A little over a month ago, some seriously stubborn pimples popped up on my generally clear skin. These deep cystic babies appeared after an unexpected layoff, breakup, and move (yowza) and basically laughed at all topical treatment attempts — even a prescription cream! After acknowledging my stress levels were high AF and consulting several dermatologists, I decided to meditate every day for 30 days in hopes of making my painful pimples peace out. And, of all the skin care experiments I've tried for Bustle, this one has undoubtedly proven the most life-changing.
To understand just how interlinked stress and skin are, I reached out to Dr Josh Zeichner, founder of Zeichner Dermatology and Dr Sejal Shah, founder of SmarterSkin Dermatology. Zeichner explains to me, "Stress causes our bodies to rev up [the] production of hormones, which impacts our oil glands and promotes skin inflammation. It's associated with various skin conditions including eczema, psoriasis, acne, and even aging." Well bummer.
Focusing on the mood-impacting elements of stress and skin care, Shah shares, "You may skimp on your skin routine if you're stressed, and neglecting your skin can worsen its appearance. This often becomes a vicious cycle — stress can result in skin problems, and seeing problematic skin often adds more stress..."
So, could meditating really help me chill out and glow up? In a word, "Yes," says Shah. "Stress reduction through meditation could potentially improve the appearance of the skin." Zeichner adds, "Whether it's yoga, meditation, or athletics, whatever you do to minimize stress can help keep skin in as good of shape as possible!" Sounds promising, right?
Motivated and ready to dive into the experiment, I hit up my amazing yoga teacher and friend Moun D'Simone for pointers on getting started.
"Meditation is a skill — a practice," she tells me. "The most important piece is committing to show up every day with compassion for where you're at. Whether it's an hour or just a few minutes, you're strengthening neural pathways, releasing serotonin, and bringing your body into a more balanced state."
And on a very practical note, she adds, "Try to meditate in the morning, before coffee or your phone or anything!" Farewell, Instagram deep dives in the wee hours of the morning.
After researching options, I downloaded Headspace, a guided meditation and mindfulness app that seemed the least intimidating. I'm happy to say I stuck with it for 30 days straight and snapped pics of my (no filter, no makeup) face once a week to keep track of my skin status.
Here's what happened.
1. Week One
OK I'm not going to sugarcoat this y'all — week one was rough. Waking up early and hopping straight onto Headspace for a 10 minute guided meditation instead of Instagram or my news apps? Rough. Sitting still long enough to feel just how devastated I was over my break up? Really rough. Staying present amidst the insecure brain chatter around getting laid off? OUCH ROUGH.
Thankfully, Moun sort of warned me this might happen. She had said, "What we do as human beings in this society is find distractions; we are not taught how to deal with emotions. We find it easier to stick them under the rug. Letting them run their course can be scary and challenging at first, but that is how to release them!"
...She was right. Emotions still go somewhere when you bottle them up, and I started realizing that mine had clearly decided to lodge themselves into my face. Until I learned to accept them, they weren't going anywhere.
2. Week Two
Yay week two! Each Headspace session starts with a few encouraging words about how meditating becomes easier with consistency, and I found this to be true. By day 10, I started finding my rhythm and developed a little pre-meditation ritual to help prepare for each session.
Instead of trying to meditate as soon as I woke up, taking a few minutes to use the bathroom, stretch, and have a glass of water made a huge difference in my ability to calmly focus. It's the little things!
As for my skin, my forehead had definitely cleared and my jaw was starting to get better.
3. Week Three
Confession: Despite knowing better, I picked a pimple on my cheek during week three. It was not pleased.
Also, I was completely sold on meditating by this point! I made it through the free trial of Headspace and decided to sign up for the full version without hesitation.
Meditating didn't always leave me feeling amazing afterward, but it noticeably and consistently transformed how I went about my day. While I'd normally get super reactive toward certain thoughts (good or bad), I was beginning to tap into and move from this deeper place of calm.
My skin maybe hadn't cleared yet, but my head was certainly starting to.
4. Week Four
30 days! On the skin front, it undoubtedly looked more radiant than week one, and I think my dark circles look a little less pronounced?
Headspace offers these awesome themed meditation sets, and I had recently started one on self-esteem. Spending the past few weeks seeing just how much toxic self-hate I was carrying around tied to my lay off and doubt around launching my creative consulting agency, Rose Gold Creative, was a huge motivator to step back and cultivate some fresh self love.
I think it's really easy to equate success solely with money in our culture, but what about the success of taking care of your emotional and physical self? The success of honoring your commitments, big and small? The success of being present enough to find and celebrate your breath? Of course earning money matters, but I realize I'd unintentionally (and unhealthily!) attached my self-worth to having a set paycheck the past few years.
OK, so my skin didn't totally clear in a month of meditating, but it definitely looks more radiant now and the painful cystic jawline pimples I mentioned earlier are almost gone. And while glowy skin is awesome, the most dramatic change I've noticed actually has nothing to do with my face...
Meditating for even 10 minutes a day has completely transformed my relationship with, well, me. Instead of getting trapped in the incessant stress-spiking anxious chatter, I'm learning to sit back with compassion and let thoughts come and go without clinging to or judging them. Turns out, a peaceful, clear mind is always just few deep breaths away.