Dear Hannah, I studied abroad & my skin freaked out...help!

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I studied abroad & my skin freaked out... To whoever is having this problem right now...trust me, I know what you're going through! Everyone has different skin experiences, and my causes and remedies may not be the same as yours, but I’m here to help however I can.

While I had the absolute time of my life in Greece last fall (via the N.U.in Program at Northeastern), I did experience something I'd never truly dealt with before: skin problems. In high school, I was lucky to never go through a serious acne bout. Upon arriving in Greece, my skin looked the same as it always had (clear, with the occasional blemish or two), but a few weeks into the semester, it started to go downhill.

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What triggered the unwelcome change? And what do I wish I had done about it?

DAIRY

In Greece, I regularly consumed milk chocolate truffles, sugary marzipan, gelato, creamy hot chocolate, feta cheese, and Greek yogurt (nope, not Chobani. We're talking the REAL stuff). I would always have a stomachache after, but I thought that was the only side effect. I told myself I could deal with that, because, I mean, it was only a few hours of discomfort. And who doesn't love cheese??What I refused to believe, though, was that the new acne spots (that would come within a few days of eating these foods) were caused by dairy products.

LESSON #1: I wish I had taken the diet-skin connection more seriously; had I done so, my skin probably would have remained clearer. At home, I never consumed as much dairy as I did while abroad. Read more about the relationship between dairy and acne here and here.

 

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 STRESS

People who live in the Mediterranean are supposedly very relaxed, but I did not adopt this attitude while living in Thessaloniki. In fact, I developed quite the opposite. I let every little thing make me anxious -- catching buses and planes, finding our way around a new city, (not) getting lost, having enough food, packing everything I needed to, getting stuck in crowds and lines of non-English speaking human beings, watching my phone die. I was a total ball of anxiety. Stress is a major player in all areas of our wellness, most certainly skin health (and clarity). Read more about effect that stress can have on skin here & here

LESSON #2:  I wish that I could have told my abroad self this: "RELAX. It is all going to work out. Take a deep breath. And now take ten more." I should have taken myself for walks, gone to bed earlier, and talked to friends about this anxiety. I'm not sure what your stress levels are like, but if they seem elevated, definitely try to: sleep more, practice deep breathing throughout the day, go on walks around your city, talk with your friends (in your abroad program or on Skype with ones back at home).

 

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SLEEP

 Because of this stress, city-hopping every weekend, sleeping in a super uncomfortable bed, and having such broken-up sleep (because I'd have to use the bathroom twice a night since I drank too much water before I went to bed…I know, I was crazy), I certainly did not get enough sleep in Greece. I know that for me, rest is crucial for decreasing stress, providing energy, and giving my body time to heal; I definitely believe that if I had gotten more rest, it would’ve helped my skin out!

LESSON #3: If you can get 7 to 8 hours of sleep on week nights, you’re a rock star. I know it's a bit harder on the weekends (since you are probably traveling and catching planes, trains, and buses at weird times of the day/night…and not mention going out & having fun). But if you shoot for 5 nights of the week with 8 hours of sleep, I think that will put you on a great track to success!

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 "FIXING" IT 

I tried to "fix it" by constantly touching my face (hello, germs!). This, my friends, is NEVER helpful (or worth it).

LESSON #4: The skin on our faces is very delicate, and I wish I had respected that. My advice here is to avoid touching and popping stuff as much as possible. I wish I had told myself something like, “Your skin knows what to do and how to heal on its own…be patient; it might take some time to heal, but it’ll get better!”.

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 “JUNK” FOOD

 Okay. This is a big one. I’m not specifically talking about dairy products like above, but about unhealthy meals and desserts. I completely understand that experiencing the food in different cities and countries in an integral part of a study abroad adventure. I can still recall how creamy the cookie gelato in Rome tasted, and how buttery and crispy the French fries in Brussels were. Do I regret constantly eating treats while travelling last year? Not really – food was a huge factor in our international adventures, and I’m sure it is for you, too; I certainly don’t want to encourage any abroad students to restrict (and not enjoy) treat foods.

LESSON #5: In my experience, though, eating sugary, highly processed desserts, junk foods, and beverages (we can’t forget the rosé…) on a regular basis did have a negative impact on my skin. So, if you’re someone with newfound skin problems and want to figure out what’s causing them, I’d encourage you to take a look into what you’re eating, and try to remove some of the junk foods to see if it helps reduce blemishes. I know that this definitely helped my skin to get better, and it’s one of the main reasons why I enjoy eating a diet full of real, whole, unprocessed foods now. {If you want to check out what my meals look like on a daily basis, hop over here!} 

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 I hope you have so much fun during the rest of your time abroad, and if you’re freaking out a bit about your skin (or not – that’s great!), just know that it’s going to get better. Take a deep breath, get some good sleep, and just be conscious of the types of foods & beverages that you are fueling your body with. I promise, it'll be okay one way or another.

¡CIAO!