We may have entered the so called ‘new normal’ but are you still holding on to those unhelpful lockdown habits that could secretly be playing havoc with your skin?

Many of us entered lockdown pledging to overhaul our lifestyles with new diet, exercise and wellbeing regimes that would see us emerge completely transformed. In reality (and unsurprisingly) when the stress, uncertainty and mundaneness of daily life kicked in, a lot of these good intentions fell by the wayside and we inadvertently turned to alcohol, junk food and late nights to see us through. If continued long term, it will come to no surprise to anyone, that these coping mechanisms are going to have a knock-on effect on your mental and physical health, including your skin.

Many of us didn’t anticipate having to be dealing with spots and acne as we started adjusting to the ‘new normal’ and the increased social life that has come with it, but if you’ve noticed changes to your skin over the past few months that are becoming more frequent and harder to shift, it could be down to routine and lifestyle factors that are causing you issues.

Here are five habits and behaviours to kick now to help get your skin back on track

Start with stress – stress is a major contributing factor to acne and breakouts. When we are stressed it increases our levels of a stress-related hormone called cortisol which can then send the skin’s sebaceous glands into overdrive. This excess oil can cause pores to be blocked, resulting in acne causing bacteria.

Stress is also a major driver behind you reaching for high GI foods like cakes, biscuits and crisps, as well as interrupting the quality and quantity of your sleep. It may seem easier said than done – after all we are still living through a global health pandemic – but getting on top of your stress levels will make it easier to tweak your lifestyle habits in lots of areas and really could be the key to starting to turn the tide on your skin issues.

There is no one size fits all when it comes to stress management – the secret really is about finding out what works for you and building it into your daily routine. This could be exercise, meditation, journaling, listening to music, yoga, talking to your friends, walking your dog, dancing around your bedroom – whatever brings your joy. For times when things do get on top of you and you can’t just stop and meditate or go for a run, try to step away from whatever stressful situation you’re in and do some breathing exercises to help deal with it in the here and now.

Revisit your routine – it’s completely unsurprising that the uncertainty of the past three months has led to the complete breakdown of our daily routines – impacting on everything from the time we go to bed and wake up, how often we shower, when we get dressed (and what we wear), our work hours, our eating habits and everything in between.

Now is the time to add some structure back into your day – you may be surprised at the difference that it can make on your physical and mental health. For example, getting the right quality and quantity of sleep can improve your skin health. When we get insufficient sleep, our body is more likely to crave the high GI junk food which in turn can trigger acne. Get back into a better sleep routine by making sure that you are getting 7-8 hours sleep per night, going to bed by 11pm and setting your alarm to start the day.

If you are going to be working from home long term, make sure that you set yourself a structure for your working day – building in breaks and time away from your screen to eat, de-stress and spend some time outdoors in the fresh air. Keep your working area – including computer keyboard, mobile phone and other devices clean to stop you transferring bacteria to your face. Try and switch off from your devices at the end of the working day – this will also help with your sleep quality.

Now is also a good time to re-evaluate your skincare routine. Have you been following a diligent routine during lockdown or has it fallen by the wayside? Do you need to review the products that you are using to ensure that they are not inadvertently contributing to breakouts? Have you thought about building other treatment methods into your daily routine to get on top of spots and flare ups? I’m a huge advocate of blue light therapy for the treatment of spots and acne – this is because it targets one of the root causes of the problem, killing the bacteria that causes problem skin to develop. Used daily, an at-home blue light device can make a huge difference to the appearance of your skin. I recommend the Lustre ClearSkin Solo to my clients. This is a wireless and wearable blue light device that provides the same grade and intensity of blue light that you would find in a clinical setting – which is a really important consideration. Used on each problem area for 20 minutes every day, you could see improvements in just two weeks, and because it is wireless you can just carry on with your day-to-day life whilst treatment takes place.

Ditch the lockdown diet – From the shortages of flour and sugar at the supermarkets it is apparent that we have become a “nation of bakers” during lockdown. The attraction of high glycaemic index foods (cakes, biscuits, chocolate and junk food) are well known as comfort foods but the knock-on effect of the resulting spiking blood sugar levels on your skin can be disastrous.

Now is the time to step away from the processed food and unhealthy snacks and move towards a Mediterranean style diet with plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables, healthy fats and good sources of protein such as fish along with more complex carbohydrates ( brown bread, brown rice and pulses). By switching up your eating habits, you can avoid causing rapid rises in blood sugar and insulin levels that will provoke an outbreak of spots. The added benefits of the nutrients and vitamins provided by the fresh fruit, vegetables and salads will all boost your skin. Recent studies have also highlighted milk as a culprit in aggravating acne so consider trying a milk alternative to see if that helps.

Exercise clean – exercise can be fantastic for your skin because it releases endorphins, however at the same time it can create the perfect conditions for spots and acne to develop. By all means keep up any new-found exercise regime but build in a few habits to keep the acne causing bacteria at bay.

A crucial thing is to always fully remove your make up with cleanser before you start – this will help stop your pores becoming blocked with sweat, make up and grime. Wash your face again as soon as you have finished your workout to remove excess sweat from your face and body. Or if you can, shower straight away to stop the sweat from potentially clogging your skin. Always wash your workout clothes at 60 degrees to kill off bacteria which could cause spots and irritation on other parts of your body such as your back.

Practice good mask hygiene – masks are very much part of the ‘new normal’ and unfortunately, they too can be an acne causing culprit because they trap moisture, sweat and oil close to our skin. If you have started to wear your mask and noticed spots and breakouts occurring around your mouth, chin and nose, you need to start paying particular attention to your skincare routine and the hygiene and cleanliness of your mask.

Keep your skin clean and cleansed and if possible, avoid wearing make up around the area your mask will be. Using non-comedogenic moisturiser will help repair the skin’s barrier function and keep the skin hydrated. Let the skin absorb this for at least 15 minutes before applying the mask.

A disposable mask is possibly the most hygienic option for keeping your skin clean – if changed every 4 hours (or when soiled) then it is unlikely to become a reservoir for infection. As long as the mask is allowed to completely dry for 24 hours then it could be used again.

A cloth mask needs to be cleaned often, ideally every time you use it. The build up of dirt, make-up, lip balm, oils and even detergent residue can worsen acne and skin irritation when pressed against your face. Wash using a hot wash and ensuring the mask is completely dry before wearing again. If hand washing your mask, then you may wish to soak in some diluted bleach before rinsing just to give it an extra cleansing boost.

The next few months are going to pose a real challenge for all of us as we adapt to a new way of living post lockdown. For people who are prone to acne or experiencing it for the first time, increased flare ups and breakouts can add to the stress and anxiety of the situation but focusing on these lifestyle factors really can start to make a difference to taking back control of your skin.