Dr. Claudia Aguirre is a neuroscientist, a TED speaker and creator of Ted Education lessons. She is passionate about skincare, psychodermatology and frequently lectures worldwide. Read more about her at doctorclaudia.com
Marcie Mom: Thank you Dr Claudia for taking time to answer questions on the video. In it, you shared that chronic stress is associated with many diseases including diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, autoimmune diseases and even cancer. Stress process begins in hypothalamus, that sends an initial signal to the pituitary gland, adrenal gland and triggers the release of adrenaline, noradrenaline and cortisol that travel through the body for a fight or flight response. Stress is also studied to be able to trigger neurogenic inflammation that can worsen eczema, psoriasis, premature aging, acne and rosacea.
Stress can dehydrate skin, leading to impaired skin barrier that makes the skin more vulnerable to allergens and irritants, and triggers eczema flares. Histamines released also contribute to the itch level experienced in the skin. Stress can also make the skin hypersensitive to allergens. Cortisol boosts oil production, leading to blocked pores and worsening acne.
Doctor Claudia shared that there is a new field Psychodermatology, which is the practice of treating skin disorders using both dermatological and psychiatric techniques. Treatments such as acupuncture, aromatherapy, breathing and massage techniques are also shared in the video.
Dr Claudia, can you share briefly with us how the brain ‘talks’ to the skin and how differently a stressed brain talks to the skin?
Dr Claudia: The brain and the skin share an embryonic origin and are constantly communicating with one another. Think about sensation – your skin, once stroked, sends signals to the brain and the brain determines whether it is being tickled, stroked, or punctured. Of course the picture is more complex than that, as it involves countless nerve fibers, relayed information in the spinal cord and signals from brain to skin. They communicate using electrical impulses and chemical signals for the most part. A stressed brain will send more stress signals, or hormones, throughout the body including the skin.
MarcieMom: Eczema is a stressful condition to manage, and stress can also trigger eczema – a double whammy situation. For children with eczema, what do you think are some ways to break this vicious cycle?
Dr Claudia: The behavior should be modified to adapt to lifestyle changes early on. In children, this may be teaching them that they can keep their hands busy so they don’t idly scratch their skin. Teaching them to breathe deeply has also been shown to reduce anxiety and stress in children – some therapists put a ball or balloon on the belly of the child and make them move it while breathing deeply, lying on their back. This can help a child understand how to breathe from the belly, which can reduce stress. Maybe when they get particularly itchy, they can call out to mom or caretaker, who will apply a cool compress to relieve the itch without scratching the skin.
MarcieMom: You mentioned about touch being able to relieve stress. Do you think that a mother carrying or sleeping with an eczema baby can help relieve stress and offers the possibility to improve eczema?
Dr Claudia: Absolutely. Holding premature infants allows them to develop faster and carrying a baby or toddler is comforting in more ways than we know. Gently stroking them will also be soothing. As for co-sleeping, there are different viewpoints and it is up to the individual in the end. To relieve from dust mites, wash often with hypoallergenic detergent and vacuum frequently. Although they are a trigger, they are not the cause of eczema, so keeping the skin hydrated and lubricated will allow it to heal and prevent flare-ups.
Thanks Doctor Claudia, as always, very much appreciate your insights into skin.