Here at Content we see lots of people who are frustrated by ongoing skin conditions that they can’t seem to get under control. Over recent years, a field of medicine called Psychodermatology has emerged that explores the emotional and mental state of those that suffer from chronic skin conditions, with mind matters linked to acne, eczema, urticarial and psoriasis. If you feel as if you tried every lotion, potion and treatment only to find your eczema or acne flare-up again, this approach may offer an additional means of relief.
Ever wondered why you blush from embarrassment or get the chills when thoughts turn bad, or even perspire when nervous? These common physical manifestations of emotions are typical of the complex relationship between our mind, emotions, hormones and our largest organ, the skin.
In 2006 The Harvard Medical School Health Publication featured an article on the Mind, Skin Connection citing ‘…. although cause and effect can be difficult to pin down, considerable data suggests that at least in some people, stress and other psychological factors can activate or worsen certain skin conditions.’
Psychodermatology falls into three broad and overlapping areas.
- Psychophysiological – where a condition is generally triggered or exacerbated by stress and the emotional state. Conditions such as chronic acne, alopecia, eczema or dermatitis, psoriasis, rosacea and urticaria may have an emotional element linked to their presence.
- Secondary Psychiatric – where a disfiguring skin condition such as severe acne, psoriasis or vitiligo triggers a range of feelings from humiliation to depression and anxiety, eroding self-esteem.
- Primary Psychiatric – where a skin condition is actually a result of a psychiatric disorder, such as chronic hair-pulling, body dysmorphic disorder, and self-inflicted damage to the skin. These conditions may require psychotherapy, but are often first noticed by a dermatologist when treatment is sort for damage to the skin or scalp.
Although all variations fall under the ‘mind skin’ relationship the first may be the easiest to understand. One brand that is helping inspire those with sensitive skin and skin conditions to consider the mind skin connection is Pai Skincare. Delving into the science behind skin flare-ups and stress Pai Skincare have enlisted the expertise of London based Dr Alexandra Mizara, a Consultant Counselling Psychologist, working both in the NHS and private sector who specialises in the psychological management and wellbeing of people with psoriasis, acne, alopecia and is a keen advocate of integrating psychological care into ‘skin care’.
With an interest in helping clients to understand the physiological affect the mind has on the body, Dr Mizara cites the stress response and resulting release of cortisol in the body as a main contributor to a compromised immune system, leaving us more susceptible to illness, ‘defects in the neuro-endocrine response to stress, which is the chemical basis of communication between the mind and skin, are implicated in certain skin conditions. Stress causes the release of cortisol, which affects numerous body processes causing significant changes in our immune response and the skin.’
This connection is echoed in other forms of medicine. Laura Jones, a Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioner and skin specialist, often looks for emotional triggers such as stress or a distressing event around the time of the skin condition first appearing. ‘When trying to establish the cause of the skin condition, I look at what is happening in the person’s life around the time the condition started to manifest and also in the months leading up to it. I have treated many clients who having been through periods of extreme stress or other emotional trauma such as grief or shock and have suddenly developed a skin condition. My approach to treating these clients tends to be slightly different to treating someone where the cause is due to other factors, such as developing acne when coming off the contraceptive pill.’
So how can you start to understand your mind skin condition? Founder of Pai Skincare Sarah Brown, herself an Urticaria sufferer, suggests keeping a diary. ‘Write down what is happening in your life along with the condition of your skin. If your eczema flares-up when you are about to give a presentation at work or negotiating the sale of your house, it becomes more obvious that it may be linked to stress. Writing it down makes it easy to see if there are patterns forming which link your behaviour and emotional state to the condition of your skin.’
Laura Jones who also teaches meditation, suggests trying relaxation techniques such as breathing exercises, ‘….in Chinese Medicine the Lungs rule the skin. Regular practice of deep breathing exercises can strengthen your Lung function, helping you to let go of any emotions that you are holding on to (ever noticed how you sigh when frustrated, stressed or just plain relieved?) and, from a physiological perspective, that extra oxygen is extremely beneficial to all your tissues, especially the skin.’
Although, Psychodermatology shouldn’t replace your current medical treatment for a skin condition, it is definitely worth considering as part of your treatment and may just provide the missing link that helps you understand and manage flare-ups and ease the distress skin conditions can cause.
If you or a loved one suffers from a skin condition and would like some additional support, check out Changing Faces, a charity for people and families who are living with conditions, marks or scars that affect their appearance. www.changingfaces.org.uk