Skin shrinks

The science of psychodermatology.

By Liss Mariano, M.D.


Psychodermatology is a subspecialty of dermatology which straddles the boundary between the mind and the skin. Among subspecialties, it’s fairly new, beginning only in the mid-1990s. According to, there are currently less than 10 psychodermatologists in Southeast Asia, none of whom are in the Philippines so far.

Connecting the two disciplines isn’t as odd as it first seems, if you think about psychiatry as the portion dealing with the inner disease and dermatology, with its external manifestations. In fact, research studies have found that 30 to 60 percent of visits to the dermatologist are related to skin problems that result from, or are worsened by, psychological factors, reports the website.

Let’s take a closer look at some of the skin conditions which have been found to be associated with psychological problems.

Acne on your mind

Have you ever noticed how those prone to acne seem to flaunt their pimples during times of stress and sleep loss? Contrary to popular belief, acne flares in teenagers are less likely to be related to falling in love and more likely to coincide with finals week. And while our elders recommend sunlight for its acne-healing properties, it doesn’t hurt that we usually get more exposed to the sun and have clearer skin during the summer holidays, when everyone takes a break from the stress of work and school. Statistically, 50 percent of acne flares have been found to be due to emotional triggers. And while the pink potions of dermatology undoubtedly work wonders for acne, wouldn’t it be more wonderful if you could stop it from taking over your face in the first place? If so, try meditation. Or at least learn to take deep breaths when you find yourself—or your boss—flagellating you.

Atopy entropy

Another dermatologic condition notorious for flaring up during times of stress is atopic dermatitis, more commonly known as skin asthma. It’s a form of eczema usually found in children characterized by dry skin and red, itchy plaques. Unfortunately, the exact cause of this skin disorder is still unknown, but stressful life events have been found to precede up to 70 percent of the cases. Of these life events, family conflict is especially significant. A study that appeared on the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry has found that children with atopic dermatitis whose mothers received counseling were found to get better faster than those whose mothers did not. Interesting, isn’t it? Counseling the mother leads to better skin for the child.

Rash hour

All sorts of rashes other than atopic dermatitis have also been linked to psychological problems. This may seem funny, but there is actually a phenomenon called “the ring-finger rash”, described by Diane Mapes in an article on as a rash suffered by a someone in an unhappy marriage.

Tress effects

While men experience receding hairlines as they age, there is another, less common form of baldness known as alopecia areata. This is characterized by patches of complete baldness—not just thinning hair—from any part of the body, usually the scalp. A relative consulted me one day with a worried look on his face. Sheepishly, he parted his still-thick hair and showed me a peso-sized area of smooth, shiny baldness. “Nag-alopecia na naman ako,” he pointed out. Prior to this, both he and his wife had been complaining about the stress of building their own house whilst working and taking care of their baby. I just advised him to take it slow. Unsurprisingly, by the time the house blessing had been done and they had settled in their house, the bald spot had vanished. No gugo required.

According to the American Academy of Dermatology’s Psychodermatology Fact Sheet, dermatological problems, in what seems to be a vicious cycle, are also related to the onset of psychological disorders. Find out more about this intriguing new link in the February issue of HealthToday, out now in newsstands and bookstores.

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