Is Mercury retrograde the reason for breakouts and pimples?

can mercury retrograde mess with your skin
Is Mercury retrograde messing with your skin?Getty Images

Do you often find yourself citing Mercury retrograde as an explanation for all the things going wrong in your life? Like a delayed train, a miscommunication with your partner or even *that* unexpected breakout? Well, same, because when all else fails, just blame the universe... Right?

Like many teens growing up in the 00s, I developed a fascination with astrology at an early age, critiquing (and heavily relating to, may I add) my birth chart that came via every glossy magazine (read: Cosmo, of course). However, unlike my emo phase, it's a fascination that's carried through to adulthood. One very first date, I'll find myself asking, 'So, what's your star sign?' (Sure, they often scowl and retreat with 'the ick', but I'm unphased, TBH...)

And as far as I know, when it comes to Mercury retrograde, it's not just a me – or Zillenial – thing. In fact, it's so far-reaching it's hard to ignore. Every few months, my social media timelines are filled with folks speculating on the power of the planets. Like in April, when Taylor Swift branded an injury on tour Mercury in retrograde coded'. She's not the only singer to defer to its powers, either – way back in 2013, Katy Perry lyricised,'Is Mercury in retrograde, or is that the excuse that I've always made?'

mercury retrograde skincare
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If you've not been keeping up-to-date with us zodiac girlies, let me fill you in. Mercury retrograde is the gremlin season of astrology, occurring several times a year for a few weeks at a time. 'From our vantage point on Earth, Mercury looks like it's spinning backwards. But it's an optical illusion caused byorbital speed,' says Kerry Ward, a psychic and astrologist, also known as TarotBella. She adds, 'Cosmically, this reverses Mercury's powers – in commerce, travel, technology and communication - so, expect setbacks in relation to all. Yikes.

Astrological beliefs, such as Leo's self-centred, drama-adoring and performative traits (it's me, hi, I'm the problem, it's me) for example, are often widely disputed, and Mercury retrograde has long been touted as based in pseudoscience. It's like the astrological version of a pumpkin spice latte – kind of basic, but we love it anyway, if only to help us feel like we have the answers to all our troubles.

'The skin and brain are more linked than we ever imagined'

Let's take spots, for example. I, for one, am prone to a breakout every once in a while and have tracked a recurrence of blemishes in the time of retrograde. Not to mention an out-of-the-blue diagnosis of contact dermatitis during one, too. Coincidence? I think not. After all, the planets seem to be wreaking havoc on just about everything else.

So, to prepare for the next upheaval, and with the help of experts, I took it upon myself to dig deep into the relationship between retrograde and the skin.

When is Mercury retrograde?

The dates change every year, due to the fact 365 days (or 364 days in a leap year) doesn't divide exactly into 88 days – the amount of time it takes Mercury to go around the sun. For 2023, the Mercury in retrograde dates are as follows:

  • 21 April to 14 May in Taurus

  • 23 August to 15 September in Virgo

  • 13 December to 1 January, 2024 in Sagittarius

The complexion eclipse

Spots and blemishes can crop up thanks to a number of reasons. Maybe you haven't downed enough water (guilty as charged), your period's due or your skin is hating a new serum. Causes seem endless, but I never thought that Mercury would end up on the list. Astro-manifesting coach, Dalila Salgueiro convinced me it's legit. 'Mercury's slow transit can result in a lack of moisture and glow in the skin; plus, if it's also a full moon, you may suffer from liquid retention,' she believes. Together, these will have a big impact on our lifestyle and beauty routines. But rather than worry about the life being zapped from your skin, Salgueiro advises taking the time to 'plant the seed' of a better skincare routine.

Given that retrograde can cause untold mishaps and setbacks to occur for up to weeks at a time, it's no surprise that stress will crop up at some point, too – a terror for our skin. As Ward explains, Mercury retrograde can up the ante in terms of stress and pressure, which we know shows up on your complexion as breakouts, dark circles or puffiness under the eyes, and tired, dull-looking skin.'

