THE PSYCHOLOGY BEHIND THE BRAIN-SKIN CONNECTION
2 MIN READ
As an adult I have pretty good skin, and I’m not afraid to attribute a lot of that to oil cleansing and non-toxic skincare - it’s why we developed our own oil-based and microbiome friendly skincare line.
That said, there is one major skincare crime I seemingly cannot stop committing that takes my poor skin weeks to recover from: picking my damn skin!
I would assume that skin picking, also known as dermatillomania or excoriation disorder, is fairly common, but since I also navigate life as a human with obsessive compulsive disorder, I noticed the compulsion surrounding the act, and it got me to dig deeper into the psychology behind it.
And, spoiler alert - they are related, so to speak.
Let’s start by explaining what dermatillomania is. Skin picking is a psychological condition that manifests as repetitive, compulsive skin picking. Surprisingly, it’s one of five body-focused repetitive behaviors classified in the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) under Obsessive-Compulsive and Related Disorders.
Now, I will say there is a difference between occasional skin picking, and obsessive skin picking. The severity of the disorder, like any disorder, varies, and since I am not a psychologist I won’t speak to the specific treatment outside of saying, there is treatment.
However, I think it’s important to provide insight into the disorder and dive into the link between our mental wellness and our skin.
Excoriation disorder is characterized by repeated and chronic skin picking which can result in skin lesions and thus cause a plethora of emotional distress, including anxiety and depression, and can negatively affect a person’s life in general.
I will say, this disorder is fairly uncommon, only affecting approximately 1.4% of North American’s (mostly women, I will add).
So, while you or I may not suffer from this specific disorder, even the occasional skin picking I am guilty of and referring to can cause emotional distress, and be caused by emotional distress. In our society, there is so much pressure on being perfect, and having perfect skin is right up there.
For many of us, when we see a little imperfection - something, I can almost guarantee, no one else would notice - it drives us into a mini obsession, and the drive to fix the imperfection can become a compulsion.
This need to correct our perceived imperfections almost always results in exacerbating the problem. You know what I am talking about - a tiny little bump becomes a massive inflamed welt or lesion very quickly with a few thoughtless picking sessions. This can then exacerbate our emotional turmoil, plummeting our confidence and amplifying stress and anxiety.
Have you ever experienced a breakout and felt like your skin would never recover? Same.
This need to cultivate perfection in ourselves drives us further away from peace and self-acceptance. Our fixation with having flawless, poreless skin propels us to further destroy the very thing we are trying to perfect. And yet, knowing this doesn’t break the habit.
The brain-skin connection is a very real thing, which means stress can cause inflammation, and that inherent need to create perfection turns this into a vicious cycle, where stress creates pimples, we try to zap those imperfections, which creates more inflammation, which makes the pimple worse, which increases our stress and anxiety, which further creates inflammation.
I wish I could say I have a tried and true method for breaking this vicious cycle, but the truth is I caught myself picking at my skin twice while writing this. Much like most hard things in our lives, there are no quick fixes.
My best advice is to make a conscious effort to accept your imperfections. To treat your skin - the biggest organ in your body - with the love and respect it deserves. Nourish it by eating nutrient dense foods, by using non-toxic products like Halo and Prism, that won’t strip and inflame your skin like traditional cleansers, and by leaving your skin the hell alone.
At the very least, work on leaving your skin alone. Making a commitment to trying is the first step, and when you inevitably find yourself picking your face again, give yourself some grace, and start over.
Life isn’t about the destination, perfection is relative (and a wee bit boring, if I do say so myself). It’s within the challenges where you truly find your own greatness.