August 2, 2019

Can You Breathe Your Way to Better Skin?

Craving validation of the dermatological variety, I approached Dr. Whitney Bowe, the author of The Beauty of Dirty Skin and a dermatologist known for debunking long-standing myths in the skin-care space. (She is basically the reason everyone and their gastroenterologist is obsessed with probiotics.) Did she think there’s a relationship between very heavy breathing and very good skin?

Shockingly, she does not laugh in my face. “Absolutely there is a connection,” Dr. Bowe says. According to her, it comes down to the relationship between stress and skin.

Dr. Bowe poetically describes “the slow boil of ongoing, unremitting stress from life in general” as a “big-time skin villain,” noting that deep breathing benefits the skin because it benefits the body’s stress response. Chronic stress (which can manifest as anxiety, depression, burnout, et al.) activates the sympathetic nervous system. This sets off a chain of unpleasant events, including “surges in stress hormones such as cortisol and the subsequent breakdown of tissues such as collagen,” as well as garden-variety inflammation and oxidation, says Dr. Bowe. Over time, the skin looks older and is less equipped to protect itself from environmental aggressors. It produces more sebum and even “leaks” water, leaving it simultaneously oily and dehydrated, a truly terrifying combination. “Any of the Big Four skin conditions — acne, eczema, rosacea, and psoriasis — can be part of this picture,” the dermatologist adds.