Psychodermatology

Our physical health and our emotional well-being are closely linked. It’s no surprise that the potential difficulties of living with a skin condition can take a toll on your state of mind. What is less understood is that stress, anxiety and emotional distress can manifest themselves on the skin, and can aggravate an existing condition.   

Psychodermatology is the treatment of skin disease using psychological techniques. It is typically used to complement other physical therapies that directly treat the cause or symptoms of skin disease. 

Examples of psychodermatology techniques and resources might include:

• Mindfulness – to reduce stress or anxiety in patients with skin disease. This might be general mindfulness, aimed at reducing stress, or mindfulness tailored to specific conditions such as psoriasis.

• Habit reversal – many conditions can lead people to develop harmful repetitive behaviours, such as scratching or skin picking. Habit reversal looks at how to reduce or break these habits.

• Relationships – relationships, platonic or sexual, are central to our lives. Living with a skin condition can sometimes make forming new relationships difficult. Psychodermatology can help build confidence and overcome social anxiety, as well as giving practical advice on the matter.

It’s not unusual for people to be slightly put off by the name ‘psychodermatology’, however, it is important to understand that this refers to the mind-skin link, a very real phenomenon. From a very early stage in foetal development the same tissue that eventually makes up the brain and the central nervous system also goes on to form the skin.

The use of psychodermatology as a treatment for skin disease is widely accepted by dermatologists and other health care professionals around the world. The British Association of Dermatologists has worked in conjunction with a range of experts on the topic to develop this website, and there are many other groups around the world that are also doing work in the area.

Studies have repeatedly demonstrated the benefits of psychodermatology, for example one study in 2014* showed that amongst patients who completed psychodermatology therapies, 94% reported reduced stress, 92% reported increased confidence, and 90% reported that they understood their skin condition better.

 *A retrospective review of a dedicated psychology-based psychodermatology service, A. Mizara, K. Badsha, M. Griffiths and S. McBride, The British Association of Dermatologists Annual Conference 2014.