Like many others I grew up with a lot of stress, both the self-induced teenage kind as well as circumstantial. The stress repeatedly showed on my skin, and played on my self-esteem. As an adult, feeling the need to do something about it, I read a lot about treatments, techniques. I was unaware at the time, but I had slowly created a ‘holistic’ skin care routine for myself by monitoring my ‘triggers’ and managing them. I have learned to be careful about the food I eat, the products, clothes I use and get in some exercise. It has made a tremendous difference to my skin, except for those occasions when runaway stress becomes visible as terrible skin outbreaks. Clearly I am yet to master calming of the mind. My own experiences have repeatedly convinced me of the criticality of holistic treatment for skin-health concerns.
Stress and skin conditions
The relationship between stress and skin has been around since ancient times. An article from Harvard Health Publications titled ‘Recognizing the mind-skin connection’ says “Communication through the skin is thought by many to be central to the development of feelings about the self and the world” (1). According to clinical psychologist and psychodermatology expert Dr. Ted A. Grossbart, Assistant Clinical Professor of Psychology at Harvard Medical School, skin conditions often have a related psychological problem that affects the response to medical treatment.
And yet this mind-body relationship is not part of mainstream treatments of skin conditions, or even in aesthetic discussions with skin care professionals. The good news is there are a few physicians like Dr Grossbart mentioned above, and other practitioners for integrated medicine, naturopathy who include stress management into their treatment approaches. They are clearly leading the way towards a more holistic approach to ‘treating’ skin-health concerns addressing the triggers, causes, not just the symptoms.
Eczema, autoimmune diseases and stress
One of the most prevalent skin conditions, eczema, was recently proved to be an autoimmune diseases by a study published in 2015 in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology (2).
50% of autoimmune onset is attributed to “unknown” reasons. However well-documented research has found that both physiological as well as psychological stress has been shown to trigger the development of autoimmune diseases. Studies have found up to 80% of patients reporting uncommon emotional stress before the onset of their autoimmune disease (3). In cases of autoimmune diseases that affect the body visibly (4), the onset can trigger or worsen the visible effects like skin conditions, hair loss. The American Academy of Family Physicians, or AAFP, explains that eczema frequently runs in families and can be worsened by stress. Even affected children can get stressed.
Nearly 32M adults & children are affected in the US alone (5). Now between 15 and 30 percent of children and 2 percent to 10 percent of adults have eczema. Fortunately, in more than two-thirds of children with eczema, the condition resolves on its own before adolescence (6).
"Current treatment involves a prescription steroid, used topically in tiny amounts, coupled with an over-the-counter moisturizer applied after showering to hold water in the skin" (6). But for moderate to severe eczema there is still a lack of good treatments from an incomplete understanding of the disease (7).
Treating the skin with a non-toxic moisturizer can be very helpful for quick gratification of the symptoms, as well as for ongoing moisture care of the skin barrier. But to help that be effective, and to prevent from additional outbreaks, adding stress management to the care for mild to moderate cases can only benefit the condition. (Severe eczema which is resistant and unresponsive to typical treatments can be associated with other diseases and may need medical interventions).
Four stress management options for a daily routine
Adults can include stress management into their daily routine with quick activities & checks.
Research studies continue to be conducted, and amazing innovations continue to emerge in pharmacological treatments, as well as in non toxic ingredients for eczema care. But practicing self-care and seeking professional treatment using a holistic approach can help get more satisfactory, lasting results for the demanding needs of eczema.