You wash your face, use anti-bacterial toner, dab on spot treatment—um…all over—yet you still can’t shake those blemishes. It’s not even that time of the month! So what gives? As it turns out, you may be overlooking a sneaky factor in breakout-prone skin. And that silent factor may be making the loudest noise of all….

It’s stress, says Joshua Alexander, founder of Holiskin.  It was one of the first times that a skin care founder mentioned this emotional component to me in an email—so the nerdy gotta-find-out-more side of me perked up instantly.
Most often the advice I read focuses on diet, sleep habits, hormones, or ingredients in cosmetics that cause flare ups. But not stress. Stress was so obvious, yet it sounded kinda new.
So I asked Joshua to write this post with me, as he tailors his skincare line not only to addressing topical causes of blemishes, but also to providing relief from this oft-neglected factor.
Stress, Diet & Blemish-Free Skin
“Everyday, we have been told by the media and doctors that acne is caused by infection from bacteria or hormonal imbalance during puberty,” he wrote in an email for this post. “While it is true that bacteria and hormonal imbalance can cause acne, there are other causes that are overlooked such as stress, diet, and inflammation.”

While skin care companies urge the use of zit creams and acne cleansers—with harsh ingredients that may aggravate the condition—it’s not so simple to isolate the actual culprits because a combination of factors contribute to reactive skin.

Check out this diagram from Holiskin:


You can see from the diagram that there’s a cause-and-effect loop in acne-prone skin with multiple triggers and variables.

One of the skin’s jobs is to eliminate toxins, so it’s not only absorbing, but also releasing toxic substances related to all bodily organs and functions. In fact, you can find out where the issue lies depending on where the acne is located on the face.

A diet that doesn’t support elimination will show up in the skin. Poor eating habits can cause inflammation that causes stress that then flares up as acne.

Based on the chart, the wrong diet can lead to both inflammation and hormonal imbalance—a combination that results in stress making skin prone to infection from bacteria.

Or the problem starts with excess stress that causes hormonal imbalance and leads to eating poorly. Then it loops again with a bad diet leading to inflammation and the cycle continues.

Stress itself produces toxic substances—oxidants—which damage skin.
We often think that stress comes from overwork and a busy lifestyle but there is more to the picture, explains Joshua. He discusses three types of stress with his clients.

Three kinds of stress that we often overlook:
  1. Environmental stress. We need to consider radiation that comes from wireless cellphones, laptops, and microwaves as pollution too.
  2. Emotional stress. We are more vulnerable to stress when we feel like we have no control, no way out, or when we interpret things as getting worse and have no social support. Let’s not forget stress from childhood trauma, unresolved conflicts, anger, hate, shame, guilt, and fear.
  3. Metabolic stress. Too much sugar, alcohol, caffeine, and impurities force our livers to work harder leading to breakouts.

Dr. Lissa Rankin, author of Mind Over Medicine says:

“Our bodies know how to fix broken proteins, kill cancer cells, retard aging, and fight infection. They even know how to heal ulcers, make skin lesions disappear and knit together broken bones! But here’s the kicker—those natural self-repair mechanisms don’t work if you’re stressed!

Stress management differs for each person.

“One may enjoy meditation, but another may feel calmer by gardening,” Joshua said. “You’ll have to find what works best for you. Be sure to get enough good quality sleep as lack of sleep has a negative impact on the body’s ability to handle stress.”

Some stress management approaches:
  • Meditation
  • Yoga
  • Laughter
  • Music and dance
  • Time in nature
  • Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT)
Healthy food choices to reduce stress and acne

Making good food choices is important to reducing stress. From the diagram, our diet can cause inflammation and hormonal imbalance, so we need to choose foods that are anti-inflammatory. He recommends foods such as:

  • cucumber
  • turmeric
  • dark chocolate
  • foods rich in Omega-3 (fish, flaxseeds, walnut, camelina oil and grass-fed beef)
  • green vegetables (kale and spinach)
  • blueberries
  • green tea
  • mushrooms: two powerful mushrooms are shiitake and reishi (CAP Beauty offers several mushroom products here.)

“We also need to choose foods that are good for our guts as they act as our second brains,” he said. “Too many bad bacteria in the gut can transmit signals to the brain to keep eating junk foods.” Joshua suggests adding good bacteria from fermented foods (tempeh, miso, and sauerkraut). But skip the commercial yogurts that are loaded with sugar and defeat the purpose.

Oils for stressed out, acneic skin

For inflamed and irritated skin, the same approach to diet applies topically too. Essential oils, hydrosols, or extracts that contain esters are very soothing to skin and good for relieving stress.

For example:

  • cape chamomile
  • roman chamomile
  • lavender
  • citrus oils
  • geranium
  • clary sage

Oils rich in Omega 3 are anti-inflammatory:

  • camelina
  • kiwi seed oil
  • flaxseed oil
  • sacha inchi oil

Essential oils with anti-inflammatory properties:

  • helichrysum
  • sandalwood
  • german chamomile
  • turmeric
  • patchouli

Sometimes, stress can cause skin pH to be higher (normal skin pH is 4 to 5) and this is why some people use apple cider vinegar (ACV) as a facial toner and experience positive results. ACV is very acidic so it needs to be diluted properly.IMG_20141118_135915

Joshua incorporates many of these ingredients in his formulas: Neroli, Rose, Chamomile toners, Holiskin Refresh facial cleanser, Holiskin Renewal facial oils, Intensive Repair for acne scar serum, Stress Relief roll on, and all Holiskin body oils. They are particularly geared to easing stressed out skin.

Joshua customized an ACV + Rose toner for my skin that I regularly reach for to balance my skin, as well as a treatment protocol using his line. This includes the Stress Relief roll on (currently addicted to it, as it’s not overpowering at all), the toner, the Renewal facial serum with a roller ball (an interesting departure from dispensing with a pipette), and the Acne Scar Serum  that earned rave reviews from Chickweed and Blush and short, small, & sweet and has a strong, pungent aroma due to its powerhouse healing ingredients like high amounts of pure organic Helichrysum italicum, a.k.a. Immortelle essential oil, tamanu, frankincense, rosewood, geranium, and ylang ylang.

I’m impressed by his knowledge and commitment to sustainably sourcing ingredients, as well as with the results. He is truly committed to developing safe products that address multiple angles of healing.

Get to the bottom of your blemishes! Connect with Holiskin here:


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