Anyone who’s dealt with chronic, cystic acne knows the ache of desperation that usually accompanies yet another failed acne treatment. It’s the full-body feeling that you’d do anything to clear your skin (I mean, “urine therapy” is a thing for a reason); the strain of racking your brain (or scrolling through Google) for a new miracle cure. After years of attempting to rid my skin of both acne and dermatitis with dermatologist-prescribed antibiotics, steroids, and topical creams — not to mention an entire Sephora’s worth of skincare products — in a flash of desperation-turned-inspiration, I decided to meditate my way to clear, acne-free skin.
Granted, this idea didn’t come out of nowhere. At the time, I was a dedicated student of both meditation and manifestation, and subscribed to the new-age-y Law of Attraction; which states that you can create the life you want by focusing your thoughts on the desired outcome. I fully believed I manifested my apartment, my boyfriend, and a salary bump in this way — so why couldn’t I manifest glowing skin, too?
For my soul-care as skincare experiment, I adapted a handful of meditation and mindfulness techniques to fit my mission, including breathing patterns, mantras, and visualization; all of which I still use today... because they actually work.
What I Do
In the morning, I queue up a 10 or 20 minute track of soothing meditation music on YouTube or Spotify, depending on how much time I have. Then, I lay down (I find it more calming than the traditional lotus position), close my eyes, and start breathing deeply — in through my nose and out through my mouth. After a few breaths, I begin to repeat a mantra in my head: “I am beautiful on the inside, and it shines through the outside.” (Cheesy? Yes. Powerful? Also yes.)
Next, I add a layer of visualization. I picture a brilliant white light filling my body from my toes to the top of my head, then I imagine light beams literally bursting through my pores; all the while repeating my mantra. By the time the music track has ended, I’m tingling with positivity; and instead of feeling down about a “bad” skin day, I see myself in a loving light. It’s an instant pick-me-up — but more than that, it actually changes my skin on a physical level.
During that initial meditation experiment years ago, I noticed a difference in my acne in a matter of days. And even though I don’t meditate on my skin every single morning anymore (hey, I’ve gotta switch it up with health- and happiness-based mantras, too), I always come back to this practice whenever my breakouts are begging for it. Last time, I even took pictures to prove my theory — and the before-and-afters don’t lie.
If you’re raising an eyebrow in suspicion, I don’t blame you. But before you knock it, get familiar with some of the scientifically studied ways in which breathing and meditation can help heal the skin.
How It Works
The first piece of the puzzle is deep breathing. “Proper breathing can substantially increase oxygen flow to the cells, helping achieve that coveted glow,” Kristy Katzmann, a holistic health expert, tells The Zoe Report. Most people don’t breathe as deeply as they should (seriously, just notice how shallow your breathing is as you read this), so 10 to 20 minutes of deep belly breathing per day can add a significant amount of oxygen to your system. “Interestingly, according to acupuncture theory, the lungs and lung channel are associated with the skin,” Katzman adds. “If there are imbalances in this channel, skin problems arise.” Clearing out the lungs with a few deep sighs can help right any imbalances and thus, give skin a boost.
Additionally, the pairing of breath and meditation has been proven to reduce stress — and less stress leads to better skin. “We do have some data that mindfulness-based therapies, such as mediation, can help improve skin conditions,” Dr. Sejal Shah of SmarterSkin Dermatology tells The Zoe Report. She says that regular meditation reduces the body’s cortisol levels; and since excess cortisol can stimulate excess oil production, this reduces acne, as well. “When the levels of these hormones are lower, there is improved blood flow to the skin,” she adds. “This brings more nutrients to the skin and whisks away toxins and waste, resulting in a healthier, more radiant complexion.”
Don’t underestimate the power of positive thinking, though. In the Corsini Encyclopedia of Psychology and Behavioral Science, as reported by Buddha Weekly, researchers proved that there are physiological benefits to mantra repetition, including “lowered levels of tension; slower heart rate, and decreased blood pressure … The benefits experienced in 20 minutes of meditation exceed those of deep sleep, thus indicating the regenerative power of meditation and saving of wear and tear on the body.”
I have my own (admittedly unproven) theory for why meditating on my skin works, too. Dealing with “problem skin” doesn’t stop at the skin’s surface. For many, the pain of not feeling beautiful — the frustration of feeling like your appearance doesn’t accurately reflect who you really are inside — goes much deeper. It affects self-esteem, self-expression, and even self-worth. While skincare products tackle the issues that present on the outside, mantra-based meditation soothes the issues that manifest on the inside.
Which is not to say that I don’t still enjoy a good skincare treatment every once in awhile. In fact, one of my favorite ways to meditate is by slapping on a sheet mask while I zone out — I like to call this the “mask and meditate.” After 20 minutes, my skin is calm and my soul is happy. And in my opinion, both are totally necessary for a naturally radiant glow.