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3 Ways to link Skin and Mental Health: From Acne to Rosacea and Skin-Ageing (Plus your Skin-Mental Health Toolkit)

It’s Mental Health Awareness Week across the UK, and once again, Skin + Me are shining a light on the link between mental health and our skin

Scientific intersectional studies between skin, the body’s largest organ and the brain are known as psychodermatology. The body and mind coexist symbiotically, so it’s really no surprise that the state of your mental health and the state of your skin health often reflect one another – subconsciously or otherwise.

Take blushing. It’s a simple short-term physiological reaction. When you blush in the moment, blood vessels in your face expand giving you a flushed look that may signal to others you’re feeling flustered or self-conscious. It’s one visible example of how easily your mental state can affect your skin. Of course, there are many more longer-term skin conditions (like rosacea, eczema and psoriasis) that can manifest visibly and don’t disappear that same day.

“The body and mind coexist symbiotically, so it’s really no surprise that the state of your mental health and the state of your skin health often reflect one another.”

The first steps towards progress are diagnosis and action. That’s why we’ve compiled a list of skin conditions that can be exacerbated by your mental health, and compiled some resources to help start managing that relationship.

The goal is to be thriving, not just surviving. Your best skin is (almost) all in the mind.

1. Rosacea, eczema and psoriasis 

We’ve grouped rosacea, eczema and psoriasis here because although they have differences, they’re all inflammatory skin conditions that can be influenced by our mental health and stress levels. Our Head of Medical, Dr Jason Thomson explains, “We’ve known for a long time that stress can lead to a worsening of skin conditions such as psoriasis, acne, rosacea and eczema.”

When you feel under pressure (sometimes called our ‘fight or flight’ mode) your body releases a hormone called cortisol. Cortisol supports the body to deal with this stress but being persistently overloaded with cortisol can be counterproductive. Too much cortisol can reduce the skin’s production of hyaluronic acid (your skin’s natural moisturiser) and this can lead to increased dryness and itchiness that you typically find in autoimmune and inflammatory skin conditions. 

2. Acne

Acne is a complex skin condition also caused by inflammation, partly influenced by hormones. Overproduction of the stress hormone, cortisol may play a part in skin breakouts because it encourages sebaceous glands to produce more oil. This can block pores. Remember a thorough cleanse (and targeted acne treatment) as part of your skincare routine.

A reminder here that you can experience acne at multiple life stages and the effect this can have on your confidence levels can’t be understated. The Acne Support Charity explains that as many as one in four of us who experience acne will feel a change in our mental state. Remember here you’re not alone. The Acne Support Charity has a wealth of resources – such as their Guide To Emotional Support to download as a first port of call.

3. Skin-ageing

As we’ve explained before, living is ageing but to age well, you’ll want to minimise stress and find ways to manage anxiety. Long-term persistent cortisol release can break down collagen in skin, affecting firmness and leading to line lines and wrinkles.

The brain-skin connection

The effect of some visible skin conditions on your mental health (and vice versa) can result in low self-esteem, further anxiety, social phobia and in severe cases, depression. Dr Jason Thomson explains, “Research has identified a complex stress response system, known as the ‘brain-skin connection’, which involves the immune system, the brain and the skin driving the underlying biology.”

Your holistic wellness practise

Continually recognising that the body and the mind are intrinsically linked and can’t be separated is the starting block for a holistic wellness practice that can support both your wellbeing and the health of your skin. That means gathering resources for a mental health toolkit to look at the root cause of stress and anxiety for example — alongside a personalised daily routine for best results.

Start your own Mental Health Toolkit

Never hesitate to seek help from a professional if you’re concerned about your mental health. If you’d like a starter kit of mental health wisdom, then kick off with some of our resources below.

Listen

Poppy Jamie Happy Not Perfect Podcast

How to Build a Happy Life, The Atlantic Podcast

The Happiness Lab with Dr Laurie Santos, Pushkin Podcast

Read

Man Down, Matt Rudd (shining a light on male mental health specifically)

Why Has Nobody Told Me This Before? Dr Julie Smith

Scroll

@mentalhealthfoundation The Mental Health Foundation

@bsfcharity The British Skin Foundation

@mindcharity Mind Charity

Don’t forget, you can also connect with Skin + Me’s own skincare-obsessed supportive community in our Facebook Group, The Collective. We always welcome advice-asking, wisdom sharing and kindness.

N.B Please contact your GP or a medical professional if you feel you need more support with any of the mental health issues mentioned in this feature.  

Medical facts checked by Head of Medical, Dr Jason Thomson

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On your Skin + Me journey? Learn more about our Invite a Friend Charity initiative here