Stress can cause all sorts of problems, from heart disease to depression to weight gain. Its effects can easily be seen in the body's largest organ—the skin. That's right, consumers even have to stress about stressing for fear that doing so will cause unsightly damage to their complexions. But there are plenty of natural remedies for stressed skin on the market—both in the personal care and supplements categories—that can help your shoppers relax from the inside out.
Effects on the epidermis
Stress causes skin to look pale, blotchy, congested and dull, according to Alice Lyon, a London-based medical herbalist and co-author of The Chinese Herbal Cookbook: Healing Foods from East and West (Kyle Cathie, 2000). "Adrenaline redirects blood away from the skin and sends it to the muscles instead. This is why in times of relentless stress the skin becomes washed out," she says. Furthermore, Lyon asserts that anxiety slows down the rate of cell turnover so "fresh epidermal cells take longer to reach the skin surface, and much of their moisture has disappeared."
Bev Maya, a medical herbalist and owner of Vancouver, British Columbia-based Maya Natural Health, agrees that stressed skin lacks vitality. But her diagnosis relies on how certain organs of the body function. "When the stress response is activated, increased levels of stress hormones create more work for our primary elimination organs—the liver, kidneys and digestive system. When this occurs constantly, the main organs of elimination start shunting wastes to the secondary organs of elimination, the biggest being the skin. As stress continues and hormonal imbalance progresses, the skin takes on more of the load of clearing toxins from the body," she says.
Besides dulling the overall texture of the skin, research shows that stress can also take the form of an unsightly blemish or full-blown acne. A study published in the March issue of Acta Dermato-Venereologica found that psychological stress may cause or exacerbate acne. The study followed 94 high school students with mild to moderate acne; researchers found that in periods of high anxiety, the students were 23 percent more likely to experience breakouts. The study also found that the amount of sebum, an oily substance produced by sebaceous glands, does not change during times of high or low stress, contradicting the commonly held belief that sebum overproduction is what causes acne.
Stress can also increase the signs of aging in the skin. A 2001 study in the Archives of Dermatology reported that psychological strain—measured as anger, confusion, anxiety, depression, fatigue and tension—can decrease the skin's ability to function normally, fight disease and heal wounds, leading to wrinkled and worn-looking skin.
Stressing personal care
To combat the effects of stress on the skin, you can advise your shoppers to use beauty products that can help skin regain healthy fluid distribution. "Our skin loses its overall ability to balance and regulate moisture levels when we're stressed, so using products that will improve circulation and emphasize a return to healthy moisture levels will help de-stress the skin," says Jennifer Barckley, spokeswoman for Palisades, N.Y.-based personal care company Weleda.
Barckley says to look for products containing rose hip seed oil and almond oil. Both of these oils are "naturally compatible with the structure of the skin, so they are easily absorbed and used by the skin," she explains. Easy, quick absorption is important because stressed skin may not work as efficiently in accessing needed nutrients.
Almond oil is extremely gentle, making it a key ingredient for those whose skin tends to become more sensitive as their blood pressure rises. "Almond oil is great for calming and soothing the skin and bringing it back into balance, especially for people with skin that responds to any environmental, work-atmosphere or weather changes. It's one of the most well-tolerated oils for the skin," Barckley says.
Another oil that improves circulation is sunflower oil. A couple of products from Kiss My Face contain sunflower oil, which will not only "increase blood flow to the face, but is also an antiseptic, so will help with acne," says Mia DiFrancesco-Licata, brand manager for the Gardiner, N.Y.-based company.
It's also critical to incorporate relaxation techniques into any skincare regimen, say the experts. DiFrancesco-Licata recommends including some aromatherapy in a daily ritual. For instance, the vapors from the essential oils of the ylang-ylang flower, when applied in a warm shower, "will fill your sinuses and have an instant calming effect," she says. Combine this technique with Maya's recommendation of scrubbing with a loofah "towards your heart to improve lymph drainage and circulation to the skin to remove toxins and provide nutrients," and a quick shower becomes a one-stop, stress-fighting machine.
Soothe with supplements
Glowing skin is not achieved simply by external practices. What's happening on the inside counts as well, and that includes environmental poisons that offer another type of stress for the skin.
"We are constantly bombarded with environmental toxins, and [not drinking] sufficient water prevents toxins from being removed from our body. Our protective mechanisms just can't keep up with the onslaught," Maya says.
"The key to improving skin health is to adequately nurture the adrenal glands while symptomatically supporting [elimination] organ function. Only when the adrenal gland is given proper nutrition and support will the other endocrine organs return to balance and harmony," Maya explains.
Maya says certain herbs support efficient liver function in relation to skin problems, especially dandelion root, burdock root, blue flag root and chickweed, which is especially good for itchy skin. For improved kidney function, which results in the increased flow of urine to speed removal of water-soluble toxins from the body and provide necessary minerals for healthy skin, she suggests dandelion leaf and plantain.
Useful lymphatic drainage herbs, which support healthy immune function and removal of toxins from the skin, include cleavers and red clover, which have anti-inflammatory properties. Finally, herbs to aid digestive function are slippery elm, which decreases inflammation of mucous membranes and skin; wild yam, which is also strongly anti-inflammatory; and marshmallow root, to sooth irritated membranes and skin, Maya says.
Slip in samples
DiFrancesco-Licata says one way to engage stressed-out customers is with a demo table with relaxing skin products. "If your skin is stressed to the point where it needs help, it's important to use natural products, not a chemically derived product that's only going to make it worse in the long run," she says. "You should also always have stress-fighting products incorporated throughout each category. There's a high demand for it on the individual level, so your inventory should reflect that."
Christine Spehar is a Boulder, Colo.-based freelance writer.
Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXVIII/number 10/p. 35-36