The Effects of Holiday Stress and Sugar on Your Skin

The pros weigh in on how to avoid stress and eat right to keep your skin looking its best this holiday season.

Art by Tanya Leigh Washington

From friends and family to food and presents, the holidays are a fantastic time of year. But as great as all of those things are, with them come the inevitable monster of stress. Whether you're dealing with delayed flights, nagging in-laws or long lines for Black Friday sales, the holiday season can really wear on you.

And all that stress can do some serious damage to your skin. Pimples can form, blackheads can pop up and you can end up with excess oil. We chatted with Dr. Sanjiv Saini of MD Dermatology to get the lowdown on holiday stress and skincare.

The Correlation Between Stress and Skincare

It's really quite simple: Stress is directly tied to your body's chemical and hormonal responses. "Stress causes your body to produce cortisol and other hormones, which results in more oil on your skin," explains Dr. Saini. "Oily skin is more prone to acne and other skin problems." It's really all science. As Dr. Saini explains, stress causes a chemical response in your body, thus making it more sensitive and reactive. In addition, high levels of stress can make it harder for current skin problems to heal. There's no avoiding it: When you're stressed, your skin can break out.

It might sound obvious, but one of the best ways to avoid a breakout right before that office holiday party or big family reunion is to minimize stress. Dr. Saini advises taking steps to limit your stress by managing your time or setting reasonable limits during the holidays. Being mindful and concentrating on the present moment are also great ways to avoid stress. As hard as it might seem, perhaps let the stress from that delayed flight roll off your shoulders—hey, it could save you a pimple, or at least a headache.

The Effects of Holiday Stress and Sugar on Your Skin

Poor Diet: The Recipe for a Breakout

But it's not just stress that can cause major skin woes during busy times—a poor diet rich in excess sugar can also have a negative effect on your skin. What you put in your body can also play a huge role in the outlook of your skin. "When you eat sugary foods, you get a rise in blood sugar, creating an increased production of insulin," says Dr. Saini. "Too much insulin in your system can lead to increased action in your oil glands and the growth of pore-clogging cells—leading to acne breakouts." To combat breakouts, avoid specific foods such as salt, bread and refined grains, shellfish, milk and alcohol, says Dr. Saini. And of course, a holiday favorite: sugary sweets.

But don't panic. You don't have to avoid all the sweets during the holiday—after all that is one of the best parts about the holidays! Sarah-Jane Bedwell, a registered dietitian, consultant to CLIF and LUNA, and author of Schedule Me Skinny: Plan to Lose Weight and Keep it Off in Just 30 Minutes a Week, gave us some simple and easy-to-follow tips for eating right during the holiday season.

1) Choose Wisely

When going to a party or dinner with a buffet or spread of snacks, Bedwell suggests looking over the spread first and picking three items to enjoy rather than just taking a little of everything. "You'll end up more satisfied while still eating less," she says. She also suggests avoiding "saving calories" for a party or dinner and instead eating regular balanced meals and a small, smart snack before the party. And if you're playing host, don't forget to pack up leftovers to send home with guests. "That way you can enjoy treats at the event itself but won't be tempted to chow down on all the leftovers for several more days!" says Bedwell.

2) Eat This, Not That

When it comes to the dinner table, Bedwell says opt for dark meat (without skin or gravy) over white meat. "The dark meat does not have many more calories or fat grams than the white meat, and it is naturally more moist, so you won't miss the gravy!" she says. "Plus, it is higher in iron, a nutrient that many women don't get enough of."

As we all know, loading up on those veggies is key. Bedwell says it's best to choose simply roasted, steamed or grilled veggies rather than casserole forms. Fill up your plate with veggies and fruits, so you don't have room for bread, stuffing or potatoes. And if you must, just pick one starch!

Rejoice! You can have dessert during the holidays. If you're deciding between sweets, Bedwell says to keep in mind pumpkin pie and fruit-based desserts tend to be lower in fat and calories than pecan pie or fudge-based desserts. But of course, indulge if you must. "If you just can't resist grandma's pecan pie, have a slice, but just skip extras that you won't really miss like whipped cream or ice cream."

And finally, size matters. Choose a smaller plate at the dinner table to provide built in portion control—no matter what you put on it, suggests Bedwell.

3) Drink Responsibly

Bedwell says champagne, wine and light beer are much lower in sugar and calories than mixed drinks like eggnog or fancy cocktails. A helpful tip to cut sugar and calories even more? Add sparkling water to your wine to make it a spritzer. And of course, avoid going overboard by staying hydrated and alternating alcoholic drinks with water or sparkling water. 

Fight The Good Fight

And of course, if the inevitable happens, and you do wind up with a blemish right before Christmas dinner, relax, you can treat it. There are a number of beauty products that can help fight off any blemish fast. Whether you're looking for a strong benzoyl peroxide cleansersalicylic acid face wash or facial cleansing brush, we've got you covered. Oh, and if you really need to get rid of a pimple fast, this editor swears by Yes To Tomatoes Roller Ball Spot Stick ($8).

Former Senior Associate Beauty Editor at StyleBistro. Follow me on Twitter and Instagram: @CaitlinSMiller Follow me: Google