How emotions are connected to our skin and how a psychodermatologist can help
In recent years, researchers have made significant progress in understanding the physiological mechanism underlying the interaction of the gastrointestinal tract, nervous system and skin – English-speaking scientists use the term gut-brain-skin axis for this trinity. And if we fully understand how food and digestion can affect appearance and mood, then the connection between the brain and skin looks mysterious and requires explanation. Nevertheless, therapists, cosmetologists and dermatologists unanimously agree that the effects of stress exacerbate existing skin problems, which means that the fact that the nervous system is able to influence our appearance does not raise doubts among doctors.
In the embryonic period, the skin, nervous system and intestines are formed mostly from one germ layer – the ectoderm. Perhaps that is why the diseases of these organs are closely interrelated in adults. But what exactly happens in the brain and body to trigger the process of acne or dermatitis? And what techniques are there to break this vicious connection?
At the cellular level
You can, of course, not take seriously the idea that the brain makes acne bloom on your face especially for the day of a responsible meeting – most likely, you just ate chocolate when you finished your report at night. But if this is repeated on the eve of any important day, the idea that the reason is still stress does not seem so delusional. And, you guessed it, hormones are involved – they create problems for us not only during puberty.
Cortisol and adrenaline produced during stress are key factors. A chain reaction is triggered: the release of cortisol provokes expansion of capillaries, the vessels become more fragile, and any “leak” appears on the skin as swelling or redness, which means inflammation or irritation. And if you are genetically predisposed to skin conditions such as acne, eczema, or psoriasis, this could trigger an outbreak. What’s more, cortisol slows down tissue regeneration by reducing the natural production of collagen and hyaluronic acid, and the skin literally loses its youth.
Adrenaline works differently, but it doesn’t mean anything good for the skin either. This hormone spasms the capillaries, reducing blood flow, which makes us pale when, for example, we are very frightened by something.
What is psychodermatology
We are used to the fact that skin problems are solved by dermatologists and cosmetologists, but recently another profession has appeared that you can rely on when you want to improve your appearance.
Psychodermatology is the science of how experiences and feelings affect the skin. The first mention of this term was noted in the book “Psychophysiological Aspects of Skin Diseases”, which was published in 1980 by an Australian psychoanalyst named Whitlock. This science is still quite young, so there are not many specialists in the world – in the USA, for example, only about half a dozen clinics specialize in this kind of therapy.
“I never convince a client that he needs my help. First, I always recommend visiting a dermatologist and trying to solve the situation with the usual methods – adjusting the diet, regimen, food additives or creams, says Matt Traub, a clinical psychotherapist specializing in psychodermatology, in an interview with The Cut. “If you get the results you want, great, if not, let’s talk.”
Some unhappy people with acne (eczema or psoriasis) may be so upset about their appearance that chronic anxiety and depression are within easy reach. A recent study in the British Journal of Dermatology confirms this link: among patients with acne, the likelihood of developing depression was 18.5%, and for participants without dermatological complications – 12%. Possibly bad skin leads to emotional stress, or maybe vice versa. This is a vicious circle, the chicken-and-egg scenario – does stress cause acne or does acne add more stress and exacerbate inflammation?
“The quality of the skin can be due to a number of reasons, including genetic ones, but some are based on life experience,” explains Dr. Traub. – With the help of a specialist, you can learn to cope with stress, anxiety, manage anger and other negative states. We can either remind ourselves every day that this is not skin, but a disaster, and then the body will react even worse, or we can learn to calm down and manage the situation. A psychodermatologist will help you understand what lies at the heart of the problem and try to overcome it. There is serious work to be done, but your skin can really change. “