Psychodermatology Overview


Psychodermatologists usually combine traditional treatments with stress-relieving therapy. See more getting beautiful skin pictures.
©iStockphoto.com/Marcin Balcerzak

When you're mentally worn out from a tough week at work, a fight with a friend or just a long day, there are probably some steps you'll take to relax. You might have a bubble bath, talk to a friend or take a day off from your job. But what if your skin is trying to tell you that it needs a break? A pesky breakout or itchy rash may be a sign that your skin is also fed up with whatever is stressing you out. Irritated skin usually sends people running to the drug store for quick relief, but a rising trend has some heading to dermatologists who specialize in psychodermatology -- therapists for your skin.

Psychodermatology is an approach to treating skin conditions that addresses the connection between mind and body and, in doing so, examines disorders that are exacerbated by psychological or emotional stress. The field's practitioners study the external stressors that often trigger skin conditions or inhibit the body's healing process. With these stressors in mind, a psychodermatologist creates a treatment plan that can involve anything from yoga to self-hypnosis, often in tandem with more traditional dermatology therapies, such as antibiotics. Although psychodermatology has been growing in popularity, it may be more effective for conditions that aren't responding well to medical treatment than for conditions that do [source: American Academy of Dermatology, Koo and Lebwohl].

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Whether you have a chronic skin disorder or an unexpected flare-up of a skin condition, psychodermatology could be a helpful complement or alternative to conventional treatments. But before you decide if psychodermatology is right for you, you should have an idea of what psychodermatologists do, the methods they use and the benefits of these treatments.

Read on to learn more about if psychodermatology actually works.

Effectiveness of Psychodermatology

While psychodermatology exists as an alternative approach to skin care, the field does not ignore traditional treatments. Instead, a typical psychodermatology treatment is often a combination of conventional medications and stress-relieving psychological remedies. Because prescribed treatments -- traditional and otherwise -- are unique to an individual, it is difficult to resolutely qualify the effectiveness of psychodermatology. Medical professionals are pretty much split in their opinions on how beneficial the practice is. People who are skeptical of psychodermatology cite the practice's heavy reliance on anecdotal results rather than quantifiable studies. And many dermatologists feel that patients with positive responses to psychodermatology are simply reacting to the traditional medications [source: Singer].

In spite of these criticisms of psychodermatology, some research has shown clear links between skin diseases and psychological factors. In one study, 50 to 90 percent of patients with chronic conditions, like psoriasis, acne, eczema and rosacea, had emotional triggers [source: Jafferany]. This evidence is one of psychodermatologists' major arguments. They believe that these emotional stressors can make traditional medicines less effective, so removing the stressors has to be part of a patient's treatment. The American Academy of Dermatology concluded that when dermatologists treat both skin and the source of stress, the skin clears more quickly as stress decreases [source: American Academy of Dermatology].

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While there is some disagreement in the medical community on whether or not psychodermatology is an effective approach, there aren't really any disadvantages to trying it out [source: Singer]. As long as you keep undergoing traditional treatment, a mind-clearing exercise like yoga probably can't hurt -- and may even help you become healthier overall.

Read on for more on what psychodermatologists can do for you and your skin.

Psychodermatologists

Psychodermatologists approach treating skin disorders by examining the mind's response to environmental stressors such as work, family and relationships and how these stressors affect your skin. A psychodermatologist's role is to help you discover the underlying emotional factors contributing to your skin condition and to help you learn how to manage this stress in a way that will enable your skin to heal quickly.

"Derm shrinks" or "skin shrinks" sometimes prescribe relaxation and meditation, often in addition to traditional medications, as a way to care for the skin [source: Mapes]. Other alternative treatments range from common exercise and Eastern practices like yoga and tai chi to lesser known techniques such as self-hypnosis or biofeedback. Hypnosis and biofeedback -- real-time measurements of physiological responses to help patients gain awareness to their bodies' functions -- are methods that focus on mentally preparing yourself to heal. These techniques may include relaxing and imagining peaceful locations or mentally walking through the healing process and visualizing the positive end result. Some psychodermatologists also prescribe therapy or anti-anxiety medications to help deal with certain conditions.

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The effectiveness of psychodermatology has not been universally refuted or accepted by the medical community. However, many psychodermatologists report positive results that suggest a link between mental stress and skin conditions. If you suffer from a dermatological disorder that seems to grow exponentially under stress, you may want to explore this field a little further.

Read on to find a lot more information about treating skin conditions.

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Sources

  • American Academy of Dermatology. "Feeling Stressed? How your skin, hair and nails can show it." Science Daily. November 12, 2007. (Accessed 7/28/09).http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/11/071109194053.htm
  • American Academy of Dermatology. "Psychodermatology Fact Sheet." November 2008. (Accessed 7/28/09).http://www.pwrnewmedia.com/2008/aad111308/downloads/HealthSkin_Psychodermatology.pdf
  • Jafferany, Mohammad. "Psychodermatology: A Guide to Understanding Psychocutaneous Disorders." The Primary Care Companion to the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry. v.9, no.3. September 9, 2006. (Accessed 7/28/09).http://www.pubmedcentral.nih.gov/articlerender.fcgi?artid=1911167
  • Koo, John, MD and Andy Lebwohl, MD. "Psychodermatology: The Mind and Skin Connection." American Family Physician. December 1, 2001. (Accessed 7/29/09)http://www.aafp.org/afp/20011201/1873.html
  • Mapes, Diane. "Does your skin need a shrink?" MSNBC. February 12, 2007. (Accessed 7/28/09).http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/17009655
  • National Eczema Association. "Can Psychodermatology Help Your Eczema?" April 3, 2009. (Accessed 7/29/09).http://www.nationaleczema.org/living/can_psychodermatology_help_your_eczema.htm
  • Singer, Natasha. “If You Think It, It Will Clear.” The New York Times. July 28, 2005. (Accessed 7/28/09) http://www.nytimes.com/2005/07/28/fashion/thursdaystyles/28skin.html
  • Wechsler, Amy. "Stress and Your Skin." Parade. October 10, 2007. (Accessed 7/28/09).http://www.parade.com/health/healthyskin/stress-and-your-skin.html