When my anxiety got so bad that I had several panic attacks a week, mindfulness felt like a joke. Working out and meditating felt both unmanageable and pointless. But now, about a year and a half after starting an antidepressant, my anxiety is much more manageable. It’s not gone, but my brain has gotten to a point where I’m willing to do the little things that make a big difference in my overall well-being. One of those things is following a sensory beauty routine that allows me to go through the steps while attuning to my senses and reducing stress.
“When we use our senses during a beauty routine — consciously focusing on elements like fragrance and texture — we move away from performing a mundane task and indulge in a luxuriously soothing ritual,” says Carla Marie Manly, PhD, a psychologist and author of Joy from fear ($20). By consciously focusing on the calming sensory aspects of a routine, stress and anxiety tend to melt away. Race thoughts and worries tend to disappear when we put our energy into enjoying every moment of a beauty routine.
While you might not think of skin care products as meditation, Dr. Manly says you absolutely can if you do it mindfully.
“A skincare routine can definitely be an act of mediation,” she says. “While some have viewed sitting meditation as ideal, I firmly believe that any activity that is meditative in nature—be it a morning ritual or a bedtime routine—can bring inner peace.”
How to put together a sensory beauty routine
As clinical psychologist Jeshana Johnson, Ph.D., previously told Well+Good, a sensory beauty routine uses beauty products that stimulate our senses — sound, sight, taste, smell, and/or touch — for a calming and positive effect. “Sensual living means engaging all of our senses,” she says. “It grounds us in the ‘now,’ back in the body so the mind can be in the moment, which fends off anxiety and depression.”
To put together this kind of routine for yourself, you really want to be mindful when choosing products that bring you joy.
“If you’re creating a sensory beauty ritual, make sure you shape your routine in a very personal way,” says Dr. Manly. “The more you feel connected to your beauty routine – changing it up in a way that suits your needs – the more you will benefit. For example, you might find a scent that is more soothing for anxiety or stressful days and another scent that more suitable for times when you are tired or feeling down.”
Just as important, you want to make sure you’re using products that match your skin, especially if it’s sensitive, explains Kim Nichols, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in Connecticut.
“Products that stimulate the senses can be beneficial for the skin, but choosing the right one is imperative,” says Dr. Nichols. “Having sensitive skin means it is all the more important to put together a set of skin care products that are free of added fragrances, dyes, physical exfoliants or alcohols. This can be done by finding products that contain botanicals, rose water and certain essential oils (lavender and sandalwood are generally considered safe for all skin types).”
And know that some of the products you already use can lend themselves to a sensory beauty routine – you just have to take your time while using them and tune into how they feel on your skin and how they make your skin.
The ins and outs of my sensory beauty routine
My sensory beauty routine starts when I wash my face. I dip my skin in icy water and take in how energized it feels. Next, I apply the Alpyn Beauty Juneberry & Collagen Hydrating Cold Cream Cleanser ($39), a product I like to call my “emotionally supportive face wash” (seriously — I’m not exaggerating when I say I can’t live without it). Being a cold cream, it leaves your face feeling cool and invigorated. I apply a thin layer all over, and since it doubles as a mask, I let it sit for a few minutes while I brush my teeth, make my bed, and make my latte. Then I rinse it off with cold water, which has the added benefit of stimulating blood circulation and shrinking pores. Dr. Nichols says using temperature to appeal to your senses in this way is much better for your skin than using super harsh exfoliating scrubs. While rinsing off the cream, I also experience a very, all gentle physical exfoliation thanks to round jojoba beads.
After patting my face dry, I grab a set of under-eye masks from my fridge and put them on. The coolness from the refrigerator makes each mask feels so much more invigorating, but absolute favorites are the 111Skin Celestial Black Diamond Eye Masks ($115). They are pricey, but feel ridiculously good. They are the only under eye masks I have used so far that keep that tingly, fresh, cool feeling even if I have them on for more than 15 minutes. This is not surprising – the 111Skin Celestian Black Diamond line is used in the Four Seasons spas, so you know they must be good. I keep these on while meditating with the Hyperice Core Mediation Trainer ($179). I put on my headphones and am immersed in a guided meditation as the Core device vibrates in my hands, grounding me and guiding my breath, and my eye masks tingle and soothe.
Once my meditation is over, I take off my under-eye masks and press the Fresh Rose Deep Hydration Facial Toner ($42) into my skin, taking my time to enjoy the lovely scent. Then I move on to my serums and face cream, which are mostly fragrance-free. During these steps, I try to think about how the products glide on my skin. Then I apply the Katini Skin Soleil Day Serum ($75). It is a blend of marula, apricot and quandong oils and it has the most intoxicating scent. I put a few drops in my hands, rub them together and cup them over my nose and mouth, taking a few deep breaths to really experience the scent before patting it on my skin. I end my routine by slapping on SPF.
Dr. Manly says enjoying scent in this way can be extremely beneficial.
“As one of our five primary senses, our sense of smell has the power to shift our energy in positive or negative directions,” she says. “When we carefully choose scents that are soothing to our senses, we naturally boost our mood while reducing stress and anxiety. Each individual has a unique response to each scent that is highly dependent on mental associations, personal preferences and mental health. For one person, rose-scented products may find them uplifting and soothing, the scent may also be positively associated with memories of a friend or loved one, but another person may find the same scent unpleasant for various reasons, such as an association with a failed romance. Whether it’s the calming essence of lavender, the uplifting energy of citrus or any other wonderful scent, it’s always important to choose scents that match your personal needs.”
My evening sensory routine begins the moment I step into the shower: I spritz the Canyon Ranch Eucalyptus Shower Spa Mist ($30) onto the floor behind the shower spray (i.e. toward the drain side of the tub), and immediately the shower is filled with the most intense and soothing fragrance. I first experienced this fog while staying at the Canyon Ranch location in Lennox, Massachusetts. I liked it so much, I bought four bottles of the stuff before I left.
Next, I wash my face with the Neom Organics Perfect Night’s Sleep Cleansing Balm ($32). For lack of better words, this shit is Empire. It’s the thickest cleansing balm on God’s green earth and is made with an amazing, sleep-inducing blend of 14 essential oils, including English lavender, chamomile and patchouli. It melts away makeup, provides a very gentle exfoliation with rice powder and leaves my face feeling so soft. Because it’s so thick, I like to follow up with a traditional cleanser to remove any residual oils.
Once I’m out of the shower and snuggled into a fluffy robe, I apply my serums. When I’m not about to pass out, I spend a few minutes with a skincare tool, either enjoying the warmth and tingle of my Repêchage LED Radio Frequency and EMS Skin-Tightening Machine ($150), the chill of my Plum Beauty Glass Cooling Facial Globes ($15), or the pressure of my Yang Face S-shaped Gua Sha ($75)
I apply a facial moisturizer and sleeping mask before capping off my routine with the Katini Skin Clarity Facial Oil ($115). Same as the morning, I rub a few drops in my hands and take my time to inhale the fragrance before patting it on my skin.
How Following a Sensory Beauty Routine Has Affected My Anxiety
Being more mindful with my skincare routines and finding products that align with my senses has provided soothing, centering bookends to the chaos of my days. It offers planned mindfulness that allows me to take time for myself without distractions and has proven to play an important role in my self-care journey.
Has my anxiety been cured? Of course not. But my sensory beauty routine is now another tool in my anxiety-busting arsenal that generally keeps me grounded and less stressed.
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