How psychodermatalogy works and the importance of the mind-skin linkIn his book, Skin Deep, psychologist Dr Ted Grossbart writes: Shut anger or sadness or frustration out the door and it comes through in the window, or often enough, through the body. Your heart attacks. Your asthma gasps. Your eczema weeps.
If were unable to process stress or emotion, it can show up in the form of acne, eczema, psoriasis, rosacea or even disorders such as dermatillomania, which manifests as repetitive and compulsive skin picking. This can affect our emotions and self-esteem. In fact, a study published in the British Journal of Dermatology found that those who suffered with acne were 63% more likelyto develop depression in the first year of being diagnosed.
The link between mind and skin has been known forcenturies, dating back as far as Hippocrates, says DrAlia Ahmed, a consultant dermatologist who runs apsychodermatology service at Eudelo Skin Clinic inVauxhall, London, and practises in the NHS.
Psychodermatology considers both the mind andthe skin together when seeing aperson with a skin problem. Andthese patients who Dr Ahmed seesare often facing a breadth of skinproblems and body dysmorphiadisorder, coupled with emotionaldistress.
Neuroscientist Dr Claudia Aguirre,who specialises in the mind-skin link,explains that our negative thoughts can affect the skin far more than we may realise. A term in psychologycalled rumination, which is whensomeone has a recurring stream ofnegative thoughts, can wreak havocon the skin.
This can hinder our healing, since it can leadto depressive thoughts or feelings of defeat about arecurring condition, she says. So, we can get stuck in anegative thought pattern, which is a form of stress andanxiety, and can maintain the body in an inflammatorystate this can even trigger or worsen inflammatory skinconditions like eczema and acne.
As a result, this stress can make the issue worse, and sothe viscous cycle begins. Feelings of emotional distresslead to the release of stress hormone cortisol, which isknown to affect the immune system (making theskin less able to defend itself), drive allergicresponses, delay healing and disrupt the skinsnatural barrier, she says. I believe addressing theinteraction between the brain,skin and mind is key toachieving healthy skin.
With the risingacknowledgement ofpsychodermatology andpopularity of mindfulness, theemphasis on the mind-skinlink is now trickling in to salonand spa treatments. Onepractitioner who is paving theway is Beata Aleksandrowicz,founder of the AleksandrowiczSystem. Her treatment Face Cure addresses theconnection to their clients appearance and theemotions that can be held in the face.
If there isa preponderance of negative emotions, themuscles will remain contracted, which will restrictthe flow of oxygen and nutrients to each cell andwill be manifested by a lack of radiance andtone, says Aleksandrowicz.
Combined with mindfulness and massage,her treatment focuses on the client reconnectingwith their facial appearance. I see so manyclients who are unhappy with their face.Many have had aesthetic treatments, so they dontalways know what they should look like anymore; in somecases they become disconnected with their face, shesays. It is as much about inner work on the conscious andsubconscious as outer work on the facial muscles and skin.
The skin can be a barometer for whats going onunderneath, and tapping in to this mind-skin link isbecoming increasingly important to deliver a tailoredtreatment. More clients are coming inwith stressed skin, whether that isredness, rosacea, eczema, psoriasis,or general extremes on the skin, saysKatie Light, a holistic wellness coachand facialist, who treats clients at hertreatment rooms in Brighton andKnightsbridge, London.
Light often sees these skin issues goinghand-in-hand with mental healthproblems. If people are having anxiety,panic attacks or depression, which I see a lot more of now, itaffects the skin, and everyone is supressing it because theythink its the norm; no one is dealing with it, she explains.
Itsnot just about applying things topically, its about looking ateverybodys lifestyle and where the anxiousness is comingfrom to treat the stress as well as the skin.
In her treatments, Light uses a range of techniques. I doaffirmations and visualisations that are personal to thatclient, so I would ask: How do you want to look? What isyour ideal? and we make that in to a storyboard or avisual board of something to aim for, she says.
Neurolinguistic programming (NLP) is another techniqueshe uses to treat her clients holistically, and betweensessions she will also set up homework for them so theyhave a toolbox of techniques to hand to keep both the skinand mind healthy.
Light says the initial consultation is vital to fullyunderstand her clients needs. Its an essentialpart of what I do to treat the physical, mental andemotional; whether its anxiety or eczema, they allneed to be treated from a whole wellbeingperspective, she says.
Similarly, holistic practitionerAlexandra Soveral alsoaddresses the mind-skin link inher facials and massages ather London clinic. Im a greatbeliever in self-healing formany skin conditions, and thiscomes from how we feel aboutourselves, says Soveral. Somany people come to medistressed about theirpersistent acne, irritated eczema or reoccurringrosacea, but seldom have they considered itscause to be laced within the interconnections ofthe various body systems.
Soveral says clients suffering with persistent acneand stress are a common example of this. They findsqueezing their spots a stress-release mechanismthats hard to give up, even when I explain thatuntil they stop the acne is unlikely to go away asthey are spreading the acne-causing bacteriaevery time they do it, she says. After squeezinga spot, the skin is inflamed and red and peopleoften feel guilty, which then adds more stress.
When treating a client, it can often be difficult toget them to open up, says Soveral. Many dontadmit to having emotional issues regardingtheir skin or appearance, and those that want to address it dont have the resources, support or the knowledge of how to approach such a problem, she says.
Therefore, creating an offering on your treatment menu to open up this dialogue is important, as is having the training to spot what the client may have going on. Holistic practitioners like me, and psychodermatologists, know the difference and can offer much-needed help and reassurance, she says.
Part of this is asking the right questions, says Light. There could be severe redness in the clients face and that may be due to cortisol levels, lack of sleep or what theyre putting on their skin topically, but until you start asking those questions and understanding what it is thats going on for that person, you cant get to theroot of that.
Encouraging clients to adopt self-care strategies is another way to improve the mind-skinlink between treatments. This can also be done by practising self-healing on a daily basis and essentially making sure to take good care of ourselves, saysSoveral. Taking action triggers positivity and has a domino effect on our emotions that eventually will benefit the skin.
A new app paving the way for this is Beautification, which offers guided meditations designed to be used in conjunction with a daily skincare routine. With the rising awareness of skin-mind connection, its been proven that only three to four minutes of meditation a day can help ease the tension and bring out physical beauty benefits, says chief executive and co-founder Heyyoung Kim.
Having a relaxing massage with a choice of three oils is not necessarily holistic, says Soveral. The treatment needs to be prescriptive to the client. Its important for salons and spas to understand that working with your client needs to go beyond the technical approach to the face and skin, agrees Aleksandrowicz.
Understand where the clients concern comes from and address them equally on a physical and emotional level. Advice should go beyond practical skincare suggestions to address the lifestyle, the emotional condition of the client and their ability to accept who they are.
Many brands offer training to help tap into the mind-skin link. A partof SBC skincare training is its 5 Phase Concept, which involves an in-depth conversation that includes reading the clients body language and employing methods to understand their emotional needs and establish trust.
Meanwhile, Sienna X skincare training includes Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT), a holistic healing method designed to treat both physical and emotional distress by tapping the face at specific pressure points. Energy alignment practices, such as Reiki, are another way to create a holistic offering for your clients.
For a spa to incorporate psychodermatology, it needsto invest in further training of its therapists, change its booking system to accommodate more time for each client, and extend the consultation period, says Soveral. Carving out time for these initial conversations is essential to truly understand the needs of the client.
I generally have a consultation with somebody on the phone first to find out a little bit more detail and then I will book them in according to what I think they might need, says Light. Theres a lot of detail that needs to come out at that point before I even get to the face.
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