I’ll admit, the mind-skin connection sounds a bit mumbo-jumbo, and that “psychodermatology” sounds like a profession in line with “naturopaths” and “crystal healers”. In other words, complete hogwash.
But if you’re in any doubt about the effect your mind can have on your skin, let me tell you a story about a friend of mine. For the record, this was definitely a friend of mine, and not myself.
So my friend was at college, in a chemistry lecture, and was in charge of a group presentation which he’d written on Powerpoint and saved onto a USB pen. People still used USB pens in those days.
And he goes into the lecture hall, along with the other 150 or so of us – mostly guys, but plenty of decently hot girls as well – to do his presentation.
My own presentation, if you’re interested, was on ligands and I had done it the previous week. Why anyone thought this was a productive use of our college time I don’t know.
So anyway the lecturer, himself one of those “cool” professors, invited my friends group up on stage and asked my friend to give him the USB pen so he could load it into the computer. The computer was already hooked up to the projector and we could all see the screen.
Here’s the good bit. When the little box with all the files in it pops up, it’s filled with about forty different pornographic movies, ranging from babysitters to Eastern Europeans to all sorts of titles I won’t mention on a classy blog such as this.
And of course, a Powerpoint presentation about metallic ions.
The college professor tried, as quickly as he could, to unplug things. But by now it was far too late for that – the entire room was crying with laughter; I remember not being able to even breathe through the hysterics for at least five minutes.
What had happened was that the professor’s computer had been set to “show hidden files”. And obviously, these files had been saved on the USB pen years ago, set to “hidden” and entirely forgotten. My friend didn’t have hidden files shown when he saved the presentation and so didn’t realize they were on the USB pen.
This is probably the most embarrassing thing I have seen happen to anyone ever. I don’t care who you are, no-one on this planet could brush something like that off as a joke. Having your former pornographic tastes flash up in front of your entire college class is something you will never, ever live down as long as you live. You will always be “that guy with the porn”.
And of course, my friends face went as red as a beetroot, thus proving that his now severely distressed mental state caused a physiological change in his skin.
Basically I remembered this story the other day and wanted to tell everyone. This post is almost entirely an excuse to tell that story again, but it ends with solid acne advice and a very serious point.
How this tragic tale can teach us about controlling acne-prone skin
Your mind can have a significant effect on your physical body. The mind-skin connection is real.
Stress, probably one of the most widespread negative mental states today, is well known to contribute to acne. Acne flare-ups before a big, stressful event happen for this reason.
No-one’s saying that you must avoid stress entirely – that wouldn’t be possible in these days unless you decide to go live in a very harmonious hippie compound in the mountains.
But there are things you can do – things you must do – to control stress and in doing so, improve your acne using the power of your mind.
This post will explain a little more about the science behind the mind-skin connection and how to start using it to your advantage in curing acne, rather than letting your negative thoughts contribute to bad skin.
Scientific proof for the mind-skin connection – this is fascinating
The strong physical connection between the brain and skin is rooted in the first few days of your life. Probably before anybody (even your mother) knew you existed.
In the developing embryo, about 16 days after conception, there are three distinct layers of cells – the endoderm, the mesoderm and the ectoderm.
The ectoderm, which is essentially the “outside bit” of the embryo, differentiates later on to form:
- The nervous system, including nerves, spinal cord and BRAIN
- Pigment cells, tooth enamel, hair and nails
- The epidermis (including sebum and sweat glands), which is the outermost layer of SKIN
This is a fascinating and very underappreciated fact.
Your brain and skin were once part of the same group of cells and are still closely connected to this day.
This means that not only does your acne-prone skin respond to external conditions like heat, wind, UV radiation and air pollution, all of which can trigger breakouts in various ways, but also the internal conditions happening inside your head.
That’s partly why stress, anxiety, and depression – all negative emotions – have negative effects on your acne.
Conversely, it’s why acne often improves on vacation – you’re not worrying about your job or bills or exams, because you’re in a positive state of mind in a place you can relax in. Positive mind = healthy skin.
In some cases acne can even be classified as a “psychophysiological” condition, according to this article in the Psychiatric Times. (That link has a lot of information on psychodermatology – very in-depth science, if that’s of interest to you.)
The Psychiatric Times also published a couple of actual medical cases, including this powerful account which I will reproduce in full here to hammer home the point of this post:
A 10-year-old boy with a history of atopic eczema, mostly on extensor surfaces of upper and lower extremities, and with generalized dry skin had been doing well; his skin lesions had been well controlled with medications. His mother’s sudden death in a car accident adversely affected his functioning: his grades declined, he lost his appetite, and he began to have trouble falling asleep. His eczema flared up, and his whole body was covered with oozing and itchy lesions. Medications that had controlled the lesions were no longer effective.
He had low self-esteem and felt embarrassed in social situations. Consequently, he confined himself to his home and refused to go to school. He also started cutting his wrists and voiced thoughts of self-harm. He was referred by his treating dermatologist to a psychodermatologist, who established the relationship between his psychosocial stress and the current exacerbation of lesions.
Supportive psychotherapy that focused on grief and CBT used to address his cognitive distortions proved helpful. His lesions started healing in about 3 weeks.
See that? Change the mental state, change the skin condition.
How could this help clear up acne?
The mind-skin connection can be used to help acne in two ways.
Firstly, by preventing (as much as feasibly possible) negative mental states you are removing one of the barriers to clear skin. You will be allowing your skin to heal itself, creating the right conditions where other aspects of your acne regimen can work.
Here’s a lengthy post on how to reduce stress and acne. If you suffer depression or anxiety, try all the tips it contains and do the smart thing – seek professional help.
Secondly, why not turn the mind-skin connection into a part of this acne regimen?
Almost every day when I had acne, especially when I was a little down in the dumps about how cruel life was to give acne to a nice guy like me throughout his early twenties, I practiced visualization.
And I’m convinced it helps.
Every day, while I was lying in bed waiting to drop off to sleep, I’d “visualize” the feeling of dry sunlight on my skin. I’d imagine exactly how it would feel to have the sun beaming down on your face, clearing away your acne.
Sometimes, for a change, I’d imagine healing, salty sea-water washing over my face as I lay on the shore, just washing those pimples away.
Because if negative emotions can cause blushing and acne, positive emotions can surely do the opposite, so I encourage you all do try this.
I hope I’ve convinced you that there is a very real connection between your mind and your skin.
The importance of keeping a positive state of mind, however hard this may seem sometimes, is not something to be underestimated when you’re dealing with acne.
Nailing your diet, sleep, shaving routine, supplements – all the physical things you’re doing to combat acne – is essential.
But to allow these things to have their full effect – leading, in the right conditions, to 100% acne clearance – requires you to also closely manage your mental state and even use it to your advantage.
This is not mumbo-jumbo, it’s real. It costs nothing, it’s easy and I’m convinced it helped me clear my acne.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go back this post up on my USB pen…