With COVID-19 restrictions being lifted on an almost weekly basis at the moment, the lockdown may be a distant memory sooner than we think. While the last few months provided the perfect excuse to go makeup-free for weeks on end (#winning) it also exacerbated breakouts, dryness and puffiness for many, thanks to a pesky combination of stress and indoor living. With the outside world beckoning, we’ve put together a handy guide detailing how to get your “isolation skin” back on track, with a little help from an expert.
First things first: what is isolation skin?
According to skin expert Sarah Hudson, it’s the result of a different, more sedentary lifestyle.
“Isolation isn’t a normal thing for us; the combination of loss, loneliness, isolation and lack of normal routine in our lives was a huge impact on our mental health,” Hudson tells Women’s Health. “Given our skin is the largest organ of our body and a reflection of our physical and mental health, it began to reflect this new normality. Stress causes the body to release a hormone called cortisol, which stimulates oil production. This then leads to breakouts and other issues. Some people are also suffering from dark circles around their eyes and puffiness.”
If you’re one of the 70% of people whose alcohol consumption increased during isolation (#guilty), you’re likely to be seeing the effects on your face now. And according to Hudson, it isn’t pretty: “As a diuretic, alcohol causes the body to dehydrate, resulting in parched, crepey skin,” she says.
If you think the damage only extends to your face, you’re unfortunately wrong – the skin on your body is likely to be drier at the moment thanks to a fun combination of low humidity and excessive hand washing.
How do you treat isolation skin?
According to Hudson, you need to first ascertain how much damage has been done. Aside from arming yourself with a good moisturiser, there are several lifestyle changes you’ll need to make in the coming weeks:
- Stop applying ‘active’ skincare
If you’re suffering from cracked, peeling skin, you need to simplify your skincare routine asap. “When skin is peeling or cracking, our natural moisture barrier (the outside guard to our skin) has been broken down,” says Hudson. “This gives bacteria an entry point into our bodies, which can leave the skin red and irritated. When I have a client suffering from cracked skin, I recommend they stop applying active skincare. This includes AHAs, retinols and topical vitamin C treatments. When the skin is dry and irritated, the activation of these ingredients intensifies, leading to an increase of irritation and peeling.
“Instead, swap your highly active skincare to a mild cleanser that works to restore the natural moisturising barrier of the skin. Opt for a facial oil that is rich in vitamin E and ceramides. This will assist in repairing the surface cells, building a strong barrier for the skin.”
Hudson recommends Vaseline Intensive Care Lotion as the perfect antidote to dry, chaffed and cracking skin. “Vaseline forms a waterproof barrier when applied to the skin, preventing moisture from escaping and bacteria entering the skin,” she explains. “Vaseline is also fragrance-free, making it perfect for sensitive skin. Fragrance in a product will exacerbate the sensitivity of dry skin, leading to redness and irritation.”
- Hydrate from the inside
It sounds like a no-brainer, but what you put inside your body is just as important as what you apply on the outside. To start, Hudson recommends replacing your usual tea and coffee caffeine hit with a hot water with freshly squeezed lemon juice to hydrate the body’s cells. “Make sure you eat loads of essential fatty acids, too,” she adds. The science is there: according to this university study, essential fatty acids (which can be found in foods including salmon, nuts and seeds), play a critical role in normal skin function and appearance.
- Moisturise before exercising
Aside from being good for your mental health, exercise has a critical role to play in keeping the body hydrated. But if you’re concerned about moisture loss, particularly during dry, wintery mornings, Hudson recommends applying a very thin layer of Vaseline all over first. “It sounds strange, but it will help to prevent the skin from losing moisture and feeling dehydrated,” she explains. “It will also protect sensitive skin from the elements.”
- Avoid hot water
It can be tempting to jump into a hot shower after a cold day, but this is one of the worst things you can do for dry skin. “Hot water can inflame the skin (similar to a sunburn), leading to sensitivity, chafing and irritation,” says Hudson. “It can disrupt the skin’s natural balance of moisture and break down the natural oils and proteins that keep the skin healthy.” You should also avoid washing your hands with excessively hot water, as this will cause them to further dry out.
- Upgrade your skincare routine for winter
If you’re still sticking to the same skincare regime all year round, it’s time for a swap – particularly now the weather has turned. “During winter, upgrade your moisturiser to one that has ingredients that will boost hydration, like vitamin E, hyaluronic acid, ceramides and sunflower oils,” advises Hudson. “These will help reverse skin damage by repairing the surface cells, giving a strong barrier to the skin.”
If your body is dry, try switching to a soap-free body wash and apply body lotion or body butter daily – and don’t forget your hands! “Apply hand cream immediately after every wash, or whenever they are feeling dry,” recommends Hudson. “You may also want to consider applying a hand mask twice weekly (you can even use a face mask) for 20 minutes. Gently rinse, then rub the mask residue into your hands.”
Once you’ve implemented the above, it’s time to think about how you’ll further look after your skin in the coming weeks.
“As we begin to socialise more, we become more aware of how our skin looks and feels,” Hudson explains. “I think more people will be motivated again to kick-start their healthy routines. I have a lot of clients already wanting advice about improving the quality of their skin with clinic treatments and home care programs.
“I also believe people will be more focused on improving their skin health, rather than covering it with makeup. We’re now very used to not wearing makeup so people will look for ways to enhance their natural look, which is always a beautiful thing.”
Brought to you by Vaseline.
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