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How to Manifest Clear Skin

Cure Acne Naturally with Mind, Body, and Spirit

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How can meditation be used as a tool for helping you to heal your acne?


Interviewer: Helping all of us at Think Clear Skin today to answer this question is Dr. Rachel Goldenhar. Dr. Goldenhar is a licensed clinical psychologist in California with experience in the field of psychodermatology. She’s been featured in The New York Times and Refinery29, is a member of the Association for Psychoneurocutaneous Medicine of North America, and that is a fancy term for a group of dermatologists and psychologists who are promoting the awareness of the skin-mind interaction. So whether you’re into meditation and mindfulness, yoga, psychology or just skincare, listen closely to what Dr. Goldenhar’s saying, because it’s cutting edge information that very few people have access to, because very few people are officially associated with psychodermatology in America. All right, so with that longwinded introduction, thanks for being here. Dr. Goldenhar.


Dr. Goldenhar: My pleasure.


Interviewer: How can healing the mind help to heal acne?


Dr. Goldenhar: Yes. Well, the mind and the skin are connected, and one way that we can really understand this is our response to stress. And when we are responding to stress, it activates our fight or flight response. And when we have fight or flight happen in our bodies, our heart rate increases, our blood pressure increases, and we have a surge of cortisol, which is a stress hormone in our bodies. And typically, when we experience stress, we can manage stress in small bursts pretty well. Our body does actually a really good job of managing stress in small bursts. The problem arises when it’s long term and chronic and ongoing for a long period of time. So when we have cortisol secreting in our systems over a long period of time, we know that that impacts inflammation, and it slows down healing of our skin, and we actually know that wounds actually heal much slower when we’re stressed. So what we really want to pay attention to is how we respond to stress, and how we can get ourselves in a place where we can lower that stress aroused state so that we don’t have that constant cortisol being secreted, and therefore we can reduce inflammation, and we can help our skin heal. And that’s how acne, which is inflammation in and of itself, if we are taking care of ourselves and reducing our stress, we can therefore help reduce that inflammation and improve our healing, capability of healing our skin.


Interviewer: You put that in such a simple way. It’s like it’s so obvious. I mean, even to me, it just, it’s like, it resonates even deeper, especially by connecting it to cortisol because I think it’s really important what you said about the difference between short bursts of stress and chronic stress. Can you elaborate a little bit on the difference in how cortisol affects the skin in a different way when it’s chronic?


Dr. Goldenhar: Sure. So chronic stress, where we all – well, let me start with stress in general. Stress is around us all the time. We’re all dealing with stressors here and there, it’s just part of life. And when we deal with a stressor, our bodies react to it with that fight or flight response, and then we come down to a normal sort of level again; our hormones, stress hormone comes down and our heart rate comes down and our blood pressure comes down, and our body returns to a non-stress state. What happens when we have chronic stress, and an example of this, while we’re filming this, we’ve been now in the pandemic for eight months, so these are examples of chronic stressors, everyday long term, just things that we’re worried about or have to think about are stressors on our life, and we’re all dealing with that. But we really have to make a conscious effort and mindful effort to bring ourselves down from that stress state, so meaning we have to think about what are we going to focus our attention on, what are we going to pay attention to, what are the thoughts that we’re saying to ourselves, how are we responding to the stressors in our lives, so that we can bring ourselves, our bodies and our minds down from that chronically stressed state, and therefore bring down those cortisol levels. And therefore, that can help us heal our bodies and our skin.


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Interviewer: Yeah. You mentioned thoughts, we use our thoughts, and to me that’s a very self-empowering idea because there could be a choice there, is there a choice there in how we use our thoughts? Is it something that we have control over?


Dr. Goldenhar: Such a good question, and there’s a lot that we do not have control over in our lives. We all can agree on that. There’s so much we do not have control over. But we do have control over our mind and our thoughts in a lot of ways. We have control over what we choose to focus on, what we think about. We can control a lot of what we – of our mindset, essentially. And so, if we put ourselves in situations in our mind, we can think about certain thoughts, we can visualize scenes or experiences, we can visualize our body healing, we can think and say thoughts to ourselves that can make us feel good and feel empowered, and that can have an impact in how we respond to stress and how we [inaudible 00:06:13] our mood, and that can actually impact our skin. And that’s how it’s, and so thinking about, if you are really upset or really angry or really stressed, that in turn is going to raise that cortisol or raise some of these physiological experiences in our body, which is going to then impact our skin and slow down the healing that can be occurring. So rather than someone who is thinking about their body healing, being more compassionate, kind, thinking about a more just positive outlook, and thinking about just how we can put ourselves in a state where we can relax ourselves, that actually has a better outcome of healing and health.


