Do you struggle with skin issues? Today many women deal with acne, eczema, and many other problems with their skin.
It is easy to turn to lotions, creams, and drugs in an attempt to remedy these issues. While they may help to some degree, there is so much more involved in healthy skin than a few on-the-surface lotions!
Today I’ve invited my friend Dr. Keira Barr, Dermatologist, to share about the root causes of skin issues and tips to help you heal your skin from the inside out. Now, let’s hear from Dr. Keira!
Consider this: someone tells you that your zipper is unzipped in public and your face turns bright red with embarrassment. Or, maybe you’re feeling overwhelmed with mounting deadlines at work and your eczema is flaring and the itching is out of control. In those moments, you know that your skin can reflect what you’re feeling inside and what your feeling inside can be reflected on your skin.
Although cause and effect can be challenging to nail down, there is no denying an intimate and intricate brain-skin connection. Aside from being derived from the same embryologic tissue, the ectoderm, the bond between the brain and skin is complex. This interconnection is the focus of areas in medicine known as psycho-dermatology and psychoneuroimmunology: the interplay between the mind, skin and our immune system.
Translation: What we think, feel and see can play a significant role not only in what shows up on our skin but how we show up in it.
The Skin We’re In
As your largest organ, your skin protects you from the outside world, guards your internal organs, plays a large role in your immune system and protects you from infection. It does many things, including:
absorbing, secreting and excreting water to keep your skin hydrated,
regulating your body temperature,
detoxifying waste and metabolites from your body
allowing you to feel pain and pleasure with so many nerve fibers,
producing hormones like Vitamin D,
and helping to regulate hormones throughout your body.
The brain and the nervous system influence the skin’s immune cells through various chemical messengers and receptors which respond to stress.
Stress is an inevitable part of life and arises when we are under mental, physical, or emotional pressure that we perceive exceeds our ability to adapt to it. Our brain plays a major role in the stress response which exerts its effect on the skin mainly through the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis and stress hormones such as corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH), glucocorticoids, and epinephrine are released. This results in a wide range of physiologic and immune reactions that can trigger or exacerbate skin conditions.
But, here’s where it gets interesting: recent research has confirmed skin both as an immediate stress perceiver and as a target of stress responses. (1) With a fully functional peripheral HPA system within the skin, all of the stress hormones and their receptors are produced in skin cells just like the HPA system in the brain can.
Takeaway: Stress stimulates both the brain and the skin to signal release of hormones that can trigger inflammation, impair wound healing, accelerate aging, and worsen skin conditions including acne, eczema and psoriasis. It makes sense then, that a two way communication between the brain and skin can cause issues for both what shows up on skin and how we respond to it.
Ways the Mind and Skin Intersect
The field of psychodermatology breaks up disorders into three general and sometimes overlapping categories:
1. Psychophysiological (mood affects skin)
Skin conditions that have a physiological basis but are known to be impacted by stress and other emotional factors like acne, alopecia areata (hair loss), psoriasis, urticaria (hives), rosacea and hyperhidrosis (profuse sweating) fall into this category.
2. Secondary psychiatric (skin affects mood)
This includes conditions that are cosmetically disfiguring or potentially social stigmatizing like vitiligo, psoriasis or severe acne can create feelings of humiliation and shame, cause anxiety and depression, and erode self-confidence and self-esteem. One study, for example, found there was an increased number of hospital admissions secondary to a primary mental health disorder with coexistent acne or rosacea.
3. Primary psychiatric (mood affects skin)
Skin disorders like chronic hair-pulling (trichotillomania), self-inflicted damage to the skin (dermatitis artefacta) and a belief that the body is infested with organisms (delusions of parasitosis) are symptoms of an underlying psychiatric disorder. Management of these conditions requires a multi-disciplinary approach including dermatologic and psychiatric care.
How To Help Your Mood Help Your Skin
While not everyone will react the same way to having a skin problem, nor respond emotionally through their skin, data suggests that in some people, creating a treatment plan that addresses medical management of skin physiology as well as mental health, will optimize the outcome.
When feelings of anxiety and depression are prominent, here are some mind-body strategies to consider:
Studies highlight that focused breathing, mindfulness meditation and relaxation techniques have been used successfully in a variety of skin conditions including acne, alopecia areata, atopic dermatitis and psoriasis.
Recent research indicates that movement including aerobic exercise and yoga show benefit in skin conditions with a psychological component including trichotillomania and excoriation disorders (skin picking).
Eating nutrient dense whole foods that offer anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and low glycemic benefits like wild caught fish, pasture-raised eggs, dark leafy green vegetables and brightly colored fruits like apples, berries and pomegranates.
From Bridgit: Ready to Learn More?
Dr. Keira has written a book, The Skin Whisperer, that delves deeply into this topic of the brain-skin connection. I highly recommend you check it out!
Detox is crucial for healthy skin as well, so make sure you check out my Five-Day DIY Detox Guide and get some spring back in your step, naturally.
Dr. Keira Barr is a top health expert helping women address the skin they're in -- literally and figuratively -- to achieve greater physical, mental, and emotional resilience so that they can look, feel, and perform their absolute best.
Blending her expertise as a dual board-certified dermatologist, global speaker and best selling author with integrative wellness, positive psychology and her own health struggles, Dr. Barr work has been shared on national television including PBS and in renowned publications and podcasts including SELF, MindBodyGreen, Reader’s Digest and iHeartRadio. Learn more about her at ChooseResilience.com.