Any time Esi feels nervous, she breaks out all over her 13-year-old face. Johnny often feels so sorry for himself that he has eczema that he shuts himself off from the world during bad flares. And the only way that Janet can stop her obsessive thoughts is by pulling out her hair.
In these and many other ways, the mind and the skin are intimately intertwined. You name it: acne, hives, eczema, rashes, alopecia loss of hair), many skin disorders take their roots from or place their roots in the psyche.
Experts are calling this new field “psychodermatology.”
“Psychodermatogy is a field that addresses the impact of an individual’s emotion as it relates to the skin.
The mind and skin are connected on many different levels. A lot of nerve endings are connected to the skin, which wrap around the organs, so as emotions are played out neurologically, they can be expressed through the skin just as stress can be expressed through gastrointestinal symptoms, increased anxiety and hypertension.
Take acne, for example, when you are tense, your body releases stress hormones including cortisol, which may increase the skin’s oil production, making you prone to pimples. In some auto-immune diseases such as alopecia (hair loss) and vitiligo, scientists now show markers that a stressful event can trigger the auto-immune reaction.
In other cases, people have truly psychiatric diseases that present as dermatological ones, including cutting, nail biting, hair pulling, some tic behaviours, and delusional parasitosis, a mistaken belief that one is being infested by parasites such as mites, lice, fleas, spiders, worms, bacteria, or other organisms.
It’s the target organ theory, and certain people have different target organs that channel stress, Some people get ulcers, some people get migraine and other people get rashes as the skin is their target organ.
If appearance is impacted due to a skin condition, you can end up having to deal with self-esteem issues and social stigma, which, if unaddressed, can lead to depression.
If they truly have depression or a diagnosed anxiety or psychological disorders, medication can be helpful and so can a brief course of cognitive behavioural therapy that works at changing reactions and behaviours.
Relaxation training can help as well
One study has showed that children’s mood and activity levels improved, as did all measures of their skin condition including redness and itching after massage therapy.
Parents’ anxiety also decreased.
Another potential solution is habit-reversal training.
Say you pick at your acne or eczema and you get scarring and are actually making it worse, you need to be aware where your hands are. Being more self-aware of what your hands are doing and having alternative behaviours that take the place can help.
For example, every time your hand reaches above your neck, grab a pencil and write a sentence.
When children develop stress-induced skin conditions, the onus may be on adults to ask what kind of impact the skin disease is having on them and what kind of stressful events they are going through because very young children experience stress just like adults do.
Maybe they are being teased or bullied. A doctor or parent can ask about school and friends to find out if the child is socially connected or excluded from normal social activities.
The mind-skin connection makes all the sense in the world. Studies that show that at least 30% of all dermatology patients have some underlying psychological problems that often go unaddressed, at least on initial visit, but if addressed, it can have a very positive and powerful impact in improving the skin condition.
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