Interviewer: Compassion and kindness, I think it’s been something that’s been taught to us as something that we always have to practice towards other people. But it seems that on the skin healing journey, it’s something we might want to practice with ourselves as well. Is that right, and could you elaborate on what the role of compassion and kindness towards ourselves might mean to our skin?


Dr. Goldenhar: Absolutely. So we are often not a friend to ourselves, we’re much better friends to those around us than we ever are to ourselves. And we have to be very patient many times with our skin and our healing, it takes time. And the human brain has a very hard time with patients, like, who likes to wait for a slow elevator, who likes to wait for slow internet, we do not like it, we want things to happen fast, we want things to happen right now. And when things aren’t happening fast enough, we can tend to get frustrated with ourselves and be very hard on ourselves and say, why can’t I do a good enough job of this, why aren’t I better at this, why isn’t my skin feeling healing faster. And so having that reframe of self-compassion and shifting those thoughts and the statements that we say to ourselves, like, I’m doing the best I can, and I’m doing everything I can do, and I’m taking care of myself in the best way that I can, and this is a process, and I’m taking it one day at a time and it’s going to get better and being hopeful. These are the kind of things that we want to kind of shift and be mindful of, so that we can put ourselves in a position where we can feel more compassionate and more hopeful and more positive about our future.


Interviewer: Yeah, very well said. It’s honestly one of the things that members of Think Clear Skin are challenged by the most is patience. And even myself, when I struggled with acne, I remember patience was like a dirty word, I hated it. So yeah, I think that’s really important for anyone listening is really take that in, patience. I know it’s a hard pill to swallow, but it is a process, and compassion and kindness, as Dr. Goldenhar has said, is a really helpful reframe for being patient with your skin. I know body dysmorphia, which is where people see their bodies differently than it actually is. How does that play a role with being patient and compassionate with yourself, actually seeing the progress versus seeing a distorted view of your skin that isn’t actually what is reality or in the mirror – do you understand what I’m saying?


Dr. Goldenhar: Yes. And I think there’s a couple things that are coming to mind right now. One thing that is really helpful is good social support. If we surround ourselves by people who are supportive and can normalize for us the process instead of sending us negative messages and telling us we should be doing something more than we should be doing, and especially with something like body dysmorphia, where we’re having a distorted image of ourselves, it really helps to have someone reality test for us and reassure us that it’s not so bad, it’s not as bad as we see. Sometimes we have distorted views of what we’re seeing. Sometimes when we’re just feeling, sometimes depression plays a role in that, and self-esteem, and that kind of triggers into what we know as the vicious cycle of skin and the mind. And so, we can go down a path where we are feeling worse and worse about our skin, we’re feeling our self-esteem has gone down, we’re trying to make our skin better, we may be over treating it, we may be picking at it, it’s getting worse, we are isolating more. And if you have social support or someone around you who can reality test with you and support you and normalize the experience, that can be a protective factor in helping you kind of get through that hard time and the patience that it takes, because it is hard, it’s very hard, and having someone there that you can kind of rely on for social support is a huge factor.


Interviewer: Yeah. So wherever you are, whether you’re in the US or Canada or Europe or South America or Asia or Australia, and you’re struggling with acne at home, and you are finding it hard to be patient, as Dr. Goldenhar said, try to make contact with someone else who can ring the bell of reality, so that you don’t spiral into that rabbit hole of self-defeating thought and isolate yourself. Because a lot of Think Clear Skin members and people who I talk to with acne, a big, big central theme is not being seen, is this feeling of hiding and isolating, and it really does become a self-fulfilling prophecy. So I can see how socializing can really help to sort of break that pattern, that reactive pattern of hiding and isolating, which goes back to what you said at the beginning of fight or flight response. And it’s an easy flight response to isolate and hide when you think your acne is getting worse, but maybe that’s the opposite of what you need.


Dr. Goldenhar: Sure. And it’s counterintuitive, because we feel like we don’t want to be seen by anybody, we don’t want to go out there, and yet, that’s the very thing that that may help us to feel better. So it’s very counterintuitive. But environments like this, this community right here that you’re providing is a place where you can feel heard and you can feel connected, and that’s really important to anywhere that you can reach out to someone else and feel connected is very important and a huge protective factor in helping us through what can be a really difficult time.


Interviewer: So if it’s so obvious, and so kind of simple, this connection of stress, creating cortisol leading to inflammation, leading to acne, why do you think that people forget about the connection between the mind and their skin, even people who have sort of studied and are interested in the connection, how is it that it can be forgotten so quickly?


