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Health & Fitness 5 Women Reveal How Psychodermatology Helped Them To Tackle Their Skin Conditions

09:15  16 september  2021
09:15  16 september  2021 Source:   womenshealthmag.co.uk

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We know that hormones can wreak havoc on your skin, but have you ever thought about the role your mood plays when it comes to your complexion?

a woman smiling for the camera: 5 women reveal how managing stress has helped them to deal with common skin complaints. © Provided by Women's Health UK 5 women reveal how managing stress has helped them to deal with common skin complaints.

Dubbed psychodermatology, this growing field explores the complex relationship between the brain and your biggest organ, the skin. While you may have had an inkling that a bad breakup or a stressful work situation is the reason for an acne flare-up, there is now a shed load of science to prove it, meaning psychological treatment can help you both cope with and treat a skin disorder, alongside traditional medication.

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Here, five women reveal how coming to terms with their skin condition has benefitted their lives and incredibly, their skin.

What is psychodermatology?

In layman's terms, psychodermatology is the idea that your emotions can impact the health of your skin and vice versa.

Can skin problems be psychosomatic?

Yes. For around a decade, psychodermatologists have been spearheading studies around the brain skin axis, a term used to describe how emotions and the nervous system interact. It’s a practice widely accepted by dermatologists around the world, according to the British Association of Dermatologists.

How does mood affect your skin?

By way of the body’s hypothalamic-pituitary adrenal (HPA) axis. Think of it as the control centre of your stress response: it will trigger the production of hormones such as cortisol when the body senses stress. The skin has its own HPA system, which can also trigger it to produce hormones that cause a localised inflammatory response, delay healing and disrupt the skin barrier.

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How does stress impact the skin?

Stress is associated with a range of skin disorders, like the ones discussed here, as well as premature signs of ageing, such as fine lines and wrinkles. Moreover, these conditions can also damage your mental health, creating a vicious cycle. It’s for this reason that a psychodermatologist will spend as much time focusing on your stress levels as they will looking at your skin.

5 women on how psychodermatology has changed their lives

The Skin Condition: Rosacea

Not merely a smattering of red patches on the forehead, nose, cheeks and chin, rosacea can also be accompanied by dryness, burning, stinging, flushing and bumps down the centre of the face. ‘It’s a chronic condition affecting about 10% of the population, most notably those with fairer skin – it’s also likely rosacea is under-diagnosed in those who have dark skin tones,’ shares psychodermatologist Dr Alia Ahmed.

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While the root cause isn’t fully understood, dermatologists believe that a disrupted immune system and a genetic predisposition can make you more susceptible. ‘Lifestyle plays a large part, too,’ adds Dr Fauzia Khan, dermatologist at Avicenna Aesthetics & Wellbeing Clinic. ‘Notably, consumption of spicy food, excessive alcohol intake, extreme temperatures, sensitivity to medication and cosmetic products, as well as stress.’ Avoiding your triggers is key.

Keep a skin diary so you can track yours, and use gentle water-based skincare,anti-inflammatory medicine and supplements such as probiotics, collagen and omega-3.

Rose Gallagher, 30, Make-up Artist & Influencer

'I’ve always had a rosy complexion – pale skin and pink cheeks –but it wasn’t until last year that a dermatologist finally put a name to the condition I’d lived with my whole life. While I’ve never let it affect my social life, I became interested in make-up at an earlier age than my friends, mainly to cover the evidence of my condition. My moment of acceptance came by way of sharing my experiences on social media.

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In helping others feel less alone, I’ve felt the same and it’s helped normalise my rosacea. I try to avoid my triggers of spicy and sugary foods, alcohol, sleep deprivation and stress, as these exacerbate the redness and leave it looking more textured. But I don’t let rosacea control me.

a close up of Rose Gallagher who is smiling at the camera: Here's Why Your Mood Impacts Your Skin Here's Why Your Mood Impacts Your Skin

I simply make more conscious decisions about what I eat and drink, keeping in mind what I have going on that week and whether I’ll feel okay going through a flare-up. A dermatologist-approved regime of fragrance free, gentle skincare and make-up, plus a high-factor SPF, has helped me see a marked improvement.

But it’s understanding the relationship between my stress levels and my skin that’s been the biggest game-changer for me. I know stress is a trigger, so managing it helps the appearance of my skin. I also recognise that my skin isn’t always something I can control, and accepting that fluctuations are a part of the condition helps to keep me calm. Ironically, it’s accepting my skin condition for what it is that made the biggest difference.'

‘The gentleness of a product is paramount for my skin and I apply it with my fingers,’ says Rose. ‘This offers full coverage, but has a dewy barely there finish.’

