Psychodermatology for Hard-to-Heal Skin Problems

Ever noticed that breakouts intensify during times of stress? Millions of people suffer from chronic skin ailments that don't respond to traditional treatments. If you have a hard-to-heal skin problem, the emerging field of psychodermatology may be able to help you find relief.

About Psychodermatology

Based in the principle that certain skin problems involve an interaction between the skin and mind, the practice of psychodermatology employs a variety of techniques to reduce anxiety and stress. Practitioners may use meditation, acupuncture, hypnosis, bio-feedback, psychotherapy, and more to lessen skin problems that don't respond to traditional treatment. Usually, treatment is done in conjunction with traditional therapies. Psychodermatologic problems typically fall into three categories:

  • Psychophysiological disorders like eczema and psoriasis that are related to emotions and stress.
  • Primary psychiatric disorders are characterized by self-induced problems such as picking at the skin.
  • Secondary psychiatric disorders that involve disfiguring skin disorders and lead to depression and self-esteem problems.

What Psychodermatology Can Help and Why

Acne, psoriasis, eczema, warts, hives, and more have been shown to react well to psychodermatology techniques. Stress has been shown to stimulate the release of hormones and other chemicals in the body. It can disrupt natural balances, blood flow rates, and rejuvenation processes. Studies have shown that stress can slow down healing. And since it often interferes with healthy lifestyle habits like good nutrition, exercise, and sleep patterns, it can exacerbate skin problems. Introducing patients—many of whom may be resistant to seeking therapy on their own—to stress-reducing techniques can help them have healthier skin and can improve their overall health.

Finding Psychodermatology Practitioners

Speak with your regular physician or dermatologist if you're interested in giving psychodermatology a try. Many dermatologists are including these techniques as part of their practice. Organizations dedicated to your particular skin problem, such as the National Psoriasis Foundation, may be able to recommend practitioners. Or check with hospitals or major medical centers in your area. St. Luke's in New York and Johns Hopkins in the D.C. area have incorporated psychodermatology into the services they offer.

Using Psychodermatology Techniques At Home

Meditation can be tried on your own, along with deep-breathing, yoga, and other relaxation techniques. Biofeedback, which helps reduce tension by deep breathing, muscle relaxation, and visualization is another avenue to try.

While psychodermatology has not been embraced throughout the medical community, thousands of patients have experienced positive results from employing its techniques. Even if much of the evidence is still anecdotal, giving it a try is low-risk, since its techniques don't have side effects and are typically introduced to supplement patients' existing medical regimen.




Singer, Natasha. "If You Think It, It Will Clear." New York Times. Web. July 28, 2005.

Jafferany, Mohammad MD: "Recognizing Psychocutaneous Disorders in Psychiatric Practice." Psychiatry Weekly. Web. February 6, 2012.

Koo, John: "Psychodermatology: The Mind and Skin Connection." American Family Physician. Web. December 1, 2001.