Breaking the Psychodermatologic Cycle: Emotional Challenges Can Worsen Skin Conditions
By Chandrally “Chun” Mahajan, MPH - Healthcare Correspondent
April 6, 2023
Mental health is often overlooked when it comes to skin conditions - although it is indeed a critical component of our overall well-being. Skin conditions, including Eczema, Acne, Psoriasis, Dermatillomania and Pigmentation issues, can have a significant burden on an individual’s mental health, making it essential to understand the connection between the two.
Emotional challenges can worsen skin conditions and having to live with them can cause emotional distress, low Self-Esteem and social isolation, along with feelings of embarrassment, Anxiety and Depression. This can understandably make it difficult to go through our daily lives. It is no surprise then that there are higher correlations of mental health issues for those who suffer from skin conditions. This is especially seen in Acne which can be a root of Anxiety and Body Dysmorphia for individuals. Acne is a common skin condition that can make people feel self-conscious and ashamed, especially during Adolescence when social acceptance is crucial. In adulthood as well, the presence of Acne can bring shame as Acne is incorrectly associated with a teenagers’ poor hygiene when in fact it may have always been caused by a Hormonal Imbalance.
As a result, the appearance of skin conditions can affect Self-Esteem and confidence. People with skin conditions also face judgment and discrimination from others often, which can be isolating and demoralizing. Moreover, the physical discomfort and pain caused by skin conditions can also contribute to poor Mental Health, as it makes it challenging to carry out regular activities and can disrupt sleep.
Stress is also known to play a role in the development and exacerbation of skin conditions. When a person is stressed, their body produces Cortisol. This hormone can increase inflammation and potentially aggravate skin conditions like: Eczema, Psoriasis and even Dermatillomania. Dermatillomania is a skin picking disorder in which individuals remove irritation from their skin consciously or subconsciously to help alleviate their discomfort. According to the American Journal of Psychiatry, it is estimated that 1 in 20 people have this “excoriation disorder” and that it is very challenging to treat. The pigmentation and scarring that results from the picking of the skin can also lead to significant disruption of the skin barrier. This makes complications like itching, sensitivity, irritation and infection more likely. Stress management through skin picking may play a role in how often individuals pick their skin and in response to what kinds of Psychological Distress.
Treating both the physical symptoms of skin conditions and the emotional distress they cause is essential for overall well-being. Seeking professional help, such as Therapy or Dermatology, can help manage the emotional and physical symptoms of skin conditions. Coping strategies like practicing consistent self-care, exercise, mediation, mindfulness and building a support system made up of supportive friends and family members can help manage stress levels and improve overall mental well-being. Furthermore, some Supplements do exist to help manage the Psychological and Dermatological balance, but I recommend speaking with your Healthcare Provider for more information on what works best for you.
In conclusion, skin conditions can significantly impact Mental Health and it is crucial to acknowledge and address this connection. The “Psychodermatological Cycle” is where our skin affects our Psyche and our Psyche worsens our skin as a manifestation of eroding physical health. To improve overall well-being, seeking help and support, practicing self-care and building a support system are essential in managing skin conditions and improving Mental fortitude. By taking care of both Physical and Mental Health, individuals can break this vicious cycle and enhance their quality of life.
That’s it for now. Signing off!
Dalgard, F. J., Gieler, U., Tomas-Aragones, L., Lien, L., Poot, F., Jemec, G. B. E., Misery, L., Szabo, C., Linder, D., Sampogna, F., & Evers, A. W. M. (2015). The Psychological burden of skin diseases: A cross-sectional multicenter study among Dermatological out-patients in 13 European countries. Journal of Investigative Dermatology, 135(4), 984–991.
Gupta, M. A., & Gupta, A. K. (1998). Depression and Suicidal Ideation in Dermatology patients with Acne, Alopecia Areata, Atopic Dermatitis and Psoriasis. The British Journal of Dermatology, 139(5), 846–850.
Picardi, A., Abeni, D., Melchi, C. F., Puddu, P., & Pasquini, P. (2001). Psychiatric Morbidity in Dermatological outpatients: An issue to be recognized. The British Journal of Dermatology, 145(1), 20–26.
McBride, D., Keegan, D., & Fisher, G. (2018). Acne Vulgaris: Psychological aspects and patient-focused perspectives. Psychology Research and Behavior Management, 11, 383–392