Understanding The Mind-Skin Connection
Unlike other organs, our skin is continually exposed to both external and internal stressors. External stress can be environmental or chemical such as temperature, humidity, sun exposure, and anything directly in contact with the skin. Internal stress can be related to hormones, our digestive system, toxic build up, and even emotions. More recently, attention has been given towards the “mind-skin connection” that focuses on the intertwined relationship between skin disorders and the brain.
This new field is being termed by experts as “psycho-dermatology” and is unique in that it emphasizes the impact of an individual’s emotion as it relates to the skin. This subject is of particular interest to me, as it promises a more well-rounded, holistic, or whole-body approach to treating skin diseases. Karen Mallin, Doctor of Psychology and instructor in the departments of psychiatry & behavioural sciences and dermatology & cutaneous surgery of the University of Miami/Jackson Memorial Hospital, states “dermatology is ready for a more integrated approach with other fields such as psychology, psychiatry, and even complementary medicine”.
A simple way of understanding the mind-skin connection begins with examining the network of nerve endings that connect the skin to our internal organs. So, as emotions are transmitted neurologically, they can manifest within the body affecting blood pressure or digestion for example, or they can be expressed outwardly through the skin with conditions like acne, eczema or psoriasis.
Listed below are 5 easy ways to de-stress and help your brain, body, and skin feel their best:
1. Drink water
Skin cells are around 65% water, so like all cells of the body, they require water to function optimally. Without enough water, we become dehydrated and are more prone to headaches, mood swings, irritability and fatigue. Insufficient water puts stress on nearly all aspects of our physiology: digestion, circulation, absorption and excretion struggle internally, and externally our skin becomes dry, flaky and tight. Drinking at least 2-3L of water spread out throughout each day will help to keep all of the bodies organs happy, including the skin.
It has been well documented that exercise releases endorphin, which acts as natural painkillers to boost mood and relieve stress. Exercise also increases whole body circulation and lymphatic drainage, which will improve blood flow and the movement of nutrients to the skin as well as increase the removal of toxins/waste products. Aim for 20-30 minutes of exercise at least 3 times per week, but if you are just starting out or getting back into it, even a 10-minute walk on your lunch break will help!
3. Drink herbal tea
There are too many benefits from all the different types of herbal teas to list here, but both the medicinal properties of the tea and the act of drinking it can help soothe stress, as many people find the ritual of making a cup of tea, steeping it and sipping it calming in itself. Green tea (Camellia sinensis) is well known for its nervous system stimulant and anti-cancer properties, but because it is full of antioxidants it is also able to combat the skin-damaging effects of sun-exposure by quenching UV light-induced free radical build-up before it causes collagen breakdown.
Essential oils can either be inhaled or used topically to help reduce stress and improve skin. Lavender (Lavandula sp.) essential oil is most commonly used to promote relaxation and sleep, but when applied to the skin in small amounts can also fade the appearance of sun spots and scarring by stimulating the regeneration of cells. Lemon (Citrus Limonum) essential oil is an invigorating scent that when applied topically to blemishes can help shrink and heal breakouts as it is astringent and antibacterial.
5. Breathing and Meditation
It is no mystery that fighting stress can be aided by breath-work and mindfulness meditation, but it can also be used to help break the cycle of skin related stress. We have all experienced a break out or skin flare-up at the most inconvenient time when we are already under a lot of pressure, which in turn causes further worry over our outward appearance. Attempting to put an end to this stress spiral with a few minutes of deep breathing or meditation each day can work wonders for your mood and your skin. If you are new to meditation, try out an app like “Calm”, “Headspace”, or “Meditainment” for guided meditation.
About the Author:
1) Karen Mallin, PsyD, instructor, University of Miami/Jackson Memorial Hospital, Miami. Shelley Sekula-Gibbs, MD, clinical assistant professor of dermatology, Baylor College of Medicine, Houston.
2) WebMD. (2003). The mind-skin connection. Retrieved from: www.webmd.com/beauty/features/effects-of-stress-on-your-skin
3) Lee, J. H., Chung, J. H., & Cho, K. H. (2005). The effects of epigallocatechin-3-gallate on extracellular matrix metabolism. Journal of dermatological science, 3, 195–204.
4) Mori, H. M., Kawanami, H., Kawahata, H., & Aoki, M. (2016). Wound healing potential of lavender oil by acceleration of granulation and wound contraction through induction of TGF-Î² in a rat model. BMC complementary and alternative medicine, 16: 144.