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Is crying good for your skin?

Updated: Oct 22, 2022

...crying will cause irritation and swelling from salty tears being wiped away or drying on the skin. Read more...




Photo: Wix

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I have been a little more tearful with so much stress lately. Does this mean I should try to be more diligent about my skincare routine?

If you find yourself dealing with significant stress or just more stress than normal, your skin more than definitely will show this in some form. I often describe skin conditions as a “check engine” light given how many different ways stress can impact our skin.


One of the many manifestations of stress or feeling overwhelmed is becoming a little more tearful at times. If you do find yourself tearful as a result of stress, it is first important to understand that crying is an important way that some people find a release from stress. There is a lot of research dedicated to understanding crying and how what has been considered a distinctly human behavior has on our emotional state. As a self-soothing mechanism, one article I found in reviewing the literature interestingly referenced crying's role in managing stress to restore our homeostasis. In other words, if you need to cry or want to cry, by all means, please do! The next step is to take an extra moment for understanding the role your skincare routine in managing the impact tears can have on our skin is essential. First off, crying will cause irritation and swelling from salty tears being wiped away or drying on the skin. Focus on hydrating and protecting your skin to replenish the lost volume from salt pulling moisture out of the skin to help reduce irritation. Eye swelling or swelling under the eyes can lead to the appearance of bags under the eyes. The other key benefit to stepping up your skincare routine is the simple fact that this time you take for yourself can help reduce stress levels and calm your nerves. A skincare routine is truly just about you- it is focused on your well-being!

Are there ways crying can benefit our skin?

A ‘good cry’ can actually have some benefits to your overall emotional state. Crying can:
  • Improve a person’s state of mind

  • Reduce stress levels

  • Serve as a way to regain balance.

The release from emotional tears shed can be just what one needs to move forward. The salt in tears can even have some skin benefits. In moderation, the salt has the potential to benefit the skin by drying out extra oil or sebum and potentially killing bacteria on the skin that can cause acne.

Are there ways crying can harm our skin?

On the contrary, salty tears, especially in excess, can throw the fluid equilibrium in the skin off balance. The salt can irritate the delicate skin around the eyes. Tears are produced by the lacrimal gland in the upper outer quadrant of the eye. These tears progress across the eye and towards the tear duct. Tears drain through the lacrimal or tear duct into the nose. These tears can add moisture to mucus produced by the nose. The thinned-out nasal secretions that result can inflame or irritate the nostrils and creases around the nose. The experience that a “runny nose” can lead to the need to constantly wipe the surface of the nose and upper lip. This leads to the development of irritant contact dermatitis or frictional dermatitis. For those prone to rosacea, breakouts can worsen due to increased pressure in the capillaries of the skin from fluid tension. This can also lead to the development of broken blood vessels. Ways that tears can harm the skin:
  • Excess salt leading to dehydration and/or rebound swelling

  • Increased production of nasal secretions

  • Increased nasal pressure resulting in broken blood vessels

  • Imbalance of delicate bioflora of the nasal passages

What happens to each area of the face with crying?

The impact of tears on the face can be broken down by region.
  • The lower eyelid itself will appear swollen and inflamed.

  • The infraorbital sulcus (the groove that separates the eye from the cheek) may be deeper, darker, and more exaggerated.

  • The nares or nostrils will appear widened, reddish, and slightly swollen.

  • The lips can appear puffy.

  • The skin of the cheeks will be flush from increased pressure and perhaps a bit drier from the irritation of friction from wiping tears and from the tears drying the skin directly.

How is it best to care for the skin during and immediately after crying?

Recognizing the importance of counteracting the impact of flushing, fluid retention within the skin, and dehydration of the surface of the skin, some steps can be taken to counteract these effects.
  • Using facial tissues by blotting tears and not rubbing or wiping tears is helpful to decrease the impact of frictional irritation.

  • Splashing cooler water on the face and gently blowing the nose can dilute the salt content of tears to reduce irritation and dehydration.

  • After crying, take a cool washcloth and soothe the skin. Bringing down the redness and inflammation can help reduce swelling.

