Can meditation, yoga and other mind-body modalities improve the skin? Introducing: Mind-Body Skincare.
We’ve all seen the meme online that reads, “If speaking kindly to plants helps them grow, imagine what speaking kindly to humans can do.” (Unknown)
Psychodermatology, the field of study that addresses the interactions between the mind and the skin, would take that concept one step further.
“The skin and nervous system are formed from the same basic stem-cell tissue during embryonic development and continue to have an intricate connection throughout life,” says Ilya Reyter, MD, medical director of the American Skin Institute in Los Angeles. “Almost every skin condition is influenced by interactions with the nervous system. From acne to psoriasis to eczema and even skin cancer and viral infections like herpes simplex, skin conditions have been proven to worsen with increased psychological stress.”
Dr. Reyter likes to make the point to his patients that “stress likely didn’t cause their skin conditions, but only acted to worsen them. For instance, a person may have a genetic predisposition to psoriasis or eczema, and may get some light outbreaks from time to time. Place that person under severe stress, say a new job, divorce or other stressful life event, and the skin condition may severely flare.”
According to a 2001 article on the American Academy of Family Physicians website AAFP.org written by John Koo, MD, and Andrew Lebwohl, of the University of California, San Francisco, Medical Center/School of Medicine, most psychodermatologic disorders can be treated with anxiety-decreasing techniques or, in extreme cases, psychotropic medications.
"Acupuncture, craniosacral therapy, massage and forest bathing are among the myriad modalities recommended by doctors who practice psychodermatology."
Psychologist Shana A. Kale, LMFT, has a similar take. “Treatment would be akin to treating other mental health disorders with depressive/anxious elements including cognitive behavioral therapy and relaxation techniques.”
Yoga and meditation are two popular stress-reducing activities that a dermatologist might recommend for those patients experiencing an acute flare-up or outbreak. A Harvard Medical School Newsletter article from 2006 suggests evidence that hypnosis and psychotherapy can have a positive impact on skin problems from warts to hair loss to atopic dermatitis. Acupuncture, craniosacral therapy, massage and forest bathing are among the other myriad modalities recommended for the relief of psychodermatologic issues.
We break down the basics of psychodermatology and some things you can do at home on your own to start seeing some of the benefits that a lower stress level can have on your skin.
How does Psychodermatology work?
Psychodermatology is a very specialized area of medicine that combines dermatology and psychology to create a more holistic view of why we get skin irritations in the first place. Instead of just looking at skin, psychodermatology takes into account the whole person beneath it, determining whether a stressful life event or change could have contributed to a flare-up. The healing method will take into account not just the skin condition itself, but also how lowering stress could help a patient see even better results.
What does it do?
Psychodermatology doesn’t just treat the skin condition. A psychodermatologic treatment approach will combine typical dermatologic methods such as over-the-counter ointments and creams or prescription drugs, if needed, and combine them with a recommendation for another healing modality that looks for the root cause of the flare-up or the exacerbating factor, and seeks to alleviate it with relaxation techniques and modalities that lower stress. Says Dr. Reyter, “I make sure I am clear with patients that stress most likely did not cause their skin disease and stress reduction will not fully cure the condition, but it can significantly help to control it, and may substantially reduce the need for prescription medications.”
What can I do at home?
Meditation is probably the easiest method to adopt right away for your mind-body skincare routine. You can meditate on your own with no tools, or use an app like Insight Timer to help get you started. Yoga is another readily available option, using an at-home video or finding a local class or teacher to guide you.
Another way to approach psychodermatology is by finding a healing modality that both improves skin appearance and aids in relaxation at the same time. Gua Sha (see below) is an increasingly popular practice that addresses both of these concerns in one.
Extra stress reduction is absolutely beneficial to your body and mind, and adding some yoga into your life or taking up meditation for a few minutes a day is never going to be a bad thing. And if you notice fewer breakouts and flare-ups, even better.
BENEFITS OF GUA SHA
We love Sandra Lanshin’s tutorial videos and tools for a relaxing and healing Gua Sha practice at home, which involves scraping a flat jade or rose quartz stone over the skin in upward strokes. “I think of Facial Gua Sha as a ‘triple threat,’” says Lanshin, acupuncturist and Traditional Chinese Medicine herbalist. “Using proper technique, Facial Gua Sha unlocks three major benefits: beauty, health and meditation/relaxation.”
Facial Gua Sha can positively affect the appearance of your skin and facial features. Results include improved skin texture, features that look and feel sculpted or “lifted,” and bringing your inner radiance out.
Facial Gua Sha helps release excess tension in muscles and face/neck tissue. It also aids circulation of blood, fluids and qi (a concept in Traditional Chinese Medicine embracing the flow of subtle energies important to healthy physiological function), and powerfully improves radiance and glow on the outside!
As you practice Facial Gua Sha, you’ll notice your body begins to relax. While it’s primarily a skincare ritual, the slow, repetitive, almost rhythmic nature of the specific technique allows you to connect with your senses on a deeper level. It grounds you in your physical body and increases self-awareness. Mind-Body Skincare. Mind-Body Skincare.