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Probiotics could improve the appearance of your skin via your gut microbiome. A Danish study found that many adults with rosacea also had gastrointestinal disorders, suggesting a link between gut health and rosacea.

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The Skin Condition: Psoriasis

Around 2% of Brits suffer from this autoimmune condition, in which the immune system attacks healthy skin cells by mistake. It’s cyclical in nature so, just when you think it’s disappeared, it’ll flare up again.

‘With psoriasis, the skin regenerates about five times faster than normal, presenting as inflamed red patches covered with silvery scales of dead skin, which are itchy and sometimes swollen,’ says Dr Khan. Stress can play a role in triggering psoriasis, as cortisol can suppress the effectiveness of an already compromised immune system.

There are products you can use to reduce the severity of outbreaks. A dermatologist might suggest a steroid or synthetic vitamin D cream, and coal tar, salicylic acid, immunosuppressants and light therapies can also be effective.

Ioana Ambrose, 31 IT sales Specialist

'When I first noticed red, itchy patches of skin on my ankle inmy late twenties, I had no idea what it was. I was anxious that I had skin cancer, so I went to see a dermatologist. When the diagnosis of psoriasis came back, I didn’t even know what it was.

Hearing that I had anautoimmune skin disease that can be triggered by an emotional experience, and can also be hereditary, with no known cure, was a bit of a blow. I’d just been through a messy break-up and also had my ovaries removed after doctors found a tumour. I couldn’t imagine not feeling self-conscious about the scaly skin that had snaked its way up to my eyelids.

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a person smiling for the camera: Here's Why Your Mood Impacts Your Skin Here's Why Your Mood Impacts Your Skin

But armed with a diagnosis, I went on social media andread about other people’s experiences. It made me realise that if others can be positive about it, I can be, too. My dermatologist prescribed cortisone cream but, although helpful, it can have side effects, such as thinning of the skin and blistering.

So, I decided only to use it when my psoriasis was particularly active. She also suggested using gentle formulas geared towards dry and itchy skin types, as well as eating a healthy and nutrient-rich diet, keeping hydrated and exercising regularly, which has definitely helped.

I’m a huge fan of this ultra-nourishing Avene cream, which dulls the constant itch I get when I’m going through a flare-up.'

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The Skin Condition: Hives

Hives can appear anywhere on the body as patches of red or skin-coloured welts that canchange in size and shape over the course of an episode. They can be triggered by anything from a food allergy to supplements, insect bites, medication, extreme weather or, yes, stress, resulting in an excessive release of histamine into your blood.

A key player in your body’s defences, histamine is a chemical made by your immune system to help rid the body of allergens. ‘More common in women, hives affect one in six people each year,’ says Dr Khan. Antihistamines or corticosteroids will reverse the impact of histamine, but are just sticking plasters.

Testing will ascertain if allergies are causing the release of histamine, or if stress is the culprit. ‘Some people have a higher tolerance to stress – their brains can bypass the feeling it induces – but this doesn’t necessarily eliminate the physical effects it can cause,’ says Dr Ahmed.

Claire Sanderson, 42, WH Editor-in-Chief

'I had absolutely no idea what caused these itchy, red patches all over my body the first time I experienced them, during my A level exams.

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While I can identify stressful times in my life once they’ve happened, I rarely feel stressed at the time and I don’t remember feeling particularly worried during my A levels. After disappearing in my twenties, the hives returned with a vengeance when I was pregnant.

a woman smiling for the camera: Here's Why Your Mood Impacts Your Skin Here's Why Your Mood Impacts Your Skin

Looking back, I suppose I must have felt anxious about impending parenthood. That was nine years ago, but they’ve since returned and are worse than ever. While I’m lucky now to be at an age where I don’t care what others think of my appearance, arriving at Number 10 to meet the Prime Minister, trying not to scratch at the blanket of hives on my jawline, breasts, underarms and legs left me feeling desperate for a cure.

Then Covid-19 hit and I’ve had them on and off since lockdown began. Dermatologist Dr Anjali Mahto prescribed a steroid cream and prescription-strength antihistamine and told me that my outbreaks were almost certainly stress-related. Now, when I get a breakout, I realise it’s my body’s way of telling me to slow down. This isn’t something I’m good at, but I'm trying to carve out a little more me-time.

If I don’t exercise, my stress levels rise. I do HIIT workouts daily, adapting them and adding weights. But, I can’t exercise during a breakout as heat and sweat aggravate it.’

The Skin Condition: Eczema

Atopic dermatitis, as it’s officially known, is an inflammatory condition that leaves the skin red, itchy and abnormally dry. Caused by an overactive immune system and abnormal skin barrier, eczema is usually found on the backs of the knees, the neck and the insides of the elbows, as well as on the scalp and face.

