Are you suffering from RSF (Resting Stress Face)? Here's how to fix it

·5-min read
The events of the past year have taken a toll on our face. (Getty)
The events of the past year have taken a toll on our face. (Getty)

You might think your skin has been one of the few beneficiaries of the previous year's events – after all skipping the daily commute = less pollution, WFH = less make-up, which could potentially = clearer skin.

But, it seems the impact of 2020 and beyond has had a rather distressing effect on facial appearance - enter Resting Stress Face, or RSF. 

Turns out spending the best part of a year feeling stressed is now written all over our faces.

"Resting stress face is caused by facial muscle contraction from being stressed and the body being in a constant state of fight or flight," explains Dominique Antiglio, wellness expert at BeSophro.

"It’s almost as though you’re wearing the stress on your face. You might not even notice it, but others will."

According to Antiglio resting stress face can present itself in the form of frowning, furrowed brows, pursed lips, or a tight and tense jaw.

"So much so that even when your face is at ‘rest’, you have the expression of someone who is really struggling," she adds. 

"The energy and joy is no longer present in your expression naturally. You might notice twitchy eyes or the need to blink more frequently too."

Read more: 'Zoom dysmorphia' prompting cosmetic surgery, study suggests

Spending long periods of time staring or squinting at screens or regularly frowning are also contributors to RSF.

"This, combined with inadequate sleep, can really start to influence the look of the face and skin."

Are you suffering from resting stress face? (Getty)
Are you suffering from resting stress face? (Getty)

Resting stress face also offers an explanation as to why we feel we've aged about 200 years every time we catch a glimpse of ourselves in the mirror or the horror we feel when the camera on our phone accidentally switches to FaceTime. 

Cosmetic doctor, Dr John Quinn says many of his patients have reported feeling that they have aged at an accelerated rate during the last 12 months. 

"The stress of recurrent lockdowns, leading to social isolation, combined with the requirement to both work from home (or the uncertainty of being furloughed) and to home-school children has increased generalised anxiety," he explains. "This has had a huge impact on many of my patients' perception of their personal ageing".

Read more: What is 'COVID face' and what can you do to reverse it?

Dr Quinn says stress impacts the face in a significant number of ways. 

"When we are stressed, the body produces more cortisol – the stress hormone," he explains. "This can break down the skin’s collagen and elastin.

"Collagen is an essential structural protein that gives skin its foundation, elasticity and firmness. If the production of collagen is affected for any reason it can result in sagging skin and wrinkles."

Watch: How to reverse and refresh COVID face. 

Stress related facial expressions contribute to wrinkles and can accentuate common areas of complaint such as furrow lines on the brow, crows' feet around the eyes, and nasolabial folds, or laughter lines, around the mouth.

"Clenching of the jaw or grinding of the teeth can also occur as a result of stress," Dr Quinn adds. "This condition, known as bruxism, can result in the facial muscles around the jaw becoming bigger and therefore more defined in the face. 

"As well as changing facial shape, this can lead to headaches, facial pain and even damage the teeth."

So now we know we're wearing our stress all over our faces, what can we do about it? 

Antiglio says the key to getting over RSF is addressing the root cause of the stress, as everything you feel emotionally will show on your face. 

"Try natural stress relief techniques that involve movement to help oxygenate the body and act as an outlet of expression for the stress," she says. 

She suggests trying sophrology, a form of dynamic meditation.

"It will help to calm the nervous system, and relieve tension in your facial and body muscles," she says. 

"Oxygenation through conscious breathing will also have an almost instant effect on relaxing your face too. Head and neck stretches and rotations will also encourage movement around the face and going for a long walk could help too."

Read more: The impact self-isolating or working from home can have on your skin

Turns out we are wearing the stress of the coronavirus pandemic on our faces. (Getty)
Turns out we are wearing the stress of the coronavirus pandemic on our faces. (Getty)

Maintaining a good daily skincare regime could also help to reduce the signs of stress on the face. 

"Our skin likes routine," explains Dr Rekha Tailor from Health & Aesthetics. "It thrives on having a daily ritual and if this is interrupted for some reason, such as stress, then it can aggravate issues and cause flare ups. 

"At times, when we are under stress, we may find ourselves skipping our usual skincare routines, sleeping for less time, eating unhealthy foods, drinking more alcohol – all of which negatively impact our skin."

Dr Quinn suggests ensuring your daily skincare regime includes salicylic acid and retinol. "Salicylic acid is a beta-hydroxy acid (BHA), or exfoliating acid. It’s been used in topical skincare products for years and has been proven to reduce the quantity of acne lesions on the skin as well as how severe they are.

"Retinol-based products speed up the cell turnover of the skin and help reduce congestion. Always introduce retinol gradually, as it can cause some skin irritation initially."

Antiglio adds, ""You (and other people) will notice that after a break, suddenly, your face smooths out and looks younger due to your facial muscles having had time to relax."

It's the perfect excuse, if any were needed, to book a long, stress-free holiday. 

Watch: How to deal with stressed skin.