It was Michelangelo who once said “to touch is to give life”. He was onto something, for sure, but in this pandemic embattled world, in which we have to ask loved ones for permission to hug, many of us have had to find other ways to feel soothed.
Cue the rise of the soulful skincare routine. Not only do these regimes involve gentle, compassionate, touch, but also that other wellbeing winner, mindfulness.
Studies show gentle touch soothes and relaxes, and can signal safety and trust, not to mention calm cardiovascular stress. Plus, it floods our bodies with oxytocin, aka “the love hormone.”
In fact, research conducted by UC Berkeley’s School of Public Health even found that a simple pat on the back from a doctor may boost survival rates of patients with complex diseases.
There’s similarly impressive evidence for the mind/skin connection too: researchers have found mindfulness not only helps with wound healing but can improve psoriasis symptoms. It’s truly powerful stuff.
With this in mind, we spoke to three women who credit their mindful skincare routines with rebalancing everything from self-esteem to stress, and even peri menopause symptoms. Who said beauty was only skin deep?
‘My skincare routine keeps me grounded while settling in to a new country’
Donna Francis, 45, Editor/Consultant, Florida, USA
‘Every morning and evening, as I smooth a nourishing shower oil into my body, I try and clear my mind of its anxious thoughts: ‘Did I fill out all the forms for Billy’s new school? ‘Today’s workload is crazy!’ Even: ‘Is the cat happy?’
My angsty mind chatter is in overdrive currently because I’ve recently relocated from London to Florida with my husband Dan, two sons (16 and 10), and our beloved elderly cat.
US work visa restrictions mean I’m now the main breadwinner. Plus, I miss my huge circle of friends, and my mum isn’t around the corner for hugs and help when I’m feeling overwhelmed.
With anxiety levels rising, I had to find a new way to ease my stress. I’ve read so much about mindfulness, but as the only me-time I get is during my morning and evening bathroom time, I decided to incorporate it then. While I lavished attention on my skin in London, it was all about optimum skin health and glow – my mind didn’t come into it.
Now, the moment I step into our rainwater shower and the spray hits my skin, I consciously breathe in the scents of the shower oil I’ve applied. Instead of a rushed wash, I close my eyes and concentrate on the heady fragrance and powerful jets of warm water, allowing it to transport my mind to a more peaceful place for a few minutes.
Post shower, I no longer rush to get dressed while still half wet, instead taking time to massage in The Ritual of Mehr Dry Body Oil – closing my mind to anything but what I’m feeling, hearing, smelling.
I’m also drawn to using oils or balm face cleansers now because they feel more cosseting and tactile. I cup the cleanser in my hand and deeply breathe in the scent, before gently massaging it into my face, noticing how it makes my skin feel instead of look.
I’ve also started using a jade roller after moisturising. I spend around two minutes smoothing out tension around my jawline, forehead, temples and cheekbones. I keep it by my laptop to use during the day as well.
The power of my new routine really hit home when I took a break from it during a short trip to Las Vegas recently. Cue four nights of waking up at 3am worrying about everything from cat litter to car parking. Never again! For me, it’s now a sacred part of my day. Yes, my skin looks good. But it’s my renewed sense of calm during a turbulent time that’s been the biggest benefit.’
Donna’s tip: “When your skin and mind are both feeling congested, use your fingertips or a jade roller to pull gently downwards from each earlobe towards your collarbone - this helps drain any toxins around your lymph nodes, and eases tension too.”
“A weekly massage has helped me reconnect mind, body and soul”
Tina Inns, 47, Musician, Gold Coast, Australia
‘I’ve been a single mum since my twins were born 18 years ago and I’ve always worked full-time, so life is hectic and I’ve never really prioritised self-care. But when I started struggling to sleep more than four hours a night, I knew I needed to pay attention to myself.
A friend recommended massage as it had really worked for her mentally and physically. Plus, there’s science to back up that it can reduce peri menopausal symptoms, which I believe are the cause of my insomnia and anxiety.
Before each session, I have a short chat about how I’m feeling with my massage therapist. Then she’ll concoct a blend of essential oils she thinks will help that day. Last night, she used lavender, chamomile, and neroli to help me relax and induce sleep. I managed a solid seven hours.
Although I still have peri menopause symptoms, they bother me far less. My hot flushes are much less frequent. My anxiety isn’t as overwhelming, and my joint pain is more manageable.
But the biggest surprise is how much I’m soothed by being touched. The combination of a global pandemic, paranoia about social distancing and my grown-up children no longer being as affectionate means I’ve unwittingly developed ‘skin hunger’. So, the feel of Kerry gently kneading out tension creates the most intense sensation of…bliss. It’s so hard to put into words. It’s way more than physical. It makes me feel safe and loved.
When I’m not nodding off during the treatment, my therapist Kerry encourages me to quieten my mind by concentrating on breathing in for four and out for four and to just focus on all the sensations I’m experiencing.
My weekly massage improves my mood so much that I truly feel I’m becoming a better parent, friend and boss because of it. That’s why, going forward, aromatherapy massage will be a regular part of my life. I’ve not just discovered the importance of touch; I’ve learnt that regular self-care is an important act of self-love. And it’s one I now know I deserve.’
Tina’s tip: “Self-care doesn’t have to be in a spa. I now take a long bath on Saturday mornings and do a face mask with my Ritual of Jing Massage Candle burning. Afterwards, you can use the melted oil in a self-massage. Bliss!”
“I match my skincare to my intentions”
Giselle La Pompe-Moore, 32, Spiritual guide and author (Take it in, Penguin Random House), London, UK
‘I discovered the power of mindful skincare when I was struggling with low self-esteem in my mid-twenties – I worked in fashion PR in New York and had to spend lots of time around models on shoots. Go figure!
I’d always been drawn to spiritual practises and these twice-daily routines had such a profound effect on me – boosting my self-love and keeping me balanced - that they’ve remained an integral part of my life ever since.
Mornings are always an intention-setting time for me, and that dictates what products I apply. If my aim is to be, say, more loving or compassionate to myself, I’ll look for ingredients that are nurturing and soothing, like rose. As I apply my products, I’ll practice gratitude for all my skin does for me. We spend so much time applying products to ‘fix’ our skin, but we rarely touch it just to appreciate it.
In the evening, I create a ‘beauty altar’ in my bathroom that matches my intention, featuring the four elements. Earth is represented by crystals (last night I used a celestite crystal for calm and serenity); fire is a candle; air is an essential oil in a diffuser, and I’ll have a bowl of water to put my hot cloth in for face cleansing.
When I’m finished in the bath or shower, I do a body scan. I gently move my attention from my thoughts to my breath. Breathing slowly in and out, I start massaging a cream or oil (I love Rituals Rituals of Ayurveda Indian Rose and Honey body cream in a circular motion from my feet upwards. Concentrating on each area of my body individually, I pay attention to any messages I’m being given, whether it is emotions coming up, or physical sensations like soreness, tension or even pleasure.
I’m often surprised by what my body tells me. Last night I discovered my left shoulder was sore, and in general my body felt achy and tired. That led me to make today’s intention to take things slower.
Yes, it takes time to do this twice a day. But the biggest act of self-love is to spend time on yourself.’
Giselle’s tip: “Journaling straight after your skincare regime is a great way to process any thoughts that come up during it. Mindfulness is not always about chasing rainbows - there will be days when you don’t feel good and it can be healing to journal that out.”