More than skin deep

by posted in WELLNESS

Catch up with Dr. Claudia Aguirre, molecular neuroscientist, TEDx speaker and, well, brains behind our olistic Anti-Aging Center. She explains the brain-skin connection and how best to nurture it.

Dr. Claudia, does our skin really reveal our innermost feelings, calling us out on our guilt, shame or panic?

Yes, when coupled with the micro-expressions we make with our muscles, you could say it is written all over our face. But look deeper, and our skin tells a tale of our emotional turmoil. You only have to observe political figureheads pre- and post-term. Notice the graying hair, dark under-eye circles, the lines and wrinkles. These are not just effects of chronological aging; these are the long-term effects of stress and anxiety on skin, hair and nails. And it’s this very brain-skin connection that’s been a focus of my studies over the past several years.

Is this a new phenomenon? Or are we just beginning to understand the effects stress has on our minds and bodies?

Ancient traditions from Greece to China to India highlighted the interdependence between the mind and the body. Somewhere along the lines in Western medicine, we lost this connection, focusing instead on philosophies that treated the body as a separate entity from the mind.

The recent resurgence of mind-body awareness in medicine places the emphasis back on understanding the interaction between the nervous system and skin diseases. Psychodermatology is a new medical subspecialty emerging from the combination of psychiatry and dermatology. Psychiatry treats mental processes manifested internally, while dermatology treats skin diseases manifested externally. In essence, psychodermatology is a holistic view of skin disease within the medical world.

Is stress more than skin deep?

Imagine any of these scenarios: back-to-back exams, unexpected health issues or being stuck in traffic when you’re already late. Does the mere thought of these send stress signals down your spine?

The effects of these psychological stressors on our skin may be more serious than we realize (even beyond reaching for the nearest drink or chocolate snack). Scientific evidence shows that stress equates to inflammation, and this can cause havoc. From acne breakouts, to rosacea flushes to eczema flare-ups, stress is the fuel to the fire of inflammation lurking in these conditions. What’s more, stress not only triggers or exacerbates particular skin diseases, it can also lead to dehydration, lines, blotchiness, hair loss and brittle nails for those without an inherent condition.

Could skincare products solve different skin concerns?

Sure, creams, lotions and potions can offer surface benefits. But if the problem stems in the mind, slather on as much retinol as you want but the tension lines will remain if your heart rate is reminiscent of a jackhammer pounding on a sidewalk. I’m not saying you can ohm your pimples away, but taking a look at the root cause, and certainly decreasing stress levels, could be a secret ingredient to your arsenal of skin-clearing techniques. By reducing cortisol, you’re putting an end to a molecular pathway (comprised of heavy hitters like prostaglandins, cytokines, neuropeptides, immune cells and hormones) that could lead to devastation on skin tissue.

There is much to learn about this topic and we’re beginning to understand how the neuroendocrine system in the skin is particularly sensitive to psychological stress. Lucky for us, the solution is not overly elaborate or labor-intensive. In fact, it’s quite simple if we stick to it: take extra time for self-care, stick to a whole-food diet and get outside in the fresh air and enjoy a walk in nature. Your skin will thank you.

Find out more about the neuroscience of beauty at

Check out the Holistic Anti-Aging Center, which debuted in 2018 at Six Senses Kaplankaya and will launch soon at Six Senses Douro Valley in Portugal.

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