Photo: Getty Images/Jacqueline Veissid
The health benefits of meditation are pretty incredible. Science shows that taking up the mindfulness practice can lower stress levels, help you lose weight, kick certain addictions, and even help you become a better athlete, just to name a few.
But if those mind-body benefits weren't enough to convince you, now there's another reason to get on board: It can also help your skin, says New York City-based dermatologist Jennifer Chwalek, M.D. of Union Square Laser Dermatology.
After being introduced to meditation during her yoga teacher training, Dr. Chwalek explains that it quickly became a daily routine, helping her to find inner peace amidst life's chaos and uncertainty. And she realized the major skin benefits that can come with the practice, too.
"I noticed everyone I knew who had been meditating regularly seemed to look substantially younger than their real age," Dr. Chwalek says. This is actually supported by science: one groundbreaking study back in the 80s showed meditators had a younger biological age compared to non-meditators, she says. "I was aware of studies showing meditation could be used to treat hypertension and anxiety, but I wasn't aware of all the research showing it's positive effects on longevity."
How exactly does this work? Dr. Chwalek explains that one of the most important, researched effects of meditation is its ability to lengthen and improve the activity of telomeres—the protective caps at the end of chromosomes, which shorten with age and with chronic stress. (Exercise can help lengthen them, too.) And, more recent studies have shown that meditation can cause changes in our genes. In particular, meditation can suppress the response of inflammatory promoting genes, a.k.a you'll have less inflamed skin and fewer wrinkles in the long-run, Dr. Chwalek says.
On a more immediate level, we know that regular meditation reduces sympathetic nervous system activity by decreasing cortisol and epinephrine levels—the hormones responsible for the flight or fight response, Dr. Chwalek explains. This in turn reduces blood pressure and heart rate and increases the oxygen in your cells. And when there's increased blood flow, it helps bring nutrients to the skin, and removes toxins. The end result is a dewier, more radiant complexion, she says. (Here, more on what's going on in your brain during meditation.)
By suppressing the body's cortisol response (thereby improving negative emotions and stress management), meditation is also beneficial for any skin condition worsened by stress, including acne, psoriasis, eczema, hair loss, and autoimmune skin diseases, Dr. Chwalek says. The cherry on top? You'll prevent accelerated skin aging. (There's a reason those wrinkles are called worry lines!)
That's not to say meditation is a replacement for a solid skin-care routine, but "meditation should be part of a prescription for healthy skin which includes a good diet, sleep, and good quality skin care products/treatment," Dr. Chwalek says. (Related: The 11 Best Anti-Aging Serums, According to Dermatologists)
"People are skeptical that meditation and mindfulness training can have such profound effects on their health (to the point of affecting their appearance)," she says. "We tend to underestimate the power of our thinking when it comes to our health and most people are not aware of the science behind these practices."
Where to start? The good news is there are more resources for beginners than ever. Most major cities now have meditation centers where you can go for a guided meditation (like MDFL in New York City) and many offer intro workshops for beginners. There are also countless apps that provide guided meditations, including Buddhify, Simply Being, Headspace, and Calm, and online podcasts by experts like Deepak Chopra and Buddhists such as Pema Chodron, Jack Kornfield, and Tara Brach (just to name a few), Dr. Chwalek says. (Here, a beginner's guide for meditation.)