Where Skin Care Meets Behavioral Science: 4 Tips To Be Less Angry At Your Skin
We know skin care results are not immediate. And yet, it's common to feel frustrated and, well, angry when results take time.
I know this feeling all too well: Recently, I woke up to a cystic spot on my jaw, which I inherently know has no quick fix. After gently tending to the blemish the best I could, I went to bed praying my new friend would be gone in the a.m. (or at least smaller in size)—only to find it just as puffy and inflamed as the night before. The hot rush of anger caught me a little off-guard: I take painstakingly good care of my skin, I couldn't help but self-criticize. So why aren't I seeing results?
It turns out, there's a psychological reason we can be so resentful toward our skin. Let's chat about where skin care meets behavioral science and what you can do to manage those feelings when they crop up.
Why is it so easy to get angry at your skin?
It's something we've discussed time and again at mbg: Because your skin is outward-facing, it's often seen as a means to an end rather than the complex, dynamic organ that it is. So many of us talk about "good skin" and "bad skin," but we don't hold any other organs to this standard—we don't typically discuss, for instance, "good bladders" and "bad bladders." Skin, on the other hand, has these strong aesthetic ties, again since it's put on display.
"That doesn't make you shallow to have these fears," says clinical psychologist Perpetua Neo, DClinPsy. "You are allowed to have these concerns and doubts," but it helps to understand the why behind those feelings.
Another reason? "We seek immediate gratification," Neo adds. "And if we're spending on our skin care, we expect it to deliver straight away, the way we're used to when spending on meals and entertainment." In other words, if you're dropping coin on a product, you expect it to work, like, right now.
Tips to reduce frustration.
First and foremost, it's important to know what your skin is trying to tell you—whether it's not fond of a certain product or regimen, or if there could be any underlying issues beneath the surface. But sometimes? You just break out, or you experience a flare-up, even though you're doing all the right things.
In those moments, managing the stress that stems from self-criticism is key—and since research has shown psychological stress can translate into physical inflammation of the skin, it may even help your skin woes in the long run.
Keep these tips in mind for when you're just having one of those days:
1. Acknowledge your anger.
We're not here to tell you that you shouldn't ever get frustrated with your skin. Rather, it's important not to berate yourself for having those feelings or try to suppress them—according to Neo, acknowledging your anger without judgment can actually help release the feeling in the long run. "That takes away its power over you," she says.
You can even repeat a helpful EFT-style (Emotional Freedom Technique) statement, she adds, like, "Even though I am feeling angry, I choose to love and accept myself anyway." It may feel strange or unnatural to speak to yourself in this way, but the more you practice, the more comfortable you may feel grounding yourself with these statements.
2. Express gratitude for your skin's important functions.
As we mentioned, your skin is a living, functional organ—and it does so much to protect you. "The skin not only gives clues into what's happening beneath the surface in terms of immune function, nutrition, oxidative stress, and metabolic issues, to name a few, but it's the body's first line of defense against infection, environmental stressors, and loss of nutrients and water," board-certified dermatologist Keira Barr, M.D., once told us. "The skin microbiome is constantly interacting with our environment and works to support our health by protecting against infection, influencing the immune response, protecting against UV radiation, and helps provide nourishment to the skin cells."
So if you're feeling particularly resentful about a specific concern (say, a hormonal breakout or string of dark spots), try to express gratitude for what you can. For example, "I'm grateful my skin protects me from pollutants," or "I'm grateful my skin's acid mantle locks in moisture."
3. Track small changes.
"Have objective markers on how things are evolving, even if slowly," says Neo. See, achieving goals—no matter how small—sends a surge of dopamine to your brain; neurologists even recommend making daily checklists so you can knock off smaller wins and feel satisfied.
So when it comes to skin care, you could take a weekly photo of yourself to compare changes, or scrawl down notes in a journal to track your progress. Even if it's something small and seemingly unrelated ("My skin looks more hydrated than yesterday"), it could help stimulate a positive mindset.
4. Know when it's time to see a derm.
If you don't see results for a while, it may be worth it to see a professional who can determine whether you need to alter your routine. As we mentioned above, your skin communicates with you on a daily basis—it may be sending signals that a particular product or habit isn't working.
It's so easy to feel frustrated with your skin if you aren't seeing results—just know that progress does take time, and your skin is working hard on a variety of functions. But on those days where you can't escape from the self-criticism, keep these stress-relieving tips in your tool kit.
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