Lifestyle

Dr. Amy Wechsler Founded The Mind-Beauty Connection Before It Became A Trend

Before Goop, before Twitter, before “wellness” became a buzzword, Dr. Amy Wechsler built an A-list dermatology practice around the relationship between the mind and the body. As one of the field’s leading psycho-dermatologists (those who become board-certified in both dermatology and psychiatry), Dr. Wechsler authored best-selling book, The Mind-Beauty Connection, which in 2008 became required reading for those seeking to understand how stress levels might impact the complexion.

Was Dr. Wechsler ahead of her time? Today, the idea of holistic dermatology – ie evaluating every aspect of one’s life in relationship to the skin – seems obvious, but her approach delivers personalized solutions based on the fundamental connection between the mind and body. Given this time of extreme, prolonged stress, I checked back in with Dr. Wechsler, the source on all things psycho-dermatology, on why her unique field feels so crucial now.

Why do you feel like the understanding of the mind and body connection is more important now than ever before?

 I feel that understanding the mind/body connection is more important now than ever because we are living in a very stressful time, when anxiety and depression with concominant somatic symptoms, are high.

How do you define psycho-dermatology? How do you bridge these fields in your office?

Psycho-dermatology is the merging of the two fields, where each informs the other. I primarily practice dermatology in my office, and I use my psychiatry background with every patient. It’s simple yet important things, like sitting with patients, asking open-ended questions, and inquiring about many aspects of my patients’ lives. If I sense a patient is having symptoms of a mental illness or of a sleep disturbance, for example, I ask specific questions to aid with a diagnosis. 

 You’re the only woman in this field. How does that inform your work in this field?

My medical colleagues often comment that they wish they had some psychiatry training for their specialty, since being a skilled listener and diagnostician and being able to understand patients’ motivations for procedures in addition to being able to speak about difficult topics with patients and family is incredibly helpful.

How do you differ from others who claim the same title and is that worrisome for you?

 I don’t think anyone is regulating the title – as of now there are four of us in the country who are both board certified dermatologists and board certified psychiatrists (one is a PhD psychologist). I am not sure what training the others have who call themselves psychodermatologists. They may be psychologists/psychiatrists or dermatologists who have a particular interest in the intersection of the two fields, but I don’t know what training they have in their non-primary field.

 You’ve been working with Chanel for years. Can you describe the French cultural view of the mind/body connection compared to those of Americans?

I have had the honor and privilege of working with Chanel for 11 years. When they first met me, they explained that French people have always understood that there is a mind-body connection, and they loved that I was both a dermatologist and psychiatrist. Coco Chanel famously said, “Elegance comes from being as beautiful inside as outside.”

When did you realize you wanted to bridge the worlds of psychology and dermatology?

When I finished my child and adolescent psychiatry fellowship, I missed the physical side of medicine. I took some months to think about what I could combine with the psychiatry that makes the most sense. I loved that the CNS (central nervous system – brain and spinal cord) and the skin are formed from the same embryologic layer of cells. Therefore, there are myriad connections! I had psych patients with skin complaints and I couldn’t help them. This frustrated me. 

Given this time of extreme, prolonged stress, what sort of skin issues are your patients experiencing that you weren’t seeing pre-pandemic?

I have always seen stress related skin symptoms and conditions – I am not seeing new ones, just more of the usual ones such as acne, eczema, premature aging, psoriasis, sensitive skin, and a lot more perioral dermatitis, since this is a rash that occurs often in the mask area. Patients are also more worried and anxious about growths on their skin.

Seeing as the pandemic isn’t going anywhere super soon, what can we do to combat stressful skincare issues on our own?

There are so many ways to lower daily stress (I wrote a whole book about it and review many of them on the podcast I have with my daughter, Zoe, called “Am I Embarrassing You?”) Sleep is crucial – adults need seven-and-a-half to eight hours per night. We heal our mind and body when we sleep.  Also, getting outside for fresh air, connecting with friends, deep breathing techniques, all forms of exercise, sex and masturbation, keeping up a basic skin care routine, and avoiding bad habits like cigarette smoking are some examples.

If you were to rewrite the book, what would you add or how would you reframe it knowing what you know now as well as for the 2021-2022 audience?

 I would love to write the next edition of my book! I would have a section for teenagers and adolescents and I would update the products. I would add the more recent science as well.  (I am sure I would do a lot more too!)

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