Skin care, mental health: Experts explain the correlation

Skin care, mental health: Experts explain the correlation

Before she was a big-name celebrity aesthetician with an eponymous skin care line, Shani Darden worked in a dermatologist’s office. She had never even considered a career in beauty before the job, but she credits the experience for why she treats her facials and skin care more like medical treatments than luxuries.

“I’ve always said I wish that more dermatologists took insurance for teens,” Darden told In The Know. “I think people forget that it’s a medical condition.”

A correlation between acne and depression or anxiety in patients has been proved by multiple studies. Acne is the most common skin condition in the U.S., according to the American Academy of Dermatology Association, and it affects up to 50 million people annually. But the emotional impact acne has on people is “poorly understood,” reports a British study.

“Perhaps because of its ubiquity and minimal impact on physical functioning, acne is often dismissed as a time-delimited cosmetic nuisance and has been summarily neglected by developmental scientists,” suggests a 2021 report published on child development.

But Darden saw firsthand how much deeper acne’s effect was on patients — particularly teenagers.

“These poor kids would come [into the dermatologist’s office] with the worst skin,” Darden said, “and the confidence they have by the end — when we had cleared up their skin — was just so amazing. It always just made me feel so bad that these kids didn’t have the resources to be able to take care of themselves.”

Lin Chen, the CEO and founder of Pink Moon, also has seen firsthand how skin conditions run deeper than surface-level vanity. She told In The Know about growing up and watching her mom never make time to take care of herself and why the mission behind Pink Moon is focused on inner health.

“We’re aiming to help people view skin care as a ritual that has deep ties to improving one’s mental and emotional health,” she told In The Know. “I don’t want the Pink Moon experience to be riddled with anxieties or fear about external beauty. I want it to be filled with encouragement.”

Both Darden and Chen made it clear that their respective forays into the beauty industry are about creating more equal access for people to take care of themselves, rather than pushing the common beauty marketing message about fearing signs of aging or needing flawless skin.

“I’ve been personally and professionally involved in the natural beauty and wellness industry for almost a decade, and during this time I’ve noticed a lack of compassion in beauty marketing and messaging,” Chen added. “It isn’t possible to live up to these horrific, impossible and destructive standards.”

Chen pointed out that a lot of beauty marketing can be infused with anti-women rhetoric, which is language Darden said she deliberately doesn’t consider when it comes to her results-driven products.

“I know that people will market skin care to men or women, and to me it doesn’t make any sense,” Darden said. “It’s skin type. I think it’s genderless.”

Self-care does not equate to buying as many topical treatments as possible, however, and Darden and Chen both offer a limited number of products on their websites. Darden’s full line, as of this reporting, is only six products — but she especially highlights her Retinol, which she launched because she hadn’t seen an affordable over-the-counter option for consumers.

Darden also launched an LED mask and early users testing the product found, that beyond treating skin conditions, using it almost felt like a form of meditation.

“It’s actually good for anxiety and depression and will help you sleep,” Darden explained. “A lot of people will use it at night and zone out and go to bed.”

Beauty reporter Jessica DeFino talks a lot about this line between self-care and going overboard with products in her newsletter, the Unpublishable.

“I also think we need to release the idea that the aesthetic manipulation of our physical features fits into the category of ‘healthy coping mechanism,’” she wrote. “The challenge is recognizing which of our beauty behaviors are coping mechanisms (obviously, not all of them are), understanding the underlying issues you’re coping with and addressing those issues in order to heal.”

Since 2020, the beauty industry has boomed and reportedly generates about $100 billion in revenue worldwide. One report found that shoppers are 40% more likely to try new beauty products today than they were before the pandemic.

But the balance between skin care and mental health doesn’t have to be such a major financial or time commitment.

“The skin care industry hinges on the idea that you, as you are — an amalgam of oil and dead skin cells, bacteria and blemishes, wrinkles, pimples and other basic human features — are inherently bad,” DeFino writes, “and only through the power of products can you be made good.”

Instead, Darden and Chen view skin care as supplemental to what it takes to properly take care of your mental health.

“Self-care [and] beauty doesn’t need to be complicated,” Chen agreed. “I’m a big advocate for therapy, and I thank therapy for who [and] where I am today.”

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