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InfantArmI was never a touchy person. My husband loves the hugs and the snuggles, and it took a long time for me to get comfortable with this. There was an invisible line drawn down the middle of the bed, and I was perfectly happy to stick to my side. The only time I enjoyed touch was with my pets. For whatever reason, the snuggly dog didn’t bug me as much as the snuggly husband, who smelled piles better than the pooch. (My dog is snuggling with my feet as I type this.)

So this touch-phobia made becoming an esthetician a bit challenging.  I spend hours touching people. And I will be honest, it really took a while to get used to touching a stranger and being OK with it. And I will also admit that there are moments when it can still be difficult for me. If I don’t connect immediately with the person on the table, I am much more tentative and it can take a while for the touch to feel comfortable.

Touch is a very powerful thing. So is a lack of touch. According to the massage magazine Body Sense, “So serious are the effects of touch deprivation, it’s considered by researchers to be worse than physical abuse.” I am not sure that I am comfortable going that far, but clearly touch (and lack of it) are important to the overall well being of our bodies and minds.

Body Sense cites a University of North Carolina study that found hugging reduced the body’s level of the stress hormone cortisol. Cortisol is the hormone associated with weakening the immune system, anxiety, anger, not to mention, of course, acne. This same team of research scientists also observed that hugs boosted the levels the hormone oxytocin, which improves heart function.

Here in the US, we aren’t comfortable being touchy. There are a thousand reasons why–we’re litigious and touch can be misinterpreted; we are technology driven and have minimal interaction with live human beings. In a city like NY, where people are packed in so tightly, touch avoidance is a herculean effort, and getting off a subway without the brush of a stranger’s skin is worthy of an Olympic medal. Personal space is sacred, and this may be to the detriment of our health.

I pushed through my comfort zone and learned to appreciate and value touch. Where I once favored extractions (estheticians all love the goop removal), massage is now my favorite part of the treatment. When I feel the tension release, I know that the person on my table is mentally and physically detoxing. And going through my rituals of massage, the focus I need to perform them, and the warmth that touch brings, allows my brain to drain and relaxes me as well.

So take a minute, right now, to hug your significant other, your kid, your dog, your cat, your Mom, whoever is closest (OK, maybe not your boss). And I don’t mean that hug that’s akin to an air kiss. Hug it like you mean it!

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teacherIt has been a whirlwind week at my house. My daughter started kindergarten on Tuesday and what should have been a tear filled, exciting day turned into a big old battle with The Man. For her very first teacher, my kid ended up with Mrs. McNasty.

It’s a long story, but needless to say Mrs. McNasty messed with the wrong Mom. Manly Man Husband and I marched our asses straight to the Principal’s office and had a showdown. What followed was hours of phone calls that lead straight to the top of educational food chain to pull my kid away from that craptastic teacher.

Here’s why I went mental. My kid is bright, curious and full of spunk and one lousy teacher can take all of that away quickly. I had horrendous teachers in my early school years, and until I hit college, there was absolutely no joy in learning. School was a loathsome task and one that I feared every morning. So to have Mrs. McNasty at the age of 5, her introduction to real school, was just not going to fly.

When my daughter came home that afternoon and said she was afraid to ask to use the bathroom, I knew for certain that we had done the right thing by intervening immediately.

Here’s my admittedly tenuous beauty connection. Imagine my shock when I ended up in esthy school, learning chemistry, biology and anatomy (subjects I ran from throughout my school years) and found that not only did I enjoy learning them, I was pretty damn good at them. If I did not have a fear of school, who knows what I could have achieved.

That, and I expect a case of stress-induced acne to explode any day now.

allure-cover-lp_e_b531446b815d841fa57ff7ac29559923Oh Allure! Why do you break my heart? I always rip open the new issue when it arrives, anxious to read the “beauty bible” and am always so disappointed. The March issue came this morning, and the cover tag of “Stressed Out Skin?” pulled me in, only to hurt me within the very first paragraph.

In analyzing the skin of our over stressed masses, writer Sarah Van Boven says “Not only does stress cause our sebaceous glands to pump out more of the oil that bacteria thrive on…” Or, Oil = bad. 

Oil on our skin, for the most part, is a good thing. We need it to help kill the bacteria on our skin (oil=acid; bacteria cannot thrive in an acidic environment). However, there is one more piece to the acne puzzle. Oxygen. The problem is when the pore gets clogged by dead skin and dirt and oxygen cannot reach the bacteria to help kill it. Oil alone is not the sole culprit.

Strip away that oil and you will have to read the Sensitivity part of this article: “The epidermal barrier that locks moisture to the skin is the same thing that keeps irritants like pollution, allergens and chemicals out.” Guess what that epidermal barrier is? The one you just stripped away because of your acne.

I suppose I should learn by now not to get so excited when the damn magazine shows up.  But it’s kind of like porn. Excited by the promise yet ultimately deflated by the actual experience.

Stress3
Fate works in mysterious ways.  Just after this item posted, I found out my husband’s cat
has to get his leg amputated.  We
can barely afford the limb removal (thanks, Visa, you are everywhere I need to
be!) so I don’t think we will be stem-celling the kitty.

Read the rest of this entry »

We all know stress can be a killer–literally. But it can also impact your skin.

The Dermatology Times has a bunch of nifty pieces on stress and skin diseases (ranging from acne to psoriasis) noting that in recent years, scientists are seeing a closer connection between the central nervous system, the endocrine system and the immune system and how stress can impact the skin’s barrier function.

In one study cited, psoriasis sufferers who listened to meditation tapes in addition to receiving PUVA therapy cleared twice as quickly as those who received PUVA therapy alone, leading a University of Rochester researcher to say that mindful meditation is an easy and useful tool to help combat skin ailments. In a separate piece about managing stress, one Doc is quoted saying that derms are not as likely to recommend yoga, meditation or tai chi as they are to simply prescribe a topical or oral antibiotic.

An interesting note–the patients were usually stressed out by their skin disorder, which was partially caused by stress, creating a vicious circle of stress exacerbating the condition and the condition exacerbating the stress. Phew. Just. Calm. Down!

I hope that more derms will advise their patients to take part in some stress-relieving form of exercise or meditation in addition to the usual topical antibiotics. One thing that did concern me was that one of the docs uses an example of a psoriasis patient he successfully treated with a topical treatment and a prescription for 50 mgs of Zoloft. While this particular doc was also a clinical psychiatrist, I don’t want my derm to write out a prescription for any anti-depressant or anti-anxiety meds. I would have preferred to see the results with a prescription for a yoga class three times a week.

I applaud that researchers are spending more time looking at stress its impact on skin disorders, but I hope that they examine non-pharmaceutical techniques to beat it, and not just shove one more pill down the throat of an over-prescribed nation.