Dr. Goldenhar: That’s such a good question, and I kind of look at that like it’s mindfulness. And mindfulness is a practice, we have to practice every day staying mindful of this connection. And we every day need to think about the thoughts we’re having, and what we’re saying to ourselves. For some reason, the human brain has a hard time sticking with these concepts. I really wish we didn’t. I wish I could wave a magic wand and make it all go away, but every human being, every brain has difficulty with this. And we all have to every day, stop and think about what can I do for myself today, to help me feel better, decrease my stress, take care of myself, sleep better, eat better, say positive, hopeful, compassionate things to myself. Every day, we have to work on that, it’s a practice, it’s just like yoga or any kind of stress management, we have to work at it every day. And that is just a part of life, and I tell people that this is lifelong, this is sort of life, every day we work on it and you’re not alone, we’re all in this together. And I think this sort of, we wish, it’s a wish, we wish that it’s done at some point, that we’re at some point you’ve done with it, but we’re kind of never done.


Interviewer: Yeah. So how can people frame this idea that daily practice is required, and that healing the skin is part of a lifelong journey? How can you frame that if you have this goal in mind that you want to have clear skin, because maybe you want to go on dates more confidently or you’re going on a job interview, how can people sort of view this mindfulness with relationship to the skin as a daily practice for life, if they also have this goal, a certain destination at a certain point where they want to reach clear skin – do you understand what I mean?


Dr. Goldenhar: Kind of getting at the point of, like, how do we stay connected and stay focused on the goal of having clear skin when in the moment you’re really struggling with breakouts and flareups. And it could be acne, it could be psoriasis, it could be eczema, and it’s a daily struggle. And you think, how in the world am I ever going to get to the point where this is going to get better. and it’s a combination of things, it’s not just one thing. You’re thinking about all the things in your life, kind of like, from a mind-body perspective, how can I live a life that can get me to a place I want to be. So you’re looking at maybe using some topicals that are maybe helpful or not, you’re thinking about stress management, you’re thinking about everyday kind of what am I eating, how am I sleeping, because all of those things are impacting our body at a molecular cellular level, that are then going to affect our healing down the road. And it’s a whole practice, it’s a daily thinking through kind of all the parts of my life that I am trying to get to, so that I’m living my best life. So being hopeful and thinking about the future, let’s say, if you thinking about dating or thinking about going out for certain jobs or you’re thinking about goals that you have, that’s so important and so positive, we need to be hopeful and optimistic, those are key, key components. So I encourage you to keep thinking about those goals that you have and how you want to get there, and just kind of your steps on how you want, what you want to take to get there maybe six months from now, one year from now, and knowing that the potential is there to get there, and that these things take time. It may not be happening today or tomorrow, but we’re looking down the road and being hopeful and optimistic that you can see some of your goals being met down the road. So that positive optimistic thinking also very important in hopefulness and actually keeping our stress level managed as well.


Interviewer: Okay. So what I’m hearing is that in order to practice mindfulness and a healthy lifestyle every day while trying to get clear skin, it helps to look at the bigger picture, and to focus on just trying to be the best version of yourself, not just clearing your skin, but reaching a place of optimal health in general, where your skin is clear, you’re healthy, you have vitality, you’re pursuing your goals, you’re in a hopeful state. So it really sounds like it’s a great way to view how can I heal my skin is how can I become the best version of myself and clear my skin in the process. And that makes it I think, easier, from what I’m hearing, to then say, okay, I have to practice a little bit every day, and I’ll have to practice a little bit every day for the rest of my life to reach optimal health and then maintain optimal health or enrichen it in some way.


Dr. Goldenhar: That’s right. So if we’re focusing on our skin and spending a lot of our time in our day focusing on what’s wrong and what we want better, but it’s not good enough, and we’re focusing just many, many hours, which can happen in front of the mirror or obsessing over parts of our face or our skin, anywhere on our body that make us feel bad, that is not going to be helpful. We want to redirect our thoughts. We want to focus on other things, and those are goals for our life, for our career, for how can we make the world a better place, getting outside of ourselves, thinking about others. Because when we’re focusing on our skin, we’re focusing inward, and we’re thinking about just ourselves, and that is not helpful. So we want to think outside of ourselves, we want to think about reaching out and connecting with others, we want to think about maybe volunteering. And these are hard concepts, because the very nature, we don’t want to show ourselves when we’re feeling so self-conscious. It’s very, very hard to think about that, but actually what happens when you get outside of yourself and you stop focusing on your skin, you actually start to feel better because you have a greater purpose, you’re focusing on other things, you’re thinking about your goals, and redirecting your thoughts to pay attention to other things besides your skin will actually help this process. And it’s very difficult, I’m not saying that this is an easy process, it takes practice, it takes work, and that’s where mindfulness is really helpful in this practice, if you can practice mindfulness every day. And the wonderful thing about mindfulness is you can do it anytime, anywhere, it’s easy, quick. And I have found too personally that even just taking some deep breaths can really ground me and refocus myself, and calm my stress level, calm my nervous system down very quickly, and take me out of whatever I was stressed about or focusing on. If I can catch myself and be mindful of it in the moment and think, oh my goodness, I need to take some deep breaths, in that exhale, you really activate that parasympathetic nervous system, which calms our heart rate, calms our blood pressure, decreases that cortisol surge, and it really helps bring us to the here and now in the moment, and kind of move us out of whatever negative space we were in.


