'Isolation skin': Why your skin isn't looking so great, even though you're not wearing makeup.

Maybe it’s just me, but I assumed my skin would be the best it’s ever looked in isolation.

I’d hoped for a small silver lining to our pretty crap new normal – that my skin would thrive now that I was working from home and not wearing makeup every day and that I had extra time in the morning to commit to a 1,234-step skincare routine.

Spoiler: My skin isn’t thriving.

WATCH: Here’s seven tips for improving your skin while you sleep. Post continues after video.

Video by Mamamia

I’m wearing more layers of moisturiser than ever before, but she’s dry and thirsty. All of a sudden, pimples have popped up where there haven’t been any in ages. Rather than glowing like a lockdown goddess, my face looks dull and a bit red, and feels randomly itchy for no good reason.

Frankly, my skin looks sh*t right now and up until this week, I didn’t know why it wasn’t enjoying isolation very much at all.

The answer? ‘Isolation skin’. Yep, it’s a thing. Let’s break it down.

What is isolation skin?

Basically, isolation skin is skin that’s changing as a result of our changing lifestyles and emotional wellbeing amid COVID-19. Just as we’re making sense of how coronavirus is impacting our livelihoods, daily routines, work, finances, relationships, and physical and psychological health, our skin is kind of confused, too.


For some, isolation skin looks like angry hormonal acne or pimples in places you don’t normally get pimples. Others will find they keep breaking out in a rash, or their rosacea, redness or sensitivity is flaring up big time.

Maybe your skin feels tight and dry, even though you’re doing All. The. Things. And maybe, like me, you’ve got a delightful mishmash of all of the above. From beauty journalist and podcaster Gemma Watts to Keep It Cleaner co-founder Laura Henshaw (and me), many of us are in the same boat at the moment.


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I was just about to switch off from screen time for today and give my eyes / head a break to hopefully help with feeling less lethargic – but before I do I wanted to share this. I just shared on my story about how much my skin has been breaking out throughout this time at home and I just got hundreds and hundreds of messages within 10 minutes about how this is happening to a lot of us. I’ve had breakouts around my mouth (and they are the deep painful pimples around here), chin and my hair line and lots of under the skin pimples on my face. Most responses said it was from stress / anxiety. I just wanted to share in case anyone was feeling down about their skin – it’s happening to a lot of us and it is completely ok ❤️. I am lucky to be safe inside and I know they will leave me eventually when things go back to normal. P.s I just want to preface that I am so lucky with my skin and I know my breakouts aren’t big – but this is a change from my normal skin. ❤️

A post shared by Laura Henshaw (@laura.henshaw) on

Why is my skin not looking great in isolation?

According to dermatologist Dr Nina Wines and Skin Therapist Tegan Mac, there are a few reasons your skin might not look and feel it’s best right now:

1. Increased stress.

“Stress is the big one because it increases the production of cortisol, a type of steroid hormone that can cause acne break outs and rough-textured skin,” Dr Nina told Mamamia.

“It doesn’t have a definitive affect on your oestrogen and progesterone levels but it’s a short term hormone that’s secreted during periods of stress, and we assume that’s part of why people’s skin is playing up.”

Tegan added, “Stress causes inflammation in the body, which can manifest as rosacea flare ups, acne flare ups, IBS and other gut issues.”

The other thing about stress during these times is, unconscious stress counts too. Whether you realise it, small changes in our lifestyles like not being able to see people, feeling restricted in your home and general anxieties about what we can and can’t do are stressful and can impact your skin.


2. Change in diet.

This one’s kind of obvious – staying at home all day, every day affects what we’re eating, which in turn affects our skin.

Easy access to your fridge and pantry rather than eating a packed lunch, and leaning towards easy comfort foods like pasta, toast and cereal over veggies equals changes in your skin.

3. Less exercise.

Isolation = less exercise = less blood flow to the skin to reduce inflammation = increased redness, pimples etc.

“It’s one thing to be outside in fresh air, which is great for your skin, but sweating is a way we detox,” Tegan said.

