Psychodermatology: the relationship between the mind and skin

Jess Henshall

Ask anyone about their skin break outs and they’ll often tell you it’s because they’re going through a stressful time. Of course skin can be badly affected by the foods we eat and the products we use on the skin which is often what we focus on, but we can easily forget the power of the mind. 

Our mind and bodies are more connected than we often think them to be, it’s the reason we blush when embarrassed, sweat when we’e nervous and get chills when we’re scared. It’s all about a complex relationship between mind, emotions, hormones and the skin (our largest organ).

Stress is a force to be reckoned with. Sometimes it is logical, stemming from work or school of personal life, but sometimes we can feel stress for no apparent reason. People with anxiety will often get “free floating anxiety” where we feel anxious but it isn't attached to one thing in particular, it is just there eating us away. Any kind of stress (whether it be contained stress or disordered stress) can have powerful effects on the body, one of the main things being the skin. 

When we get stressed our skin reacts to this, breaking out in response to the poison in our bodies (the stress). When this happens, we often become stressed about the skin problem, adding stress (the side effect of the skin issue) onto stress (the cause of the skin issue). This means that we get caught in a cycle of stress and bad skin, feeling as though there is no way out. 

There are three main categories within psychodermatology:


This is where a skin condition is triggered or worsened by stress. Examples which may be worsened or triggered by stress include: chronic achne, eczema, psoriasis and alopecia. This can be helped through stress relief, as here stress is the cause. 

Secondary psychiatric

This is where skin conditions such as acne or psoriasis cause feelings of embarrassment, anxiety and stress which erodes self-esteem. This is normally helped through treatment of the condition (through diet and products) as here stress is a side effect not necessarily the cause. 

Primary psychiatric

This is where the skin condition is a direct result of a psychiatric (mental) disorder such as body dysmorphia, chronic hair pulling or self inflicted damage to the skin. This is often treated through psychotherapy as it is the mind that is the cause, not the skin condition itself, however this is normally picked up by a dermatologist when people seek treatment for the skin damage. 

Using natural gentle products and looking as diet for better skin will definitely help to calm down the skin, as well as looking at stress relief methods to ease the side of the mind skin connection. 

Although psychodermatology is one way of looking at treating a skin condition, it shouldn't replace any medical treatment, but is definitely worth knowing about to understand the effects of stress on our bodies.