It is a few days to the big event – perhaps your wedding, a public speaking engagement or an important job interview – and there it is: A big ol’ zit right there on your face like the mark of Cain.
Why does it always happen, you ask yourself? Maybe your skin itches, too? Or it gets all red and dry around the time your deadline is due?
You might suspect stress to be the main culprit – and you’d be right.
The effect of stress on skin was anecdotal until a 2003 study by Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center showed that it can indeed trigger acne. In the study, 22 university students rated the severity of their acne worse on the Leeds scale (which categorises acne sores into a range of 0 to 10) during exam periods. And this corroborated with the researchers' assessment of the students' stress levels using questionnaires.
One of the culprits is a stress-related hormone known as corticotrophin-releasing hormone or CRH, said Dr Adam Friedman, an associate professor of dermatology at George Washington University, who wasn’t involved in the study. CRH binds to receptors in the skin’s sebaceous glands and causes skin to increase its oil production.
What all that science means is: Stress leads to pimples.
When you are stressed, your nerve signals also increase, leading to itchy skin. “That can cause people to scratch or pick at their skin, which can create even more swelling and redness,” said Dr Friedman.
And it doesn’t stop at an oily complexion. Prolonged or constantly recurring stress can actually damage your skin’s protective barrier and affect its ability to hold on to water, said Dr Peter Elias, a professor of dermatology at the University of California. Reduced moisture then leads to diminished luminosity, rough skin texture and fine lines.
That’s enough to stress over.
THE SURPRISING ALLY FOR BETTER SKIN: BACTERIA
The logical remedy would be to rebalance skin’s oil and moisture levels. And here’s where it gets science-y but interesting: Bacteria can play a part in this.
“Not only are there microflora that live in the human gut, there is also a skin microbiome with friendly microorganisms for protection,” said Dr Eileen Tan, dermatologist from Eileen Tan Skin, Laser and Hair Transplant Clinic. “The skin microbiome has been shown to protect against unfriendly bacteria, pollution and free radicals, all of which can accelerate ageing,” she said.
Basically, our skin needs good bacteria to keep the bad bacteria in check. Enter probiotics.
“Probiotics are live bacteria and yeast that are beneficial to health,” said Dr Tan. “It has already been proven that probiotics perform a role in skin heath, such as anti-inflammatory effects in atopic dermatitis, promoting the healing of scars and burns, rejuvenating skin and strengthening its innate immunity.”
“Supplementing with probiotics will often improve acne-prone skin,” she said.
Probiotics can also help with skin’s moisture. “Skin creams containing streptococcus thermophiles were found to increase moisture in the skin of ageing women, and hence, this helps to reduce wrinkles and anti-ageing effects,” said Dr Tan.
Here’s a look at how various skincare products help to maintain the balance of your skin’s ecosystem.
LA ROCHE-POSAY LIPIKAR SYNDET AP+ CREAM WASH
This eczema-friendly body wash is made with vitreoscilla filiformis bacteria grown in thermal spring water. According to La Roche-Posay's researchers, eczema-prone skin is a result of a reduced microbiome diversity, which this body wash can help reverse. Get it here.
LANCOME ADVANCED GENEFIQUE HYDROGEN MELTING MASK
Each mask sheet is infused with the same amount of the probiotic extract bifidus as a bottle of Advanced Genefique serum to improve skin’s barrier function and hydration. On contact with skin, the heat-sensitive hydrogel mesh partially melts into a fluid to release the active ingredients. Get it here.
MOTHER DIRT AO+ MIST
Instead of relying on chemicals and artificial fragrances to keep you smelling fresh, this all-over body spray uses live ammonia-oxidising bacteria or AOB to replenish bacteria that have been removed by detergent and soap, and rebalance skin’s microflora. Keep this facial mist refrigerated. Get it here.
ESSE PROBIOTIC SKINCARE AGELESS SERUM+
The star ingredients here are the inactivated probiotic lactobacillus cells that stimulate skin’s production of peptides. These peptides then apparently shift the population of skin’s microbes in favour of the beneficial ones, so that the good bacteria can out-compete the pro-ageing ones. Get it here.
CLINIQUE REDNESS SOLUTIONS MAKEUP BROAD SPECTRUM SPF 15 WITH PROBIOTIC TECHNOLOGY
A lactobacillus ferment is supposedly used in this liquid foundation that offers medium coverage to balance the pH of the skin, reducing inflammation and redness. Get it here.
ALLIES OF SKIN MOLECULAR SAVIOUR MIST
Lactobacillus ferment is the key ingredient in this facial mist that is supposed to reduce skin redness brought on by acne. Get it here.
It is important to note that your bacterial make-up is uniquely determined by your age, sex, where you live and your use of antibiotics.
According to Dr Whitney Bowe, a clinical assistant professor of dermatology at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City, probiotics are not a stand-alone treatment for skin problems but they can be used in combination with other treatments.
Speak to your dermatologist if you have any concerns.