Breaking out? Here’s why lockdown 2.0 is far worse for your skin
There are many reasons why many of us are finding Lockdown 2.0 to be worse than the first lockdown. For starters, the novelty of working from home has worn off. Back in March, we were discovering so many new aspects of a life in lockdown (Zoom quizzes! Banana bread! Thursday clapping!) and we were living in a state of collective hysteria, which although alarming, certainly kept us all busy.
But as the weeks rolled into months, the novelty slowly wore off and was replaced by the bitter realities of a global pandemic. Loss of loved ones, chronic illness, redundancies, loneliness – the list goes on. We were pretty much hanging on by a thread by October and then boom – lockdown 2.0. Talk about kicking a horse when it’s down.
Our skin feels the same way, it seems, with dermatologists predicting a higher rate of skin conditions such as acne, rosacea and eczema compared to the first lockdown. “We see more problems in the winter anyway, just as a general rule. The air becomes drier, central heating and vitamin D deficiency all puts pressure on the skin,” explains Dr Malvina Cunningham, consultant dermatologist at Skin + Me, a subscription based skincare service that delivers personalised, prescription treatments to your door, “but combined with increased and sometimes chronic stress due to the pandemic, wearing masks and lack of Vitamin D has meant that I’m seeing more people flaring both with existing skin conditions and new problems altogether.”
We all know that it’s harder to maintain optimum levels of Vitamin D during the winter months due to the lack of sunlight. The results of a vitamin D deficiency can range from everything from hormonal imbalances to low energy levels to poor immunity – many of which take a toll on our skin. “As vitamin D deficiency is associated with poor immune function, increased inflammation, and decreased insulin sensitivity, deficiency can absolutely negatively impact the skin,” explains Dr Paul Nassif, skin specialist and owner of NassifMD Medical Spa UK. “Poor immune function weakens the skin barrier, increasing dryness. Increased inflammation can worsen inflammatory conditions like acne, eczema and psoriasis and insulin sensitivity can lead to worsened acne as well as glycosylated collagen (this process makes collagen stiff causing premature ageing).”
Between the cold and the rain, many of us will find it hard to go outside for long enough to absorb sufficient Vitamin D from the sun, so it’s a good idea to take a supplement over the winter months to top up your inner resources.
No one can deny that 2020 has been stressful. All that stress produces the hormone cortisol, which can cause a variety of problems in terms of our physical health, including insomnia, high blood pressure and skin problems.
“The effect of stress on the skin is massive,” says Dr Cunningham. “The skin is more inflamed and the immune system is impaired, which is a problem if you have immune-related skin disorders like psoriasis and eczema. Stress has a negative effect on our skin’s barrier function. The lipids and proteins within the barrier are reduced, and there’s more water loss causing irritation and dryness. It can also deregulate sebum production causing acne breakouts.”
While it’s important to try and figure out the underlying cause of your stress with the aim to address it, there are ways to treat the impact of the stress on the skin. “To strengthen the skin barrier, you can use barrier repairing ingredients like ceramides and different humectants including glycerin and hyaluronic acid,” advises Dr Cunningham. “You can also stop your skin from dealing with additional environmental stressors like UV light and wear sunscreen, as well as including antioxidants in your skincare regime.”
Back in February, most people in the UK had never worn a mask or face covering. Now, it’s the law to wear them indoors in public places. While wearing a mask is one of the easiest and cheapest ways to protect yourself and others from infection, it does have a few downsides. One downside in particular is the effect it can have on our skin, which has been dubbed ‘maskne’.
“A prolonged period of mask wearing will create a humid environment where sweat, oil and bacteria build up and occlude the skin leading to clogged pores, breakouts or worsening of pre-existing skin conditions such as acne, rosacea and eczema,” says Dr Saira Vasdev, skin doctor and founder of Skin & Sanctuary. “Without appropriate skincare measures, the cumulative effects of “maskne” could lead to impaired skin barrier function, chronic inflammation and a long-term exacerbation of skin conditions.”
Make sure to remove your mask whenever you do not need to wear it, to allow the skin to breathe and reduce a build up of moisture. Plus, it’s important to wash your mask regularly (ideally after every use) and it’s worth considering switching to a breathable fabric or silk, which helps reduce skin irritation.
While indulging in a few sweet treats during the festive season is only to be expected, too much sugar over a prolonged period of time could have a negative effect on our skin. “Indulging in refined carbohydrates and sugary treats over the festive period can negatively impact skin health and accelerate skin ageing through a process called glycation,” explains Dr Vasdev. “Glycation is a chemical reaction that occurs when excess sugar molecules bind to our healthy collagen and elastin fibres of the skin causing them to become stiff, fragmented and dysfunctional as structural proteins.” Collagen and elastin are fundamental to skin health, and damage can cause an increase in wrinkles, sagging and a loss of radiance.
As well as glycation, sugar can also cause inflammation throughout the whole body. “Sugar is an inflammatory food,” says Dr Nassif. “Too much sugar can also aggravate inflammatory skin conditions such as rosacea, eczema, psoriasis and acne.”
When it’s cold outside, it’s all too easy to crank up the heating inside and snuggle down for a cosy night in. However, the change in temperature as well as the condition of the air could be affecting your skin without you realising. “Central heating reduces humidity in the air, which has an impact on skin barrier function, increases water loss and causes dryness and inflammation,” says Dr Cunningham. As well as upping the antioxidants in your regime, you can also use things that increase ceramide production like niacinamide, or use creams that contain ceramides.