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Could yoga, tai-chi or meditation help skin problems?

Kathleen Blanchard's picture

Patients with skin conditions like acne, rosacea, eczema, skin allergies and psoriasis might find relief from flare-ups by controlling stress. According to researchers from the American Academy of Dermatology, there is a direct connection between skin health and emotions. Managing skin disorders through stress-busting activities like yoga, tai-chi, and meditation could be beneficial. For some people with skin problems, antidepressant medications might be needed.

Stress can cause and worsen skin conditions

Richard G. Fried, MD, PhD, FAAD, of Yardley, Pa., says anger, anxiety, depression or tension can initiate new skin problems and make existing ones worse through a complex series of biochemical responses.

Dr. Fried presented his findings at the American Academy of Dermatology’s Summer Academy Meeting 2011 in New York. Fried is also clinical psychologist.

Fried says, "Stress is personal, so what might be stressful for one person may be a non-stressor or even exhilarating for someone else."

Stress aggravates the skin, leading to more stress

Scientists are just beginning to understand the “skin-psyche” connection, explains Fried. Neuropeptides, which are chemicals that regulate emotions, are also present in the skin. Their role is to keep skin healthy and radiant.

Neuropeptides can be inappropriately released in response to stress, causing skin itching, numbness and flare-up of acne and other inflammatory skin conditions.

"Until recently, it was thought that neuropeptides only stayed in the skin when they were released,” said Dr. Fried. “But we now know that they travel to the brain and ultimately increase the reuptake of neurotransmitters – meaning that stress depletes the chemicals that regulate our emotions, such as serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine."

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The result, he says, is a vicious cycle of feeling stressed about skin problems that in turn aggravates acne, rosacea, psoriasis, eczema, leading to more stress.

Yoga, meditation or cognitive therapy for skin conditions

Recommendations include yoga, cognitive behavioral therapy, meditation, hypnosis, tai-chi or medications to help control skin flare-ups.

Managing stress for skin problems serves a dual purpose. It also helps patients feel empowered, making them more likely to adhere to skin therapy regimens.

"In my practice, I find that patients with chronic skin conditions tend to withdraw from normal, everyday activities and sometimes ‘shut down’ emotionally, which can really impact their personal lives," said Dr. Fried.

Stress can also weaken the skin barrier, which is one of the reasons dermatologists recommend moisturizers.

The outer layer, or protective barrier, of the skin can become impaired in response to stress, making it more susceptible to damage.

Stress takes a toll on every aspect of well-being. Understanding how anger, anxiety and tension affects skin health makes it important to find ways to cope.

According to the dermatology experts, yoga, tai-chi, meditation and other stress-reducing activities should be part of a treatment program that can lead to better skin health. Curbing outbreaks of acne, rosacea, eczema, psoriasis and other inflammatory skin conditions means getting rid of stress.

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