The impact a year of lockdowns has had on our skin, according to dermatologists

Marie Claire Dorking
·9-min read
The impact a year of lockdowns has had on our skin. (Getty Images)
The impact a year of lockdowns has had on our skin. (Getty Images)

The coronavirus pandemic has turned our lives upside down, affecting everything from our health to our friendships, and even our skin has felt the effects of life in lockdown.

Sure, self-isolating may have had us embracing our make-up-free faces, and skipping the daily commute meant less skin exposure to pollution, but the challenges of 2020 were also enough to throw even the most committed of skincare regimes off course. 

Toss in maskne (acne brought on by wearing masks), stress-induced frown lines and the results of reduced vitamin D thanks to less time outdoors in sunlight and it's not difficult to see why the pandemic has been pretty problematic for our pores. 

Now, over a year since we went into the first lockdown, dermatologists reflect on the impact the past 12 months have had on our skin and what we can do to get our glow back. 

The effects of stress on skin

If your stress levels have been through the roof, you’re certainly not alone. And as well as having a negative impact on your mental wellbeing, it can also manifest on your skin. 

"Stress literally does show on our faces,” says Dr Sasha Dhoat, consultant dermatologist at Stratum Clinics

"Stress is associated with an increase in the hormone cortisol, which can affect blood flow to the skin and affect skin repair and thus how lustrous skin looks."

Dr John Quinn, from Quinn Clinics, says many of his patients feel that they have aged at an accelerated rate over the last 12 months due to anxiety brought on by the pandemic.

"The stress of recurrent lockdowns leading to social isolation, combined with the requirement to both work from home (or the uncertainty of being furloughed) and to homeschool children has increased generalised anxiety," he says. 

"This has had a huge impact on many of my patients' perception of their personal ageing."

Read more: What is 'COVID face' and what can you do to reverse it?

For some the wearing of face coverings has caused something known as 'maskne'. (Getty Images)
For some the wearing of face coverings has caused something known as 'maskne'. (Getty Images)

The rise of 'maskne'

Masks have become vital in helping curb the spread of COVID-19, but have also caused complexion woes for many. 

Dermatologists confirm that wearing masks for a prolonged period of time can result in breakouts. 

"Masks that occlude the skin can theoretically cause or aggravate inflammation in the underlying hair follicles with some potential worsening of acne and aggravation of some types of skin rash, including eczema," says Dr Mark Hudson-Peacock, consultant dermatologist. 

"We have also seen an increase in acne under face masks ('maskne')."

According to Dr Hudson-Peacock, the frictional effects of face masks and the fact they can cause increased sweating, are potential contributing factors to breakouts. 

"The accumulation of sweat and humidity clogs up pores and this irritates the skin further," he says. "This is made worse with heavy make-up, which gets pressed into the skin at a deeper level."

Watch: Gigi Hadid denies getting work done in post-pregnancy beauty video

Lack of sunshine has been both a blessing and a curse

During the cold and the rain of the winter lockdown many of us will have found it hard to go outside for long enough to absorb sufficient vitamin D from the sun, with a knock-on impact on our skin. 

"Often called the 'sunshine vitamin', vitamin D plays an integral role in skin protection and rejuvenation," says Dr Hudson-Peacock.

"It is activated in the skin by Ultraviolet B light and, in its activated form as calcitriol, vitamin D is involved with skin cell growth, repair, and metabolism. It also enhances the skin's immune system and helps to destroy those free radicals that can lead to premature sun ageing.”

On the upside, so much time spent indoors has reduced exposure to ultraviolet light and therefore potentially reduced the amount of sun damage.

Read more: Elizabeth Hurley, 55, reveals the £16 spot gel she uses to keep breakouts at bay

Less commuting means less pollution exposure

Lockdown hasn't been all bad for our skin, with a reduction in commuting offering our skin a breather from pollution. 

“The dirt from environmental pollution, in addition to usual dead cells, can form a layer of grime on the skin, making it appear lacklustre," says consultant dermatologist Dr Adam Friedmann.  

"There are a lot of irritants in fumes and these fumes can cause worsening of dermatitis and other skin conditions such as eczema. Also, there are a lot of free radicals like ozones and oxides in pollution that might cause damage to the skin and speed up the ageing process.”

The impact of central heating

When it was cold outside, it was all too easy for us to crank up the heating inside and double down, but the change in temperature and the condition of the air could have had an impact on your skin without you even realising. 

"We’ve just come out of winter and this, coupled with a lockdown, can be an assault on the skin for a multitude of reasons," says Dr Dhoat. "The humidity is low both outdoors (with cold harsh winds, degrading the barrier function of skin) and indoors, with central heating. 

