Crying a lot can take a toll on your skin—here's what you can do to protect it
Is it just me, or is anyone else crying pretty regularly during this scary coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic? Whether it’s people dying from the virus, frontline workers enduring exorbitant amounts of stress, the loneliness of social isolation, or the loss of work, I’ve been crying about almost everything pretty often, and I’m running out of tissues.
The pandemic has hit me hard, and I know it’s affected millions of people across the globe, too. A few weeks ago, when I was sobbing hysterically to my boyfriend over his excessive video gaming during quarantine (I told y’all—I’ve been crying about everything!), I wondered what, exactly, all this crying might be doing to my skin, both in the short and long term.
My pale, Irish skin turns bright red every time I shed a tear, and I’d also heard that excessive crying might cause long-term broken capillary damage, too. I needed to know what was happening to my poor face and wanted to figure out what I could do to try and prevent further damage. To get to the bottom of it, I consulted Marie Hayag, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist and founder of 5th Avenue Aesthetics.
What can happen to your skin when you’re crying too much?
Although we need more research around the effects of tears on the skin, Dr. Hayag notes that multiple things can happen when you’re bawling your eyes out. “When we cry, our lacrimal glands are supported by tear fluid, which comes from an increase of blood flow to our eyes, causing bloodshot eyes and pupil dilation,” she says. “The salt in tears leads to water retention and swelling around our eyes. More blood is also flowing to the whole facial region, causing a strained, red, puffy face.”
Interestingly, the contents of tears can vary depending on why a person is crying, according to Dr. Hayag. “Typically, tears are made from water, toxins, lysozyme, salt, lipids, and more,” she says. “Lysozyme, in particular, is an enzyme that helps get rid of bacteria, and, theoretically, it can combat against acne and other bacteria found on the face. Also, the salt content from tears can dry out the skin as well.”
Why do eyes get so puffy when we cry?
There are two reasons why your eyes can swell up like balloons after a good cry. First off, tears are more watery and less salty than the fluid that fills your eyes. “Water from your tears flows through a semipermeable membrane into the tissue around your eyes to balance out the concentration of salt on either side,” explains Dr. Hayag. “This causes your eyes to appear puffy, which is only aggravated when you rub them while you’re crying.”
Secondly, the dilation of blood vessels in and around your eyes can also contribute to swelling. “If you’re producing a lot of tears, nearby blood vessels will dilate to increase blood flow to the eye area,” explains Dr. Hayag.
Can crying very often have lasting effects on your skin?
Although the lasting effects of crying and what can happen to skin still need further studies, some implications can be drawn regarding the long-term effects of the skin from crying often, according to Dr. Hayag. “Since crying has been proven to reduce stress, crying may have a positive effect on a person’s skin over time,” she explains. “Skin issues such as acne and breakouts can be caused by stress, and, therefore, crying can indirectly reduce acne breakouts by reducing the stress.”
Also, emotional crying can help release stress-causing hormones, such as cortisol, from the body. “In essence, this is psychologically good for the person to reduce stress,” explains Dr. Hayag. “However, it is notable that reduced levels of cortisol can also reduce premature signs of aging. Therefore, crying often may also have an anti-aging benefit.”
On the flip side, crying too much might cause excessive broken capillaries around the eyes or nose. “Broken capillaries (also called telangiectasia) are caused by several things, one of which is trauma to the skin—think popping a pimple, rubbing your eyes while crying, or blowing your nose when you have a cold,” says Dr. Hayag. “That’s not to say doing these things will always cause broken capillaries for everyone. Some people are just more prone, especially if you have fair, sensitive skin; rosacea– and acne-prone skin; or your lifestyle choices include smoking and drinking alcohol, which [all] seem to contribute to broken capillaries.” Additionally, sun-damaged skin is also more susceptible to broken capillaries, as UV radiation weakens the tiny blood vessels found beneath the skin over time, leaving them more prone to leaks.
Dr. Hayag also mentions something called petechiae, which are tiny red or purple dots on the skin that can occur after excessive crying. “These dots usually disappear after a few days, unlike broken capillaries,” she says.
Tips for treating the face after excessive crying:
Redness around the eyes is a result of dilated blood vessels under the skin as well as irritation on the surface of the skin from rubbing and wiping away tears. While time is the most effective treatment in reducing redness, there are a few things that can help speed up the process.
It’s easier to prevent damage than it is to treat it, according to Dr. Hayag. “As soon as you feel yourself on the verge of tears, grab a few tissues and gently blot away any tears before they reach your skin,” she says. “Tears are salty and salt can be irritating to the skin, especially the delicate skin around the eyes.” Keeping tears off your face will also mitigate the damage they can do to your makeup, too. If you don’t wear makeup or use waterproof makeup products, it’s a good idea to splash some cool water on your face after you’ve stopped crying.
Apply a cold compress to the eye area for 10-15 minutes to constrict the blood vessels under the skin. “I love the reusable ones you keep in the freezer, but keep it in the fridge instead,” suggests Dr. Hayag. “The fridge cools to a temperature less likely to cause temporary redness on the skin the way that ice can. A cooling effect is all that is required to have a constricting effect on the blood vessels.”
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Starting from the inner corners of your eyes, gently press down and sweep up to the outer corners of your eyes towards your temples. “Repeat this several times a day to decrease the fluid causing the puffiness under the eyes,” says Dr. Hayag. “If you don’t have an eye serum with caffeine on hand, try cool tea bags as an alternative.” Wet two black tea bags and pop them in the fridge for 20-30 minutes. Then place them over your eyes for 10-15 minutes, rinse and gently tap a hydrating eye cream around the eyes. We love Kiehl’s Powerful-Strength Dark Circle Reducing Vitamin C Eye Serum for helping to reduce puffiness and hydrate the under-eye area.
Dr. Hayag recommends three products to help treat a cried-out face. “The cooling effect of the metal roller ball and caffeine of the First Aid Beauty Detox Eye Roller is not only soothing but will also help relieve some of the swelling. I highly recommend this!” Dr. Hayag is also a fan of The Ordinary Caffeine Solution 5% + EGCG, which helps with puffiness and pigmentation, as well as Visine eye drops to treat redness. “Apply a couple of drops to each eye to constrict the blood vessels before you apply makeup,” she says.
And remember: It’s more than okay to cry.