of cystic breakouts,” she says, but at this point, “most medical visits are being done by telemedicine, and in-person visits should be for true emergencies only.” So that’s out.
Then what to do about the acne glaring back at you in your reflection? For starters, Dr. Marchbein recommends certain over-the-counter products to treat existing flare-ups. Retinoids are one useful treatment for acne breakouts—Differin 0.1% gel is the strongest non-prescription one available, she notes. Salicylic acid, a type of acid that can unclog pores, is also helpful.
“I like St. Ives Blackhead Clearing Scrub with salicylic acid and green tea as a gentle scrub, and I use a St. Ives salicylic acid gel cleanser once daily,” Dr. Marchbein says. She also recommends stronger 1-2% salicylic acid gel for spot treatment. Products with benzoyl peroxide, which is anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial, can help calm irritated skin too. Dr. Marchbein likes 10% Panoxyl wash and 4% CeraVe wash.
Finally, acne patches deliver active ingredients to a pimple. “By occluding the pimple, these active ingredients are able to penetrate the skin more deeply allowing them to potentially work better,” she explains. Watch out if you have sensitive skin, though—acne patches might be too harsh for you and could make the situation worse.
“Most importantly,” Dr Marchbein warns, “do not pop or squeeze a pimple, as this will cause even more inflammation and can make a potentially bad situation even worse.” I know Dr. Pimple Popper videos can be satisfying, but seriously, don’t do this to yourself.
Skin Care Advice in the Time of Public Face Masks
As much as we’ve been staying indoors these days, we occasionally have to venture out into the real world to stock up on supplies or grab our curbside pick-up order of pad thai. For those of us responsibly following the CDC’s recommendation to wear cloth face masks in public, our skin might be suffering. Dr. Rajani Katta, a dermatologist and clinical assistant professor at Baylor University, warns against using masks made of irritating materials like polyester that trap sweat, in a blog post for the Baylor College Of Medicine. She suggests masks made of absorbent materials like cotton, which can help absorb sweat and prevent breakouts.
If you’ve got dry skin, Dr. Katta advises moisturizing before putting on your mask, but if you’re particularly acne-prone, she recommends skipping greasy products like foundation. “These products can get trapped under the mask and possibly cause more skin issues,” she explains. For healthcare workers on the front lines, Dr. Marchbein recommends avoiding retinoids and exfoliants. Wearing abrasive N95 masks daily, she says, “could cause further irritation and shearing of the skin.”
If your quarantine = breakout central, all hope is not lost. There are plenty of products and habits that can help repair your skin and prevent further flare-ups. Plus, it’s not like many people are seeing you these days. If you’ve got a particularly nasty zit, just turn off your video on Zoom.
Anxiety is like the girl who consistently shows up to your parties uninvited. No one ever asks her to come, but you know she’ll always turn up. For me, that uninvited anxiety is a daily party crasher in my life. Joy. And if you’re anything like me, every living person who learns you have anxiety offers some kind of tip to help reduce anxiety. “I’ve heard weighted blankets really help” or “have you tried drinking more water?” While these all (usually) tend to be genuine tips, the overload of information to help reduce anxiety is, well, anxiety-inducing. So from one anxious person to another, here are some tips that I have found help me, that aren’t just the deep breathing and counting to 10.
1. Get More Sleep
I know. This one can be super difficult to achieve because your mind probably races at night with the million and one things you need to do (or said three years ago that you’re still embarrassed by). While I try to fall asleep, I make checklists of what I need to do, plan my outfits for the week, and/or revisit the status of my dreams and accomplishments. But I’ve found a miracle worker. I’ve been obsessed with the “Sleep with Me” podcast. It’s essentially a dude telling you a bedtime story in a super monotone voice, but he just rambles and goes off into tangents so you don’t actually need to pay attention. I couldn’t even tell you what the stories are about, because I am never awake long enough to know. It sounds dumb, but every time I put it on, I’m asleep within five minutes.
2. Try Some Essential Oils
Saje Unwind Smoothing Face & Body Mist
While I don’t swear by essential oils, I do feel like they can help. Smelling essential oils initiates an almost immediate response in your brain of neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine (aka the feel-good chemicals). This one from Saje is my personal favorite because it doesn’t need a diffuser so it can be used pretty much anywhere. This mist combines hints of lavender for relaxation, orange to brighten your mood, and bergamot to relieve stress. I love spraying this on my pillow before going to bed for an extra boost of anxiety-reducing power.
3. Ease Up On The Coffee
You know the jitters you get from having too much caffeine? Since coffee is a stimulant, it can trigger your “fight-or-flight” response which can be bad news for anyone with anxiety. Additionally, too much coffee can make you moody, hyper-aware, and nervous, and it can make it difficult for you to fall asleep. Aka all things that someone with anxiety does not need help with.
4. Get Moving
I hate myself for including this one on the list, but it really is one of the best ways to reduce anxiety. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve walked into a workout class feeling anxious af and leaving feeling so much better. It increases endorphins (aka nature’s Xanax) which boosts your mood and helps you sleep better. Go to a workout class or the gym, take the stairs, or just walk more. Whatever you do, the more you move, the better you feel.
