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Monday, February 21, 2011 in , , , , , , , , , , ,

Solutions for Stress and Skin Problems

Stress is a culprit for all kinds of problems and in today's society is rampant in our everyday lives. Our stress systems were really not designed to be used on such a constant basis. Even as recently as just a century ago people might have more commonly felt their emergency reserves kick into action in situations where life and limb were truly threatened. A bear attack, a bad fall, or perhaps combat situations would have all been legitimate times to activate extra resources and take emergency action. 

With the fast pace of the modern world people encounter stress situations on an almost constant basis. They may not be as extreme but they produce a lower level, ongoing response in our bodies. Battling traffic to get to work on time, getting an email from your boss about a deadline, and filling out paperwork for your child's school applications are all things that can pop us into emergency gear and activate our stress responses. We are busier than ever and everything from the daily news to our personal lives is responsible for the onslaught.
You may know some of the physiological effects of stress. One is increased heart rate and blood pressure. Many people are living life with both of these much higher than normal levels on a constant basis. Another part of the stress response is the release of a myriad of hormones including a steroid class called glucocorticoids.

The steroid type compounds released during the stress response have a function in activating and shutting down various activities in the immune system so that the body theoretically has the right white blood cells available to defend against potential infections. One of the effects of these compounds according to research done by Dr. Peter Elias of the University of San Francisco is that they decrease the skin's permeability barrier, which is what keeps needed skin components in and the exterior world out. It also increases inflammation in the under layers of tissue. What is the long term effect of this? Acne in some and eczema and dermatitis in others, depending on to which conditions your individual body is most susceptible.

With the permeability function of the skin compromised the acne bacteria have a much easier time replicating. Add to that increased sweating due to the stress response, and pores that may already be blocked or partially obscured become an immediate site for trouble. Part of the skin's natural defense is the acid mantle. If this breaks down and a more alkaline environment occurs on the skin the acne bacteria are also more prone to grow.

Topical treatments alone may not be your best bet to deal with this problem, which could be one reason that acne and other skin issues are difficult to remedy for some people - they may not be treating the root cause. Dr. Elias found in his study with mice that changing their physical environment helped alleviate the stress. The alternative was to administer tranquilizers, which calmed the stress and the skin's aggravated responses.

So what can YOU do?

Change your physical response to your environment.
Stretching and deep breathing are tremendous tools. Even 15 to 30 minutes of yoga combined with yogic breathing can lower blood pressure, stimulate circulation, and flush toxins from the body. This can short circuit the stress response and keep the flareup from getting worse. I personally take yoga breaks in the afternoon to help work out the kinks from sitting at my computer all day. I come back to the desk refreshed and ready to refocus. I am not an advanced yogi but the benefits come even with the simplest poses as long as you really put yourself into the activity.

Drink herbal tea to help with your stress level.
Teas are easy to prepare and available at any health store. They are vastly preferrable to sugary sodas and instead of increasing the unhealthful load on your body they will actually help your body heal and cope.
Chamomile is, of course, the standby for calming especially at nighttime. Another herb that would be helpful in your teas is Rhodiola. It is an adaptogenic herb and helps the body adjust to periods of stress. Additionally it will not make you sleepy and has actually been shown to increase cognitive function, an added benefit for busy people.

Take more potent relaxative herbs such as Kava Kava and Valerian.
These may be best taken as a capsule. (Valerian is pretty stinky in its raw herb form) Kava relaxes the muscles in the body without giving a lot of brain fog and for most people small amounts can be taken for a short period with no problems. Valerian is a sedative and helpful for restful sleep. If you have questions about how these herbs might work with your current medications I always recommend checking in with a naturopath to talk about your individual situation as some herbs do have contraindications. These would be safe for many people though, and are very effective at what they do.

Aromatherapy is a great, noninvasive way to combat stress.
My company Blissoma makes a Stress Relief Serum that is very helpful as a topical aid:
A bath filled with an herb tea and 20 or so drops of essential oil would be great. Soaking helps moderate blood pressure.

For topical treatments you can incorporate a clay product for intensive, on-the-spot help. 
Clays can be a great, nonirritating way to clear pores and remineralize the skin as well. Because a mask is applied and left on the skin for a prolonged period of time it has a chance to work on the skin intensively. Blissoma also makes a clay mask that is wonderful for this purpose, our Refine Clay Renewal Treatment.

This can be applied to facial and body acne. It is gentle and yet very active at what it does. It contains Willowbark which is a known source of natural salicins, which combat acne.

All these are lifestyle changes that can help you address your acne problems thinking of the total cause-effect cycle. Working on your overall stress level will have many other health benefits as well. Once your "fight or flight" response is deactivated the steriod hormones associated with the stress response decrease rapidly, meaning you can see results quickly and prevent further problems. Clearer skin and a clearer mind await.

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Did you know stress causes acne? YES. Herbal tips on how to deal with it.

I was recruited to provide a primer for brides on stress related acne for WoW! Glowing Bride in 30 Days because of my expertise in natural skincare. I've been living a holistic lifestyle for many years and as with many things your skin's condition is very related to the rest of your well-being. 

photo © Lanak |

Ok, in a nutshell, how does stress affect the skin?
One of the immediate effects of stress is that the body moves circulation away from the skin to support the heart and muscle tissues. This affects nutrient delivery and the overall complexion.
Digestion is also compromised so that the body is not going to be getting the hydration, toxin flushing, and nutrition delivery it needs if the stress period is prolonged – this then shows on the skin.
So how can brides implement stress moderation? Easier said than done, right?
I recommend that brides implement a stress moderation plan in their daily lives to help prevent what flareups they can ahead of the wedding.
Stretching and deep breathing are tremendous tools - even 15 to 30 minutes of yoga combined with...

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