“When we sweat, blood circulates and comes to the surface, and blood has all the good stuff in it. Exercise is a great way to get oxygen and nutrients to the skin, so if your exercise routine has changed, this could be impacting your skin, too.”

I spoke with Tegan Mac about my expeirence with isolation skin in this IGTV video below. 

How to treat isolation skin – acne, breakouts, dryness and flare ups.

OK cool, so now I know why my skin doesn’t look great, but what can I do about it? Excellent question.

Here are some things you can do to improve your skin if it’s bothering you. Oh, and what you 100 per cent should not do or spend your money on.

(Not because what our skin looks like is the most urgent thing to worry about right now, but because it can have an impact on the way we feel about ourselves. And we all deserve to feel good about ourselves at the moment.)


1. Know that isolation skin, just like COVID-19, won’t last forever.

It doesn’t help that we’re now looking at ourselves more than we normally would (thanks video calls), but accepting that changes in our skin are almost inevitable given the world we’re living in helps to put things into perspective.

Rather than feeling overwhelmed or down about your skin, know it will settle down and you can ride it out. Everyone is going through weird changes and it’s OK if your skin isn’t looking the best at the moment.

2. Keep your skincare routine simple, but powerful.

Now is an excellent time to focus on building a great skincare routine, but know it doesn’t have to involve the kitchen sink to be effective. In other words, don’t put every skincare product you own on your face at the same time.

The foundations of any great skincare routine are a gentle cleanser (avoids foams), a moisturiser and SPF. Then, choose a serum and/or chemical exfoliant to suit your specific needs. Here are some ingredients to look for based on your skin concerns:

  • Vitamin B/Niacinamide is great for all skin types. It helps with any inflammation, whether it be rosacea or breakouts, and is particularly great for breakout-prone skin.
  • Salicylic Acid is great for true oily skin types and can be used to treat acne flare ups.
  • Hyaluronic Acid and Squalene make great friends with dry skin – anyone can use these ingredients.
  • For pigmentation, Vitamin C or an AHA (alpha hydroxy acid) chemical exfoliant like Lactic Acid or Glycolic Acid will help to lift pigment and slough it off.
  • Rosacea and sensitive skins suit a minimalist routine – think a Hyaluronic Acid serum and a hydrating moisturiser.

If you’re starting from scratch, head to your chemist for the basics (CeraVe and La Roche Posay do brilliant cleansers, moisturisers and sunscreens) and put money towards your serum(s).

3. Step away from the at-home skincare devices.

If you’ve been thinking about trying at-home tools like at-home dermarolling, dermaplaning, micro-current devices or skin needling, proceed with caution. Isolation skin, like us, is fragile. She responds best to a less-is-more approach.

Tegan’s advice is to be very wary of the many at-home skin treatment devices that will no doubt start popping up in your Instagram feed.

LISTEN: You can find out more about the best DIY light therapy options in this episode of the You Beauty podcast below. Post continues after audio.

4. Try at-home LED light therapy.

That said, if you do want to buy something new or try an at-home skin treatment, at-home led devices are a safe option. You should know, though, a good one will cost you a couple hundred bucks.

LightStim For Acne: LED Light Therapy ($340) and FOREO UFO ($289) are great options.

5. Watch out for gimmicky skincare products.

Oh, and all those fun-looking face masks with glitter, pink clay, stars and bubbles you’ve been seeing on Instagram? They won’t help your isolation skin either.

Rather than spend your money on these types of products, invest in products with the ingredients above. Or just save your cash for something else.

6. You can’t go wrong with a good sheet mask.

Finally, if you are tempted to buy some face masks (they are fun, after all), stick with simple, hydrating sheet masks.

Some great options include the Skin Republic sheet masks (from $6.99), Innisfree Hyaluronic Acid Sheet Masks ($3), Dr Jart Ceramidin Facial Masks (five for $37) and the Société Rejuvenating Peptide Mask (five for $155).

Feature image: @theamyclark and @laura.henshaw.

Are you struggling with isolation skin? Tell us your thoughts in the comments below!

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