Unpacking how eczema impacts long-term mental health, even when skin is calm.
Published On: Oct 2, 2023
Last Updated On: Oct 2, 2023
In a world that is never short on stressors, adopting the practice of mindfulness is a helpful habit when trying to find balance, especially when anxiety and stress can be triggers for eczema. “With eczema, stress unfortunately does increase all of our inflammatory markers and that can correlate to flares of eczema on our skin,” said Dr. Mamta Jhaveri, assistant professor of dermatology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.
Although mindfulness practices look different for everyone, for people with eczema, finding ways to mitigate stress can be a beneficial tool to treat and be proactive about flares. Mindfulness is the practice of slowing down your thinking, focusing on the present moment and paying attention to the sensations you’re feeling in your body. This could mean focusing on your breathing or the sensation of rubbing moisturizer on your skin.
One area of life where you can try to integrate mindfulness is in skincare. Routine isn’t the most glamorous word especially when an eczema-centered routine includes necessary skincare-management like moisturizer applications, wet wraps and skin-soothing baths. However, by adopting a different point of view, what was once a mundane task can quickly become a thoughtful practice that you can look forward to.
Adding mindfulness practices to a skincare routine doesn’t have to be complicated. Dr. Jhaveri recommends implementing these small changes “when you’re already in a good place” not when things are going awry.
A good place to start is with your skincare routine before bed. “Because we know that sleep is so important for eczema, I usually try to encourage people to try mindfulness during their nighttime routine,” she said.
This can be as easy as downloading a mindfulness-based meditation app, playing calm music or turning on mood lighting when you’re winding down and beginning your skincare routine.
When it comes to the actual routine, gentle is key. “For most people, eczema does mean that we have a lack of a natural moisturizing factor in our skin, so having a good gentle skincare routine is going to be crucial throughout all times of the year,” Dr. Jhaveri said.
She recommends short, lukewarm baths or showers less than 10 minutes to help the skin maintain its moisture. During that bath or shower she explained that people don’t need a lot of soap or exfoliating, and it’s best to “pat dry and leave a little water on the skin. That way, when you do apply your moisturizer of choice, you can help retain hydration to the skin.”
Once a person is clean and feeling calm, Dr. Jhaveri is also a fan of journaling for people with eczema. “You can help see what made your skin worse or better. It’s a nice reflection,” she said.
For Alexis Smith, who runs the Instagram account EczemaLove, she views adopting mindfulness into her skincare routine as an act of “taking care of yourself.” Smith was diagnosed with eczema when she was about 11 or 12 years old, and explained that her skincare has changed a lot since then. “Sometimes I need a steady routine to get through a bad flare, but other times I can be more lax with my routine and have my skin not suffer from it,” she said.
She went on to note that while, “It’s never fun when your skincare regimen is something you just have to get done, but by being mindful with your routine, you can turn it into something you look forward to, and really use it as quality self-care time.”
One of the ways she adds mindfulness to her skincare is with a “mini spa night,” which she keeps simple by doing her usual routine but adds in the occasional “foot mask or a jade roller to help relax.”
She shared that her usual routine consists of cleansing her face, using a serum (usually hyaluronic acid), doing red light therapy and finishing off with whatever face moisturizer she’s loving at that moment.
“I’m definitely a ‘do as I say — not as I do’ type of person when it comes to skincare unfortunately,” Smith said. “But I think it’s important to acknowledge it’s not always easy to keep up with a routine, especially when your mental health isn’t doing so well. Ideally, I’d love to get back to having a routine every morning and every night because it would help not only to have a schedule to follow, but to also give my skin the care it deserves.”
Mindfulness practices can be helpful tools when managing eczema, but it shouldn’t be something to stress over.
“No one is perfect and that’s okay,” Smith said. “You may have to remind yourself when it comes to your skincare routine, but once you start incorporating mindfulness, it can help you create a ritual you actually look forward to.”