It is well-known that stress can wreak havoc on the skin. In fact, the connection is so often made that there is a name for the field: psychodermatology.
Dermatologists have found that many skin care clients have psychological troubles that correlate with skin problems, and this sometimes makes it difficult for standard treatments to work. In fact, while some people may have skin improvements with use of antibiotics, anti-inflammatory drugs, or topical ointments, those with emotional health issues may not experience complete recovery until both the psychological issue and the skin issue are resolved.
In the aesthetic world, skin conditions that become worse with stress are well-known and include acne, eczema, dermatitis, itching, herpes, psoriasis, rosacea, hives, and warts. Many of these skin conditions can cause difficult emotions, such as embarrassment, low self-esteem, and additional stress, creating a difficult cycle to break. In 2014, the National Rosacea Society surveyed 1,675 patients with rosacea. 90 percent of respondents reported lowered self-esteem and self-confidence, 54 percent reported anxiety and helplessness, and 43 percent reported depression. More than half said they avoided face-to-face contact.1
“The skin seems to have a unique ability to both respond to our emotions and stir up our emotions,” said Ted Grossbart, M.D., and author of, “Skin Deep: A Mind-Body Program for Healthy Skin.” “It’s the one suit that we wear all the time, but we change it to fit our moods as much as anything else we wear.”
Mindfulness may help clear skin
The brain and nervous system influence the skin’s immune cells. Studies have shown that patients who were less stressed before surgery had higher levels of healing immune cells in their skin, experienced less pain after the operation, and enjoyed shorter recoveries.2 Individuals under chronic stress, on the other hand, may fall victim to skin diseases because the stress disrupts the outer layer, making the skin more vulnerable to assaults from bacteria, viruses, fungi, and pollution.
Today, doctors are finding that hypnosis and mind-body techniques, like relaxation and meditation, could hold the key to clear skin for many people. When dermatologists suspect a strong mind-skin connection, they may recommend additional treatments, including anti-depressants, mind-body techniques, meditation, hypnosis, and focused breathing. In some studies, hypnosis was found to help reduce stress and anxiety, taming inflammation, controlling itching, speeding healing, and even shrinking warts.
Standard psychotherapy has also been found to be helpful. Patients learn how their emotions are affecting their skin and how those emotions can actually “speak through the skin,” giving them important clues as to how they are feeling or adapting.
The bottom line is, while research is still inconclusive, psychological approaches, including mind-body techniques, appear to be helpful when it comes to full recovery from difficult skin conditions.
1 Causes of Rosacea: Innate Immune System. Retrieved from https://www.rosacea.org/patients/causes/immunesystem
2 Gouin, J., & Kiecolt-Glaser, J. K. (2011, February). The Impact of Psychological Stress on Wound Healing: Methods and Mechanisms. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3052954/