"The water content of the epidermis, (outer layer of the skin), tends to reflect this reduction in external moisture, rapidly becoming dry and dull in appearance," she adds.

The rise of 'Zoom face'

Earlier this year it was reported that the increase in at-home working could be fuelling something known as “Zoom dysmorphia” or "Zoom face".

With millions of office staff working remotely for the best part of a year, Britons have relied on technology to stay connected with colleagues. 

But research suggests staring at a “distorted image on screen” for up to several hours a day is causing some to develop “a negative self-perception”.

"Seeing our faces on a screen for long periods is a new experience and can lead to a negative perception of our appearance that doesn’t necessarily match with our actual appearance in reality," says Dr Quinn. 

Read more: This motivational bottle helps me drink more water (and my skin has never looked better)

Our skincare routines have been disrupted this past year. (Getty Images)
Our skincare routines have been disrupted this past year. (Getty Images)

Tips for looking after our skin after a year of lockdowns

Re-establish a skincare routine

While many of us may have let our cleansing routine slip, thinking it is no longer strictly necessary as we have ditched the daily commute, Dr Dhoat says it is important to get it back on track. 

"Make time to always gently but thoroughly cleanse twice a day," she says. 

"Consider intermittently adding in AHA (alpha hydroxy acid) products, which increase the rate of exfoliation of the skin surface, promoting cell turnover and improving the texture and clarity of skin by boosting its thickness and stimulating collagen production, leading to a fresher appearance."

Wipe your phone screen

Smartphones are a really big source of skin contamination and skin problems, namely acne. 

"High concentrations of microscopic bacteria from your phone’s screen mixed with oil and make-up from the skin, along with heat from the phone, breeds more bacteria," says Dr Quinn. "This can clog pores and often result in inflammation and acne. To combat these problems use a headset when on the phone for a lengthy period."

Make sure you’re getting enough Vitamin C

Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant that fights against free radicals such as pollution. 

"The pollutants cause inflammation, which is the root of numerous skin issues, including breakouts, a breakdown of collagen, and excess melanin production that leads to dark spots," says Dr Quinn. 

"Vitamin C (also known as ascorbic acid) is a fantastic addition to a skincare regimen as it is a powerful antioxidant and one of the few skincare ingredients that has been proven to help in the battle against skin ageing."

Try to stop touching your face

People often touch their face by habit and this, like our mobile phones, introduces bacteria to our skin. "Try and identify why you’re touching your face," suggests Dr Quinn. "Often it’s because of stress, in which case stress management steps can be taken. If it’s because you’ve got a runny nose or itchy eye, try and address the root of the problem by having a tissue handy or getting eye drops." 

Dr Quinn suggests choosing a competing behaviour to do instead, for example scratching your leg or stroking your hair. "This habit will soon replace face-touching," he explains. "Tie your hair up if it’s long enough, or wear a head or sweat band, this reduces the likelihood of wispy stray hairs irritating your face and causing you to brush them away."

Up your H20 and eat the rainbow

Dr Dhoat suggests increasing your water intake and eating a rainbow of fresh fruit and vegetables. "In particular, ramp up foods containing carotenoids, an antioxidant responsible for the red colouring in tomatoes, peppers, plums and carrots, which imbue the skin with a healthy-looking golden glow," she says. 

Find new ways to relax

Stress management and relaxation can go a long way to address the physical symptoms on the skin. "Try breathing exercises, yoga or meditation," says Dr Quinn. "As people reduce their stress they often find their skin improves as a result."

Wear SPF even when inside

A high-factor SPF protects skin from sun damage but also the HEV light that is given out from computers, laptops, tablets and mobile phone screens. "Wearing SPF will help to prevent the skin from ageing prematurely and developing the fine lines and wrinkles that are caused by this," says Dr Quinn. 

Combat maskne

Dr Hudson-Peacock suggests wearing only light make-up under a mask and washing it regularly to keep it as clean as possible.

"Ideally wearing breathable masks made from cotton might be less likely to cause acne or to aggravate eczema when compared to wearing masks made of synthetic materials," he adds.

Reach for the moisturiser when you turn on the central heating

Dr Dhoat says intensifying your moisturising routine is the first step in correcting dryness caused by central heating. "I would recommend looking for products that contain ceramides, which help repair skin barrier function and improve water retention, and hyaluronic acid, which plumps skin cells by attracting water to surrounding tissue," she says.

Plan ahead for your next video call

"My advice is be kind yourself," says Quinn. "You can set your lighting, your background, your make-up and even the camera angles up in different ways. Simple changes can make a big difference."

Watch: 5 simple ways to improve post-lockdown skin

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