InStyle's State of Skin study found that a whopping 76% of the women we surveyed said they felt good about themselves if they thought their skin looked good, regardless of age. While their specific concerns varied, depending on how old or young they were, there's no question that the overall appearance of their skin played a vital role when it came to their confidence — and both mental health professionals and dermatologists agree.
"A bad skin day can have a tremendous impact on a woman's self-esteem," Miami-based dermatologist Dr. Heather Woolery-Lloyd shares. "In some cases, patients have told me that an especially severe breakout can even stop them from going to school or work."
Zakiyyah Abdul-Mateen has heard similar stories from her patients in her psychotherapy practice — and she knows exactly why so many feel this way. "As humans, we are conditioned to look at outward expressions of the people we meet — our skin is commonly identified as the outward expression of beauty," she explains. "From childhood to adulthood, we gather beliefs about ourselves based on others' opinions. These beliefs then shape how we feel about ourselves and how we behave."
The mental health professional also adds that even though most are aware that it's completely normal and natural for the skin to fluctuate from time-to-time, the appearance of blemished skin is still seen as something that many believe needs to be covered up in order to be acceptable. "Being confident in oneself despite having acne or any other skin condition takes time and patience," she says, as a result of society's beliefs on skin and beauty.
The idea that certain types of skin needs to be hidden can be detrimental for some, as they're often left feeling isolated — even when they experience common skin ailments like melasma, a condition that causes patches of the skin to become dark or discolored, as well as acne. "I always explain that they are not alone," Dr. Woolery-Lloyd shares.
"For women, melasma can be devastating," she continues. "Without treatment, it is hard to cover with makeup. It is typically right in the center of the cheeks or forehead so it is the first thing people see. Similar to melasma, adult working women feel embarrassed to have a face full of acne. It makes them feel less professional, especially for people with jobs where they are presenting or meeting many new people daily."
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That's where the importance of skincare comes in, which the MD describes as "life-changing" for many. Not only in the sense that these products can help to treat the physical condition, but also because it helps to form self-care routines — both of which work together to improve mental health.
"It’s a form of self-love, self-acceptance, and healing," Abdul-Mateen says. "There are certain points on the body that promotes relaxation, and the face is one of them. Using skin-to-skin contact, fingers to face, allows the blood to flow while also allowing the muscles in the face to relax. This alone sends a signal to the brain that you are in a state of relaxation putting you in a peaceful mindset." And that's regardless of the outcome of the products.
A 2010 study published in the Asian Journal of Beauty & Cosmetology further justifies the psychotherapist's point from a global standpoint. The research found that among middle age and eldery women across Korea, having a dedicated skincare routine helps them to have a boost in confidence, thus leading to improvements in self-efficacy, self-esteem, and overall happiness.
Scientists are taking note of the impact skincare has on improving mental health as well. "Now, the FDA is asking pharmaceutical companies to include improvement in the quality of life (QoL) scores in dermatology clinical trials," Dr. Woolery-Lloyd shares. "In some ways, improvement in the quality of life is just as important as the measured improvement in the disease."
If you've noticed that your skin is having a negative effect on your mental health, the MD advises that the first step to healing is realizing that your feelings are valid, and shared with many others — being upset that your skin does not look how you want it to is not an "overreaction," she says. It's also important to remember that regardless of what your skincare journey looks like, taking the time to take care of yourself can do wonders for improving your mental health.
Secondly, seeing a board-certified dermatologist you trust is vital when it comes to figuring out an effective treatment plan to guide you to reach your skincare goals, which in turn will help to clear your mind. It's also a good idea to seek the help of a mental health professional who can work with you to deal with the emotional aspects of living with a skin condition, because while it may seem isolating, it's important to know that there are people who can help.