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Psychodermatology: Making the Link Between Mental Health and Skin Problems

Updated on April 2, 2013
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Many skin disorders are worsened by emotional and physical stress. Psychodermatologists address the connection between mind and skin.
Many skin disorders are worsened by emotional and physical stress. Psychodermatologists address the connection between mind and skin. | Source

Psychodermatology

Many skin disorders are worsened by stress brought on by challenging mental and physical issues. Stress, as we know it, is a relatively modern problem. As with most modern day health issues, medical specialists have emerged to treat such newborn illnesses. Psychodermatology-the field of study that links skin disorders to mental health- is one such new area of focus in the medical community.

Psychodermatologists are dermatologists that treat skin conditions by addressing the emotional state of the patient. Mental illness, stress, emotional distress, and temporary anxiety from a trauma can all affect the skin in adverse ways.

The skin is a living organ that reflects the overall health of the person who wears it. Nearly everyone has experienced some form of skin condition during their life such as dandruff, acne, rashes, hives, shingles, and psoriasis, to name a few. These disorders can have a genetic component, but most are worsened by stress and/or mental anguish.

Stress can affect overall health, including skin, in a negative way. Stress can slow metabolism, increase harmful cholesterol, reduce immune system resistance, and cause havoc in the body’s nervous system. It can also inhibit the body’s healing methods.

Hives can occur due to high levels of the stress hormone cortisol present in the body.
Hives can occur due to high levels of the stress hormone cortisol present in the body. | Source

Skin Disorders Worsened by Stress

Acne-In 2003, a Stanford University study showed that students under pressure due to exams were more likely to have their acne worsen during these times than in less stressful periods. The study showed that only students who already had acne were affected by the stress; students without acne present before exams did not generate any skin issues during the same period of time. Researchers believe that when a person is under pressure, more oil is produced which clogs pores producing acne.

Dandruff-A fungus is the cause of annoying dandruff and stress can aggravate the problem by lowering the immune system which makes it harder for the body to fight off the fungus.

Hives-The body can only handle so much stress before it starts to fight back or even shut down. Too much of the stress hormone cortisol can cause hives to pop out on all parts of the body. Stress related hives is an allergic reaction caused from the body being "washed" in too much cortisol.

Psoriasis-Many sufferers of psoriasis report the onset of the disorder during a time of tremendous stress. Many sufferers also state that stress makes the breakouts worse. Cortisol has been documented in tests showing elevated levels in psoriasis patients.

Trichotillomania results in baldness and breakage of hair.
Trichotillomania results in baldness and breakage of hair. | Source

Mental Illnesses and Skin Disorders

Vitiligo- The whitening patches of skin Is a pigmentation disorder in which the cells that make pigment are killed. It is commonly thought to be an autoimmune disorder. Recent studies have shown a correlation between personality disorders and vitiligo. The extreme anxiety, worry, tension and even violence that people who have personality disorders exhibit can break down the body, including the skin’s defenses to protect itself.

Dysmorphophobia-Also known as body dysmorphic disorder, it is characterized by a fixation on an imaginary flaw such as an acne scar or wound scab. Related mental illnesses that develop this disorder are obsessive-compulsive disorders, schizophrenia and dementia. This can result in excessive picking of an acne scar or wound scab creating a larger skin problem than originally occurred.

Trichotillomania-The compulsive habit to pull hair that results in patches of baldness and broken hairs of different lengths. In children, it develops as a nervous tic but in adults it can become a psychiatric compulsive disorder.


Foods that Help Fight Stress

Salmon, Pecans, Avocados, Almonds, Oatmeal, Honey, Green Tea

Stress Reduction is the Key

If you suffer from a skin problem that you know is made worse by stress, then prevention must be part of the treatment plan. A psychodermatologist will more than likely suggest some type of therapy from a mental health professional. Talk therapy is one of the most popular forms of treatment for stress related issues. Group therapy can also be very effective, allowing you to share with others your worries and concerns.

Other forms of treatment that might be included are meditation, yoga, regular exercise, spiritual development, and proper nutrition.The medical community, in large part, has come around in the acceptance of how spirituality plays a role in healing. Research has shown that prayer, meditation and positive thought can change brain waves to promote healing.

Meditation is Good for the Soul

About the Author

Catherine Dean is a freelance writer, gardener, quilter, and blogger. Her professional background includes nonprofit program development, grant writing, and volunteer management. She holds a Bachelor of Science in Mass Communications from Georgia College & State University.

Her blog, Sowing A Simple Harvest, chronicles a modern couple trying to live a simplistic, sustainable life. To explore Catherine's professional credentials, visit her website. She can also be followed on Google+.

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    • profile image

      2 years ago

      My young daughter breake into hives at least once a year...all over her body. She also has some personality disorder precursors...I am going to look into the cortisol connection.

    • Larry Rankin profile image

      Larry Rankin 

      3 years ago from Oklahoma

      I once broke into hives when I was in a particularly stressful time in life.

      Very interesting hub.

    • mvillecat profile imageAUTHOR

      Catherine Dean 

      5 years ago from Milledgeville, Georgia

      Thank you for commenting! Our modern lives lead to so many terrible side effects. We have to reclaim our bodies and lives. My hope in sharing is that it will help others in their suffering. It is always great to know you are not alone.

    • Thundermama profile image

      Catherine Taylor 

      5 years ago from Canada

      This is a very interesting hub and area of study. I have long suffered with eczema and know that it worsens with stress. I like that this is a very natural and holistic way of treating a health issue that gets to the cause rather then focusing on the symptom. Well done.

    • mvillecat profile imageAUTHOR

      Catherine Dean 

      5 years ago from Milledgeville, Georgia

      Thank you and please read my Living with Stress Hives hub. I too live with them and have for years. It is a real sign to slow down and take care of yourself. Thanks for commenting!

    • khmazz profile image

      Kristen Mazzola 

      5 years ago from South Florida

      This hub is very helpful and informative. I suffer from rashes brought on by stress and a lot of the information in this was so great for me. Thank you for sharing this wonderful information! Voted up! (I've loved all of the work I have read so far of yours!)

    • mvillecat profile imageAUTHOR

      Catherine Dean 

      5 years ago from Milledgeville, Georgia

      Thank you so much Gail. Your writing is much needed in this world also. I greatly appreciate your kind words. Thank you.

    • Gail Meyers profile image

      Gail Meyers 

      5 years ago from Kansas City - United States

      This is an informative and well-written hub on an important topic, Catherine. Stress can cause so many seemingly unrelated health issues. I think it is great you are getting this kind of information out there. Voted up and shared.

    • mvillecat profile imageAUTHOR

      Catherine Dean 

      5 years ago from Milledgeville, Georgia

      I find it very interesting myself, torrilynn, I don't think it is widely known either. Thanks for commenting and voting!

    • torrilynn profile image

      torrilynn 

      5 years ago

      mvillecat,

      I never knew that there was a link and I would have never

      thought there to be a link between skin and you mental health

      very interesting indeed

      Voting up and shared

    • mvillecat profile imageAUTHOR

      Catherine Dean 

      5 years ago from Milledgeville, Georgia

      Thanks so much for commenting and voting janshares! I have suffered from stress related hives for years and was so thankful when I finally got the correct information. I do hope it helps others.

    • janshares profile image

      Janis Leslie Evans 

      5 years ago from Washington, DC

      Well-done hub, mvillecat. This can be helpful to so many who suffer from recurring ailments but don't understand why. Interesting field. Voted up, useful, and interesting.

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