The skin-Mercury axis

Not convinced? Well, friends, here comes the science. Enter: Bella von Nesselrode, member of the Complementary Medical Association and founder of Children of Earth Skincare. 'The skin-brain connection is called psychodermatology,' explains von Nesselrode. 'We understand the link between the gut and the brain, but an increasing body of research is telling us that the skin and the brain are more linked than we ever imagined, through a series of neurotransmitters that respond to our mental state. So. if our brain is knocked sideways by the retrograde, of course, our skin will be impacted as well.'

Consultant dermatologist Alia Ahmed, who practises psychodermatology on her patients, agrees. "The brain has a stress-activated pathway that causes the release of chemicals and hormones that drive inflammation both in the body and the skin,' she explains. Feelings of emotional distress are interpreted by the brain and lead to the release of a stress hormone [cortisol] from the adrenals. Cortisol is known to affect the immune system [which makes the skin less able to defend itself], drive allergic responses, delay healing and disrupt the skin's natural barrier,' Dr Ahmed says.

So, in essence, it's all one big chain reaction. Mercury retrograde = chaos = stress = breakouts. Got it?

mercury retrograde skincare
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Throwing retroshade

And as if that's not enough skin aggro to wrap your head around, now we all need to acquaint ourselves with the term 'retroshade'. This refers to the two-week period before - and after – the actual retrograde and, depending on the planets involved (there can be more than one), it could affect the skin. 'During retrograde and retroshade periods, there's always a story or a theme with another planet,' Ward explains. I hope you're keeping up...

Let's take Venus – named after the Roman goddess of love and beauty (a crucial factor here). When the planet is paired with Mercury in retrograde, Venus can pose a challenge to our epidermis. 'When Venus moves forwards, it'll heal skin problems,' says Lisa Stardust, an astrologer, tarot card reader and life coach. 'But when it's in retrograde, the erratic behaviour will bring under lying pre-existing issues to the surface, such as eczema or psoriasis flare-ups if you're prone to them,' Stardust says.

So, that's settled then, my quest to flesh out a foolproof retrograde routine is not in vain after all.

The retrograde remedy

So, to recap, although any planets can overlap in retrograde, Mercury and Venus doing so makes for a particularly tricky time. And having acne problems of my own to contend with, I'm always down for an amped-up skincare routine.

Taking into consideration all the retrograde research, I sought out Angie Chalmers, a mindfulness expert who incorporates the cycles of the moon into her own routine, along with skin- and mood-boosting rituals. With a little bit of reframing, you can turn retrograde into a time for deep reflection and soul-soothing skincare, she tells me. Yes, flipping the narrative could work – indulging in my feels and my skincare regimen. A duo I can get on board with.

My Mercury retrograde survival kit

During retroshade, I got into smudging - lighting a sage stick (like these ones from Psychic Sisters, £6.95) to purify and protect my space from negative energy and up to 94% of airborne bacteria. When smudging, I focused on my bathroom, dress in a table and other beauty spaces.

Chalmers advises using a soothing cleanser to gently treat skin issues, such as sensitivity and breakouts. My go-to is Cetaphil Gentle Skin Cleanser, £10 - it's great for breakout-prone skin, especially during retrograde when we must rely on foolproof staples in our skincare routine.

Next up, hydration - which the experts all agreed on. I'm not the best at keeping up with my daily fluid intake, but knew I'd be able to add a hydrating serum into my routine. I opted for Eucerin Hyaluron-Filler Anti-Ageing Moisture Booster Face Serum With Hyaluronic Acid, £18.75, as it reacts well with my skin.

Now, the one we've all been waiting for: a crystal roller, duh! resurrected my 2020 obsession with the Psychic Sisters Rose Quartz Gua Sha Facial Wand, £24.95. As Chalmers tells me, not only does this stone stimulate lymphatic drainage, but it also helps calm the mind and soothe the soul.

The final step to any routine: moisturiser and SPF. Chalmers explains that adding a protective shield or aver to the skin can keep out negative influences and energy. This Skin + Me Daily Defence Oil-Free SPF50 Sunscreen, £19.99, is just what I needed to keep my skin-brain axis in check.

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