Everyone has stress, but couples planning a wedding have to manage not only their own stress, but that of their families, friends, and maybe even the wedding planner!
The Cleveland Clinic defines stress as “the body's reaction to ANY change that requires an adjustment or response.” Your response to stress can vary: moodiness, exhaustion, sleep disturbances (hence the ugly term “bridezilla”) and a slew of symptoms for the largest organ in the body – the skin. You may have noticed angry, pre- or post-wedding shenanigans on your face, and it’s probably a reaction to stress and change.
Once you understand what’s going on, though, you can probably find a way to help your skin settle in time for the big day – or at least for the honeymoon.
What's Happening Inside
When the body is under stress, neurons in the hypothalamus produce a corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH). From the hypothalamus, the fight-or-flight headquarters of the brain, CRH travels through the bloodstream to the pituitary gland, stimulating the production of cortisol.
Neuropsychologist Sanam Hafeez explains that “cortisol is a stress hormone with many functions. It is critical for the regulation of our metabolism, and the body's use of proteins, carbohydrates, and fats, as well as regulation of blood pressure and cardiovascular function.” So, cortisol isn’t all bad! We need it for lots of normal bodily processes, and for saying “I do” with any degree of confidence and inner calm – it’s a huge moment!
Following a stressful event, however, cortisol can linger longer than we would like. Hafeez continues, saying that cortisol reacts “different(ly) from adrenaline in that it remains elevated over a longer period of time after said event, while adrenaline, which you can feel, returns to normal levels.” This lingering cortisol triggers the immune system to prepare for the worst, releasing chemicals that initiate a fight-or-flight status in our bodies and our skin. This epic effort to protect your body from harm can produce an array of inflammatory skin symptoms, and with an average of 22 square feet of skin per person, that can mean a heap of trouble.
What's Happening Outside
You can thank cortisol for that pesky pimple that pops up right before your first dress fitting. Dermatologist Patricia Wexler, MD, notes that the increased production of cortisol can lead “to an increase of oil production in the hair follicles, which are attached to sebaceous glands where oil is produced – this is what causes acne.” Stress and cortisol are also known to unsettle the body’s microbiome, the vast ecosystem of bacteria in our gastrointestinal tract, which can affect our ability to manage inflammation and infection at the skin level.
Slower Repair of the Skin
You get a zit, then you take matters into your own hands, meticulously excavating like a famous archeologist, and you’re left only with a crater of regret and skin that won’t heal. Sound familiar? (PLEASE don’t do this the night before your wedding – just use a gentle Spotless Blemish Oil and step away from the mirror!) Josie Howard, MD, a psychiatrist with a specialty in the mind-skin connection, explains that stress “delays the skin's healing process by impairing the barrier function, or protective outer layer.” The moral of this story? You shouldn’t be picking at your skin anytime, but when you’re stressed, the results will be even more dismaying.
Inflammation (Perioral Dermatitis, Eczema, etc.)
Richard Fried, M.D. Ph.D., a dermatologist and clinical psychologist, considers stress “a general trigger that can make the skin misbehave in whatever way it’s prone to misbehaving.” Think of your skin's reaction to stress like an impending toddler tantrum. Add stress to the situation and your skin will undoubtedly kick and scream all the way home. If you’re inclined to break out in rough, scaly eczema patches or irritating perioral dermatitis outbreaks around the nose and mouth, stress may be what sends your symptoms soaring, even when they’re under control most of the time.
Dry & Dull Complexion
Cortisol slows the production of hyaluronic acid and“diminishes your body's ability to retain water, so your skin can become dull and dehydrated when under constant stress,” says Sanam Hafeez. Besides appearing lackluster, this can cause more side effects on a cellular level. Chronic stress can speed up our natural aging process and contribute to a breakdown of collagen and elastin in the skin. Need more hyaluronic acid? Who doesn’t?
Dark circles and puffiness under the eyes are the hallmarks of brides and grooms as they approach the wedding day – elevated cortisol can interrupt sleep, and almost no amount of concealer can hide a sting of sleepless nights.
We can’t stop you from stressing, but we have some suggestions about how to reduce your stress load, and how to support your body when stress is unavoidable.
Preventative Stress Management
- Your body listens to everything your mind says – download the Headspace mobile app and give yourself a reset with a seated meditation. Or, get your blood pumping with our walking meditation.
- Treat your body to real foods. Need some suggestions? We have a few.
- Caffeine can make stress and anxiety worse. Turn down the coffee and sip on herbal tea instead.
- Listen to uplifting mood music.
- Soak and send your worries down the drain.
- Ground yourself with aromatherapy: vetiver, juniper, and lavender.
- If you struggle with eczema or dermatitis in the weeks before your wedding, consider getting rid of all synthetic fragrance and SLS in your life entirely (and forever after, if you don’t want your symptoms to return!).
- SLEEP. Do whatever you have to do to get some high-quality sleep before your wedding! You can try magnesium, CBD, a long bath, a good book, or a yoga nidra practice, but make the commitment to sleep before you say your vows.
- Read more about treating acne naturally here if your skin is misbehaving.
- Read more about what we recommend for eczema and perioral dermatitis here.
- Try skipping the wine and treating yourself to this golden latte before bed. Wine may be an easy escape, but this warming elixir feels a lot more like tender self-care, and doesn’t dehydrate you the way alcohol can.
- Step away from the magnifying mirror and have faith that your skin will settle down when your stress settles down, and staring at your breakouts won’t speed the process.
- If you feel you need to help your skin through its stressful time, you can try our beloved Detox Exfoliating Mask, but be gentle with your tender skin!
- Spend time with friends, family, pets, and trees – tree hugging actually reduces anxiety! (Another reason we love planting a tree for every order!)
- Shift your mood with uplifting scents: drop essential oils of orange and grapefruit on the floor of your shower and inhale.
- Whatever you do, and wherever you go, make sure you have this little genie in your pocket.
Stress is all around us, but with some simple steps and self-care, you can keep your cortisol steady and your skin happy! And remember, weddings are celebrations, and really just tokens of the much deeper love you share with your partner. As long as you have that love, what else really matters?
With love and a perfect wedding glow from us to you,
From the emergency room physician to the world of natural skincare: Dr. Sarah Villafranco has become a noisy advocate for cultivating joy and health in everyday life. She practiced emergency medicine for ten years, where she saw and treated a broad spectrum of human health and illness. She became fixated on the idea of improving people’s health and happiness (as well the planet’s) by decreasing the number of chemicals in their personal care routines.
She left the ER and founded Osmia Organics, an artisanal skincare and lifestyle brand based in Colorado. Osmia's simple, pure, plant-based formulations help to soothe skin conditions such as dermatitis (especially perioral dermatitis), acne, eczema, and rosacea (to name a few!). She uses the brand, and her IG account, to give Osmia customers a sneak peek into the world of handcrafted soap and natural skincare as well as her active life in the beautiful mountains of Colorado.
The information contained in this post is for educational interest only. This information is not intended to be used for diagnosis or treatment of any physical or mental illness, disease, or skin conditions.