Finally, the public dialogue seems to be catching up to what many of us have long known: that skin health and mental health go hand in hand. For many dermatologists and patients — not to mention those who experience a chronic skin condition but aren’t under a doctor’s care — it’s about time.
To shed light on some of the ways that skin health can impact mental health, we talked to our SLMD founder, Dr. Sandra Lee. Below, she shares her advice on how to manage skin concerns with confidence and self-compassion.
5 minute read
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- 01.What role does skin health play in our overall mental health?
- 02.What do studies show about how skin conditions affect mental health?
- 03.Has social media impacted how young people feel about their skin?
What role does skin health play in our overall mental health?
While I’m certainly not a mental health expert, I can speak from my experience as a board-certified dermatologist. What I’ve seen firsthand for over a decade of practice is my patients who come in and they talk to me not just about what’s going on with their skin, but about how it makes them feel. And my heart goes out to them.
Whether it’s something like acne, or rosacea, or even some of the more dramatic cysts that I see on my TLC show, many of these conditions aren’t life threatening. But anyone who’s experienced something going on with their skin can tell you that it can dramatically affect a person's quality of life.
What do studies show about how skin conditions affect mental health?
There is a growing body of research out there to support what so many people are starting to talk more about: that concerns about our skin can translate to challenges with self-esteem and body image in some people. And that even something like acne — which affects up to 90% of the population — can sometimes have a mental health impact on par with other chronic diseases.
There are studies showing that these challenges stemming from skin conditions like acne can end up leading to feelings of anxiety, shame, embarrassment, and depression in some people. The social impacts include stigmatization, bullying, and it can affect work and school performance.
Personally, I think there’s more work to be done in this area. I’d like to see more research going on and being publicized to really clarify the extent of the mental health impact so we can take more targeted steps to address these obvious needs.
From your perspective, has social media impacted how young people feel about their skin?
There’s certainly a lot of opinions on both sides of this debate about social media. For me, I’ve always focused on simply educating. I am just so enamored with my specialty of dermatology and to me, the skin is not just our largest organ — it’s the most fascinating and incredible thing. So I’ve never looked at skin conditions as something to hide or be ashamed of but I know that they can affect people’s lives in the most profound way.
There’s a lot of good that has come out of social media and the internet in terms of beginning to normalize any number of skin conditions — and shedding light on treatment options, too. While I recognize that there are a lot of drawbacks to social media, I encourage people to seek out online communities that are supportive and uplifting — it’s a beautiful thing when you can find your tribe and realize that you’re not alone.
What advice do you have for people who are dealing with a common skin condition?
I would say, number one: you’re not alone. Acne, eczema, psoriasis, you name it — these are skin concerns shared collectively by billions of people in this world. The sooner we stop pretending that “perfect skin” exists, the better.
The second step is really key: that’s feeling empowered to take control of your own skin health. Many of these conditions can’t be cured — but they can certainly be managed. The best part of my job is helping people get their confidence and quality of life back by reclaiming their skin health. I get to do this in my practice, and also through my SLMD Skincare line, which I created to help people manage some of these common skin challenges without having to see a dermatologist.
I see the benefits of this in my patients all the time — they start taking consistent care of their skin, and when they come back to see me they not only look healthier, but I can tell that they feel better, too. If you don’t have access to a dermatologist, you can start with high-quality over the counter products. To manage acne, try something with benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid, like my SLMD Acne System and Body Acne System. For rough, bumpy keratosis pilaris, look for glycolic acid products like my SLMD Body Smoothing System.
As both a doctor and a media personality, what is your role in advancing mental health initiatives?
I do feel a sense of responsibility not just to educate, but to encourage a sense of true skin acceptance. To that end, I’m really excited to announce that SLMD Skincare has formed an ongoing partnership with The Jed Foundation in support of mental health, especially as it pertains to skin health and skin acceptance. The Jed Foundation is a nonprofit that helps teens and young adults with emotional health and wellbeing through resources in schools and communities.
We’ve got some really exciting things planned with JED coming up soon, and well into the future, so stay tuned. In the meantime, I want to encourage everyone to keep taking care of your skin and your health, and to seek help if you need it. Be there for each other — and don’t forget, be kind to yourself.
Click here to learn more about our partnership with The Jed Foundation.