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Does Thinking Your Way To Good Skin — Actually Work?

Psychodermatology is the emerging field taking a more holistic approach to treating your skin-care concerns, but can meditation and gratitude journaling really improve your skin? We ask the experts.

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Roald Dahl once wrote, “If you have good thoughts they will shine out of your face like sunshine and you will always look lovely.” It’s no surprise that this quote from the classic '80s book The Twits keeps appearing in our Instagram feeds. Thanks to the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, we are prioritising our mental health way more than ever and empowering affirmations like this one are helping us muddle through stressful days. Positive thinking, meditation, manifesting, gratitude journaling — these are all mindfulness practices that are becoming increasingly popular in every aspect of our lives. And now, they are even creeping into our skin-care routines too. You only have to scroll through TikTok to spot the rising trend of influencers using manifestation techniques in their bathrooms — the hashtag #manifestclearskin has over 15 million views.
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But what do the experts think? Can a less stressed, more peaceful mind really help your skin glow? And even treat more serious concerns like eczema and acne, too? A growing number of doctors called psychodermatologists believe so.
Psychodermatology, the new buzzword in beauty is setting both the science and skin-care world alight. This is a practice that treats skin concerns via a mental health perspective, not just a cellular one. Scientifically, the concept makes total sense. Especially when you consider that the skin and brain are developed from the same cell embryonically. Think about it. Why do we blush when we get embarrassed? Or get goosebumps when we are scared? Stressful situations like these clearly cause a reaction in our skin. And the implications can manifest into more severe, long-term conditions like psoriasis and eczema too.
Illustrated By Suchet Inuthai
This is why psychodermatologists treat stress-related conditions like these, not just with pills, but by encouraging their patients to use more psychological therapies like meditation and mindfulness too. Often armed with dual degrees in dermatology and psychiatry, a psychodermatologist use these techniques to help patients suffering with more obsessive skin-care disorders (like dermatillomania aka the ‘skin picking disorder’) too.
While it’s a relatively common practice in Europe, South America, and Japan, psychodermatology is still quite niche in the United States, so getting an appointment with an expert might be tricky. According to the Association for Psychocutaneous Medicine of North America, you can find established practices in only six US cities: California, Michigan, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, which is surprising, as studies into the field have been going on for over thirty years.
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America’s hesitancy into developing this more holistic dermatological approach is most likely due to the way our medical system works. New York-based psychodermatologist Dr. Francisco Tausk believes this is due to our overall health system's focus "on medicine as a business, seeing many patients in a short time, and focusing mainly on pharmacological interventions." But while medical groups may be hesitant to invest, skin-care companies are implementing strategies that fully support the findings of psychodermatology and marketing their brands accordingly. And experts believe this sudden interest is largely a result of the mental health crisis that followed the pandemic.
Kat Bryce, the founder of LOUM Beauty, a new skin-care brand inspired by the science behind psychodermatology, explains: “Following COVID, we've seen a second pandemic in mental health and all of us have been affected by stress more than ever before which has unavoidably shown up in our skin. So, as the discussion around mental health continues to grow, we expect to see many more brands enter this space.”
Illustrated By Suchet Inuthai
It appears the link between stress and the state of our skin is something the beauty industry is already hyped up about. And it’s no wonder — the implications that stress has on our skin are universal. It is something that will affect us all at some point in our lives, pandemic or not. But where can we sign up for time with a psychodermatologist? With the lack of available expertise, not to mention the cost of an appointment, how can we blend this new science into our everyday routines? Skin-care companies are exploring ways.
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Take the Slow beauty movement that encourages the introduction of more mindful rituals of psychodermatology into our routines. It’s a concept not only supported by many studies but encouraged by brands and experts too. Emily Weiss, founder of global beauty brand Glossier, attributes practices like meditation and gratitude journaling to her glowing skin while Keys Soulcare, a "clean" beauty brand created by singer Alicia Keys, is one of many emerging skin-care lines that encourages the use of slower beauty rituals alongside more traditional skin-care regimes. Inspired by her lifelong struggles with acne, Alicia’s “soul-nurturing rituals” use sensory products like candles, face rollers, and oils to fulfill mindful nourishment while simultaneously improving the condition of our skin. Even beauty apps are centring their strategies around the practice. Murad skincare has an app that sends out daily affirmations to users to complement the skin-care benefits of their product range, while the LoveMySkin app mixes more traditional skin diagnosis quizzes with affirmation tools and meditation tips to help users manage their skin concerns.
LOUM Beauty taps into the psychodermatology trend with a more scientific approach. Supported by 30 years of clinical studies, their products harness the benefits of nature’s most potent stress relievers like Neurophroline, an ingredient derived from Wild Indigo which have been found to help treat stress-related skin conditions by lowering cortisol levels in the skin. “Three stress hormones: adrenaline, cortisol and Substance P, are actually responsible for nine of the top ten skin concerns,” explains Dr Tausk, “so [in this case] by lowering Cortisol levels we can reduce the rate at which skin ages, so reducing wrinkles and loss of elasticity.”
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While recognising that other factors, like diet, environment genetics, and reproductive hormones also influence the way our skin behaves, consultant dermatologists like Dr. Justine Kluk agree with this notion. “Stress hormones, such as cortisol, are one of these factors [and] it is important to acknowledge that stress certainly can contribute to skin disease, and that taking measures to address stress, and poor emotional or mental health, is a valuable and necessary part of treating a skin disorder effectively.”
In fact, Dr. Kluk, who has a practice in London’s famous medical hotspot, Harley Street, fully supports the psychodermatology movement. “A vital part of caring for people with skin disorders in a holistic way goes hand in hand with traditional dermatology services,” she explains. “Taking measures to address stress, and poor emotional or mental health, is a valuable and necessary part of treating a skin disorder effectively and while this approach has been severely lacking in the past, I am very pleased to see that the offering is improving in many areas to address a massive unmet need.”
So with the experts on board, and the scientific data overwhelmingly robust, the benefits of psychodermatology are finally being recognised. It’s time to think more positively about your pores — it’s clear your skin will thank you for it.

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