Is it 'Zoom face' or is the pandemic aging you?

(CNN)Is that face in the mirror looking a bit, well, older these days?

"Some of this is due to perception, what I call 'Zoom face,'" said Dr. Rajani Katta, author of "Glow: The Dermatologist's Guide to a Whole Foods Younger Skin Diet."
    "Between the harsh lighting, the strange angles, and just staring at your face for hours on end, it can alter your perception of your own appearance," Katta said.
      Unfortunately, your skin may also be suffering from the effects of a year of pandemic stress, said Dr. Whitney Bowe, clinical assistant professor of dermatology at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai Medical Center.
        People are staring at themselves a lot during video calls.
        "A long-time patient would come and say, 'I lost my parent and I feel like I've aged years in this one year.' You look at them and you can see that it has actually taken a physical toll, and from a biological mechanism we understand how this works. I call it stress aging."
        Stress affects our ability to fall asleep and stay asleep, which can take a toll on our skin as well, said sleep specialist Dr. Raj Dasgupta, an assistant professor of clinical medicine at the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California.
          He points to a 2010 study on the effects of sleep deprivation on facial features, which found "people who were sleep deprived had swollen eyelids and those dark circles under the eyes and they looked like they had more wrinkles."
          Chronic pressure means high levels of the stress hormone cortisol are flooding the body, which inhibits collagen and hyaluronic acid production in the skin, Bowe explained.
          "Collagen is the scaffold of the skin that prevents fine lines and wrinkles, and hyaluronic acid keeps the skin plump, so the loss of these can really impact your looks," Bowe said.
          In addition, stress has been shown to cause disruptions in proper functioning of the skin barrier, leading to increased water loss and "increased exfoliation and dryness and wrinkle formation," said Dr. Marie Jhin, a spokesperson for the American Academy of Dermatology.
          The rush to fix these signs of aging are keeping many dermatologists working overtime.
          "Yes! I'm seeing an influx of patients coming in after Covid stress and fatigue," said Jhin, adding that she's seen many cases of eczema, hair loss and acne from stress over the last year.
          "I've never seen the demand this high," Bowe said. "I can't keep up. My existing patients are coming much more frequently than they did before, specifically because they feel like they are aging."

          What to do?

          An important way to take care of aging or sensitive skin during the pandemic is to alternate between "active nights and recovery nights" with your skin care products, Bowe said.
          On one night, use anti-aging solutions such as retinoids, alpha hydroxy acid or glycolic acid -- whether prescription or over-the-counter -- then skip a night or two, depending on the dryness of your skin.
          "What I recommend doing is cycling through your skin care," Bowe said. "You don't want to further compromise your skin barrier by using irritating ingredients every night."
          Recovery nights are used to pamper the skin, "using ingredients like glycerin, sunflower seed oil, jojoba oil or squalane" -- which is a hydrogenated version of squalene, a compound produced naturally by our sebaceous glands, Bowe said.
          "You are using nourishing, moisturizing ingredients that are going to repair the skin barrier, support the skin's microbiome and restore a healthy pH to the skin," Bowe said.

          Stop your skin from further aging

          Additional creams, serums and fillers are all options at the dermatology office, but the best way to keep your skin from further aging is to address your stress, say experts -- along with any bad habits you've developed during the pandemic, such as poor eating habits, inadequate sleep or a lack of exercise.
          Watch your diet, especially your sugar intake. Many of us are "stress eating, turning to sugar and processed carbs, which unfortunately can damage the skin's collagen over time through a process called glycation," Katta said.