If there’s ever been a time to focus on your mental health, this is it. With seemingly never-ending workdays and busy weekends trying to squeeze in everything on your to-do list plus “me time”—all during a pandemic—it can be challenging to prioritize mental health. Although a trip to the spa isn’t a replacement for therapy or medication, it can be a worthwhile supplement. The spa and mental health connection is now stronger than ever, with modern advancements aimed to melt away daily stress and send you out the door a more tranquil version of yourself. Chillhouse founder Cyndi Ramirez-Fulton notes that “many people need an escape from their home or their own surroundings in order to be able to get in that mindspace, and a spa is there for that purpose.”
The role mental health plays in skin care
“One of the most important foundations in health and wellness is that physical and mental health are not two separate entities; on the contrary, one does not exist outside of the other,” says New York psychotherapist Aliza Shapiro. Poor mental health can trickle into many parts of our lives, from our physical health to our skin health. “When one experiences stress physically and/or mentally, it can cause their skin condition to flare,” says Miami dermatologist Dr. Deborah Longwill.
Fresno, CA dermatologist Kathleen Behr, MD, echoes this sentiment. “Anxiety and poor mental health can exacerbate skin conditions such as eczema, psoriasis and rosacea. Worsening of these conditions that are visible can then worsen mental health—it’s a vicious cycle,” explains Dr. Behr. However, she notes that the cycle can go both ways, with positive mental health leading to good skin.
The intersection between mind and skin is known formally as psychodermatology. A recent white paper published by Erno Laszlo on the topic noted that “stress can be considered both an intrinsic and extrinsic factor that influences skin aging.” In addition to faster skin aging, the effects of stress can also “make skin more susceptible to environmental insult and lower the threshold at which skin diseases manifest.”
01 The Space
Spas are known for being havens of peace and tranquility—places where we can let our worries melt away while sheltered from our busy schedules and the chaos of the world. The spa essentially forces us into self-care mode, which isn’t always easy to slip into at home. “You aren’t looking at social media, checking email or answering phone calls—it’s a chance for a total escape and break from the pressures of daily life,” says Danuta Mieloch, founder of Rescue Spa. Not only does a spa provide a Zen space for us to decompress, but it also offers a handful of services that can help us manage mental health. “Spas are great because the environment is often completely geared toward relaxing the mind and body,” says New York therapist Monica Nastasi.
If you search the app store for meditation apps, you’ll find dozens of options, as the wellness practice has made its way into pop culture. However, meditation is more than just a trend. Well-being expert and founder of Naturopathica, Barbara Close, says the benefits include “better focus and concentration, improved self-awareness and self-esteem, and lower levels of stress and anxiety.” She notes that meditation also has advantages for physical health, like improving pain tolerance and aiding in the fight against substance addiction. And while at-home meditation is great, meditating with trained professionals can be even more immersive, leading to more profound mental clarity. “Meditation allows you to practice staying present in the moment, even if the moment is very difficult,” says Nastasi. “Meditation helps us to let go of ruminations and anxieties.”
The serotonin-boosting effect of smelling clean laundry or fresh lavender is undeniable. Aromatherapy takes it one step further by using specific essential oils or other aromas targeted to enhance well-being and psychological state. “Our sense of smell is an important part of how we connect with our surroundings and nature,” Mieloch explains. “Certain aromas can provide a calming effect and help us to relax more fully and embrace the moment.” Aromatherapy can also easily be combined with other complementary therapies at the spa, such as a massage or meditation, adds Close.
While aromatherapy can be very beneficial, it may not be suitable for everyone, notes Ramirez-Fulton. “I recommend exploring aromatherapy via your massage therapist or a holistic specialist.”
04 Massages + Facials
The relaxing feeling that overtakes you during a massage or facial can feel transcendent, but what causes that sensation? “Massages and facials help to improve circulation, provide relaxation and relieve stress,” says Mieloch. “All of these things can help you to reduce anxiety and sleep better.” Even just the fact that you’re taking the time to indulge in something calming can be beneficial. “Enjoying massages and facials releases tension in your mind, creating a better sense of awareness while allowing clearer thinking, ” says Close, adding that Naturopathica’s massages have been proven to reduce stress and pain and increase immune function.
“Facials are often thought of as cosmetic treatments versus self-care treatments, but I strongly believe they also help in combating stress and anxiety,” says Ramirez-Fulton, who explains that facials “send signals to your brain that you’re doing something good for your body and skin.” Additionally, purifying our skin enhances our appearance. “When we look good, we feel good,” she adds.
While getting tiny needles placed all over your body may sound like something that anxiety-inducing, it’s actually beneficial for mental health. “Mental health is something that acupuncture is very effective at treating,” says ORA’s director of acupuncture, Gabriel Sher. Experts know exactly where to place the needles to address various ailments, from anxiety and depression to digestive issues and back pain.
“According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, our emotional, mental and physical well-being are intertwined, and any imbalance of one can impact the health of others,” ORA’s lead acupuncturist, Sian James says. “To keep this balance, the flow of energy, or qi, should flow throughout the entire face and body via energy pathways without blockages.” James notes that there are specific points in the face, such as the Yin Tang and Tai Yang, which help decrease tension and improve mental clarity.
06 What you can do at home
“The power of practicing wellness routines (whether it’s meditation, yoga or even a skin-care regimen) is that when we focus on maintaining our physical equilibrium, we strengthen our mental one, which consequently reduces our vulnerability to challenging experiences and emotions,” Shapiro explains.
Poppy Jamie, mental health activist and global wellness advisor to Erno Laszlo, says that research shows it’s much easier to build a habit on top of an existing one. She likes to combine her skin-care routine with meditation or deep-breathing exercises. During her morning and evening skin-care routines each day, Jamie does breathwork, counting 60 breaths. Once a week, she wears the Erno Laszlo Multi-Task Eye Serum Masks and meditates, saying these are “super micro-moments to help rebalance, recenter, and check-in” with herself. “When we feel anxious or stressed, our mind is either in the future or the past.” However, we can use our skin-care rituals to keep us in the present by asking questions like “How does it feel?” or “How does it smell?” while taking deep breaths. Jamie says, “It’s so easy. Suddenly, we have a moment of being present.”