By Rhea Cartwright
iven the constant conveyor belt of skincare launches touting miraculous results, one could be forgiven for thinking that everyone has happy, healthy skin. The reality, however, couldn’t be further from the truth. Despite the global skincare industry having grown by £24 billion in the past five years to a value of £111 billion, and cosmetic brands having constant access to ever-improving science, cases of skin problems are still on the rise. Although skin complaints caused by genetic or autoimmune disorders may need medical treatment, according to British skincare brand Wild Source, a solution may be found within yourself rather than in the coveted creams on your dressing table.
While most beauty marketers encourage us to buy more products to treat a seemingly endless list of concerns, Kate Roath, founder of Wild Source, wants us to turn to meditation instead. “Meditating has multiple skin benefits, and we want people to lean on mindfulness to support their skin just as they’d turn to skincare in a jar,” she says. “We’re becoming far more aware of the mind-body connection, and several studies prove that meditation is beneficial for the skin.”
‘Stress disrupts our sleep, gut health, and immune system, which all negatively affect our skin’s health’
Although we’re aware of the wellbeing benefits of mindfulness, there is compelling scientific evidence that shows how meditation can improve our skin health. A study by the University of Massachusetts found that those with psoriasis who listened to meditation tapes while receiving UV light treatments healed four times faster than those who didn’t meditate. In 2015, a study found that 15 minutes of daily meditation decreased the rate of cellular ageing by protecting our telomeres, which are the protective caps at the end of our chromosomes that naturally shorten as we age. And in 2017, a review by Coventry University found that regular meditation dampens the activity of genes associated with inflammation, something that is often the root cause of mild and chronic skin concerns.
Essentially, meditation calms the central nervous system, which catalyses the body’s innate ability to repair itself. As stress is known to accelerate the inflammation and ageing process, meditation slows it down. “There's both good and bad stress, and short bursts can be beneficial,” says consultant dermatologist Dr Alia Ahmed, adding that many people perform very well under pressure, using the energy boost that comes from adrenaline. “However, when it becomes chronic and your body is constantly producing stress hormones, the body then can’t turn those signals off.” Once the survival responses have been triggered, producing cortisol and adrenaline, the effects can be hugely detrimental to the skin. Cortisol drives inflammation and has also been shown to reduce collagen production. “Premature ageing and breakouts are frequently seen in people who are stressed, and can manifest into more serious skin conditions if situations worsen,” explains Ahmed. More concerning is the effect that stress has on our skin barrier, the protective outer layer which acts as a door to keep bacteria out. Once impaired, it can lead to dehydration, itchiness, flakiness and acne flareups, as well as making the skin more prone to infection.
Burgeoning breakouts may have been attributed to the prolific use of face masks, but the root cause of lockdown skin complaints may lie in our heightened stress levels. According to research conducted by the University of Nottingham and King’s College London, we are experiencing more stress, depression and anxiety since the pandemic hit, with the largest increases among women and young people.
Like going to the gym or eating more whole foods, the key to seeing positive skin results from meditation is down to consistency. Although the world’s present uncertainty has led to a surge in meditation app downloads, the majority of us still open Instagram rather than Calm when we need to find our peace. With Wild Source’s free meditations, Roath has made the concept accessible to everyone. “Meditation often feels like a chore, so I’ve created meditations that sit alongside our daily rituals, rather than having to create extra space and time in the day,” she explains, adding that stacking habits is the key to keeping habits. “Whether it’s a 60-second cleansing routine or you’re indulging in an hour-long at-home pamper session, use that time to rest, relax and simply focus on your breath.” It's a sentiment shared by Ahmed, who advocates doing what you can in the time that you already have. “I’ll often tell patients to practice mindfulness even when brushing their teeth.”
With Ahmed as a leading force in the rising field of psychodermatology – the concept of treating the skin from both a biological and psychosocial perspective – there is no doubt that meditation as a skincare solution will become more widespread (although there are currently only seven NHS psychodermatology clinics in the UK). “It’s recommended to have a psychologist attached to dermatology, and definitely within a psychodermatology clinic,” she says. “However, funding is usually difficult to obtain, so the dermatology team will then have to look at alternative funding sources, which often comes from drug companies.” It’s a stark reminder that despite the phenomenal strength of the NHS, it relies on adequate financial support to provide a full body of care.
‘We are experiencing more stress, depression and anxiety since the pandemic hit, with the largest increases among women and young people’
The irony is not lost that an industry so obsessed with innovation and technical advances is now seeing scientific evidence of how the ancient – and free – practice of meditation contributes to skin health and anti-ageing. For Roath and Wild Source, which was recently snapped up by beauty mecca Liberty and touted by trend forecasters WGSN as an industry trailblazer, the findings support her core beauty message. “Stress disrupts our sleep, gut health, and immune system, which all negatively affect our skin’s health. Meditation is a coping strategy for that, and we’re committed to paving the way for more research to better understand our emotional skin triggers.” While some severe and chronic skin conditions will always need medical treatment, it’s clear that a self-prescribed dose of mindfulness and breathwork could also help keep the doctor away.
Lead image courtesy of Wild Source
If healthy skin is your goal, meditation and mindfulness could help, as well as bringing a host of other benefits to your life.
By Rhea Cartwright