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The Risk and Reward of Psychodermatology

Published February 16, 2023
Published February 16, 2023
Robina Weermeijer via Unsplash

With each new day, the beauty industry continues to grow into a hybrid of cosmetics, self-care, and wellness. Since the start of the pandemic, the market has seen an increase in personal care products, especially skincare. In 2022, 73% of non-luxury goods sales in the US came from skincare, with the market predicted to grow 5.19% year-on-year until 2026. Cross-category collaborations within the beauty space with wellness at the forefront have also become increasingly popular. As a result, many new trends have emerged, as well as a space for long-standing beauty practices that once flew under the radar to thrive.

Trend Origins

A key example of this shift in beauty is psychodermatology, "the treatment of skin disorders using psychological and psychiatric techniques by addressing the interaction between mind and skin,” with practical methods within treatment including meditation, CBT, and yoga. Psychology-based skincare was created over 3,000 years ago when a prince in Persia was treated for psoriasis caused by anxiety in 1700 BCE. However,  it is only now that the industry is beginning to adapt to this method, with the subject matter becoming a popular talking point for brands, dermatologists, and consumers alike.

"Although psychodermatology as a sub-specialty of dermatology has been around for a long time, the mainstream interest seems to have started around the same time as the skin positivity trends and really peaked around the pandemic when people started to think about the link between their mind and skin. Practicing 'self-care' has never been so important, and people are much more open to considering how their lifestyle practices, stress levels, and environment can impact their skin," psychodermatologist Dr. Alia Ahmed tells BeautyMatter.

The Rise to the Limelight

Arguably, psychodermatology, among other trends, has gained traction in recent years as a consequence of younger generations' access to information surrounding beauty on apps such as TikTok. "With the rise of TikTok, clients of all ages, but especially Gen Z, have become well-versed in skincare ingredients and their benefits," says Brooke Banwart, Senior Vice President of Merchandising and Skincare at Sephora.

Across the app, several individuals have explored the benefits of psychodermatology, with many discussing the relationship between mental health and skin issues. @skininfoken is one of the many young people exploring the relationship between psychology and skincare, with his video that focuses on acne caused by stress receiving over 44,000 views. Dr. Ahmed has also seen a rise in interest from a younger clientele, who "are often swifter at wanting to seek expert help for their skin/hair/nail issues [than older clients] and are very receptive to the idea of combining skin-directed treatment with lifestyle management and stress reduction."

Younger consumers becoming more informed on issues such as skincare, self-care, and mental health has allowed beauty brands to create optimal products for these age groups. A prime example of this is Stephanie Lee's psychodermatology-backed brand Selfmade, which was founded in 2020 as a response to her own struggles with mental health. Lee works alongside two mental health experts to ensure her business is effective because, as she says, if the brand "doesn't actually make an impact in a real way, then it's not worth doing." For Lee, Selfmade is more than telling people, "Oh, you need a new face wash"—it's about "meeting a need that means you can add value deeply in people's lives."

Merging Mental Health and Skincare

Selfmade launched with Secure Attachment Comfort Serum+, a product that contains Cortinhib G, an ingredient clinically proven to reduce cortisol (stress molecules), acting as a stress reliever, working to clear the mind and skin. The serum was given the name "secure attachment" to assist consumers on their mental health and skincare journey, encouraging them to care for their own needs in order to be able to approach other relationships securely and comfortably. This product aligns perfectly with the rise of videos such as @skininfoken's, as it provides a solution to the physical symptoms of stress on the skin, and is the wellness-based offering many are looking for as mental health education continues to rise.

Most recently, to further encourage consumers to explore their mental health and its relationship with their skin, Selfmade launched the Securely Attached Psychoderm Bundle, the first SKU in the brand’s Psychodermatology collection.

The bundle contains the Secure Attachment Comfort Serum+ and a copy of Attached, a book on the science of adult attachment styles that has gone viral on TikTok. A video posted by @ventidoubledouble giving a review of the title has received over two million views, with several under the search term sharing their positive opinion on the literature.

The bundle was created to show consumers how exploring their mental health and actively working towards their own betterment, as well as correct skincare, can help a person to be a significantly happier and healthier individual, with the brand stating that the collaboration "only made sense," as the serum was inspired by the research found in Attached. Those who purchased the bundle also received a bookmark with the reflective question "What does loving myself look like in action?" and an exclusive invitation to the debut of Selfmade's Psychodermatology Book Club. The initiative helps consumers and select influencers to contextualize their attachment styles by questioning what drives their behaviors and attitudes, as well as creating a group filled with safety, trust, and comfort that aids the consumer in celebrating their most important relationship, the one with themselves.

