What is emotional skincare?

With stress, anxiety and poor-quality sleep fast becoming the biggest issues among clients, Amanda Pauley investigates the link between skincare and emotions and how salons can treat these internal issues.

As the pace of modern life accelerates at a faster rate than ever before, it’s no surprise that stress, anxiety and fatigue are all coming to the fore. However, negative emotions don’t just rile the brain; these “bad feelings” can also manifest themselves on the body in the form of breakouts, redness, irritation, dryness and even premature ageing.

“Emotional skincare” – which harnesses ingredients that have the ability to achieve harmony between mind, body and soul – are the latest buzzwords to take the beauty industry by storm and the concept is predicted to be big.

Tracey Woodward, chief executive of skincare brand Aromatherapy Associates, believes it’s a result of consumer need. “Stress, poor sleep and anxiety are a sad reality of our time but people are aware of it and want to take control. They’re also realising that skin is simply a reflection of what’s going on inside,” she says.

Breaking bad habits

“A lot can be controlled via nutrition, emotional balance, sleep and exercise, but a good skincare regime also has the power to change the way we feel, not just the way we look. As a result, emotional skincare will no doubt boom in the next few years,” adds Woodward.

This idea of breaking emotionally destructive patterns and replacing them with good behaviours, such as that much sought-after “me-time”, to improve both mental wellbeing and skin health, is gaining traction, with many leading skincare brands releasing products that focus on the concept. German brand Babor is relaunching its spa line later this year, offering scents claiming to relax, energise and calm the senses, while British brand Elemis’s Life Elixir collections (launching in May) will give clients the option to match products to how they’re feeling.

So, with emotional wellbeing becoming ever-more important, how can salons and spas tap into this and go about treating two of the biggest internal issues facing clients today – stress and depleted sleep levels?

Problem: stress and anxiety 

Stressed woman

Increasing demands in the workplace, family commitments and trying to juggle too much is not only putting a greater strain on our bodies but is also knocking our mental wellbeing out of sync. “As a direct result of an increase in technology in our lives, we’re seeing a rise in negative stress and conditions such as anxiety and sleep deprivation. We’re finding it harder to switch off than ever before and it’s impacting how we feel,” says Sue Harmsworth, founder of luxury spa and skincare brand Espa.

The Health and Safety Executive reported there were 488,000 cases of work-related stress in the UK between 2015 and 2016, a prevalence rate of 1,510 per 100,000 workers. “Everyone thinks they should be coping and there’s this almost embarrassment about not being able to, but the more we say to the client ‘It’s OK to be stressed’ the better,” explains Noella Gabriel, co-founder and managing director at Elemis.

“The challenge for us as therapists is that clients may all have the same stress put on them but everyone will manifest it differently, whether that be broken sleep, acne or premature ageing, which makes it complicated to treat.”

Slowing the pace

Rapid heartbeat, accelerated breathing and an inability to focus on any one thing are all common side effects of stress but people can hold it differently, so you need to create body treatments and packages that are bespoke to the client’s needs. As always, consultation is crucial to getting it right.

“A guest who is stressed will have a lot of wind and energy within them, so they’re usually fast-paced, think quickly and will just want to get on with it,” explains Cortny McCathie, UK national training manager at Comfort Zone. “Ask them to sit, and use calming body language when talking to them to help them slow down. Only then should you dig little deeper into their individual story. If they have tension caused by stress, get them to show you where and explain how often, while being compassionate.”

Whatever type of treatment you deliver, essential oils are great for helping someone destress because they’re scientifically proven to be able to change our mood – “it’s commonly known that citrus and peppermint oils are good for uplifting spirits while floral and woody scents, such as rose, geranium, lavender and cedar wood, are best for grounding,” adds McCathie.

Stimulate the senses

It’s also worthwhile asking the client which oil appeals to them to give them a more personalised service, and don’t forget to put a greater focus on breathing exercises in treatment, because breathing deeply helps to slow the heart rate and flush toxins from the brain.

The same applies for treatments. Deep-tissue full-body massage is a good method of treatment for destressing muscle tension but long, soft strokes from head to toe could be equally soporific. “Enabling the client to choose their treatment is a great way to empower them to self-care,” says Woodward. “Some may want an upper-body treatment that incorporates arms, face and scalp, while others would prefer a relaxing foot massage. Give them the choice in your menu.”

And when it comes to products, offer things for home, such as candles and body oils, and for on-the-go, such as travel-size mind balms and roller balls, so they can continue to tackle stress whenever it arises.

Problem: poor-quality sleep

Emotional skincare

Last year, the Royal Society for Public Health reported that the average person in the UK is under-sleeping by around an hour a night, losing the equivalent of an entire night’s sleep a week – with the average sleep time for adults 6.8 hours. “Our modern way of life does not take our internal clock into account. We stay awake long hours and this goes against what is programmed in our DNA – to rest at night so we can regenerate,” says Andrea Weber, director of research and development at Babor.

Treating those who are sleep deprived can be tough, as “the client often expects miracles”, says Annette Close, general manager at KMS, distributor of skincare brand Phytomer. “In consultation, it’s sometimes hard to ascertain why the sleep pattern is disturbed as quite often the client will be agitated, anxious or cautious. Making them feel safe and comfortable is the first step to getting them to relax and open up.”

The key is to become a better listener as the client might have told you in the previous sentence the root cause of their sleepless nights without you even realising. “Your client may be a young mother with a new baby or a mature woman with a sick husband, there’s always an underlying reason for the problem,” says Gabriel. Once you understand their lifestyle, you can help them identify a way to work some downtime into their schedule.

Read between the lines

Woodward suggests creating packages that focus on your salon or spa’s best body treatments but with the option of bolt-ons of holistically driven treatments such as reflexology, aromatherapy or Indian head massage. “For example, our Sleep Deeply Treatment focuses on traditional aromatherapy massage, with carefully performed pressure points along the spine, teamed with vetiver, camomile and sandalwood oil, which helps induce sleep with its sedating properties.”

Meanwhile, all of Phytomer’s treatments start with a short back massage, designed by a French osteopath to deeply relax, before application of a heated sea mud to nerve endings in the back to help induce sleep. It’s also important to emphasise these “me-time” treatments by “using words such as sleep, relax, lullaby and dream on the menu, as these will strike a chord with those that are sleep deprived", adds Close.

Bedtime rituals

McCathie says that people traditionally book themselves in for deep-tissue massage because they think that’s what’s going to help them “but that’s muscular and just one piece of the pie”. She adds: “Treating tired clients is about using rhythmic strokes that bring comfort – for example, movements that resemble the ocean – while combining breath, aroma and mindfulness.”

At the end of treatment, experts recommend suggesting a tool for relaxation, in the form of a product, paired with the right behaviour. “If you’re recommending an oil, paint them a picture of how to use it,” says McCathie. “To not only take deep breaths in their palms to slow their breathing, but to also massage it into their shoulders with five deep rotations to relax the muscles.”

Those suffering from restless nights will tend to have poor or non-existent winding down rituals, so you need to help them with this also. “Advise clients to switch off technology two hours before going to sleep and use relaxing products for mind and body,” says Harmsworth.

Lighting candles and implementing a “no phone past 9pm” rule are just a few night-time regime changes that can help improve quality of sleep as McCathie says that when we sleep, the time known as the “rest and digest state”, is when our bodies heal. “When clients look at their mobile in bed, a chemical is stimulated in the brain which wakes up the senses. It’s a bad habit,” she says.