There is a profound and direct link between how we feel and how we look, according to research. So, it is worth investigating the implications that link has on our overall well-being, as well as what we can do to boost our mood and mental health by taking care of ourselves both inside and out. This is where psychodermatology comes in.
Psychodermatology is a relatively new branch of dermatological study focused on the connection between a person’s appearance (specifically the skin) and their mental health and well-being. Psychodermatology acknowledges that the condition of our skin and our own mental and emotional well-being can be a two-way street. Recent studies have established links between skin conditions like acne and rosacea and increased feelings of social anxiety, isolation and diminished confidence and happiness. In other words, it is no wonder that you feel lethargic, bummed out or just not yourself when you are breaking out or your skin is on the fritz.
When our skin is not at its best, our bodies physiologically react to the stress and embarrassment we feel about it. “Many individuals with skin conditions struggle with accepting the way they look and make assumptions about how others perceive them and accept them,” says Mina Guirguis, Psy.D., a licensed clinical psychologist and psychodermatologist,. “For example, a young person with vitiligo (loss of skin pigment) might isolate and develop depression due to how they perceive their appearance and how they think others might perceive them.”
A 2018 study conducted by the British Journal of Dermatology found that patients with severe acne were 63 percent more likely to develop depression or depressive tendencies than those without acne. The same study also found that patients reported the greatest feelings of depression upon their first medical consultation when their skin was at its worst.
Patients with severe acne were 63 percent more likely to develop depression or depressive tendencies than those without acne.
Similarly, in an article published through the American Academy of Dermatology, dermatologists explored the link between how skin afflictions such as acne and severe rosacea can psychologically impact an individual. Researchers cited in the study claim that individuals who live with these conditions are more likely to feel anxious or depressed, suffer from low self-esteem and feel an overall lessened quality of their life. The correlation? Their physical appearance negatively impacted their mental and emotional health.
But our skin also reacts to our bodies’ own signals about the way we feel. Mental health stressors like stress and depression can manifest through physical symptoms, including the sudden appearance of skin problems like anxiety-triggered hives or acne.
So, how do you counteract this wheel before it starts spinning? By investing time in establishing a self-care routine, you are making a commitment to applying products that are formulated to improve your appearance, but you are also signalling something important to your brain: “I am worth this time and this effort.”
By carving out this time in your day, you are not only dedicating yourself to a practice that will enhance your outward appearance, but you are taking care of what psychologists like to call your emotional immune system. Similar to how our actual immune system works, our emotional immune system helps protect us from the mental stressors of daily life. The higher our self-esteem, the more protected we are against negative thoughts and reactions that can harm our emotional well-being. In that sense, using self-care to tend to your appearance is actually an effective way to promote strong emotional immunity and confidence.
And Guirguis encourages his patients to take care of themselves in a way that is helpful to them. “Taking care of our skin might provide people [struggling with a skin condition] with a sense of control as it relates to their skin condition,” Guirguis says. This sense of control enhances our self-esteem which then makes us feel good about ourselves, thus decreasing [the] negative thoughts [we may have on a daily basis] which often lead to negative feelings.”
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💭”I could’ve dealt with something actually life threatening.” 💭“Am I just being vain for getting so damn affected by this?” . . I’m mentally prepared as I walk inside. I have my case all figured out and I am mentally ready to do some sort a pitch on how acne affects me, to explain why I so desperately need their professional help. I sit down with my dermatologist and she takes a look at my face, I begin to say that “having acne might not be the worst, but I am really struggling right now”. She looks at me and says calmly “Acne is a disease, first and foremost. It might not be a physically death threatening one, but the impacts of acne on an individuals well being and self-esteem are tremendous. It’s not a beauty or a cosmetic thing – it’s a disease.” And as I heard the word skin disease and having a medical professional validate my pain and my struggles I started to tear up. . . It’s so easy to both get told by other people, and to tell yourself that “it could be so much worse”. And yes, objectively it could be worse. But the thing with suffering, the reality of one individual is not something that can be measured and compared to another because it’s got to do with our subjective feelings. You can’t compare ones suffering to another’s. The thing I want to tell you with this post is this; Your pain is valid. You are not vain for wanting to treat your skin condition. Your feelings matter. And to the people who haven’t dealt with acne; Treating acne is never purely about wanting to feel pretty or beautiful, it’s about wanting to feel OK again. Dealing with acne is closely associated to tremendous psychosocial effects which in turns affects quality of life negatively. . . Don’t let society trick you into thinking that you’re being silly or overreacting. You matter and your feelings matter. My god, do they matter.🖤 . . #acneawarenessmonth #isotretinoin #accutane #roaccutane #adultacne #acne #acnetreatment
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That said, when looking good veers into an obsession or becomes a way to punish yourself for failing to live up to an impossible standard, a commitment to looking your best can do more harm than good. So, what is the key to keeping things healthy? While the relentless pursuit of perfection and desire to achieve an unrealistic or unattainable beauty ideal is a sure path to feeling bad, know that there are definitive steps you can take to promote an overall sense of well-being and happiness.
“People need to not obsess about their skin and available treatments as someone can jump from one treatment to another in a frantic effort to feel better,” says Guirguis. “The biggest factor that would help someone struggling with their skin feel better about themselves is acceptance. Some people with skin conditions are able to achieve acceptance on their own, while others would get the full benefit by speaking with a mental health specialist.”