"At Selfmade, we are intentionally making space for conversations that are important to Gen Z, not the other way around," says Lee. "The discourse is inherently rooted in emotional well-being and mental health since it is their number-one concern, only accelerated by the global emotional trauma that COVID-19 caused. To be heard and feel seen is powerful. For Selfmade, psychodermatology and neurocosmetics is not just a marketing trend to meet consumer demand and boost sales."

Selfmade's choice to collaborate with a TikTok viral author, although not a marketing ploy, is sure to reach the correct Gen Z audience. The bundle's promotion stays true to how the brand advertises its products through TikTok with relatable content, trending sounds, and the education its target audience is looking for. Moreover, the decision to launch the collaboration alongside a book club creates a sense of community, showing that the brand honestly wants to make a difference for its Gen Z consumers, providing products and a space to be heard.

The Potential Risks

According to Spate, the term "psychodermatology" is searched for on Google an average of 390 times a month in the US, suggesting that the trend is a slow riser. However, this is because many are aware of the term due to finding their information on social media, with 40% of Gen Z using TikTok as a search engine instead of Google. While it is great that consumers and businesses alike are pushing a positive and educational message within an industry that is too often known to thrive off of insecurities, psychodermatology is not necessarily an easy concept to grasp, opening the door to misinterpretation and damaging, incorrect information, mainly if sourced from social media, where fact-checking is limited.

A key example of this is the rising trend of "manifesting clear skin," which sees Gen Z TikTokers creating videos that claim ditching a skincare routine for spoken affirmations is the key to healthy skin. Many of these videos reference the manifestation aspect as psychodermatology. Several videos with thousands of views present the idea that saying, "I have beautiful, clear, acne-free, scar-free skin," in the mirror each morning is the answer for those suffering with conditions ranging from mild acne to eczema and rosacea. One clip suggests that liking or commenting on TikTok videos with images of women with clear skin is the way to achieve results. Of course, while psychodermatology has shown that a better mental state can improve skin conditions, this method alone would not work. Interacting with content created purely to attract clicks and views is not the way forward, and can be damaging to those suffering with conditions who have tried several approaches to better their skin.

Dr. Ahmed voices her concerns with the manifestation trend. "I worry that vulnerable people with skin issues may be manipulated into doing the wrong thing for their skin," she comments. "There is nothing wrong with practicing manifestation and positive affirmations. I often advise this as part of my treatment plans, but when a person has a skin issue, this is likely to be a supportive strategy alongside appropriate medical treatment. There is also the risk that people receiving medical treatment for their skin from a dermatologist or psychodermatologist could be influenced to stop their treatment in favor of using a psychological approach in isolation. This could be dangerous for some people, as skin problems are serious."

As stated by Dr. Ahmed, the only way that manifestation could help a person achieve clear skin is through the reduced stress and positively enforced coping skills created through practices such as meditation and manifestation. "This may be impacting skin via the HPA axis,which regulates the stress response that can impact skin, and may also lead to people treating and perceiving their skin differently, ultimately leading to improvement in skin signs and symptoms," she explains.

Despite heavily focusing her brand's marketing on TikTok, Selfmade's Lee also sees the dangers of such a trend, recognizing that although embracing optimism can contribute to better health practices, it is not the answer to achieving "clear," but instead, healthier skin. "If we apply a body-neutral approach rather than positivity to this trend, then an alternative could be ‘manifesting healthy skin’ to remove self-judgment," she says. "The more concerning issue is that any trend on social media is just content without context, which has been proven to stoke social comparison." The approach of manifesting healthier skin allows all consumers to feel engaged and uplift each other, leading to less self-judgment.

The Future

Psychodermatology's rise in popularity brings with it many benefits, including teaching younger generations effective skincare and its relationship to the brain and mental health, encouraging a more supportive beauty community. However, as TikTok continues to be used as a search engine for beauty methods and education, those choosing to connect with consumers on the app must present scientifically backed information in the way that Selfmade has.

Psychodermatology has been allowed to infiltrate mainstream beauty through social media, with a heavy push from Gen Z and their post-pandemic desire to emphasize self-care. While the practice is currently being described as a trend, the global market revenue for psychodermatology is estimated to be $115.2 billion by 2030, compared to clean beauty, estimated to achieve global revenue of $11.6 billion by 2027. Clean beauty has been at the forefront of the industry over the past few years, and is not considered a trend but rather a permanent direction for beauty to follow. If psychodermatology is set to outdo the revenue of clean beauty, it can be argued that the approach to skincare will become a core element in how consumers approach self-care. Regardless of how the world reacts to the increase in attention psychodermatology is receiving, a push for the betterment of mental health for consumers, regardless of the aesthetic outcome, is sure to have positive implications for all.


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