For many people, the concept equates to rosy cheeks, glassy-smooth surfaces, and that “je ne sais quoi” glow that supermodels possess when gracing the glossy covers of magazines.
But the thing is, having a beautiful complexion isn’t that common.
According to the American Academy of Dermatology, 50 million Americans have acne. One in 10 people will suffer from atopic dermatitis. 7.5 million of the US population have psoriasis. And 16 million have rosacea.
Even more, the appearance of skin imperfections isn’t just a pesky occurrence. For many people, they can be an indicator of an ongoing health issue. Or, more commonly, they can cause a multitude of body image issues.
That’s why the elusive mind-skin connection isn’t something we should dismiss. On the contrary, it could be argued that having a stronger understanding of it might just help anyone dealing with breakouts or flare-ups find a path towards finally feeling good in their own skin.
The body’s largest organ
If you think back to your high-school biology class, you’re likely to remember learning about the skin’s functions. Acting as a protective barrier against injury and radiation, a regulator of moisture and temperature, and a sensory organ, your skin has an undisputed role in allowing you to take in your surroundings. All the while, it performs the crucial act of keeping the rest of you safe from everyday element exposure.
Then, you’ll also remember that it plays a role in vitamin D production. A micronutrient that is vital to bone density and the functioning of your immune and nervous systems, vitamin D is one of the most precious compounds your organism requires. And your skin has the capability of producing it on its own. That’s fascinating in itself!
But the one thing we tend to disregard about our skin is that it has one more purpose to fulfill. It is the body’s natural way of communicating any internal problems.
And, it turns out, it’s not just infections that will show up as a symptom on your skin.
Skin changes and what they mean
For most people, skin changes aren’t life-altering discoveries that indicate a serious disease (though, of course, they can be). More often, they’re pesky side-effects of environmental factors such as temperature changes, humidity, or bacteria. Alternatively, skin conditions like acne might, sometimes, be signs of a weakened immune system or irregular hormone production.
But the thing is, they can also indicate something a bit more worrying going on. Not just physically but emotionally as well.
Researchers have long wondered about the mind-skin connection, with mixed results. While they have managed to find a correlation between complexion irregularities and emotional wellbeing, there is still not enough evidence to fully explain causation.
However, some aspects of the link between emotional wellbeing and complexion are fairly clear.
The effects of chronic stress on skin
For example, one of the leading causes of skin breakouts (be they psoriasis, acne, or eczema) comes from experiencing chronic stress.
The reason behind this connection lies in the fact that chronic stress exposure causes a surge in CRH (corticotropin-releasing hormone). The hormone can then bind to skin receptors, causing them to over-produce oil and sometimes even triggering an inflammatory reaction.
Moreover, prolonged stress exposure often leads to poor eating and sleeping patterns, both of which can have a detrimental effect on the body, again causing breakouts.
But what about the side of the mind-skin connection?
How skin imperfections make us feel
In the world of seemingly perfect Instagram lives and an abundance of face filters (yes, as many as 49% of people edit their photos before posting), it can be challenging to come to terms with the possibility of our skin not looking “flawless” enough.
A 2010 research article found that 25.9% of patients with mild or severe psoriasis suffered from depression, 20.9% had anxiety, and 0.9% had suicidal thoughts.
And the situation seems to be even worse when it comes to eczema. A 2017 survey found that:
On the whole, it’s safe to say that, yes, there definitely is a mind-skin connection. After all, if unattainable body weight standards cause body dysmorphia, then it’s safe to say that the expectation of flawless skin might lead to the same outcome. That is, having imperfect skin may have a detrimental effect on our mental health.
Going after healthy skin
So what is it that we can do to break the cycle of feeling bad because we have less-than-flawless skin and having imperfect skin because we feel bad?
Well, one route would be to find a skincare routine that works best for us. Whether we take the path of DIY or decide to hand things over to a professional isn’t that relevant. What matters, however, is that the act itself shows positive results.
But a much more impactful aspect of the issue might be to examine and (if necessary) alter our expectations of what a flawless complexion is.
Unlike what media would have us believe, perfect skin isn’t completely glass-smooth, devoid of pores and spots. Instead, it’s hydrated, pain-free, and does a good job of protecting us from the elements.
And, perhaps most importantly, it doesn’t have a negative effect on our self-perception.