Our skin has been through a lot this year. Not only have we been dealing with the dreaded ‘maskne’ thanks to a build up of dirt and bacteria lurking in our face masks, but the stress of the coronavirus in general has has had a knock-on impact on our looks.
Throw in the fact that our skincare regime has gone out the window, taking the healthy eating with it, and it’s little wonder many of us feel we reflect the strain of the COVID-19 pandemic in how we look.
In fact, according to research commissioned by the cosmetic treatment specialist Uvence, over 14% of Britons feel that the stress and anxiety brought about by the pandemic has caused them to age by at least five years.
Over a third (36%) have reported signs of stress and premature ageing, most obviously around the eyes, and more than six million Brits are considering cosmetic treatment to try to reverse the effects.
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Meanwhile, a study by the treatments website Glowday found that more than a quarter of women in the UK (27%) feel that lockdown has aged them.
This was particularly felt in the 25 to 34-year-old age range, with almost half (44%) claiming this to be the case.
What is ‘COVID face’?
So what’s going on? Has riding the corona-coaster really resulted in excess wrinkles, or has six months’ worth of Zoom calls simply lead to more skin scrutiny?
According to Dr Rekha Tailor - medical director at Health & Aesthetics, and a former GP - so-called ‘COVID face’, as the ageing effect has been dubbed, is definitely a thing.
“Being forced into lockdown and having our lives turned upside down overnight has a huge affect on us mentally and physically, not least of all with our skin,” she explains.
“As a result of all these changes that have been forced upon us, ‘COVID face’ has developed. This is the phrase used to describe the way in which all these factors have impacted our face.”
Dr Tailor says there are a number of reasons we’re noticing the slump in our skin starting with a change in our skin care regimes.
“Many of us who previously stuck to rigid daily skin health and beauty routines saw our old routines go to pot as we contend with juggling new working from home demands,” she explains.
“Most people’s skin gets used to the beauty products that they use on a regular basis. Like humans, our skin thrives on routine so whilst we are maintaining our regular routine our skin should be maintaining its usual look and feel. So absence of our normal skincare routine is one contributory factor to ‘Covid face’.”
In addition, the fact that many of us are eating less healthy diets, with increased sugar and drinking more alcohol, has resulted in increased acne breakouts.
“Acne is a common skin condition that causes spots and oily skin,” Dr Tailor explains. “Although it’s often associated with teenagers, approximately half of women aged 20-29 have acne, and a quarter of women aged 40-49.
“In addition to hormones, stress is a major cause of adult acne so it’s no surprise that at a time like this when people are under unprecedented amounts of pressure that they may suffer from acne breakouts.”
Our new found reliance on technology has also played a role in the ageing process.
“We’ve been spending infinitely more time on our devices this year,” explains skincare expert Jane Scrivner. “Whether we’re working, socialising, shopping or having some down time, chances are it’s using a smart device.”
The problem, she says, is that muscles have memory.
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“Craning over our phones or hunching over a laptop puts more strain on the back of the neck and shoulders and shortens and weakens the muscles at the front of the neck through lack of use,” Scrivner explains.
“Over time, gravity and muscle memory can cause sagging skin and jowls.”
Blue light from our screens is also thought to accelerate the ageing process, resulting in skin looking dull, lacking in elasticity and increasing in fine lines.
But experts believe the main cause of ‘COVID face’ is actually stress.
“Stress is known to be the biggest contributor to causing problems to our skin and overall health,” explains Dr Ross Perry, from Cosmedics skin clinics.
“Certainly the COVID scenario with job concerns and uncertainty leading to financial woes, and health concerns all just adds to stress.”
Dr Ross says this prolonged period of stress, such as through the months of lockdown and uncertainty, speeds ageing, which can cause facial wrinkles.
“Stress dries the skin from the inside out and causes our adrenal glands to produce excessive amounts of cortisol which is the stress hormone, and that can cause the breakdown of the skin’s collagen and elastin.”
How to reverse ‘COVID face’
Up the SPF
One of the best ways to prevent wrinkles is to protect your skin from the sun.
“Exposure to the sun can cause premature ageing and wrinkles so by wearing a high factor SPF at all times, even when it doesn’t seem sunny outside, you’re providing your skin with the best barrier against the damage caused by the sun’s harmful rays,” Dr Tailor advises.
Increase the H20
According to Dr Tailor we should be aiming to drink about 10 small cups of water a day.
“The recommended daily intake of water is about two litres, so by drinking 10 small cups you should meet this.
Drinking enough water helps to maintain the balance of body fluids and because our bodies are composed of about 60% water, it is crucial for digestion, absorption, circulation, transportation of nutrients around the body and maintaining body temperature.
“It also helps keep your skin clear and the more hydrated you stay, the fewer wrinkles and fine lines you'll see. Water helps your skin maintain moisture, which increases your elasticity. This in turn reduces the appearance of wrinkles.”
Eat your way to better skin
Step away from the comfort food. “It is important to eat a balanced diet rich in fatty fish and healthy fats such as avocados and nuts,” advises Dr Tailor.
“And avoid lifestyle factors which can cause premature ageing such as smoking and excessive alcohol consumption,” she adds.
Get more sleep
Poor sleep can lead to inflamed, puffy, dull and congested skin.
To up your snooze time (we should be aiming for eight hours) Jane Scrivner recommends avoiding screen time past 7pm, while the experts at Beauty Base suggest reassessing sleeping routines and look at methods such as meditation or using the night-mode on your devices to get to sleep easier at night.