Cortisol has become a buzz word recently. What is it exactly and how does it affect our skin and our bodies?
Cortisol is the stress hormone and a vital component of our health. Without which we could not survive. It helps to control our blood sugar levels and regulates our metabolism. It assists us with memory function. Cortisol even has a controlling effect on salt and water balance which in turn regulates our blood pressure.
Our Cortisol levels fluctuate in sync with our circadian rhythm. Levels are highest before we rise and we need it to get out of bed in the morning. Throughout the day it begins to decline until it reaches the lowest levels in the evening. We get tired and sleepy and hopefully are able to drift off into a deep relaxing sleep.
The functions of Cortisol
It functions to increase blood sugar, to suppress the immune system, and to aid in the metabolism of fat, protein, and carbohydrates. It also decreases bone formation, which should be a red flag if you are a woman over 50! Cortisol is actually one hormone that increases as we get older.
It has a huge impact on our daily lives and cortisol has the power to create havoc in our bodies if it is not in balance. High levels of stress seem to be the norm in our busy lives and everyone is familiar with that fight or flight rush of adrenalin but perhaps we should pay more attention to the body’s other primary stress response hormone, cortisol or more specifically, what we can do to regulate it. When it is chronically high it can affect everything from sleep to mental health, digestion, weight, our skin, ageing of our brain and even fertility.
Because this hormone regulates our salt water balance, when Cortisol is elevated our skin’s ability to retain water is compromised. This leads to dehydrated skin that is dry, flaky and dull. And a chronically dehydrated skin leads to fine lines and wrinkles. High Cortisol also causes a break down in elastin and collagen causing premature ageing of the skin.
As a protective measure against this dehydration, high levels of Cortisol cause the sebum glands to produce extra oil that is deposited on the skin. Excess oil can clog the pores and cause inflammation leading to Acne.
Chronically elevated levels of Cortisol can be bad news for reactive skin. Stress is closely related to skin problems and eczema, psoriasis, acne and rosacea are all highly reactive to cortisol levels.
How do I balance cortisol?
There are proven ways to balance and reduce high cortisol levels, some very simple and easy to incorporate into our lives.
- Our mobile phones are one of the reasons that cortisol levels are higher now than they have been in previous generations.
Aim to keep that cortisol low before bed time and give yourself the best chance of a deep and restful sleep, try putting your phone in another room to charge at night rather than at your bedside. Bright screens before we sleep affect not only cortisol levels but also disrupt melatonin production both of which affect your sleep quality and stress levels.
As cortisol is naturally highest in the morning having a phone free hour in the morning can allow our cortisol to slowly and naturally increase, rather than spiking as we start scrolling. Another good reason to have it charging in the next room.
What can I do to lower Cortisol
- Have a break from technology at lunch time. Get away from that demanding ping of your inbox for at least 15 minutes in the middle of the day.
- Get a daily dose of nature, even staring at a tree has a cortisol lowering effect. Going for a short walk in a garden or tree lined path is a good way to spend that 20 minutes away from your inbox at lunch time.
- Our daily commute is a common stress trigger and cortisol surges during this time. Instead of calling into work and allowing yourself to get stressed use this time to relax by listening to an audible book or your favourite relaxing music. The journey will take the same amount of time as it would have, but you will arrive relaxed and best equipped to cope with the demands facing you.
- Schedule stress reduction time in the evening. Ten minutes of gentle Yoga stretches or a calming Epsom salts bath will lower your cortisol levels and improve your sleep quality.
- Take up a hobby.
- Remember to laugh.
- Take Ashwaganda. This natural herb used in Ayurvedic medicine for years is proven to lower cortisol. It can help you fall asleep and wake rested. There are no groggy hangovers that are so often experienced with sleeping pills.