Interviewer: Yeah. You’re managing your stress with a simple technique that’s very effective, because you know how it’s going to influence your nervous system, which, again, is really self-empowering. We don’t always need other people to fix our problems for us.


Dr. Goldenhar: That’s right. We can fix, we can be that friend to ourselves. We can say those things to ourselves. We absolutely can do that.


Interviewer: Yeah. All right. Well, last question. I guess, just on a more personal note for you, what was your, like, aha moment, where it clicked for you that the mind and skin are connected, because sometimes I think, and a lot of our members will hear this information and I read about this information when I was younger, but I think there’s a difference between understanding it cognitively, intellectually and actually clicking where you understand it with experiential knowledge, so when did it click for you, when did you experience this knowledge instead of just sort of read about it?


Dr. Goldenhar: Yeah. So I actually grew up with my father, who’s a dermatologist, and I grew up around skin and talking about skin my whole life. My parents always were interested in the mind-body connection and health psychology. My great grandfather, my dad’s grandfather was an osteopath, and in osteopathic medicine, they’re very much about treating the whole person, the mind and the body. So I grew up in a family that was very much talking about these concepts and thinking about them. And so when I was a teenager, and I had acne, and I had pretty big flareups and breakouts, I really felt that self-consciousness and my self-esteem, and I really experienced it for myself how hard it can be, even with the understanding of the mind-body connection, and even with parents who were normalizing this, this is normal, everyone kind of goes through this, it’s one point or another; they were supportive, yet, it still was so hard to be experiencing these flareups on my skin, and noticing how people are perceiving you or how you feel people are perceiving you or how that’s affecting your self-esteem. So I found that to be really interesting, I was thinking a lot about that. When I went into college, I entered as a biology major, and then switched over to as a psychology major, and I knew I wanted to study something related to health psychology; and at that time, my dad was sending me articles, early, I’d say, in the 90s, early on, there was a small group of psychodermatologists, and people looking at psychocutaneous medicine, and trying to understand what exactly is this connection between mind and skin. And my dad and I started going to the meetings where they were discussing these concepts, and people were starting to do research; there was early research and early studies and people trying to understand what is this connection, what is going on here, there’s definitely a connection. And then when I went into graduate school, I decided to do my dissertation on the effects of relaxation technique on the quality of life of psoriasis patients. And so, I began to see firsthand just how much stress impacts quality of life with skin diseases, whether it’s acne, eczema, psoriasis, and how reducing that stress and helping with stress management can really improve someone’s quality of life and improve the healing process of their skin. So as I continued my work and working in this field, I’ve just seen it time and time again, and I’ve noticed it personally too, I personally see how it plays a role. So I, just at this point, really feel passionate and empowered about getting the information out and letting people know because it’s something that, as you said before, many times we’re just not aware of that powerful connection between our mind and skin, obviously, which is the skin’s our largest organ.


Interviewer: Yeah, I think that’s what happened to me, and I imagine it’s what happens for other people that you see the evidence repeatedly, whether it’s in yourself or others, either small chunks of evidence or large chunks of evidence. And it builds up, and it’s like it reaches a tipping point where you just go, that’s it is, it just is connected. You no longer doubt it beyond a shadow maybe because it’s just happened too many times, you’ve seen how a thought or a type of relaxation or when you were on vacation and you were chilling out that your skin improved and you see that eight or nine or 10 or 20 times that it just becomes more of a fact, a way of life.


Dr. Goldenhar: Yes, absolutely. So yeah, so I just encourage anyone who is listening today just to remember that you are special. There’s only one of you, take care of you; you only have one body, one skin, one mind, there will never be another one of you; and just how much power you have in your mind to give yourself that compassion and those thoughts and to give yourself the gift of just bringing yourself down from that stress and that arousal, and we all have the power to do that. And it’s not always easy, that is for sure, but we do have that power and don’t forget that, and that there’s always someone that you can reach out to and connect with and not to feel alone.


Interviewer: Yeah. Thank you Dr. Goldenhar. I appreciate your time and sharing all of this insightful information with everyone.


Dr. Goldenhar: My pleasure. Thank you so much for having me.