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Never let go of your skincare routine, no matter how busy life gets during the holidays, our expert says. Image Credit: Shutterstock

At a time when rest and leisure should be prioritised, why do so many of us feel stressed during the year-end? The holiday season is no stranger to plans going awry - the to-do list grows longer by the minute, where booking flights, mapping expenses, hosting guests and shopping for presents are all squeezed into a tight calendar. With time constantly ticking, there's only so much time for skincare.

What does distressed skin look like?

Whether you're staying home or travelling, the holidays will always disrupt our regular skincare routine. It gets worse when we factor in rising cortisol levels, says Dr Zaheer Abbas, an aesthetic dermatologist at Skin111 Medical and Aesthetic Clinic, Dubai.

"When you're under stress, because you're busy heading here and there, the body releases a hormone called cortisol. Even the simplest of stressors can easily spike cortisol, which can affect the complexion of the skin, cause dryness, block sebum glands and result in acne. Under stress, the body prioritises blood circulation to our main organs like the heart and kidneys over the skin, so this leads to the skin looking dull and tired," explained Dr Abbas.

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Sunscreen, niacinamide and vitamin C will be your primary de-stressors in this time. Image Credit: Shutterstock

Holiday stress turns into a vicious cycle when we have to deal with a sudden acne breakout before an important event. A glance in the mirror is enough to shoot cortisol levels even higher. But, that's not all. Dr Abbas adds that skipping our skincare regimen during this crucial, hectic period can further exacerbate existing skin concerns.

"Patients will usually face worsening of existing conditions after coming back from vacation. The most common case we've seen is melasma pigmentation because people forget to use sun protection when they go out. They can also experience dryness to the point of dermatitis when they don't use their moisturiser properly. Another common problem is acne caused by clogged pores from sleeping with make-up, as they're too busy to cleanse on vacation," said Dr Abbas.

Add lack of sleep and frequent take-out food to that, and you have the perfect recipe for distressed skin. 

Which ingredients help in de-stressing the skin?

You'll want to incorporate more of calming, hydrating and healing ingredients into your regimen. As our skin becomes more prone to irritation and acne in stressful situations, Dr Abbas says that staying loyal to a proper skincare routine should go a long way.

Your best protection from stress comes in the form of vitamin C or ascorbic acid. "You can use any product with vitamin C in the morning before sunscreen to protect the skin from ultraviolet A rays, pollution and free radicals. It's a strong antioxidant, which also offers water loss protection at a time when you might not be able to moisturise regularly," added Dr Abbas.

Pay special attention to wound-healing ingredients like niacinamide and aloe vera. They take care of irritation and redness with anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties, among other multiple benefits for acne-prone and dry skin. Similar soothing alternatives include calendula cream that's famously used to treat acne, cuts and rashes, as well.

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1. Add vitamin C to energise dull skin and lighten pigmentation

Reverse dullness and hyperpigmentation with a vitamin C serum - Dr Abbas says it's one of the most opted-for ingredients when it comes to stress. This antioxidant is best slotted for use in the morning routine, so apply a few drops daily before your moisturiser and sunscreen, and get all-day protection from pollution and the sun's rays. If this is your first rodeo with ascorbic acid, then go for a lower concentration since vitamin C is a potent active. Our dermatology expert speaks highly of La Roche Posay's pure vitamin C serum formulated with 10 per cent concentration and salicylic acid. You'll also find excellent options in viral products, like the J-beauty Melano CC vitamin C cream for treating active acne and K-beauty's Goodal Green Tangerine Vitamin C serum, which uses Centella asiatica and niacinamide for an extra soothing effect.

2. Use anti-inflammatory products to soothe skin

For any foreseeable flare-ups, grab a product from this list to instantly soothe the skin. One of Dr Abbas' niacinamide picks is Vichy's premium B3 serum. It's fragrance-free, absorbs quickly and comes with a host of good ingredients like glycolic acid and tranexamic acid to fade dark spots, and peptides for reducing wrinkles. Aromatica's popular aloe vera gel is often used as after-sun care, great for slathering all over the body after sightseeing in the sun. Don't skip out on the viral Keana rice mask that calms down bumpy, textured skin after a long day, using fermented rice liquid, rice bran oil, rice bran extract and rice ceramides.

3. Moisturise thoroughly to protect the skin barrier

Without proper hydration, we're disrupting our skin barrier, making it more susceptible to acne lesions and potential eczema. Keep a solid set of moisturisers in your rotation at all times, especially in winter. Kiehl's calendula serum-infused cream brings the right balance of healing and hydrating to the table - it improves uneven skin tone, brightens dull complexion and reduces redness, all the while delivering 24 hours of hydration. Dr Abbas is also a fan of body lotions from Bioderma, specifically the Atoderm range, which is formulated with niacinamide to protect the skin from external stress. Always carry a tube of hand and foot cream in your baggage to replenish moisture as you tour. Cracked heels and scaly hands need urea content to gently exfoliate the top layer of the skin.

4. Prepare for unexpected acne breakouts

Finding a budding pimple or two right after you land shouldn't come off as a surprise. We pass on germs from our hands, phase in and out of varying temperatures and spend most of our days wearing make-up on travels. Be prepared to quickly nip a lesion in the bud with these simple anti-acne products. You could stick on a pimple patch to mask the inflamed zit in a rush, and let the hydrocolloid sticker absorb all the gunk. Once you're back home, flood the breakout area with a cooling toner pad, like the popular Bring Green carrot root water toner that gently exfoliates using willow bark extract, a natural alternative to salicylic acid. For an overnight treatment, pick up La Roche Posay's Effaclar Duo blemish cream to spot-treat acne with 5.5 per cent benzoyl peroxide.

5. Always reapply sunscreen

We know a liberal application of sunblock in the AM is a must, but so is reapplication after every three hours. Dr Abbas notes that patients find it difficult to reapply sunscreen over make-up, which is why he recommends a tinted sunscreen like the Isdin Fusion Water Colour SPF 50. This means you get to wear it as your base make-up daily with a cosmetically pleasing finish. We've also added the TikTok-favourite Colorscience SPF 50 tinted sunblock that uses a sensitive skin-friendly mineral formula. If you don't want your hands touching your face, reapplications can be a breeze with the Shiseido clear UV stick. This sunstick glides over make-up without smudging anything underneath, say reviews. It's easy to forget that our lips, too, need protection from the sun, so toss a reliable SPF chapstick into your pouch for a crack-free pout.

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