5 Reasons Why a Skin-Care Routine Is Good for Your Mental Health

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A daily cleanser, a nighttime mask, or even a bit of tinted moisturizer can save the appearance of your skin — and have major effects on your emotional well-being.

A skin-care routine may seem like a throwaway wellness habit — but it’s anything but. Committing to and following such a regimen can benefit the health of your body’s largest organ (that’s your skin, notes the National Library of Medicine) and deliver the bonus of providing the structure and pampering that benefits your psychological well-being.

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“Caring for my skin is one of the first steps in my self-care routine,” says Erum Ilyas, MD, a board-certified dermatologist with Schweiger Dermatology Group in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania.

Yes, she’s a dermatologist, so naturally she’s skin-focused, but there’s good reason for the dermal attention. “The reality is that our skin in so many ways is a ‘check engine light’ for our internal health. When skin looks and feels good, we tend to feel better about ourselves,” she says.

Here are five powerful reasons why.

1. A Skin-Care Routine Provides Stability in Your Day That Benefits Your Mental Health

A structured day with healthy routines that you follow regularly is important for body and mind. “Those routines include healthy eating habits, exercise, journaling, and skin care,” says Matt Traube, a licensed therapist who specializes in treating skin conditions in Santa Barbara, California. In a study published in the June 2018 issue of Lancet Psychiatry, researchers found that people who have fewer consistent routines throughout the active parts of their day were more likely to suffer from major depressive and bipolar disorders, mood problems, loneliness, and unhappiness.

These habits feel good and act as a comforting force in your life, providing an anchor to your day and create stability in your life, says Traube. On a small scale, you may even feel like you’ve accomplished something. “I think that it’s important to maintain some routines during the week, otherwise one day begins to blend into the other.”

2. Focus on Doing Something Nice for Yourself to Stop a Worry Spiral

You might find that certain times of the day lend themselves to intrusive thoughts, but you can break negative patterns with self-care. “Patients who experience anxiety and depression often report that their condition is exacerbated 30 minutes to one hour before bed. This is when they have more idle time, which increases worry for a lot of people,” says Traube. But when you’re engaged in an activity, such as washing, toning, and moisturizing your face, you get out of your head as you focus on what you’re doing. (This goes for any activity that keeps you busy, like a new project, cooking dinner, or walking your dog around the neighborhood.)

The act of caring for your skin additionally provides an opportunity for mindfulness. Mindfulness is when you home in on the sensations you’re experiencing in the present moment (the soothing feeling of warm water, for instance) without passing judgment. This practice was shown in a 2019 Frontiers in Psychology study to buffer depression and anxiety by stopping worry and rumination. “By engaging in this activity for a few minutes, you can help your brain unhook from less healthy, spiraling thinking patterns,” says Traube.

3. Regular Skin Pampering Triggers a Cascade of Chemicals in Your Brain That Boost Your Mood

Create a routine that feels good and includes products that you enjoy using. For example, don’t underestimate the impact of a gentle massage with a warm washcloth to cleanse, then taking extra time to smooth a silky moisturizer on your face or apply a mask.

Many people started experimenting with at-home facial treatments, like masks and peels, during the COVID-19 pandemic, and got turned on to other self-care at home. Joyce Davis, MD, a dermatologist in New York City, recommends sticking with a mask or an over-the-counter peel if you’d like a more concentrated skin treatment. Generally, masks are gentler and can temporarily plump the skin to give you a youthful, refreshed appearance, while “at-home peels can freshen your skin and help to even out pigmentation and reduce acne,” she says.

The experience of an at-home facial or treatment is certainly comforting, but you also may get something out of just planning for it. “Anticipation of happy events releases feel-good neurotransmitters in the brain,” says Traube. Research has shown that the expectation of a positive event activates a certain area of the prefrontal cortex, a brain region associated with a sense of well-being, creating a simple, natural high.

This is one reason why baths are so inherently calming. First, you expect to feel relaxed as you lower into one, and second, the warm water is naturally relaxing to muscles. “Physical relaxation sends your brain the message that it’s time to be calm and mellow, reducing the fight-or-flight stress response,” says Traube.

To make your bath an act of self-care that improves your skin health at the same time, add oatmeal to the water and soak for 10 minutes, Dr. Davis suggests. Look for packets of colloidal oatmeal, which eases eczema, psoriasis, and generally dry or irritated skin.

4. Skin Care Provides a Chance to Bond With Loved Ones — and That’s a Boon to Mental Health

Research published in Psychological Science in August 2018 found a link between concentrated time with loved ones in pursuit of hobbies and enjoyable activities and greater levels of happiness. Why not pamper your skin together with a “spa night” at home? Carving out meaningful time together can bolster your sense of personal satisfaction and strengthen family bonds.

Dr. Ilyas has seen this play out in her life. “One key step to this process lately for me is sharing this routine with my teenage kids,” she says. “Spending my self-care time with my kids is so much more effective in achieving the ultimate goal of self-care — a balance of physical and mental well-being,” she says.

You can make this a fun experience for everyone. There’s no need to purchase a case of new products. Instead, focus on those that you already have at home that you love. Or, you can hunt for some skin-friendly ingredients in your pantry for a DIY mask, like coconut oil, mashed avocado, or a milk compress for some inexpensive, goofy family time.

5. Skin Care Is an Act of Kindness That Sends a Powerful Message

Right now, the world is a stressful place. So it might feel tempting to watch TV late into the night and then roll into bed without so much as splashing your face with water — you’re just too tired. But what if, instead, you focused on taking care of yourself in this small way. By taking five extra minutes to treat your skin, you’re sending a message: “I’m worth it,” says Traube. This is akin to the perk you might get when you swipe on a coat of mascara in the morning, apply color on your cheeks to make them pop, or smooth on that tinted moisturizer that makes your skin glow.

One of the more impactful steps is to seek out a moisturizer that you really love. (Some things to consider: Does it feel good going onto your skin? Does it smell pleasant? Does your skin feel good afterward?) “Moisturizing serves to improve the overall look and appearance of the skin, while also restoring and maintaining the skin’s function as a barrier to the environment. It also helps improve circulation to the skin, which can help better your general sense of well-being,” says Ilyas.

Why Self-Care, Including Skin Care, Is So Important Now

There are numerous ways to practice self-care, but focusing your efforts on improving skin health pays off for your mental and emotional health, too.

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