Psycho-dermatology goes beyond skin deep to get to the root of the problem.
Psycho-dermatology goes beyond skin deep to get to the root of the problem.
Image: 123RF / Анастасия Мрищук

A couple of months ago, as lockdown restrictions tightened, I found myself at one end of a WhatsApp video call, couch bound and tissue box at the ready, talking emotional triggers. I wasn’t chatting with a friend or psychologist nor was it pillow talk with a lover. On the other end was a dermatologist who works at Dr P Aesthetic Lifestyle Centre, in Hyde Park Shopping Corner, and we were in the middle of an online consultation unpacking relationship and work dilemmas.

It seems that my skin issues were bringing up other issues, and there was a lot to talk about. Unpaid invoices, managing shifting friendships, a virus lurking beyond what your eyes could see — multiple anxieties and stresses. I didn’t realise it then, but essentially, I’d unknowingly hopped on to the “talking cure” trend — one of the latest beauty treatments being touted by the FT. A beauty treatment that exists by happenstance ... one born out of the perfect storm that is Covid-19.

Sarah Chapman, a facialist interviewed in the FT’s piece which asks, “Does your skin need a shrink?”, says that “on an emotional level, speaking about skin issues can bring up a complicated mixture of feelings — and as with any therapy, it can be beneficial to open up about these.” Our levels of anxiety, stress and trauma are going through the roof, so right now it would make sense that we need our skin professionals to also be good listeners too.

Deciem, which makes cult brand The Ordinary whose products we love so much, also responded quickly to the call as lockdown affected our daily patterns. They offered free online consultations from around April 2020, during which you could talk live with skin experts about which affordable — but luxe — potion to use to perk up your skin.

It’s about time our mental health got more face-time. Talking about what may be bothering you has become more popular are has been explored in psycho-dermatology and one doctor who has studied psychiatry and dermatology explains its relevance in that “the skin and the entire central nervous system are formed at the same time, and have an absolute embryological connection”.

Another licensed clinical therapist, Matthew Traube, says that psycho-dermatology is how “your skin influences your mind, and vice versa”. While the science behind whether your feelings affect your face is relatively new, the findings from the studies that focus on psoriasis, “a chronic skin condition caused by a haywire immune system that creates an overgrowth of skin cells, which manifests in itchy, scaly patches on the skin”, could “apply to acne or eczema or other conditions resulting from inflammation”.

We’ve all seen how our happiness shows up as a glow just as much as exhaustion manifests in dull skin, reaffirming the saying that how you feel “is written all over your face”

Many sufferers of psoriasis in the US, have shared with researchers that “stress has a way of making the condition worse”,  and list “emotional stress — not diet, not the weather, not medications or infections — as the number-one trigger for their symptoms”.

It would make sense that this kind of talking cure would be a good idea to incorporate as part of your whole beauty regime. We’ve all seen how our happiness shows up as a glow just as much as exhaustion manifests in dull skin, reaffirming the saying that how you feel “is written all over your face”.

A lot of times, a product (from make-up to an anti-acne patch) can only paper over the skin concern at its surface so the problem never really goes away. If you look at flare-ups, they’re mostly a result of inflammation, and stress is a big trigger. Instead of just treating the topical, this type of skin therapy goes deeper. Some might say that it may require more than your regular facialist at hand to deal with more serious issues, but I think even a good cry in front of someone you trust can be a good first step in tackling what may really be going on with that breakout.


1. Virtual facials: This beauty innovation brings the safety of the clinic into your home. Purchase a professional kit with samples of an exfoliator, serum, mask and cleanser for R350; and book a session for a virtual consultation with a therapist to help guide you through mixing and steps.

2. Facial yoga: Originating from Japan, these series of facial exercises that target your muscles, connective tissue, and blood circulation by pinching and rolling over your skin to reduce signs of ageing, are the hot new thing again. And it costs nothing but time.

3. Collagen powders: Not having enough of this protein causes lines, sagging and wrinkling skin — and now believers are spooning it into their smoothies or masks to try to improve their skin’s elasticity. Health experts aren’t sure though if the skin can absorb enough to make any difference and a variety of other nutrients are needed to absorb collagen when ingested.

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