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Skin and Mental Health: Mind the Mind-Skin Connection

Ever wondered how your skin can affect your mental health? Anxiety, depression and obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) can all go hand in hand with skin conditions, either as a by-product of a skin issue or even as the catalyst for one. In our increasingly visual culture, the pressure to have perfect, flawless glass like skin mounts every day, as does misinformation about good skin health practices. There’s something of a cruel joke in the relationship between mental health and skin. The anxiety often caused by suffering with something like acne, rosacea or any other skin problem can in fact exacerbate the condition, thanks to the body’s inflammatory responses to stress such as producing cortisol or interrupting sleep patterns, eating habits and what not.

Anyone who has experienced hormonal acne knows that your skin can have an effect on your mental health; nothing in my teenage life was more stressful than a poorly timed breakout. So it seems plausible that the reverse could be true, and your emotions could also affect your skin. What I did not know until recently was that there was nothing to do about it besides complain, and apply copious amounts of expensive skin-soothing products.

Between a lack of information, and the increasing pressure from social media to appear 'perfect', it's no wonder we've created a world  where 'bad' skin is contributing to our mental health crisis. So why aren't we connecting the dots between our skin and our mental health? And, more importantly, how long can we ignore the psychological fallout from hating our faces?

What is the Mind/Skin Connection?

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Skin. It's where our inside meets the outside. A defense against the external world, but it's also a way to explore new sensations and  caress what we find desirable.

There's a connection between the mind and the skin. Emotions, in particular stress and anxiety, are not to be dismissed when it comes to treating the skin. Not only can they trigger or aggravate skin conditions, but they can actually affect a person so deeply that they are scarred for life. Chronic stress can interfere with the immune system, thus affecting the skin's ability to heal. Also, the skin's immune cells are influenced by the brain and nervous system through receptors and chemical messengers called Neuropeptides. When someone is going through a stressful period, molecules like cortisol are higher and cause inflammation. This inflammation can break down Collagen (causing wrinkles), cause pimples, flare eczema and psoriasis, and damage the skin’s barrier For many people who have acne, the skin disease affects more than their appearance. Acne can take a toll on one’s emotional health. People with acne can also develop:

i) Depression

ii) Anxiety

iii) Low self-esteem

iv) Poor self-image

v) Decreased quality of life

vi)  A feeling of being all alone

What is Psychodermatology?

Psychodermatology  is the interaction between mind and skin. The two disciplines are interconnected at the embryonal level through ectoderm. There is a complex interplay between skin and the neuroendocrine and immune systems. Skin responds to both endogenous and exogenous stimuli; it senses and integrates environmental cues and transmits intrinsic conditions to the outside world.We have this amazing mind-body connection between how we feel, how we think, and our skin. When we think about very basic psych issues — things like anxiety, stress, anger, depression — it turns out, that impacts our nervous system. If you’re somebody who is anxious, and you feel unsafe, the nervous system escalates, and that has a link to different skin issues. 

Our physical health and our emotional well-being are closely linked. It’s no surprise that the potential difficulties of living with a skin condition can take a toll on your state of mind. What is less understood is that stress, anxiety and emotional distress can manifest themselves on the skin, and can aggravate an existing condition.

How does Anxiety, Stress and Depression Affect the skin?

Skin issues that can definitely flare up as a result of stress and anxiety. Of course, there are the skin concerns you hear about daily – such as acne and eczema – and then there are those that are rooted in psychological distress and are less widely understood, such as skin picking and dysmorphia.

Put simply, tricky feelings go hand-in-hand with skin issues. Anxiety and Depression are well-known triggers of the stress response, which are linked to skin problems like acne, eczema, urticaria, psoriasis, rosacea and obsessive compulsive spectrum disorders. Other established links include itching (dermatological conditions associated with itching have higher reported levels of anxiety and lower quality of life), disease flares (especially psoriasis and eczema), hives, flushing and sweating. Anxiety is often expressed in emotional facial expressions, such as forehead furrows and eleven lines.

What other factors impact the mind-skin connection?

Of course, it works the other way round, too: stress causes skin disease and, equally, skin disease causes stress. Every blemish, dry patch and dark spot that appears on our skin has the potential to affect how we feel emotionally, with 50 percent of dermatology patients requiring psychological support to cope with their condition. This has arguably worsened due to social media and its myriad filters, which breed unrealistic expectations of what skin should look like in the first place. 

How can we break the cycle?

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1. Manage your environment

Create a positive environment, keeping favourite candles, scents, music or colours close by. People feel more satisfied and experience improved mental health if the surrounding conditions are well managed.

2. Self-dialogue

Keep a positive mantra to recite to yourself, especially at the times when you are feeling low. Try affirmative phrases such as: “I respect myself, I am worthy, I am unique, I will not give up.” Think about what you’re thankful for daily, and remind yourself of them periodically.

3. Get more sleep

Sleep at least eight hours a night to allow skin the time to repair itself. Read more about how sleep affects your skin here.

4. Banish negative influences

If you are noticing that something in your life is emotionally draining or making you feel low about yourself, begin the process of removing it if you can.

5. Stay hydrated

Drink at least two-and-a-half litres of fluid a day to reduce the effects of dehydration on the skin.

6. Invest in a facial tool

Consider gentle facial massage to improve circulation, lymphatic drainage and boost collagen production – it’s also a great method of relaxation. Try a gua sha tool, such as the Sublime Life’s Rose Quartz Gua Sha , to aid your massage movements.

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7. Don’t forget your diet

The interaction between the gut, brain and skin should not be forgotten when assessing skin health. The natural balance of the gut can be skewed by lifestyle factors and stress, which can in turn promote inflammation, which is implicated in skin conditions. Take some time to consider if your diet is working well for your body, incorporate some healthy choices and consider a probiotic supplement.


Skin diseases are not just a cosmetic issue; they are associated with a variety of psychological reactions that affect peoples’ level of functioning . An increased awareness about these disorders and a team approach to treatment lead to improved outcomes.

- Drishti Khurana

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