Yes, our appearance can affect our confidence and mood, but the importance of skin care goes much deeper. It also appears to work in two ways. Healthier skin can put you in a more positive mood, and a healthier mood can have a positive effect on your skin.

The Link Between “Bad Skin” and a Low Mood

People who suffer from dermatological issues are significantly more likely to suffer from depression and anxiety [1]. Society has put smooth, clear skin on a pedestal, and those of us without it can feel judged or devalued for this imperfection.

Research shows that people who struggle with acne, specifically, are more likely to lose self-confidence, feel stressed, demotivated, embarrassed, and dissatisfied with their appearance [2]. As appearance plays a role in first impressions, the importance of skin care to these individuals may be make or break. People with acne are more likely to avoid face-to-face encounters and may even miss out on social connections or job opportunities due to the state of their skin.

However, a new skincare routine may help. An eight-week study conducted in 2020 examined the importance of skin care and how mental health was impacted when people with adult breakouts followed a simple three-step skincare routine [3]. Participants experienced significantly reduced stress levels by the end of the study. Specifically, cortisol (the stress hormone) levels decreased by 83%, and participants reported feeling 76% more confident taking a selfie [3].

A 2019 study showed that reduction in stress can support an improvement in skin’s health and appearance, and actually reduce breakouts [4]. Of course, a reduction in stress supports your mental health in a BIG way too. 

So, while bad skin and stress can create a vicious cycle, you can get the cycle moving in the opposite direction! Less stress and better skin can become a cycle of positivity! Below are three ways in which a skincare routine can boost both the health of your skin and your mood. 

Routines and Mental Health

First, research has shown that adhering to routines is associated with better mental health [5,6]. Routines provide predictability, and after the repeated social and cultural traumas we have endured as a society over the past few years, we have enough on our minds without waking up every day unsure of what will come next. 

Once a healthy routine is set, there are fewer decisions that need to be weighed and made throughout the day. 

There are two types of routines. Primary routines include behaviors necessary for maintaining survival and livelihood, such as hygiene, sleep, eating, and home maintenance. Secondary routines are those that are unique to a person’s preferences and what we do to feel good, beyond survival mode. Secondary routines include exercise, social interactions, and working towards our goals. 

When the body is stressed, primary routines (sleep, appetite) can be disrupted. Stressors, like work, family, or a pandemic, can cause loss of secondary routines. Disruption and termination of primary routines have a more pivotal role in mental health during acute stress, but loss of secondary routines can also lead to a low mood and loss of joy [6].

According to the Drive to Thrive (DTT) theory, psychological resilience/well-being is determined by sustaining regularity and structure of daily routines after trauma or conflict [6]. Less adherence to daily routines is a predictor of poor mental health [6]. The mechanism underlying this process is a lower sense of predictability, reduced coping flexibility, and less engagement in important life tasks, which leads to lower mental health over time [6].

Creating YOUR Routine

Skincare may fall into both categories of routine. It is hygiene-adjacent (primary), but often gets discarded under stressful situations because it’s not required for survival (secondary). Regardless, adding new skincare steps to your daily routine may benefit both the health of your skin and your mind.

Most obviously, the importance of a skin care routine depends on the products best suited for your skin’s unique needs. You will choose the times of day, and lengths of time, to which you can commit for the application and removal of the products. Your routine should also include a particular setting in which you care for your skin during those times. 

You can make the time you spend caring for your skin mindful. You can maximize the stress-relief value of your skincare routine by creating a calming setting and clearing your mind of everything except your skin (more on the benefits of mindfulness in the next section). 

Although your choice of products may be best aided by a board-certified dermatologist, you are the expert when it comes to creating your routine. 

It’s only a “routine” if you know you’ll stick to it. If you are a person who gets home late and typically dives straight into bed, a nightly routine that takes 30-60 minutes may not be realistic to follow through. Maybe you have more time in the morning for self-care, but a quick cleanse and hydrate before bed is a reasonable addition.

From Mindless to Mindfulness: Replace scrolling with self-care at bedtime

Alternatively, you may be someone who finds yourself staring at a screen for hours before bed, and you’re looking for a healthier use of your time in the evening. A skincare routine may be just the ticket for weaning yourself off the screen and bringing on sleep more peacefully.

For many people, anxiety and spiraling thoughts reach their peak in the hours surrounding bedtime. Smartphone addiction has made this phenomenon worse. Rather than working as a distraction or remedy to anxious thoughts, sleep procrastination through smartphones and tablets is associated with daytime fatigue, deeper depression, and heightened anxiety [7]. The blue light emitted from phones, TVs, and tablets can exacerbate that anxiety by raising energy levels at a time we are meant to be calming down [8].

For those who may relate to this phenomenon, we offer you a replacement activity. Instead of picking up the phone, how about heading to the bathroom to focus only on your skincare routine? Once it is done, go straight to bed without looking at any more screens.

The goal behind mindfulness practice is to become less reactive, but more reflective, leading to generally more positive psychological outcomes [9]. Mindfulness practice, with roots in ancient Buddhist culture, has been shown by modern clinical research to be very effective in the treatment of depression and anxiety [9].

How to: Mindful Skin Care

Mindfulness is characterized by nonjudgmental awareness of the present moment. Open your awareness to your senses and sensations. Let thoughts come and go without judging them. Listen to the way your body feels inside and in relation to the environment surrounding you. Try to stay open, curious, and accepting of all your feelings.

Think about the way the products feel on your hands and face. Do they have a silky texture? Do they have a nice scent? What water temperature feels the most soothing to you? You can engage all of your senses by adjusting the lighting, brushing your teeth during your skincare routine, and putting on calming music or white noise that relaxes you.

Physical Stimulation: Start a signaling cascade for a more positive mood

As part of your skincare routine (could be occasional), find a time to apply your cleansers, creams, or serums by giving your facial skin a drawn-out massage. Increase the value and importance of your skin care routine by adding some tactile pleasure.

There is scientific evidence that facial massage can activate a signaling cascade that positively affects your mood, and leaves you feeling energized and refreshed. Massage on the face activates both your parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous systems, reducing anxiety and improving mood [10]. 

The parasympathetic nervous system supports your “rest and digest” relaxation functions, which makes sense during a calming massage. The surprising information is that it also activates the sympathetic nervous system, whose job is to bring energy and alertness to the body [10]. This means the importance of skin care may depend on the time of day or mood you’re in when you practice your routine. A facial massage may be better in the morning, or when you’re feeling low. It may not be the best method for bringing on sleep.

Facial massage can also, not surprisingly, benefit your skin texture. Whether you use your hands, a roller, or a gua sha tool, massage brings more blood flow to the face. More blood means more oxygen and nutrition from within, replenishing cells with the building blocks of good health.

While evidence for massage healing acne is sparse or anecdotal, there is some clinical evidence for facial massage supporting smoother, tighter skin [11,12]. Study participants who added facial massage to their skincare routines reported less sagging, fewer wrinkles, more supple skin, and a feeling of freshness and rejuvenation [11,12].

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  2. Ijaz, Mehreen. “Assessment of depression among male and female patients with Acne.” Journal of the Social Sciences 48.3 (2020).
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  12. Khanna, Neena, and Siddhartha Datta Gupta. “Rejuvenating facial massage–a bane or boon?.” International journal of dermatology 41.7 (2002): 407-410.