Although many skin conditions are genetically inherited, their level of severity and the frequency of skin outbreaks are often dominated by psychological factors, creating a vicious cycle.
Stress, emotional trauma, bereavement, divorce, redundancy, depression – all these have a psychological effect on the brain and the nervous system which, in turn, affects the skin.[quote] Actually having a chronic skin condition like eczema or psoriasis can, in itself, create psychological fluctuations via anxiety and depression which can make the skin condition worse. An estimated 20 per cent of psoriasis sufferers also have depression.[/quote]
During periods of anxiety or stress, the adrenal gland produces more of a hormone called cortisol, which affects the body’s immune system. This in turn can cause the skin’s own defences to either weaken, as in the case of eczema, or go into overdrive, as in the case of psoriasis.
There is growing scientific evidence to prove that psychology and skin conditions are directly linked;
– A study published in the British Journal of Dermatology found that almost 40 cent of psoriasis sufferers recalled stressful events in the month before their condition got noticeably worse, though in some cases it could take just two days to bring on an attack.
– A study in the The International Society of Dermatology found that people with psoriasis reported a lower quality of life and higher than normal stress levels.
– A study in the American Journal of Pathology. Researchers found that the immune cells in skin can over-react when levels of stress rise, resulting in inflammatory skin diseases.
– A recent study found that children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHA) are more prone to eczema due to sleep disturbances and high levels of anxiety experienced by children with ADHD. While a separate study published in New Scientist Magazine found that laughter can relieve eczema in babies.[quote] – Skin conditions can also affect sexual confidence and cause sexual dysfunction. A recent study published in the The Journal of Dermatology found that psoriasis can have a significant and negative impact on sexual function in both men and women, although the study found that sexual dysfunction was high in female psoriasis sufferers than with male.[/quote]
Although medications and skin treatments help, there is still very little help offered to address the psychological impact of having a long term skin disease.
But due to the mounting evidence, doctors and dermatologists are starting to wake up to the fact that offering psychological therapy as well as medical treatments to people with chronic skin conditions can actually help improve people’s skin far better than medications alone.
This emerging medical discipline, known as psychodermatology, uses a combined therapeutic and dermatological approach to treating skin conditions.
Meditation has also been shown to help improve skin conditions.
Psychological councelling, which aims to help uncover more hidden causes of stress and anxiety going as far back as childhood experiences, can also help people to get their skin conditions into perspective as well as relieve stress and anxiety levels.