Isolation Skin is a Real Thing, Here’s How to Combat It

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Photograph courtesy of Istock.

We get the lowdown from two skin experts about how to combat our confused skin.

It’s been almost two months since we began social distancing and if you’re anything like me, your skin has not dealt well with the transition from normal life to this new ‘normal’ we find ourselves in. Almost immediately upon staying at home, my skin had a total freakout – I’m talking cystic acne, weird dry patches, redness, the whole kit and caboodle. A quick poll of my Instagram followers showed me that I’m not alone in this either, with so many of my friends responding to tell me that their skin has also freaked out since we began this period of isolation.

“There are a lot of things going on,” says Liz Kwitman, the vice president of education at Caudalie, highlighting several contributing factors. “With people being indoors now and under a great deal of stress, they’re doing a couple of things that can be a little bit dangerous for their skin, like stress eating things that are not great for the body as they lack nutrients which can affect how skin acts and feels. People are also getting much more exposure to free radicals  – particularly blue light – as we’re living in front of our computers and television screens.” Stress, she says, is one of the biggest factors,  particularly when combined with free radical exposure. “When you’re stressed your body produces more cortisol and when it is produced, it tells your body to increase the production of oil. If you’re producing more oil and then sitting in front of a computer, that oil is going to oxidize with the free radicals to create [breakouts].”

Breakouts, explains Kwitman, are caused by three major factors. “I call it a party in my pores when oil, bacteria and dead skin get together. Not all bacteria is the devil but P. acne bacteria, when it hangs out with the oil and the dead skin, causes breakouts. And this all gets exasperated by the environment we’re in or stress we’re under.”

You might be tempted to throw everything you’ve got in your bathroom cupboard at the breakouts to try and fight them, but less is more, says Kwitman. “You don’t want to overdo it with acids or retinols because you’re going to damage that beautiful external [hydrolipidic] barrier, and all of a sudden your skin is going to become more reactive, more angry, because you’re lessening the protection it has.” To begin, Kwitman suggests getting into the habit of cleansing your face every day. Dr. Jane Wu, a dermatologist at Toronto’s FCP Dermatology, agrees. “[For those suffering from breakouts], I recommend you continue with a gentle skin care regimen. Wash with a gentle cleanser twice a day and moisturize with a hydrating but non-comedogenic product afterwards.” She adds, “For mild breakouts, a cleanser with salicylic acid or an alpha hydroxy acid (like glycolic acid) can be helpful.”

Both Wu and Kwitman agree that introducing antioxidants into your routine is vital. “Antioxidants are critical right now,” says Kwitman. “I can’t stress that enough. Free radicals cause fortified wrinkles and because we’re all so connected to our screens right now, we need to make sure we’re using antioxidants.” Dr. Wu recommends looking for products that have “Vitamin C, Ferulic Acid, Phloretin and Resveratrol” and applying them in the morning before sitting in front of your computer.

When it comes to ingredients to avoid, Dr. Wu says, “If you’re acne-prone, avoid occlusive products [those which form a barrier on the skin to trap moisture] and facial oils.” She also suggests you avoid “excessive exfoliating as this can exacerbate dry skin.” Sodium laureth sulfate (SLS) and mineral oils should also be avoided, says Kwitman. “Make sure your cleansers don’t contain SLS – that is a detergent. It is literally going to strip all of the oil from your skin. You’ll feel super clean, but what happens next is that your body will overcompensate in its oil production. As for mineral oil, a lot of brands use it as a hydration ingredient because it’s inexpensive and it feels great. The problem is that it’s derived from petroleum so if you want to speak in visual examples – it’s like putting a plastic bag on your skin and closing it. It suffocates your skin.”

Kwitman also recommends drinking plenty of water and getting in some exercise every day, as well as laying off the makeup. “Especially those products that have any kind of silicones in them,” she says, adding, “Remember that silicone, while it gives products a beautiful slip and great feel, can really trap that P. acne bacteria, oil and dead skin which can lead to breakouts. So if your skin is already being rebellious, I would take this time to give your skin a moment to breathe.”

Looking for personalized advice? We’ve rounded up a list of beauty brands, including Caudalie, who are offering virtual consultations to help you find the routine that’s right for you. And although its offices are currently closed, FCP Dermatology is also offering virtual appointments upon referral from a doctor. 

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