Want clearer skin? For most of us, the answer is always a resounding “yes.” We go to great lengths to achieve this goal: we cleanse and moisturize everyday. We exfoliate. But not too much. We use an SPF even in the middle of winter. And we always, always remove our makeup before bed. So why do some of us still struggle with tired, stressed, or totally sapped skin? 

Here are three things that have nothing to do with your skin care regimen that could be the key to clearer skin:

1. Get more sleep: We tend to think of exhaustion as the can’t-keep-eyes-open state. But it’s not such a black and white issue. Chronic sleep deprivation, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, affects more than 40 million American adults—a whopping 30 percent of the population. Sleep deprivation is classified as sleeping fewer than six hours per night. And while you may feel functional on that little amount of sleep--even raring to go--it takes its toll not just on your energy, but your mood, your weight, your health, and most certainly, your face. This can mean circles and bags around the eyes, more frequent breakouts, lackluster skin, dryness, and more. Why sleep alone is not a skin cure-all, it’s certainly one of the easier switches to make (and it’s totally free).

2. Eat cleaner: You’re likely well aware of the food-health connection. We are what we eat, after all. And while there are numerous philosophies about which specific diet is best (if any), all diet experts tend to agree on one point: eat cleaner food. That, again, can fit to any diet preference, but the gist is more fresh whole fruits and vegetables, healthy fats, lean proteins, and less processed junk. And your face is one of the first places you’ll notice the difference. More fresh fruits and vegetables, increasing your water consumption, and laying off the sugar/salt/processed oils is like a week at a high-end spa for your skin. You’ll likely start to notice a healthier glow, decreased appearance of under-eye bags and circles, and may also experience speedier healing to blemishes or other skin irritations. Can't live without your chocolate or chips? Don't! Deprivation can be a stress trigger (more on that in a minute), so indulge every once in a while. Just find the balance for your body.

3. Stress management: Except for the very fortunate few, we all deal with stress on a daily basis. It can certainly fluctuate from oversleeping and missing an important meeting (hello, exhaustion!), working through lunch and getting hangry at your co-worker (diet!), a mad-dash to the airport departure gate, or dealing with the loss of a loved one. But here’s the thing: your body rarely notices the difference, no matter what the stress trigger is. To that end, of course, can mean skin that looks about as relaxed as the rest of you. It is the outward manifestation of your emotional state, in many cases, no matter what your skin care regimen or diet or sleep looks like (although, if you’re stressed, you’re probably not sleeping well and not eating great, either, right?). And if you’re constantly putting out one stress-fire after the next, it’s no wonder your skin isn’t cooperating.

While you should always speak with your primary care physician or a trained professional when dealing with emotional trauma or prolonged anxiety or stress, there are some things that can be done most anytime, anywhere, to help mitigate the flood of cortisol--the fight or flight chemical response that’s responsible for your stress: 

  1. Bring it back to your breath: It sounds silly, maybe even a little woo-woo, but it sure works. Focusing on your breath in times of stress can bring you mindfulness and presence and the ability to take the stressful situation second by second.
  1. Take a walk: Not always possible, of course, but if you had a rough meeting at work or a fight with your partner, sometimes taking a few minutes to walk through it can help you not only reduce the stress associated with the incident, but also resist the immediate urge to respond. 
  1. Put on some music: Research shows listening to music you love can have a near immediate boost on your mood.