There's a Serum for That

Shopping + Style editor Allison Kaplan explains why stress is the new beauty issue.

Beauty products
Photo by Becca Sabot

A couple of days after meeting Aveda president Dominique Conseil at a salon event, I received a care package at work. “It’s good to know the boss of a beauty company,” I thought, as I gleefully ripped into the cardboard box. Inside was Aveda’s complete collection of stress-fix products.

I didn’t know whether to be charmed or take a mental health day.

“Stress” is the new beauty buzzword. Intelligent Nutrients has a line of moisturizers and serums called Destress Express. Origins sells “stress-diffusing” candles and Calm To Your Senses body oil and cleanser. Kiehl’s is touting a new product called Skin Rescuer, designed to “help correct visible signs of stress on skin.” A press release announcing the Kiehl’s product launch called stress “an epidemic” and cited a statistic from the American Psychological Association that 75 percent of adults report moderate to high levels of stress. And lotion can solve that?

Most stress-related beauty products rely on aromatherapy. And, sure, massage oil and scented candles may help create a relaxing environment. But no amount of lavender could alleviate the palpable anxiety I felt writing this column two days past deadline.

The American Academy of Dermatology lists dry skin, rosacea, acne, inflammation, and redness as problems that can be brought on or exacerbated by stress. There’s even a name for it: psychodermatology. Some newer products attempt to address the more tangible signs of stress on skin. Antioxidants and vitamin C extract can help, says Twin Cities dermatologist Brian Zelickson. They make the skin look smoother, improve pigment, and enhance collagen production.

If this sounds a lot like anti-aging beauty products, that’s because the signs of damage are similar. So are the triggers—what could be more stressful than discovering a wrinkle? To avoid competing with successful products already on the market, the beauty industry has to come up with new problems to fix. If one product deals with aging and another with stress, you might buy both! And stress is a compelling issue—it’s almost a point of pride these days, the sign of an overachiever.

Kiehl’s Skin Rescuer is one of the first in the stress product category to include ingredients not found in most anti-aging products, such as rosa gallica botanical extract, an anti-inflammatory, and mannose, a simple glycan that strengthens the skin barrier, which can break down under stress and make the skin vulnerable to problems. Expect to see more products like it in the beauty aisles.

“It’s a new way to talk to consumers, and so far, customer reviews are very positive,” says Twin Cities–based beauty industry consultant Sue Remes, who counts Kiehl’s among her clients.

But don’t quit your therapist just yet. Every expert I talked to—even those who make money off of the aforementioned potions and lotions—pointed out that the best way to reduce stress is to deal with what’s causing it. Get more sleep. Drink more water. And above all other skin products, wear sunscreen. “Ultimately,” says Zelickson, “there’s really nothing that does a better job of protecting the skin.”