Blame It On Limit The Alcohol
Having a nice
bottle glass of wine after work or a cold beer to unwind is sometimes a necessity. I get it. We’ve all been there. But in reality, alcohol can wreak havoc on your anxiety. Alcohol is a depressant, which lowers your mood and can temporarily make you forget about your stress. While this may be effective in the short term, once the alcohol wears off, you’ll be worse off. Headaches, nausea, dizziness, and low blood sugar are just some symptoms you may experience, which we have all probably experienced at one point, but did you know there’s such thing as an emotional hangover too? Yeah, turns out alcohol can make you anxious once it wears off. Great.
6. Avoid Sugar
If you are an emotional eater like I am, this one might be the hardest tip to help reduce anxiety, but I swear it helps. Although the copious amounts of ice cream may feel like just what you need in the moment, it’ll make you feel a hell of a lot worse in about 15 minutes (not unlike our good friend alcohol). The crash you experience after eating a ton of sugar is worse than Brit’s breakdown when she shaved her head. The drastic swing in your blood sugar increases cortisol and adrenal levels—aka you feel tired, lightheaded, and sick. Sound like similar symptoms to a panic attack?
Remember, what helps me might not help you. Sometimes, all you need is a good cry or an episode of Keeping Up to remind you that things could be a lot worse for you.
Images: Kinga Cichewicz / Unsplash; Giphy (3); Saje
You know those days where if you get one more email, you’re going to throw your iPhone under the subway? Then your mom calls and you start freaking out because no, you don’t have a plan. And then, Whole Foods is out of Halo Top and you have to wait in line for 30 minutes because everyone decided to go grocery shopping at the same time. But all you wanted to do was lie in bed and watch Friends all day. If only being lazy all day was, like, an actual job.
Acknowledging that we’re stressed is a growing movement. And since long periods of stress cause cortisol (the primary stress hormone) to spike and higher cortisol levels lead to weight gain, heart disease, memory problems, headaches, and depression, feeling stressed out is not a joke. In addition, there’s more awareness that anxiety is an actual problem that affects at least a third of the world. And honestly, the number feels like it should be higher since literally all of my friends complain of being anxious (but maybe it’s because we’re stressed out millennials).
In any case, since stress is bad for both your physical and mental health, I’m always looking for ways to de-stress. A year ago, the New York Times wrote an article about how the “Prozac Nation is Now the United States of Xanax,” so sure, I’m well aware there are plenty of drugs that doctors love to push on their patients. But since I’ve always loved trying weird things, I wanted to test out some alternative methods of de-stressing. Since I have no background in anything medical (does dropping out of pre-med count?), I turned to Google (which we all know is totally reliable) and decided to try them out.
Here are the results in my totally scientific one-test subject study on alternative medicine/new age-y ways to chill out.
I invested in a diffuser and some oils from Urban Outfitters. Lavender oil supposedly reduces stress (plus, you know, smells lovely) so I thought I’d try it. Some essential oils can also be applied to the skin when diluted, but a word of warning: like most things in a very contradictory health industry, there’s not much definitive evidence on whether essential oils should be ingested. Personally, I would probably steer clear from swallowing essential oils. Also, don’t diffuse around your pets. Anyway, I have no plans on accidentally dying in the pursuit of journalism, so I just stuck with spritzing lavender in the air. The whole experience felt quite spa-like and did temporarily relieve some tension. I suppose I could have lit a candle instead, but for some reason, essential oils are all the rage. Plus I’m trying not to get expelled for accidentally burning down Stanford.
Breathing actually weirdly works. Inhale through one nostril, and then exhale through the next. The act of focusing on my breathing seems to have a calming effect for some reason. It’s basically, meditation, which I’m sure it would work—in theory. If I could sit down and not have my mind wander after 30 seconds (“this is a waste of time. I really could be finishing that paper so I can get blacked tonight at a mixer…”) that would be a miracle. I believe the whole point is to let go of your thoughts and just connect with your nature, but it’s kind of hard when my thoughts are freaking out all the time. So, let’s just stick to breathing for now.
Did these make a difference or did I want to buy one more random thing from Urban Outfitters? The world will never know. But hey, apparently, rose quartz promote good vibes, so I figured, why not get a few? At the very least, they make my glum cement block of a dorm room slightly less hideous.
Cutting Out Caffeine
Someone once told me coffee boosts your metabolism, so I’ve been drinking it like mad ever since. The bad news? It also increases stress, so maybe my three triple shot lattes a day were not the best idea. In pursuit of de-stressing, I decided to give up caffeine for a few days and it was TERRIBLE. Honestly awful. I started falling asleep by 5pm, I had a splitting headache, and I did not in any way feel less stressed. Would I have felt less stressed if I decided to push through my caffeine withdrawal? Maybe, but you try writing a paper with a migraine.
Sounds kitschy, but crafts can totally release stress. Apparently, the act of doing the same repetitive action over and over is soothing, so drawing or scrapbooking or knitting are all good ideas if you’re feeling overwhelmed. Honestly, drawing is really therapeutic, as was scrapbooking all my memories of last year in a week, which I maintain will be cute one day despite the fact that all my friends think I’m incredibly maudlin.
If all of these sound stupid to you, then I recommend stress baking. At the very least, you’ll end up with some dope chocolate chip cookies or something.
Images: Giphy (2)