‘Isolation skin’: Why your skin isn’t looking so great, even though you’re not wearing makeup

'Isolation skin': Why your skin isn't looking so great, even though you're not wearing makeup

Maybe it’s just me, but I assumed my skin would be the best it’s ever looked in isolation.

I’d hoped for a small silver lining to our pretty crap new normal – that my skin would thrive now that I was working from home and not wearing makeup every day and that I had extra time in the morning to commit to a 1,234-step skincare routine.

I’m wearing more layers of moisturiser than ever before, but she’s dry and thirsty. All of a sudden, pimples have popped up where there haven’t been any in ages. Rather than glowing like a lockdown goddess, my face looks dull and a bit red, and feels randomly itchy for no good reason.

Frankly, my skin looks sh*t right now and up until this week, I didn’t know why it wasn’t enjoying isolation very much at all.

The answer? ‘Isolation skin’. Yep, it’s a thing. Let’s break it down.

What is isolation skin?

Basically, isolation skin is skin that’s changing as a result of our changing lifestyles and emotional wellbeing amid COVID-19. Just as we’re making sense of how coronavirus is impacting our livelihoods, daily routines, work, finances, relationships, and physical and psychological health, our skin is kind of confused, too.

For some, isolation skin looks like angry hormonal acne or pimples in places you don’t normally get pimples. Others will find they keep breaking out in a rash, or their rosacea, redness or sensitivity is flaring up big time.

Maybe your skin feels tight and dry, even though you’re doing All. The. Things. And maybe, like me, you’ve got a delightful mishmash of all of the above. From beauty journalist and podcaster Gemma Watts to Keep It Cleaner co-founder Laura Henshaw (and me), many of us are in the same boat at the moment.

Young woman applying daily cream in the morning© Getty Young woman applying daily cream in the morning

Why is my skin not looking great in isolation?

According to dermatologist Dr Nina Wines and Skin Therapist Tegan Mac, there are a few reasons your skin might not look and feel it’s best right now:

1. Increased stress.

“Stress is the big one because it increases the production of cortisol, a type of steroid hormone that can cause acne break outs and rough-textured skin,” Dr Nina told Mamamia.

“It doesn’t have a definitive affect on your oestrogen and progesterone levels but it’s a short term hormone that’s secreted during periods of stress, and we assume that’s part of why people’s skin is playing up.”

Tegan added, “Stress causes inflammation in the body, which can manifest as rosacea flare ups, acne flare ups, IBS and other gut issues.”

The other thing about stress during these times is, unconscious stress counts too. Whether you realise it, small changes in our lifestyles like not being able to see people, feeling restricted in your home and general anxieties about what we can and can’t do are stressful and can impact your skin.

2. Change in diet.

This one’s kind of obvious – staying at home all day, every day affects what we’re eating, which in turn affects our skin.

Easy access to your fridge and pantry rather than eating a packed lunch, and leaning towards easy comfort foods like pasta, toast and cereal over veggies equals changes in your skin.

3. Less exercise.

Isolation = less exercise = less blood flow to the skin to reduce inflammation = increased redness, pimples etc.

“It’s one thing to be outside in fresh air, which is great for your skin, but sweating is a way we detox,” Tegan said.

“When we sweat, blood circulates and comes to the surface, and blood has all the good stuff in it. Exercise is a great way to get oxygen and nutrients to the skin, so if your exercise routine has changed, this could be impacting your skin, too.”

Taking off these things. Lying on the white bed. Top view. Conception of skin care by using white mask and cucumbers on the face.© Getty Taking off these things. Lying on the white bed. Top view. Conception of skin care by using white mask and cucumbers on the face.

How to treat isolation skin – acne, breakouts, dryness and flare ups.

OK cool, so now I know why my skin doesn’t look great, but what can I do about it? Excellent question.

Here are some things you can do to improve your skin if it’s bothering you. Oh, and what you 100 per cent should not do or spend your money on.

(Not because what our skin looks like is the most urgent thing to worry about right now, but because it can have an impact on the way we feel about ourselves. And we all deserve to feel good about ourselves at the moment.)

1. Know that isolation skin, just like COVID-19, won’t last forever.

It doesn’t help that we’re now looking at ourselves more than we normally would (thanks video calls), but accepting that changes in our skin are almost inevitable given the world we’re living in helps to put things into perspective.

Rather than feeling overwhelmed or down about your skin, know it will settle down and you can ride it out. Everyone is going through weird changes and it’s OK if your skin isn’t looking the best at the moment.

2. Keep your skincare routine simple, but powerful.

Now is an excellent time to focus on building a great skincare routine, but know it doesn’t have to involve the kitchen sink to be effective. In other words, don’t put every skincare product you own on your face at the same time.

The foundations of any great skincare routine are a gentle cleanser (avoids foams), a moisturiser and SPF. Then, choose a serum and/or chemical exfoliant to suit your specific needs. Here are some ingredients to look for based on your skin concerns:

  • Vitamin B/Niacinamide is great for all skin types. It helps with any inflammation, whether it be rosacea or breakouts, and is particularly great for breakout-prone skin.
  • Salicylic Acid is great for true oily skin types and can be used to treat acne flare ups.
  • Hyaluronic Acid and Squalene make great friends with dry skin – anyone can use these ingredients.
  • For pigmentation, Vitamin C or an AHA (alpha hydroxy acid) chemical exfoliant like Lactic Acid or Glycolic Acid will help to lift pigment and slough it off.
  • Rosacea and sensitive skins suit a minimalist routine – think a Hyaluronic Acid serum and a hydrating moisturiser.

If you’re starting from scratch, head to your chemist for the basics and put money towards your serum(s).

3. Step away from the at-home skincare devices.

If you’ve been thinking about trying at-home tools like at-home dermarolling, dermaplaning, micro-current devices or skin needling, proceed with caution. Isolation skin, like us, is fragile. She responds best to a less-is-more approach.

Tegan’s advice is to be very wary of the many at-home skin treatment devices that will no doubt start popping up in your Instagram feed.

4. Try at-home LED light therapy.

That said, if you do want to buy something new or try an at-home skin treatment, at-home led devices are a safe option. You should know, though, a good one will cost you a couple hundred bucks.

5. Watch out for gimmicky skincare products.

Oh, and all those fun-looking face masks with glitter, pink clay, stars and bubbles you’ve been seeing on Instagram? They won’t help your isolation skin either.

Rather than spend your money on these types of products, invest in products with the ingredients above. Or just save your cash for something else.

6. You can’t go wrong with a good sheet mask.

Finally, if you are tempted to buy some face masks (they are fun, after all), stick with simple, hydrating sheet masks.

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