Does Your Skin Need to See a Psychologist?
The key to gorgeous skin is thinking of it as a reflection of what's going on ~inside~ your body.
Your skin is no longer the domain of just your derm. Now doctors such as gastroenterologists, gynecologists, and a burgeoning class of specialists called psychodermatologist are applying their perspectives to better understand how our insides affect our biggest organ: the skin. This fresh take on acne, inflammation, and the aging process could supply the beauty breakthrough that's been eluding you. (Related: Why Everyone Should Try Therapy at Lease Once)
The Collagen Optimizers
Your mood can affect the quality of your skin in stealthy ways, which is why psychodermatologists (doctors who are board-certified in psychiatry and dermatology) take a shrink-like approach to examining the epidermis. "I don't ask a patient about just her skin. I ask about her life," says Amy Wechsler, M.D., a psych-derm in New York City. "This includes detailed questions about sleep, relationships, work, diet, exercise, and mindset." A negative emotional state, for instance, can express itself as breakouts, dullness, even wrinkles-thanks to the stress hormone cortisol. "During periods of depression, anxiety, or bad moods, cortisol levels are elevated," Dr. Wechsler says. "That cortisol boost breaks down collagen, which is the start of wrinkles, and increases inflammation and oil production, both of which create acne. "And if you suffer from eczema, psoriasis, or dry skin, then they flare up," she adds. Cortisol also weakens the skin barrier, causing water loss and slow cell turnover, which makes skin appear sallow and dull. (Related: 5 Skin Conditions That Get Worse with Stress-and How to Chill)
Getting seven to eight hours of sleep becomes very important to your skin during this time. "While you sleep, cortisol is at its lowest and anti-inflammatory molecules like beta endorphins and growth hormones are at their highest, so that's when skin heals," says Dr. Wechsler. An hour before bed, read instead of watching agitating TV shows like the news. Also key: Finding ways to destress your waking hours. (For one, try this 10-minute trick to de-stress). Start by getting social. "Studies show that when friends see each other face-to-face, cortisol levels decrease," she says. "Exercise, deep breathing, or even getting outside does it too."
In addition, reach for products that are fragrance free and loaded with healing antioxidants, since skin is extra sensitive during these moody times. Try Malin+Goetz Vitamin E Face Moisturizer (Buy It, $84, bloomingdales.com) or Chanel La Solution 10 De Chanel (Buy It, nordstrom.com).
The Clear-Skin Chemists
It's no revelation that hormones wreak havoc on our skin. (After all, they're the biggest cause of adult acne.) Too much testosterone can result in breakouts; too little estrogen, and skin can appear dry or dull. "You can't stop your monthly cycle, but you can negotiate with it," says Rebecca Booth, M.D., a gynecologist in Louisville. Three days after a woman's period starts, positive effects begin on the skin as estrogen, a natural antioxidant, increases. "These higher estrogen levels create an increase in collagen, elastin, and hyaluronic acids," says Dr. Booth. Testosterone follows, adding a wanted amount of sebum or oil to keep skin supple. "When these hormones peak at day 12 or 13, right before ovulation, that's optimized skin," Dr. Booth says. "It is luminous, has minimized pores, and is usually acne-free."
Around day 21, your brain realizes that you aren't pregnant and resets these hormones. "When they fall, acne may erupt and skin can look ruddy," Dr. Booth explains. During this time, watch your intake of sugar and carbohydrates. They increase insulin, which spurs testosterone to levels that cause breakouts. Instead, eat more protein to stabilize insulin. Plant proteins, like lentils, nuts, and chia and sunflower seeds, are also heavy in phytoestrogens, which simulate the estrogen our body makes, so they'll offset the hormonal fluctuations that stimulate acne and redness. (Related: Should You Eat Based On Your Menstrual Cycle?)
You can also find phytoestrogens in skin-care products. these ingredients can reduce pore size, increase collagen and elastin, and help reverse the signs of hormonal aging. Try Murad Intensive Age-Diffusing Serum (Buy It, $75, murad.com) or Dr. Booth's own VENeffect Anti-Aging Intensive Moisturizer (Buy It, $185, dermstore.com).
The Inflammation Tamers
At the first sign of acne, you may reach for the closest salicylic acid treatment. But a gastroenterologist would also have you fight the underlying cause of that flare-up. "Skin is a direct reflection of the body's internal balance," says Roshini Raj, M.D., a gastroenterologist in New York City. When the bacteria in your gut are imbalanced, the results can show up on your face. Too many bad bacteria overstimulate the immune response and produce chemicals called cytokines, which promote inflammation. They can also destroy the lining of the intestines, letting pro-inflammatory molecules enter the bloodstream-and mess with your skin. "But unhealthy bacteria are present not only in the gut but also on some people's skin," Dr. Raj says. Acne can be a telltale sign that your bacteria levels are off. The antidote: probiotics, a buzzword usually associated with yogurt. These microorganisms-bacteria, yeasts, and viruses-are beneficial because they help keep the harmful bacteria in check.
To pump up the probiotics in your diet, regularly eat fermented foods such as kimchi, miso, tempeh, and yogurt with active cultures, as well as highfiber foods like beans, nuts, and lentils, which promote the growth of probiotics. (Here: new ways to add more probiotics to your diet.) "If you don't eat these foods, talk to your doctor about a probiotic supplement," Dr. Raj says.
Some skin-care products include probiotics. "Besides preventing the skin's cells from reacting to bad bacteria, they decrease redness and encourage the production of collagen and elastin," Dr. Raj says. Spritz on some Mother Dirt AO+ Mist (Buy It, $42, motherdirt.com) or apply Biossance Squalane + Probiotic Gel Moisturizer (Buy It, $52, sephora.com). At night, try Dr. Raj's Tula Overnight Skin Rescue Treatment (Buy It, $85, dermstore.com) to reverse damage while you sleep. You don't have to dream of great skin-you can actually have it.