Ever been embarrassed and feel your face redden? Or does the thought of wearing a wool turtleneck make you itch? The science behind why your skin reacts to something your mind generates is studied in a field called psychodermatology.
Psychodermatologists are different from regular dermatologists in that they treat the skin the way a psychotherapist treats behavior. So in a way, they are “derm shrinks” or “skin shrinks”, to use the term coined by the New York Times.
Psychodermatologists attempt to delve into the more psychological reasons for a skin condition. They study effects that behavior has on different skin conditions and offer therapies such as hypnosis, biofeedback, relaxation techniques or meditation to treat them.
Ted Grossbart Ph.D. is one such practitioner. He is a clinical psychologist and psychodermatology expert, and the author of the book "Skin Deep" which you can download for free at his website.
According to Grossbart, “As many as 60% of people who seek a doctor's help for skin and hair problems have significant life stress. Emotional issues can trigger many problems, and keep the most sophisticated medical treatments from working.”
Grossbart helped Mary O'Leary, a surgical nurse who had chronic plantar warts on her foot that was not responding to conventional treatment.
O’Leary told the NYT, "I spent months learning self-hypnosis.” She visualized her immune cells fighting off the virus and imagined healthy skin replacing the warts. "It's bizarre and amazing, but it worked."
Harvard health describes three basic areas that psychodermatologic disorders usually fall into. Some may overlap each other.
These are conditions that have a physiological cause but can be made worse by stress or other emotional factors. Examples are acne, alopecia areata (hair loss), eczema, herpes, hyperhidrosis (excessive sweating), itching, psoriasis (skin scaling and redness), rosacea (skin flushing and eruption), hives and warts.