‘Eczema is more common in children, but it can also develop for the first time in adults, due to things like an increase in pollution exposure or consuming high levels of mercury, found in some fish,’ says Dr Khan. ‘Stress doesn’t cause eczema, but it can provoke flare-ups.

As with most immune system-related skin diseases, cortisol is the culprit, due to its side effect of ramping up inflammation throughout the body, including the skin. This makes targeting stress a priority, as well as identifying any other triggers, such as pets, pollen, dust, detergents and food sensitivities.

Topical treatments like calming moisturisers and immune-targeting prescription medications can help – antibacterial creams and light therapy are also recommended.

Jessica Webb, 28, Art Editor

'When I developed eczema at 23, my first thought was, ‘This doesn’t fit in with my “perfect” life. I’d just landed a new job as a graphic designer, I had a new boyfriend and a packed social calendar. A tennis ball-sized patch first appeared on the creases of my forearms. It was itchy but not painful and, assuming it was a fungal infection, I put on some E45 and hoped it would clear up, but it didn’t.

a close up of a person: Here's Why Your Mood Impacts Your Skin Here's Why Your Mood Impacts Your Skin

At first, it didn’t have much of an impact on my social life, but when it travelled around the rest of my body, that’s when the social anxiety kicked in. Over the next five years, it developed on my neck, shoulders, back, arms and around my eyes and lips. I scratched it continuously, even at night, often waking up with blood on my bedsheets.

This outward change in my appearance and the stress of dealing with my condition have sometimes made it hard for me to get out of bed. Just before Covid-19 hit, my doctor recommended I try acupuncture and talking therapy; I couldn’t get started with either, so I practised yoga for the first time once a day in place of my morning commute; meditation, which was also new to me, once a week; and I started an online stress-management course, which has taught me to practise more self-care.

Surprisingly, focusing on myself and feeling more relaxed saw my eczema vanish within days. Now that some elements of normal life have resumed, I’m hoping to keep up the techniques that I’ve found so helpful – for my mind and my skin.'

The Skin Condition: Acne

While it’s true that acne is common among teenagers and those in their twenties it also affects adults over the age of 35. ‘Acne manifests as whiteheads, blackheads, small red spots, pustules and nodules that can appear on the face, back and shoulders, and can lead to post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation, as well as flat and even pitted scars (which appear as an indent on the skin),’ says Dr Khan.

Acne is genetic, but it’s also caused by stress, pollution and hormonal fluctuations and use of wrong products (known as acne cosmetica). Like other visible skin conditions, it can impact your emotional wellbeing. ‘As acne and stress reinforce each other, it’s vital to break the emotional cycle and focus on stress management during treatment,’ adds Dr Khan.

Spironolactone can be prescribed to reduce abnormally high testosterone levels (usually a symptom of polycystic ovary syndrome), which causes excessive sebum production and leads to breakouts. And Accutane, an oral form of vitamin A, will reduce oil production, kill bacteria and speed up skin cell renewal. It’s hailed as a miracle drug by many who use it; however, while rare, it can have serious mental health side effects, including depression and, in extreme cases, suicidal thoughts.

There are topical options, too, such as spot-busting prescription retinoids that contain declogging salicylic and glycolic acids and antibacterial benzyl peroxide.

Kristina Rodulfo, 28, WH US Beauty Director

'In the days leading up to the worst break-up of my life, something terrible was brewing in my skin. ‘I’m fine! We’re fine!’ I’d tell myself as a colony of tiny whiteheads formed en route to what was supposed to be a romantic weekend getaway. Two days later, I ended a four-year relationship, moved out of our shared apartment and showed up to work as if nothing had happened.

Kristina Rodulfo wearing a white shirt: Here's Why Your Mood Impacts Your Skin Here's Why Your Mood Impacts Your Skin

As my life exploded, so did my skin: I counted 22 stubborn cystic pimples painfully residing on my face. It was the worst I’d seen in my decade-long battle with acneand it left me feeling helpless and ashamed.

The bad break-up triggered stress, which was exacerbated by the subsequent sleep loss and the excess wine and ice cream I consumed in the days following. My dermatologist squashed every spot with cortisol injections and I started using prescription skincare, but I expected to wait three months to see results.

Miraculously, just two weeks out of my toxic relationship, my skin started clearing up and it coincided with my efforts to lean more into self-love: I journaled, trained to run a marathon, spent more time with family and friends and really took time to embrace joy and gratitude. Since experiencing my dramatic skin recovery, I now believe in the power of a holistic approach to my acne.

Yes, I rely on a consistent skincare routine, but I’ve implemented the pieces of my post-breakout routine that helped me make internal changes, too. Pimples happen, but my skin hasn’t had as bad a breakout since. Overall, I’ve been in a happier place. But, I don’t need to tell you that. Just ask my skin.'

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