“Psycho beauty”: it’s a phrase that likely brings to mind extreme eyeliner, or maybe Lady Gaga circa 2009.
But this is 2021, and this latest skincare trend isn’t about the out-there at all – in true 2021 style, it’s all about what’s underneath: comfort, ritual, and improving our mental health to boost our skin.
“Skin care is self-care, and self-care is skin care,” is the gnomic explanation from Erika Schwass, Science and Wellbeing Manager of new Canadian brand Consonant, which is one of the pioneering psycho-beauty companies. “We recognise that you could be using the best skin care product but if you’re not moving your body, if your diet is poor, if you’re stressed out, it’s going to show up on your skin.”
If all this sounds like, well, common sense, you’re right: We’ve known for a long time that the state of our mind can affect the state of our skin. Feel stressed, and you’ll break out. Feel mentally exhausted and you’ll look it, with dull, dry skin. Women’s magazines and our mothers have been telling us this for years.
What makes psycho beauty interesting is its connection to the emerging medical field of psychodermatology, which studies the interaction between mind and skin. In some US clinics, specialist doctors are combining psychiatry with dermatology to offer integrated solutions to skin-care issues such as eczema and acne.
So, you might receive the usual topical or oral treatments from a dermatologist, as well as recommendations for yoga and meditation, and even anti-depression medication if that’s thought to play a role in your skin issues.
Unsurprisingly, a clutch of new brands have launched with the promise of bringing this newly holistic approach to skincare.
Take SELFMADE, a US-based skincare company whose proclaimed aim is to bring self-worth back into how we engage with the beauty industry.
Their focus, they say, is on emotional wellbeing as much as how your skin looks, which is why they worked with mental health experts when formulating their products. They’re named after psychological theories, like the Secure Attachment serum (which comes with a “for best results” suggestion to, “Take a mindful minute to contemplate what loving yourself looks like in action while applying serum.”)
The focus is on emotional wellbeing as much as how your skin looks
“How we care for ourselves is deeply personal,” says founder Stephanie Lee. “It can include journaling, having boundaries, it can also include taking a moment to put on your favourite Secure Attachment Comfort Serum+ for mindful self-touch and massage.”
Lee argues that new-generation beauty is in direct opposition to the old, narrow messages of flawless, poreless perfection.
“In big and little ways we’ve been told that the picture of beauty is a very narrow image of poreless, perfected and light skin.
“It’s a size [eight] and cellulite free, photoshopped and now Facetuned portrait on an endless scroll of photos on social media of others ‘living their best life’. And if you buy this jar of cream, then maybe, just maybe, you’re worth it. And that’s bullshit.” Self-care practices, she argues, help remind us of that. “It’s really about caring for our emotional worlds and how it shows up on our skin.”
Consonant, too, believes that encouraging customers to simply buy a cream doesn’t cut it these days.
“If we only focused on the products, we would be doing a disservice to our community by leaving out half of the skin care equation,” says Schwass. “So not only does our research and development include studying and testing our ingredients and products, but also evaluating how we can amplify the benefits of the products with evidence-based wellness pairings.”
On each product package, there is a “skin” panel and a “care” panel, where you’ll discover how the product will improve your skin, and a suggestion on how to incorporate a lifestyle pairing to further the results of the product.
That lifestyle pairing includes masturbation, which is satisfied by the brand’s Come & Glow Bundle, a “self-love starter kit” that includes sheet masks, a custom candle (called Get cLit) and a luxury pleasure toy from Lelo.
“Great sex can lead to great skin,” says Schwass. “That’s why we’re urging customers to take a more holistic approach to skin care by going beyond the bottle and incorporating masturbation as a step in their skincare practice.” There’s even a podcast, “The More You ‘O’”, which explores the topic and incorporates an audio guide that pairs a masturbation technique with a skincare practice for a “holistic self-care experience”.
Great sex can lead to great skin
But is there any evidence that looking after our mental and emotional health can reap better skin? Yes, says leading psychodermatologist, NYC-based Dr. Amy Wechsler, who is an advisor to Chanel Skincare. “The mind-skin connection is based on proven bio-chemistry, and skin is not just the passive barrier that we used to think it was. It’s a very active organ. The mind and other organs communicate with each other, both directly through nerves and indirectly through chemical messengers,” she says.
Wechsler points to stress and the hormone it produces, cortisol. Cortisol creates inflammation, which can worsen acne, psoriasis, eczema; breaks down collagen, which in turn can cause fine lines and wrinkles; and weakens the surface of the epidermis, causing dryness and an increase in sensitivity.
“If we feel better and lower our stress levels, including sleeping enough, then we will look better.”
Closer to home, Australian skincare company Habitual Beauty says including ritual and mindfulness in their product usage suggestions has been a key part of the mid-pandemic birth of the brand.
“Coming out of lockdown, I think we’re all feeling completely overwhelmed and drained from the past two years,” says founder Keira Rumble. “Creating small slices out of your day for some sort of mindfulness, in my opinion, can do the world of good.
“We are constantly stimulated, in front of our screens for the majority of the day, dealing with the pandemic, and we are all craving something to help our shift our minds in a positive way. If we can incorporate these small moments while looking after our skin, that’s a win-win.”