It’s no secret that our bodies are incredibly complex and intelligent beyond even modern science’s understanding. Two decades into the 21st-century, scientists continue to make important discoveries and are still learning the intricacies of how our bodies work.
For decades many people have sworn that there’s a link between stress and the condition of your skin, but it’s often been treated like an old wives tale. Many people simply dismiss it as not looking after yourself as well as normal when your mind is preoccupied.
However, over the past few decades, there have been a number of studies conducted in an effort to see if the link between skin condition and mental health is real. This led to the creation of a new discipline – psychodermatology.
Psychodermatology is quite literally the study of interactions between mind and skin. The discipline looks at the immune system and neuroendocrine system (the system responsible for hormone production and regulation) in order to try to understand how the connection works.
Despite being a relatively new area of study, the NHS currently suggests that certain psychological treatments can be helpful both for treating and learning to cope with different skin disorders, either alone or alongside conventional medicines.
The way that psychodermatology treatment differs from traditional psychological treatment is simply the area of focus. Traditional psychological treatments are often used to work through trauma or provide coping mechanisms for long-term conditions such as anxiety and depression.
Psychodermatology looks at skin disorders from a cognitive perspective and aims to provide coping mechanisms that specifically deal with anxieties around skin condition. Treatment could involve finding ways to break habits like scratching or picking, challenging beliefs around appearance and conventional attractiveness, and working on building up self-esteem, and potentially treating psychological distress factors like anxiety.
It’s long been understood that there is some link between stress and skin, but not exactly how that link works. Previous research into the effects of stress on the body as a whole has found that when your body is under what it views as distress, it releases cortisol and adrenalin (the stress hormones) into your nervous system.
This is what makes you feel on edge and jumpy, but psychodermatologists have also found that cortisol causes increased oil production in skin glands which leads to clogged pores and acne breakouts. The important thing to note is that this can happen during periods of acute stress and also as a result of more chronic stress.
As well as breakouts, stress is also often associated with a reduction in overall skin condition, which could result in tired and dull looking skin where pores are more visible, and skin texture appears less plump. In addition to this, it’s also quite common for people experiencing a lot of stress to develop eczema or see red bumps under the skin, called hives.
Frustratingly the best way to wave goodbye to stress-related skin issues is simply to limit the amount of stress in your life. It’s obvious, and it’s not a particularly helpful answer when sometimes there’s nothing you can do to avoid stress in your life. Luckily, there are a few things that you can try in order to limit the amount of visible damage that stress does to your skin.
The first one is again somewhat obvious, but something that you may need reminding of, and that’s simply to ensure you’re looking after your body as a whole.
When we’re busy or stressed, we tend to forget simple things like drinking enough water, or your balanced diet goes out of the window in favour of convenience. It’s understandable, and having a few not-so-healthy days isn’t going to make a huge difference, but looking after your body in the long run will help your skin to look its best, even when you’re stressed.
It’s also vitally important that you’re using good quality skincare, especially when you’re stressed. It may be tempting to go for a product that targets oily skin, but this actually strips your skin and prompts the production of even more oil. Instead, choose a gentle cleanser and light moisturiser to nourish your skin without weighing it down – heavy moisturisers can help the oil to clog your pores even more.
If you’re going through a prolonged period of stress then consider speaking to a dermatologist about choosing the best skincare for you – a medicated skincare product like Obagi will go a long way to mitigating the effects of stress on your skin.
Ultimately, stress will affect how your skin looks and feels, but taking care of yourself and choosing good quality skincare can help mitigate the effects, helping you look and feel better while navigating life’s challenges.