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Psychological Impact of Skin Disorders
Skin acts as the boundary between ourselves and the outside world, and the way skin responds to external (e.g., a rash caused by irritant) and internal (blushing at embarrassment) stimuli highlights the interaction of skin with both the physiological and psychological (Walker, 2005). Skin conditions are typically immediately visible, presenting social and emotional consequences. Psychological disorders and skin conditions can be related in a number of ways, such as stress or emotions affect skin problems, psychological disorders caused by skin problems, and psychiatric disorders that manifest themselves in the skin (e.g., delusional parasitosis, or the mistaken belief that one is infested with parasites). Meanwhile, our current culture is heavily influenced by a beauty industry that includes a heavy emphasis on correcting perceived flaws through cosmetics or even cosmetic surgery, such that our aesthetic standards can seem unreachable, such that those of us with skin conditions can feel minimized
Because skin problems are often so visible, many difficulties may arise from other’s reactions to the problem rather than the condition itself; for example, one study found that a fourth of individuals with psoriasis had experienced an instance when someone made a clear effort not to touch them (Kent, 2005). Incidents of rejection or stigmatization can influence the ways in which people see themselves and also their social environment. Factors impacting adjustment in the face of such challenge include both personality factors (e.g. shame-proneness, appearance-consciousness) and core beliefs in terms of illness (causal attributions, perceived consequences, beliefs about controllability), which in turn impact coping strategies (Thompson, 2005). Ultimately, cognitive behavioral therapy, which involves identifying and challenging problematic thoughts and beliefs, may be a helpful tool for altering self-confining thoughts and beliefs about skin conditions in order to reduce emotional strain and improve the quality of life.
Kent, G. (2005). Stimatization and skin conditions. In C. Walker and & L. Papadopoulos (Eds.), Psychodermatology (44-52). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Thompson, A. (2005). Coping with chronic skin conditions: factors important in explaining individual variation in adjustment. In C. Walker and & L. Papadopoulos (Eds.), Psychodermatology (57-71). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Walker, C. (2005). Introduction. In C. Walker and & L. Papadopoulos (Eds.), Psychodermatology (1-14). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
The Impact of Chronic Stress on Skin
According to Dr. Amy Wechsler, one of just a few doctors board-certified in both dermatology and psychiatry, chronic stress can disrupt the formation of new collagen, making the skin weaker. Furthermore, skin loses its capacity to hold onto hydration, and lines become more visible. Cellular turnover can decline to half the normal rate. Emerging science even suggests that skin has its own stress-response system, its very own independent yet connected version of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis. Skin is capable of producing some of the same substances once thought exclusive to the brain and nervous system, and skin can trigger immune responses.
In the midst of chronic stress, soaked in cortisol, it becomes more and more difficult for the skin to repair itself and to continue to form collagen and elastin; meanwhile, inflammatory signals can worsen skin issues. Acne is one such inflammatory condition, and stress is one reason so many of us cannot seem to outgrow acne once and for all. Evidence also suggests that when skin gets inflamed due to stress, it forms more nerve fibers, making it even more sensitive and reactive, possibly contributing to skin aging.
What Can We Do to Turn the Tide?
Beta-endorphins have immense anti-inflammatory effects that help to tame cortisol and its effects on the skin. To increase beta-endorphins naturally, Reader’s Digest suggests:
Other healthy habits we can incorporate to lessen the effects of stress on our health and skin:
Additional (and Highly Recommended) Source
Wechsler, Amy. (2008). The Mind-Beauty Connection: 9 Days to Less Stress, Gorgeous Skin, and a Whole New You. Simon and Schuester, New York, NY.