Ask any mother of young children about the link between emotional well-being and skin health, and she is bound to have a personal experience to share.
The skin is fully visible at all times, showing every rash, pimple, and bruise that comes its way. The psyche, on the other hand, is a more complex and hidden web of factors, swayed by everything from day to day anxieties to deep emotional issues. However, the wellbeing of both is more closely intertwined than you might think.
While conventional wisdom says that beauty is only skin deep, skin is actually deeply affected by the mind. Psychodermatology studies the link between these two to improve your health and appearance.
Here are three psychological issues that, according to psychodermatologists, have the biggest impact on skin health.
1. High stress levels
The skin, also called the epidermis, is the largest human organ, and like any other organ, stress can lead to serious damage.
The two key chemical components of stress are cortisol and adrenaline. Adrenaline increases heart rates and energy levels, while cortisol raises blood sugar levels and triggers a system that helps to repair damaged tissues after injury. Essentially, the chemicals released reflect the reality of our ancestors, generating a short-term boost to the body meant to avoid or confront a physical challenge.
In our modern lives, however, stress can persist for days or weeks even when no physical threat is present. Adrenaline and cortisol are poor responses to long-term stressors as they typically do little to solve them, while also causing a number of health and cosmetic concerns.
Your body can only be in overdrive for so long before it starts to take a toll on you. Cortisol can only do what it does by diverting resources away from systems that would not be helpful in short-term confrontations, like your immune system. Adrenaline may also increase the skin’s production of oil. When combined, these factors have been linked to issues like acne, cold sores, and a higher chance of rashes. Studies have even shown that long term overexposure to stress hormones can cause fertility issues in women and chromosomal abnormalities in their egg cells’ DNA.
In addition to the damage directly linked to these chemicals, long periods of stress often result in bad eating habits, neglecting personal hygiene, sleep deprivation, and even depression, all of which can worsen the skin concerns caused by stress or cause their own dermatological issues that even the best vegan skincare can’t solve.
Managing stress can mean reducing your workload, using meditation to refocus your mind, exercising to help expend surplus energy, or a number of other healthy techniques.
2. Sleep deprivation
Burning the midnight oil or having a hard time falling asleep from time to time should not cause any serious skin issues. However, not sleeping enough on a regular basis can impact your teen’s well-being and lead to a number of serious health concerns.
Eyebags are the prime example of issues caused by lack of sleep. Studies have found that getting 6 hours of sleep for five consecutive nights can as much as double the number of undereye wrinkles on a person who normally gets enough sleep. These issues can be reversed to a degree, depending on the frequency of sleep deprivation, but consistently lacking sleep invariably leads to premature skin aging.
Sleep deprivation has also been linked to other cosmetic problems like hair thinning and dark eye circles. Improper rest can also lead to poor diet and stress, both of which damage skin and cause acne flare-ups.
Not getting enough sleep is an extremely common issue in the US, with one in every three adults regularly getting less than 7 hours of sleep. It is important to sleep enough to feel well rested and alert throughout the day. For most teens, this means getting between 8 and 10 hours of quality sleep.
Chronically feeling tired even when sleeping a sufficient amount could be the result of poor sleeping conditions or a bad pre-sleep routine. It may also be the result of medical issues like sleep apnea which require medical care.
3. Postpartum Depression
Hormonal imbalances, sleep deprivation, extended periods of stress — postpartum depression is a multifactorial condition. As we have seen, these issues can cause skin problems like acne and eczema, which in turn can have a serious impact on a person’s self-image.
This leads to a vicious cycle where skin problems have the potential to cause or worsen depression, and depression causes or worsens skin problems. In fact, a 2018 study found that young women and teenagers with acne are more likely to experience serious clinical depression than those without acne.
The bottom line? Speaking with a trusted friend or family member can help in difficult times, but seeking professional help is highly recommended when experiencing chronic skin conditions that are linked to mental health issues.