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Stress-busting for the skin - Balancing cortisol to counter the visible signs of skin ageing

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Modern life is stressful, there’s no doubt about it. From environmental factors such as pollution, to work-related pressures or major life events, to the way we live our lives, there is so much to get our stress levels rising. Our “hyper-connected” world has a lot to answer for. Many people now expect to be constantly switched on for work and available online, and being busy is increasingly seen as a good thing. Even our spare time has become stressful as we feel pressure to fill it with activities just to keep up, or to project an image via social media of just how busy and “fulfilled” our lives are. 

Small amounts of stress can be positive, helping us to perform better in some situations, motivating us to reach our goals and even giving us a sense of exhilaration (think extreme sports). Prolonged stress, however, is detrimental to both our mental and physical well-being. Perhaps unsurprisingly, in today’s busy world stress has become an ongoing problem for many people, no matter their age, location or background. Common responses to a stressful life are not helping though. Spending leisure time on mobile devices increases exposure to blue light for example. People may even turn to comfort eating or drink more caffeine or alcohol. Thirty eight percent of adults say they overeat, and 44% of the American workforce loses sleep every night through worrying about work. Unhealthy behaviors like these contribute to the inability to switch off and relax, exacerbating stress levels. 

Chronic stress and our skin

Stress is a natural stimulant of our body and appears in case of change in the environment. We react and cope with stress in a very individual way. However, sustained stress affects both mind and body in various ways and can be particularly detrimental to the skin. In the UK, 66% of women feel lifestyle, including stress level, is the most important factor in skin appearance and a recent study confirmed that psychological stress does indeed cause skin barrier function to deteriorate.  External stressors such as UV radiation, artificial and natural blue light, air-conditioning and pollution, particularly in urban settings, can also be problematic, causing skin to become excessively dry and dull-looking. Some of these environmental factors can also cause psychological stress which in turn causes skin problems, leading to a vicious circle.

Cortisol, known informally as the “stress hormone”, needs no introduction. The body produces it as a natural response to stress. In small amounts, and in the short term, it is a healthy coping mechanism, but constant high levels of cortisol can be very damaging to the skin’s appearance.  These negative effects can include unwanted visible signs of ageing such as lines and wrinkles, thinning skin, reduced elasticity and lower skin barrier functionality.  The more stressed we feel, the more our skin cortisol levels rise and are unbalanced. Aged and UV-exposed skin is also more likely to produce cortisol, and so the downward spiral begins...

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Simple beauty solutions can have a big impact

The environmental and lifestyle causes of stress may be impossible to control but there are ways to mitigate the effects. Many young consumers in China are actively looking for ways to deal with social stress and 73% of Asian people agree they can improve their skin condition by leading a healthier lifestyle.  As part of a wider trend for self-care, people are beginning to incorporate anti-stress strategies into their beauty routines.

Often the solutions suggested for stress-relief can seem impractical or unattainable though.  Most consumers aren’t looking to overhaul their lives, what they want are efficient and effective solutions to ease their stress when they are on the go. Simplicity is key here, and the beauty and personal care industry can help empower people by providing products that save time and help combat the physical effects of stress on the skin.

Finding a balance

With this in mind, DSM has designed and patented a new cosmetic ingredient to balance skin cortisol levels. 

BEL-EVEN is a synthetic small molecule that has been specifically developed for skin care applications. Ex vivo ​studies have shown that its mode of action rebalances cortisol levels in skin by selectively inhibiting the enzyme 11β-HSD1, particularly in keratinocytes, but also in fibroblasts. This action has also been found to prevent UV-induced Collagen III damage.

Moreover, a human study found that after applying 1% BEL-EVEN for 12 weeks, skin density significantly increased, elasticity and skin barrier functionality were boosted and the appearance of skin wrinkles visibly improved.

When cortisol levels are balanced and in check, the skin reflects this and looks better. By helping skin to manage the undesirable, long-term effects of hectic lifestyles, BEL-EVEN helps counter the signs of stress-induced accelerated skin ageing, leaving the skin fuller and more supple-looking. And this new-to-the-world molecule is produced using sustainable methods, in line with DSM’s environmental commitments

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