“I have so much work to do!!”
You’re growling to yourself as you hurry down the sidewalk to your car. Suddenly you trip over absolutely nothing. Thankfully, you catch yourself before you crash to the ground – but your cheeks still turn bright red in embarrassment. While your ego may get bruised, it’s your skin that feels the effects.
You’ve heard of the mind-body connection, but what about the mind-skin connection? Your mind and skin share a unique relationship. It happens when your cheeks flush red due to embarrassment, and it also happens when you have an acne breakout while stressed. In the scenario above, you get a one-two punch (embarrassment and stressing out over work). In essence, the skin can reflect what the mind is feeling, yet cause and effect may not be exclusive to either one.
Recent research has shown that the mind-skin connection has caused a considerable amount of people to have worsened or triggered skin conditions due to stress or other psychological factors. With this in mind, we shouldn’t be complacent in thinking that skincare ends with creams or complicated daily routines. In fact, when skin conditions don’t work with conventional treatments, it may pay to combine and complement these treatments with psychological strategies.
When Your Skin Goes ‘Psycho’
Psychodermatology is “the interaction between mind and skin.” It tells us that we need to realize that emotional and psychological factors may be involved in a person’s skin condition. Psychological factors can also affect the way a person’s skin condition reacts to treatment. Psychodermatology experts assist their patients with ways to manage the emotional aspect of their skin conditions in the hopes of improving them.
The skin possesses a wide network of nerve endings, which make communication with the brain possible. Neurotransmitters – or chemical messengers – allow the nervous system to influence the skin’s immune cells. Thus, certain kinds of psychological stress could affect or prevent the skin’s natural ability to heal. In one study, researchers observed that less stress could prevent lapses in healing and recovery.
Stress affects skin by increasing the production of a hormone called cortisol. In a previous article, we touched upon how it could lead to accelerated skin aging, acne breakouts, and aggravated skin conditions like eczema. These are psychodermatologic disorders that have a physiological basis but are exacerbated by stress or other psychological factors.
Psychodermatologic disorders can fall under two more categories: primary psychiatric and secondary psychiatric. Skin disorders that debilitate self-esteem, cause depression or anxiety, and even lower the quality of someone’s life fall under secondary psychiatric. In most cases, cause is associated with the skin problem, and the effect is psychological. But the cause and effect are generally hard to distinguish from one another.
Skin problems that are symptoms of psychiatric disorders, such as chronic hair-pulling and self-inflicted skin damage, are categorized under primary psychiatric. Psychiatric medication and even psychotherapy may be necessary to address these problems, while a dermatologist may assist in treating the skin symptoms.
Healthy Mind, Healthy Skin
From what we’ve discussed so far, realizing the connection is only half the battle. While medical and conventional treatments are important to address, the emotional factors of certain skin conditions need to be addressed to promote the effectiveness of treatment and even healing. Psychodermatology experts often recommend the use of hypnosis and psychotherapy.
Hypnosis is the state in which an individual has achieved heightened concentration and reduced peripheral awareness. While it is most commonly associated with stage performances or helping someone quit smoking, it’s also an effective tool for improving physiological functions, which could lead to an improvement in certain skin disorders. In a study, adults and children who suffered from resistant atopic dermatitis experienced almost immediate improvement when treated with hypnotherapy. Hypnosis can be practiced alone by simply relaxation, breathing techniques, and also meditation.
When it comes to more difficult skin problems, treating them psychotherapeutically could be suggested. For example, a patient along with the therapist can work together in realigning thought patterns to minimize stress and prevent retarding healing. This is what’s known as cognitive behavioral therapy, which is good for both mind and skin.
The psychological aspects of skin are often overlooked and ignored. While conventional treatment is primarily important, it can be made more effective when coupled with proper care for one’s mental health. However, it’s also important to know a person should seek treatment first before looking to the emotional aspect. Remember, psychodermatology is not meant to replace treatment but to simply complement it.