  • Massage a moisturizer into the skin starting at the center of the face and working the fingers outwards. The moisturizer will hydrate the skin while the massage will push excess fluid into the lymphatics.

  • The irritation from wiping tears can also be avoided by trying to use a softer tissue or handkerchief to avoid abrading the skin from a harsh surface.

Is it safe to say that any reason for crying (grief, heartbreak, sadness, etc.) can ultimately be boiled down to emotional stress and that your body is trying to unload the excess stress levels swirling around your body?

Crying can be considered a manifestation of both physical and/or emotional stress on the body. Studies suggest a range of potential roles of crying such as self-soothing, emotional release, a manifestation of sadness, and possibly a step towards the restoration of homeostasis. In the absence of these stresses, crying, or at the very least excess tearing of the eyes, can also be reflexive as a symptom of irritation to the eyes directly such as a corneal abrasion, foreign object, or other irritation that can lead to the development of tears.

Besides salt, what do emotional tears contain? Are there proteins and/or hormones that might be beneficial to the skin?

Tears are composed of water and salt in addition to some electrolytes such as chloride, potassium, magnesium, and bicarbonate as well as proteins, lipids, and mucin. There can be varying compositions of each component depending on the nature of the trigger for tears. Emotional tears contain possible hormones and proteins, in addition to a potential chemosignal. Interestingly, reflexive tears in response to irritation may contain antibodies as a defense mechanism against potential infectious agents.

What is the mechanism behind how the salt in tears can throw the fluid equilibrium of the skin off balance?

The fluid equilibrium of the skin can be thrown off balance from tears by two main factors.
  1. The first is the volume of tears produced overwhelms the drainage system through the lacrimal duct. The overflow of tears accumulates in the soft tissue around the eyes.

  2. The second mechanism involved is the osmosis of water from the ‘hypotonic' tears to the ‘hypertonic’ fluid in the soft tissue around the eyes.

What is the mechanism behind how crying causes puffiness/swelling of the eyes and face?

The general puffiness and swelling of the face and eyes from crying is the result of the factors of tears that lead to a shift in the fluid equilibrium of the skin as well as an additional factor. When crying there is vasodilation or dilation of the blood vessels in and around the eyes to increase blood flow. This leads to redness and flushing in addition to the general appearance of puffiness.

Does the salt in tears help oily skin types by potentially drying out excess oil, is this relatable at all to exposure to saltwater from the ocean?

There are numerous anecdotal reports of saltwater, especially from the ocean, clearing acne. The thought is that the water evaporates leaving the salt behind. This salt can potentially dry out the excess oil on the skin and perhaps work to exfoliate as well.

What causes the increased pressure that results in flushed cheeks as you are crying?

Flushing of the cheeks is the result of vasodilation of the blood vessels in the face.

Is it best to wipe tears with a handkerchief or facial tissues or just napkins?

The goal in wiping tears to minimize irritation to the skin is to focus on blotting and not wiping. Also, remember that the soft surface of the product chosen will avoid aggravating or irritating the skin. A study evaluating handkerchiefs with or without lotion on the skin revealed that lotioned with mineral oils and fatty alcohols helped reduce skin damage with use. A handkerchief that is lotioned would be a reasonable choice, however, care must be taken to clean and care for it. If it is pre-lotioned, the product will likely lose its hydrating qualities in the wash and lose its benefits. Napkins and paper towels tend to have rough textures focused on absorbency and possible cleaning benefits. This will be too harsh for the skin. Facial tissues, especially with lotion, are the best choice for your skin.

Do you have any post-cry moisturizer and eye cream recommendations?

Sometimes the simplest way to improve facial swelling post-cry is to use a Jade Roller to massage out the excess fluid built up in the soft tissue to encourage it back to the lymphatic system to drain. Another simple trick is to take your facial moisturizer and stick it in the refrigerator before applying it to the skin. The coolness of the cream will lead to vasoconstriction to reduce facial swelling. Ponds Cold Cream can be a very effective option for this.

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