The effect of stress on your skin and how to avoid it

We’re feeling the effects of our daily pressures more than ever before, and, for many of us, it’s showing on our skin. We talk to Carrie Gross, CEO and co-founder of Dr. Dennis Gross and Dr. Libby Weaver (PhD) on identifying stress, and how to protect the skin against it.


According to Dr. Libby, stress—not to be confused with trauma or anxiety—is “the everyday things that concern you,” and often get your heart racing a little bit. Things like “running late, an overflowing email inbox, trying to keep everybody happy.”

While Dr. Libby acknowledges that there are real stresses going on in the world and in our lives, “there’s a huge amount of stress we create for ourselves,” she says. “That's the part we can change because it comes from how we think.”

According to Gross, stress is a “global conversation”, and, if anything, “a worldwide phenomenon.” “When I sit down with a client, wherever I might be in the world,” she shared, “I ask them about their skin and they tell me about their life. They might say, ‘I just had a baby,’ ‘I'm not sleeping,’ ‘I'm time-deprived.’ And so truthfully the stress levels are a very physiological phenomenon going on in our body. And it does show up in our skin.”

Dr. Libby agrees. “We think that stress comes from everything outside of us; the people with the tasks, the situations we’re in… What we've forgotten is that it's not those things, it's our response to those things that either determines whether they're stressful or not.”

“There's a constant and relentless output of stress hormones (adrenaline and cortisol) that our bodies are receiving every day,” she continued, noting that these hormones were once reserved for when our lives were in extreme, literal danger, and needed a rush of adrenaline to either fight or fly. “It takes a big step to start to see that it’s all in your response, but it makes a massive difference when you do.”

READ MORE: Keep calm and carry on with these top-shelf skin soothers


Simply put, there is no quick fix; managing stress is holistic. Easier said than done, we know, but substantiating your triggers—and taking a deep breath when you do—will do a world of good in keeping your stress hormones at bay.

To lessen the load on our skin, Dr. Dennis Gross has blended superfoods and adaptogens with niacinamide (vitamin B3) in their new range (complete with a serum, moisturiser and eye cream), which utilises nutrient-dense ingredients like acai, avocado cacao and goji in an encapsulated form in order to deeply penetrate into the skin. The brand’s co-founder and CEO says that this then works to “really, really strengthen the skin’s acid mantle, lipid barrier and microbiome so that your skin is not vulnerable to stress or stressful environments.”

According to Dr. Libby, good nutrition can go a long way too. “When we are eating plenty of antioxidant-rich foods, (think brightly-coloured fruits and vegetables), getting enough zinc (found in red meat, oysters, and in smaller doses, seeds and eggs), and a good serve of essential fatty acids (from fish, wax, algae), some of those things can work to prevent the effects of stress on your body (more on this later).”

Doing things that make you feel good about yourself—whether it’s endorphin-releasing exercise or popping on a face mask and listening to a feel-good playlist—will also relieve some of those stressors.

“There's definitely some incredible technology happening in what we understand about the skin, especially with the creation of products that can penetrate that outside layer and be able to change things,” shared the doctor. Spots and pigmentation are also reminders that we need to dig deeper and address our stressors (and, in some cases, seek professional help because some ailments cannot be remedied at home or through topical treatments). “It's usually encouraging us to eat, drink, move, think, breathe, believe or perceive in a different way.”


We throw the word ‘superfood’ around all the time, but according to both Dr. Libby and Gross, they’re genuinely super in reducing stress-induced reactions.

As Dr. Libby says, all wholefoods are superfoods. “A superfood is something that is nutrient-dense or it might have what are called ‘phytochemicals’, a unique group of antioxidants that fight free radicals (which are essentially what create ageing and degeneration from the inside out). Lemon is a superfood, parsley is a superfood... all of them are.”

Gross also raves about their effects on the skin. “They increase circulation, hydration and lipid levels, and work to regulate oil production and even help with pigmentation. But in order to get enough of those ingredients to reach your skin, you would probably have to eat truckloads,” she says. So, her brand has found a way to include it into their new line. “We knew that structurally they’re water-soluble and couldn’t be absorbed by the skin, so we had to find a way to make them penetrate through the lipid barrier of the skin so they could reach the cell membrane.”

READ MORE: Add some zest to your skincare with this Japanese superfood collection

Want to know more about overcoming stress? Discover Dr. Libby’s books, videos, courses and online resources here, and lessen the load on your skin with the Dr. Dennis Gross B3Adaptive SuperFoods range here.


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