2020 has been a turbulent year to say the least. From a raging global pandemic to sociopolitical strain, the world's events are hanging heavy on our shoulders. It's no wonder stress and anxiety levels are on the rise, with many of us seeking mental healthcare. While physical symptoms of stress and anxiety can range from headaches to shortness of breath (to name a handful), thanks to a flood of stress hormone cortisol, the effects can show up on our skin, too.
The interest in wellness has increased tenfold this year and one of the biggest trends pinpointed by beauty experts is skincare as self-care. Not only can the ritual of a daily skincare routine prove calming in tumultuous times but it can help alleviate breakouts and other skin bugbears that may crop up as a result. Brands such as PSA Skin and Glow Hub are currently trending among skincare lovers who want to keep their skin in check with buzzy ingredients and smart formulas. Lately, though, one brand has claimed the limelight.
You might have spotted the London-based, small-batch beauty brand on Instagram already, thanks to its apothecary-style dropper bottles, rollerballs and shelfie-worthy green glass jars. But it isn't all about looks. Available from Disciple London, Cult Beauty and Beauty Bay, the brand has wellness at its heart and offers multiple CBD products but it's the skincare which is making waves. Products feature dermatologist-loved ingredients such as retinoids, AHAs and tea tree oil to combat the skin effects of stress and anxiety. In fact, Disciple was founded by a psychotherapist, whose aim is to shine a light on the link between mental health and skin.
What does stress and anxiety do to your skin?
"When we experience stress and anxiety, our body releases the stress hormone cortisol, and this is a natural hormone that helps the body deal with stress," says Charlotte Ferguson, psychotherapist and creator of Disciple. "In small doses, cortisol serves as a great biological coping mechanism but if our body is exposed to persistent high levels of cortisol, it can wreak havoc on your skin."
One of the most common stress and anxiety-related skin issues is acne. "Stress and anxiety cause chronic inflammation in the body which cause cortisol spikes and encourage your sebaceous glands (oil glands) to produce more thick and sticky oil," continues Charlotte. "Dead skin then sticks to this oil and blocks pores. This also encourages 'bad' bacteria growth, making it the perfect environment for breakouts." Team this with maskne (acne caused by wearing face masks) which can arise as a result of sweat, bacteria and friction, and breakouts are exacerbated. As a result, some people may experience dermatillomania, or skin picking, which can cause scarring and infection. Eczema, psoriasis and rosacea are a handful of other inflammatory conditions which can be triggered by stress, too, says Charlotte.
What are the best Disciple skincare products for spots?
If you're experiencing eczema, psoriasis or rosacea for the first time, try not to self-treat. It's best to speak to a GP, skin expert or dermatologist for advice. Many are offering digital consultations and appointments during the pandemic. Breakouts are a little easier to deal with. Let's start with maskne. "We recently created an astringent and antibacterial mist – the Maskne Mist, £15 – to help with mask acne," says Charlotte, and the star ingredient is spot-busting tea tree, which quells bacteria. "You can spray this on your skin in between mask wearing and also on your mask itself to freshen up and reduce irritation."
What Spot, £15, is also a popular choice among Disciple fans for shrinking large spots without drying them out. It has a similar consistency to the Versed Nix It Spot Solution, £12, which we also love at R29. The Dreamy Skin Retinyl Oil, £35, is another Disciple bestseller. Retinyl comes from the retinoid (or retinol) family and is one of the least irritating forms. Retinoids create shiny new skin cells, unclog pores, fade pigmentation and iron away wrinkles over time. This product also contains rosehip oil, which reviewers rate for reducing the size of breakouts without being overly drying.
Charlotte also recommends face masks packed with AHAs (or alpha hydroxy acids, which exfoliate skin). "Anything that helps get rid of excess skin cells and avoids clogged pores is great," says Charlotte. Try the Night Shift AHA Oil Cleanser & Cloth, £27. "Skin can also become more sensitive when stressed, so look for skincare that's super simple with no fragrance. You're also more likely to feel sensitive to pain when anxious, as your immune system is lowered, so avoid painful extractions during stressful times, too."
If your skin doesn't tend to do well with oil cleansers, R29 recommends the Neighbourhood Botanicals Acid Washed Foaming Facial Cleanser, £17, and the Medik8 Surface Radiance Cleanse, £17.90. This features mandelic, lactic and salicylic acid for gentle yet deep exfoliation.
Ultimately, practising self-care at the beginning and end of each day is an effective way to unwind, says Charlotte. "After all, the mind can't focus on the present and be anxious about the future at the same time, hence the success of mindfulness," she continues. It's not the time to experiment with an entirely new skincare routine, though. Little tweaks are more effective. "The act of doing your skincare routine is firmly planted in the here and now," adds Charlotte. "Self-care is an all-encompassing way of living that can include large and small acts. With this in mind it's important to use products that you know work for you."
Refinery29's selection is purely editorial and independently chosen – we only feature items we love! As part of our business model we do work with affiliates; if you directly purchase something from a link on this article, we may earn a small amount of commission. Transparency is important to us at Refinery29, if you have any questions please reach out to us.