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I swear by yoga for several reasons—in addition to toning up muscles I didn't know I had and challenging my mental and physical strength regularly, it's also the perfect respite after a stressful day at the office and a constant reminder to take a deep breath before freaking out over the little things. This might all be relatively obvious, but there's one benefit of yoga I hadn't bargained for: the profound impact it has on my skin.
I observed it on others first, usually while signing in at my local studio as another class was emptying. I've always gotten a kick out of how blissed-out people look after a particularly great yoga class, but I began to register that their skin often carried a glow that mirrored their expressions. The fact that the diverse team of instructors at my studio all look positively ageless only emphasizes that notion.
And then, after a few weeks of practicing consistently, I started to notice those effects in the mirror. My skin began to take on that ever-evasive lit-from-within glow regularly, and the stubborn hormonal acne that peppers my chin from time to time began to dissipate. At this point, I knew it was time to check in with yoga instructors and dermatologists alike to get their thoughts on the subject. Sure enough, it turns out yoga can effectively reduce acne, brighten skin tone, and even reverse skin aging and wrinkles—and there's science to back that up.
Meet the Expert
We've long since understood that there's a direct connection between stress and acne. Still, to understand specifically how yoga can prevent blemishes from surfacing, it's important to dive deeper into that correlation. "When you experience stress, your body responds by releasing cortisol and other stress-related hormones, which can lead to oil overproduction and acne breakouts," explains Marisa Garshick, MD, NYC-based dermatologist. This "stress" doesn't just translate to anxiety; rather, any hardship on the body, from lack of sleep to improper diet, can fuel cortisol overproduction.
The good news: Multiple studies show that yoga can even rival antidepressant drugs in significantly lowering cortisol levels—which doesn't just translate to clearer skin but a boosted metabolism, a more balanced appetite, and a better disposition overall to boot. "One of the number one health benefits of a regular yoga practice is stress reduction, so over time, you may notice a decrease in acne around the cheeks and jaw, the areas of the face most affected by hormonal acne," says Rebecca Weible, the founder of New York yoga studio Yo Yoga.
This all being said, there is one potential—albeit easily correctable—caveat in the relationship between yoga and acne. "Any activity that increases sweat can lead to clogging of the pores," says Garshick. The solution, she says, is simple: Wash your face immediately after working out, and be sure to clean your mat regularly too.
Like others with insomnia issues and a dry complexion, I tend to wear my tiredness on my skin: The energy is sucked out of my face, which translates to dullness and droopiness. That's why it's remarkable that even on my most sluggish days, it's nothing that an hour-long yoga class can't correct. I walk out with bright, glowing skin, no matter how few hours of sleep I logged the night before—especially if we happened to be working on inversions that day.
And even if you don't have time to hit the studio, you can achieve a similar glow just by working through some quick poses at home. That doesn't mean flipping up into a fancy headstand—inversions are any poses that involve bringing your head below your heart, and that can be as simple as a downward dog or a forward fold. Easier still: Just take some deep breaths (a good trick to keep in mind during stressful days at the office). "When we take large, deep breaths, we stimulate our lymphatic system and circulation, and bring life to our skin," explains Kristin McGee, Lycored yoga ambassador, and celebrity Pilates and yoga Instructor. See? You don't even need highlighter.
Fine Lines and Wrinkles
Our faces can show our age in several ways, whether that's via dull, uneven skin, or, of course, fine lines and sagging. Yoga can target all of the above at the source. Wrinkles result from tensing our facial muscles repeatedly, so when we're relieving tension through yoga, we give those muscles a chance to relax—without Botox, which does the same thing instantaneously.
Remind yourself to "relax your face" as you're falling asleep at night, because it's always jarring to register just how much tension you're unconsciously holding there.
On a more cellular level, skin aging happens when cells oxidize or break down, which can be catalyzed by anything from pollution-based free radicals to sun damage. But stress-geared cortisol also plays a huge role in skin oxidation (which is why we tend to see our presidents age drastically over the course of their terms). Again, yoga helps temper that cortisol at the source. "The anti-aging benefits of yoga come back to stress reduction and better breathing," says Weible. "Being able to take in more air increases energy for all our cells, which can improve cell turnover in our skin, helping us to look younger."
"Yoga can help to prevent cell death and improve antioxidant status, which can improve the body's response to daily environmental stress," adds Garshick. "In addition, yoga has been found to have anti-inflammatory benefits." As fascinating as the scientific details are, it's really quite simple. "Just think: The less you frown, the [fewer] wrinkles you'll develop," she says.
Best Yoga Poses for Improved Skin
This stress-relieving pose is a classic favorite for all yogis. Deeply grounding and tension relieving while providing a nice stretch to the upper back and neck, a place where we can often hold tension.
- Kneel and sit on your knees. Lean forward, bringing your arms in front of you, palms facing down.
- Keep your bum sitting on your heels while resting your forehead on the floor.
- Bring your arms next to your thighs, palms facing up.
- Inhale and exhale for 8 to 10 breaths.
Nadi Shodhana Pranayama
Skin dullness can improve with better circulation and breathing—because yes, the amount of oxygen we take in does impact our skin. "Regular body movement and deep breathing also help to improve our circulation by bringing more oxygen into the body, which can make skin look rejuvenated," explains Weible. Nadi Shodhana Pranayama is a yogic based breathing practice, also known as alternate nostril breathing. It is meditative and helps reduce stress and promote mindfulness.
- Sit comfortably with your legs crossed.
- Place your left hand on your belly or in your lap.
- Exhale all of your breath, and then close your right nostril with your right thumb.
- Inhale through your left nostril, and then use your fingers to close your left nostril.
- Release your right nostril and exhale through it.
- Inhale through your right nostril and then close it again.
- Release your left nostril and exhale through it.
- You've completed one cycle. Continue these cycles for up to 5 minutes.
- Always finish by exhaling on the left side.
Downward Facing Dog
"Inversions are a great way to boost your circulation by temporarily reversing your circulation route and bringing more blood up towards the heart and face, which can make our skin appear brighter and more glowing," says Weible. Try beginner-friendly downward facing dog for a simple, skin-boosting inversion.
- Stand on your mat and bend forward, reaching and placing your hands flat on the floor so that both hands and feet are on the floor. Spread your fingers and ground through your palms.
- Raise your hips high and keep your arms straight. Straighten your back by squeezing your shoulder blades together.
- Keep your neck long and your gaze at the floor.
Try Facial Yoga
There is even a specialized yoga just for your face. It may feel strange to pull funny faces, but the payoff could be worth it. A 30-minute daily or alternate-day facial exercise program performed over 20 weeks may improve your facial appearance, according to 2018 research in JAMA Dermatology.Facial yoga might help improve your muscle tone and fight the effects of gravity. More research needs to be done to really say for sure if facial yoga is legit, but it's worth a try.
University of New Mexico. Cortisol Connection.
Sharma VK, Trakroo M, Subramaniam V, Rajajeyakumar M, Bhavanani AB, Sahai A. Effect of fast and slow pranayama on perceived stress and cardiovascular parameters in young health-care students. Int J Yoga [serial online] 2013
Alam M, Walter AJ, Geisler A, et al. Association of Facial Exercise With the Appearance of Aging. JAMA Dermatol. 2018;154(3):365-367. doi:10.1001/jamadermatol.2017.5142
Harvard Health Publishing. Does Your Face Need a Workout. January 2019.