Skin Deep

Want great skin? Do yoga

High blood sugar levels, often brought on by stress, can have a harmful effect on skin.
High blood sugar levels, often brought on by stress, can have a harmful effect on skin.

September is National Yoga Month, and while there’s no doubt that it’s good for the mind and physical fitness, yoga is fantastic for the skin as well!

We spend a lot of time focusing on the effect the sun and environment have on our skin, but few of us stop to think about the detrimental effects that our modern lifestyle (and its stress) have on our appearance. Most of us are familiar with dark circles and puffy eyes and dull skin after a late night out, but more and more research is showing that the accumulation of stress hormones may have far-reaching skin implications.

Both lack of sleep and stress prompt our bodies to produce a hormone called cortisol, which causes blood sugar levels in our bodies to rise. This can lead to weight gain, heart problems and diabetes.

Recent research is shedding light on the connection between cortisol production, stress and lack of sleep—and the effect this has on our skin.

Regular exercise, such as yoga practice, has been shown to reduce cortisol levels. Yoga has a meditative component that is particularly effective at lowering cortisol levels. Weight-bearing exercise such as lifting weights can lower blood sugar levels by making tissues more sensitive to insulin. So weight lifting and yoga both have the ability to slow skin aging.

How Stress Causes Your Skin to Age

As noted, the stress hormone cortisol causes an increase in blood sugar, which may accelerate the aging process. Excess sugar can compromise the collagen and elastin in our skin through a process known as glycation—and lead to wrinkles.

Collagen and elastin are responsible for young skin’s strength, thickness and ability to bounce back. These proteins are found in the dermal layer of the skin known as the “dermis.” When collagen is damaged, skin becomes thin, wrinkled and fragile, while compromised elastin results in decreased elasticity that prevents skin from “bouncing back.” Damaged elastin is abnormally clumped together when viewed under a microscope, and research has convincingly shown that glycation is to blame.

Acne and stress

Acne can be exacerbated when external factors prompt cortisol’s release. For example, acne has been shown to increase during exam time in college students. Research has also found that cortisol surges can impair our skin’s barrier, leading to dryness, irritation and inflammation. While eating less sugar, consuming and applying more antioxidants, wearing sunscreen daily and avoiding excess sun exposure are great for minimizing glycation, managing cortisol levels is also crucial.

How Yoga May Slow Skin Aging

Meditation practices, such as yoga, have been shown to lower cortisol levels. Yoga has also been found to make people more mindful of their other habits, such as sleep and diet. Getting seven to eight hours of sleep a night and exercising daily are crucial. You should also try to eat a healthy, low-sugar diet, and remember that high glycemic foods are ultimately converted into sugar when they are processed by our bodies.

You can boost your health and your beauty by making yoga a regular part of your routine—and don’t forget to sleep! I like to set my wearable tech device (FitBit, Under Armour Band or Garmin) for a seven-hour-a-night sleep goal and at least one hour a day of some form of exercise. And when you combine these healthy habits with the correct skincare products, your skin will look better than ever!

Dr. Leslie Baumann is a board-certified dermatologist, New York Times best-selling author and CEO of Baumann Cosmetic & Research Institute in Miami.