For decades people have sworn that there is a connection between the state of mind and skin condition, but it’s only recently that science has found enough evidence to agree. Psychodermatology is a fairly new discipline that aims to explore and understand the physiological effects of stress and mental health conditions such as anxiety or depression on skin condition.
There is always a lot of talk about how stress or declining mental health can affect the skin, but many people don’t mention that it’s not a one-way street. While stress does affect the condition of your skin, there are ways that you can tackle this by managing and improving your skin-mind connection.
Before looking into how to manage and improve the connection, it is a good idea to understand the connection. There is no physical connection between mental health and skin condition, but rather a chain of events that lead to mental health having an impact on your skin.
For example, psychodermatologists have found that when experiencing high-stress levels, the body releases cortisone and adrenaline. Cortisol has been found to increase the amount of sebum (oil) that your skin produces, which clogs your pores and leads to worsening skin texture and breakouts. It also contributes to the breaking down of collagen, leading to wrinkles developing faster.
Stress hormones are released for the entire period of poor mental health, whether that’s a few days or a few months, so it’s vital to nurture the mind-skin connection and take steps to minimise the damage that stress does to your skin.
One of the best ways to manage the skin-mind connection is to focus on the mind first of all. Limiting the amount of stress hormones that are released will limit the amount of damage that is done to your skin. Yes, limiting stress is easier said than done, but there are ways to experience stress without it overwhelming you.
A lot of people shrug off mindfulness, saying that they don’t want to meditate, but mindfulness is so much more than meditation alone, and studies have found that practising some form of mindfulness leads to a reduction in oxidative stress, which speeds up the skin’s ageing process.
Mindfulness can simply be about taking a few minutes to relax, take some deep breaths and focus on thoughts that make you happy. Instead of thinking about your to-do list, think about things you have to look forward to or tune into your senses in the present moment. What can you hear, smell, or feel right now?
Another incredibly powerful act of self-care is simply to set aside enough time to sleep. The temptation is always there to fill your day as much as possible, but getting a minimum of 7 hours of sleep should be a priority.
Studies have linked getting enough sleep with a reduction in the risk of developing depression, as well as an overall improved mood. Try to put your phone down at least an hour before bed and read or try colouring instead to relax before you sleep.
Focusing on basic self-care will help to reduce the effect that stress has on your skin and will also help to improve your mood. Simply by eating well, getting enough sleep, drinking water and exercising, you can improve the skin-mind connection.
If you find that you’re really struggling, then consider trying therapy, ideally with a registered psychodermatologist. Psychodermatologists offer a combination of talking therapy and traditional medicine.
The aim is to treat the skin condition, treat any underlying mental health conditions and focus on creating healthy coping mechanisms to improve the skin-mind connection and reduce the harmful effects of stress.
While improving your mental health is the best way to combat stress-related skin conditions, it’s also important to take care of the skin side of the connection. When you’re stressed, your skin produces more oil which can lead to clogged pores and breakouts, but you could also find yourself with eczema or hives as a result of stress.
Avoid any cleansers that strip the oil from your skin because this will prompt your skin to produce even more oil to replace what you removed. Instead, use a gentle cleanser and swap heavy moisturisers for something more lightweight in order to avoid further clogging your pores.
For more long-term stress, speaking to a dermatologist who can give advice on treatments, including medicated skincare like Obagi, can help. Medicated skincare routines are prescribed by a dermatologist and are designed to treat your specific skin concerns, giving you one less thing to worry about when going through stressful periods in life.