Whether you’re managing an inflammatory skin condition or want to fend off fine lines and wrinkles, changing your state of mind can help.
In recent years, mindfulness has taken off as a way to reduce stress and boost happiness — particularly over the last year and a half, as people look for small, daily habits they can practice to boost their well-being and reduce the stress of living through the COVID-19 pandemic. But mindfulness isn’t just helpful for stress management: This practice may play into your skin health, too.
“The biggest beauty thief and ager of all time is the stress our minds try to endure day in and day out,” says Amy Wechsler, MD, a board-certified dermatologist and psychiatrist and the author of The Mind-Beauty Connection. “Wound healing slows, oil glands go into overdrive, and inflammation takes off,” she explains.
That can affect skin in a variety of ways. “Many adults can’t seem to outgrow acne because of stress hormones. Yet most people don’t make the connection. If there’s simply too much going on in [patients’] lives, odds are it’s stress acne,” says Dr. Wechsler. The common thread is the corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH), a hormone involved in the stress response, which is linked to inflammatory conditions, and may play a role in the development of acne, according to past research.
Stress can also play a role in speeding signs of aging like lines and wrinkles. “When you live in a chronic state of stress, routinely bathing your body in cortisol, it becomes harder and harder for the skin to repair itself naturally, continue to form healthy collagen and elastin, and deal with damaged areas,” explains Wechsler.
What’s more, if you’re already dealing with a skin condition, stress can make controlling your symptoms more difficult. “There are a lot of inflammatory skin conditions made worse by stress, including psoriasis, eczema, and acne,” says Apple Bodemer, MD, a dermatologist at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health in Madison who practices integrative medicine.
RELATED: How Stress Can Trigger Eczema and How to Avoid a Flare-Up
Research Supports the Role of Mindfulness in Skin Health
Now that you understand the role stress plays in skin conditions and aging, you’ll want to know what to do about it. That’s where mindfulness comes in. Mindfulness is “maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment,” according to the Greater Good Science Center at the University of California in Berkeley. The other element is doing this without judgment. There’s no “you’re doing it wrong.”
Using mindfulness has been shown to affect skin. A study published in June 2018 in the Journal of Behavioral Medicine showed that mindfulness can help improve wound healing within the first few days. It’s also been shown to improve symptoms in psoriasis, an autoimmune skin condition where skin flares in painful, red, scaly patches, as defined by the National Psoriasis Foundation. A review of 27 studies published in October 2019 in the American Journal of Clinical Dermatology involving more than 1,500 participants found that mindfulness was one effective strategy to reduce psoriasis symptoms.
Chronic skin conditions can severely impact your mental state, and have been linked to depression, anxiety, and social anxiety. A study published in November 2016 in the British Journal of Dermatology found that people who practice more mindfulness experience less distress and a better quality of life than those who do not, which suggests it could be worthwhile for dermatologists to teach these types of stress-reduction tools.
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How to Use Mindfulness at Home to Support Your Skin
Stress can feel like an insidious beast that’s difficult to overcome, but some small daily strategies — in this case mindfulness techniques — can help you more effectively deal with it. “Stress management is something I talk a lot about with most of my patients because it ties into the overall inflammatory picture, and can lead to flares of symptoms,” says Dr. Bodemer.
Mindfulness strategies can also help you stick to a healthy diet, per an August 2017 article in Diabetes Spectrum and get better sleep, according to research published in April 2015 in JAMA Internal Medicine, both of which also factor into helping you maintain a clear, healthy complexion.
1. Start With the Breath
This is where Bodemer starts with patients, because it’s a good entry-level toe-dip into a mindfulness practice. Follow a 4-7-8 breathing pattern: Inhale for a count of 4, hold for a count of 7, and then slowly exhale for a count of 8. “This is something that can be done in a grocery store, at a red light, or in the middle of a heated conversation,” she says.
2. Take a Time-Out
Sometimes you need a minute. Pause and take 10 deep breaths. Count them. “This can help shift your perspective, the energy in a conversation, or your experience in the moment,” says Bodemer. And if you don’t have time for 10, try 3 breaths.
RELATED: How Meditation Can Improve Your Mental Health
3. Body-Scan at Bedtime
This technique involves bringing your attention to different body parts, moving from head to toe. It’s a great one to do before bed to help usher you into sleep, says Bodemer. You can find these types of guided meditations on various meditation apps, or get a feel for it with two body scans from the UCLA Mindful App.
4. Notice the Moment
Whenever you’re doing something enjoyable, like taking a walk with your dog, sitting outside, or taking a warm shower, “bring awareness to what you’re doing and be present in the experience,” Bodemer says.
5. Exercise Consciously
If you like to walk or jog, you may have noticed that these activities are meditative in nature. Marrying mindfulness with movement may decrease negative emotions during activity compared with sitting, according to research published in Psychology of Sport and Exercise in July 2018. The next time you’re out on a walk or a run, take time to be present and fully engaged, and make a point to notice both pleasant and unpleasant emotions and feelings that arise.
6. Take 10
Alone time is a must. “Find a comfortable, quiet spot to sit for 10 to 15 minutes every day, stop all your hustling and bustling, and simply be by yourself and be still,” says Wechsler. “Slowing down in this way, if you do it every day, helps create a sense of spaciousness in your life, a break in the old routine that can open the door to new perceptions, new solutions to old problems, and new possibilities,” she says, likening the experience to a full-body sigh.
7. Stop Multitasking
It’s tempting to flutter from task to task, never fully finishing one before moving onto the next. But, according to the Center for Resilience, starting and completing each task on its own is a big part of mindfulness, because you’re giving your complete focus to one thing. Maintaining this focus may require putting your phone at the other side of the room, turning off your notifications on web apps like Slack, or minimizing your email screen so you’re not tempted to reply right away. Another potential benefit of this habit? A boost in productivity, so you can complete your work and spend more time on activities you love that further reduce your stress.