Fear makes you go pale. Embarrassment makes you blush. Passion makes you flush. Emotions are worn all over your face!
So, what about acne?
First, having acne (or eczema, or psoriasis, or perioral dermatitis, or really dry or oily skin) is without a doubt stressful, to say the least. Waking up to skin that doesn’t feel good, much less look the way you want it to causes anxiety and stress, lowers self-esteem and changes a person’s inner-dialogue and thought-patterns about themselves.
“I’m dirty. I’m ugly. I look awful. I don’t deserve to be loved. To be seen. To be successful.”
This is not extreme. 3 years of running Stark and half a decade now deeply embedded in the life of holistic skincare, I have witnessed this from customers, friends, family and yes, even myself. Sometimes the words are different, sometimes the intensity wanes, but the idea is the same: we judge ourselves when our skin isn’t the way we want it to be. Especially as women, our self-esteem is so wrapped up in our appearance, that when we don’t feel we look our best, we really start to beat ourselves up.
But what came first? The stress of having the acne, or the stress of believing that someone (yourself) could be unlovable…because of acne?
There is growing evidence in (Western) medicine that skin ailments such as acne can be caused by emotional issues, such as stress. Of course, this is exactly the kind of thing that has been accepted in both Ayurveda and Traditional Chinese Medicine. Haha, Western medicine. Slow on the uptake once again. It’s a little generic, but yes, there is a strong link between acne and stress, due to a number of reasons from sleep deficiency to raised cortisol levels. But what if the issue goes beyond stress at work or a heavy schedule?
We don’t often think of something like acne as a symptom of something greater; as a physiological response to emotional pain, for one. We can deal with stress, sure, but it’s the deeper, underlying causes that are harder to pin-point. We feel acne is more of a reflection of a character flaw, even if we don’t say that out loud. “I’ll never get the job/lover/friends/classes I want. Look at my face! They’re judging me. They know I will screw it up.” or “I can’t take care of myself. My diet is terrible! I don’t know how to feed myself properly. What’s wrong with me? Ugh!” or “I keep buying the wrong products! I’m such an idiot…why is this so confusing?” or ” This is my fault… I kept playing with it. I’m so gross.” or “I can’t let people see me like this… I will embarrass everyone.” I see the stress it causes. The turmoil that acne and other skin conditions cause is as stressful as the underlying issues that caused it in the first place.
And it hurts. Physically, emotionally, these thoughts are deeply wounding. We ignore what our skin is trying to tell us, we blame ourselves for not being able to take care of it, we ignore the true underlying issues. Why do we feel ugly? Why would we, or anybody, not be deserving of love? We start to believe that pimples or a dry patch or a rash announces to the world that we’re fuck-ups, and to stay away.
Then long after the pimple goes away and the scar fades, the emotional damage has been done and worse, is not being dealt with.
It can also hurt the people around us. I have a friend who I’ve known for 10 years, and for as long as I’ve known her, she has referred to herself as a “monster”. She has denied herself romantic relationships, assuming nobody will ever truly love her or find her beautiful because of her cystic acne, so she will only date people she isn’t remotely attracted to. The truth is she’s a beautiful person, but her extremely negative view of herself has pushed people away from her. The stress of some friendships disappearing from her life because of her obsession about her skin causes more stress and anxiety, and she starts a vicious cycle of getting upset, then smoking and drinking, getting depressed for a period of time, then having a major detox, (which often causes a big cystic acne breakout) which eventually she can’t keep up with, “fails”, and the cycle continues. She puts so much energy into this destructive cycle (let alone her work and kids) that often there’s not much energy to put into healing herself. For true self-care. The kind that’s often really hard to start…because it’s utterly frightening. This is self-care that you cannot buy from a jar. It rips you right open, and you have to build yourself up again, one little human lego brick at a time. It’s so painful to watch her flail.
The mind/skin connection is something I go deep into in my course 21 days, where we look at it in much greater detail and I offer a lot of guidance and tools. However, whatever your own skin issues might be (if any) there are some simple things you can do to help clear your own skin’s response to emotional baggage:
- Reduce stress by getting enough sleep.
- Meditate 5 minutes a day.
- Reduce caffeine intake and eat more vegetable and fruit.
- Be aware of your negative self talk. Drawing awareness to what you might be telling yourself could help you realize that you’d NEVER say these things to another person…and you don’t deserve this abuse, either.
Do you beat yourself up when your skin isn’t looking it’s best? Do you see a correlation between stress and how your skin looks?