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Charisma Carpenter in Angel (1999)

Can you meditate your way to clear skin?

TikTok is full of tips and tricks for manifesting clear skin – it might sound like wishful thinking, but there actually is some science behind it

A young man leans into the camera, “you want clear skin like this?”, he asks the viewer, “Imma tell you the number one thing you gotta do…” His secret isn’t a new product, painful treatment or expensive face tool. In fact, it costs nothing at all. The user, @itsbhart, is one of the hundreds of people on TikTok who believe in the powers of manifestation and meditation to achieve clearer skin.

Under the hashtag #manifestingclearskin (which has over 6.9 million views) there is a whole array of videos explaining how you can change your skin using just the power of your mind. Some recommend repeating affirmations – “I have beautiful glowing skin” – while others suggest visualising yourself with your dream skin. Manifesting itself has questionable scientific credentials, but often what these users are tapping into – especially the ones who advocate meditation or breathwork – is psychodermatology. 

Psychodermatology is an emerging field of study that treats the skin using psychological techniques to address the brain-skin connection. It recognises techniques such as meditation, mindfulness and therapy for soothing the skin from the inside out. “Most people do not realise the impact of psychological health on the skin,” says Dr Alia Ahmed, a consultant dermatologist who specialises in psychodermatology. “Psychodermatology empowers patients to recognise and manage this at the same time as treating their skin condition.” 

Dr Ahmed sees patients for skin conditions such as eczema and acne, those suffering from the psychological impacts of lowered self-esteem and anxiety caused by skin conditions, as well as patients with skin problems rooted in psychiatric or psychological distress, such as skin picking. The mind-skin connection can most evidently be seen through reactions like blushing, when mental embarrassment shows up physically on your skin. But feelings of emotional distress can also lead to the release of cortisol, the stress hormone, which can wreak havoc on the skin.

“Cortisol is known to affect the immune system (making the skin less able to defend itself), drive allergic responses, delay healing and disrupt the skin’s natural barrier,” Dr Ahmed explains. Temporary symptoms like itching or flushing can be brought on by cortisol, but in the longer term the body can also enter a “permanent ‘stress-response’ state, which can aggravate existing skin problems through a poor natural immune response and ongoing inflammation.”

Psychodermatology takes a holistic approach to skincare, by looking to the root of problematic skin rather than just trying to improve the symptoms. Practising mindfulness, meditation, breathwork or even seeking therapy can help to relieve stress and anxiety, lower cortisol levels and potentially help your skin. A recent study by the University of Edinburgh found that all schools of meditative practice, from mindfulness to transcendental and zen meditation, helped lower cortisol levels, particularly for those going through a stressful time in their lives. It’s no wonder that a 2014 study into psychodermatology found that amongst patients who completed psychodermatology therapies, 94 per cent reported reduced stress, 92 per cent reported increased confidence, and 90 per cent reported that they understood their skin condition better.

The great thing about techniques like meditation and breathwork is that it offers a solution that doesn’t require you to buy anything. They are completely free and accessible to everyone. However, that hasn’t stopped the industry from trying to get in on the mind-skin connection action. An increasing number of skincare brands have begun incorporating stress relief into their lines. Murad skincare has an app that sends out daily affirmations from Dr Murad himself (“allow the unique you to blossom”), whilst Alicia Keys’ skincare line, Keys Soulcare, offers a selection of rituals that incorporate certain combinations of products (including candles and face rollers) with setting intentions, affirmations and “shifting consciousness” to help you “master self-care”. 

Stress relief and ritual are important elements of Cosmoss, Kate Moss’ new wellness and skincare line too. Separated into “dawn, day and dusk”, a thrice-daily skincare routine (with accompanying day and nighttime teas) is suggested to soothe the body and soul, providing a sense of inner peace and bringing emotional balance. “When Kate started looking at being more in harmony with her health, she found rituals were really helpful,” says Victoria Young, Kate Moss’ personal homoeopath who consults on the brand. “It removes the emotion from the decision; you decide it is part of your morning and you build it into your day.”

Considering skincare from a more holistic standpoint and practising self-care is never a bad thing, but psychodermatology is about utilising practices like therapy and meditation, not just lighting a candle or drinking tea. While brands like Cosmoss, Murad and Keys Soulcare are a step in the right direction, encouraging consumers to consider mind-skin connection and a more 360 approach to skincare, they’re still floating the idea that achieving inner calm requires a credit card. 

One brand doing things a little differently is Wild Source, a range of skincare that also offers free guided meditations on its website, for customers and non-customers alike. The brand began in 2017, when founder Kate Roath found herself burnt out with a bad eczema flare-up and made an oath to herself to commit to doing ten minutes of meditation a day. “I’d cleanse my face, put my oil on and meditate,” she says. The new habit immediately made her feel calmer and more focused, but to her surprise there was another benefit too: her skin cleared up and her eczema calmed down.

“Stress affects every organ in our body but the skin is the one that we see. So we get stressed, have a flare-up, get even more stressed about the flare-up and fall into a vicious cycle,” says Roath. She decided to incorporate meditation into her company and make it tangible for customers by “stacking it onto their existing skincare routine and almost packaging it as another skincare product.” The idea is to educate people on psychodermatology and the mental tools they have at their fingertips, to use alongside the brand's purchasable products.

In an age of ten-step skincare routines, skincare fridges and a seemingly endless supply of new celebrity skincare lines, the science behind psychodermatology offers something rare in the beauty industry – skincare that doesn’t require you to buy anything. While brands are increasingly incorporating mind-skin connection into their product offerings, the acts of meditation and mindfulness to reduce stress in the mind and body can be done for free – doing both your bank balance and the planet a favour.