The inner self revealed through the skin
Interview with Dr. Lüder Jachens
Lüder, a German dermatologist and anthroposophic physician, speaks about sensitive skin and how it connects with the well-being of your soul.
What is sensitive skin?
Dr. Lüder Jachens: Sensitive skin has an impaired barrier function due to an unstable and easily irritated protecting hydrolipid film, which often means it is dry as well. Through evaporation dry skin loses more moisture and quickly becomes overstrained by environmental influences. Even exposure to water for too long can make a difference – after a shower the skin might feel tight or itchy. Sensitive skin needs gentle care to respect its delicate balance.
Do many people suffer from sensitive skin?
LJ: Numbers of people with sensitive skin have risen significantly in recent decades. The main reason, in my opinion, is the western lifestyle with its pressure of competition, constant hurry and the overall impression that we never have enough time. Too much sensory input, when it is not processed, strains the nervous system and can literally get under your skin. Some people are “thick-skinned”, but not those with sensitive skin, they react with redness, burning, flaking or other irritations in these situations.
"People with sensitive skin are often alert, intelligent and from an early age can quickly pick up what’s going on in their environment."
How does the skin show the condition of the soul?
LJ: Skin and soul are linked by the nervous system, and nervous tension immediately influences the cutaneous nerves. Under stress some people break out in a rash, perhaps near the eye or on the back of their hand. Others might have problems with their metabolism and the skin’s condition often reflects this. As a dermatologist you learn how to uncover the relationship between skin and emotional disposition, particularly when conventional medicine is combined with the anthroposophic view of the human being.
How did Anthroposophy change your perspective on the skin?
LJ: It starts from the premise that we are all made of body, mind and spirit. Mainstream dermatology, with its analytic approach, focuses on the physical skin and its symptoms – separating it from the being to whom it belongs. Conversely, an anthroposophic physician aims to engage the human being as a whole in the healing process.
The skin is certainly sensory and our largest organ, but beyond this obvious fact it’s possible to see reflected in the skin the whole person – the nerve-sense system, metabolism and limb system and the rhythmic system which connects with the heart and lungs. Each is visible in the skin and being able to perceive the connection allows diagnosis.
"A perfect metaphor for this is the almond: It directs light and warmth from outside entirely into its deeply hidden core, where the tender kernel ripens under a firm shell."
'The inside is the outside', wrote the German poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. What does a person’s sensitive skin reveal about them?
LJ: People with sensitive skin are often alert, intelligent and from an early age can quickly pick up what’s going on in their environment. They are sensitive and respond immediately to outer stimuli. Promotion at work can come easily to these people, but it adds to further stress as those people are not confidently grounded self-centered in themselves – like those with ‚thicker skin’. They tend to have a nervous constitution, like life to be planned and are mainly driven by their head. They think a lot, especially when daily life challenges them with unexpected or complex situations.
From an anthrosophical point of view they are mainly centred in their nerve-sense system. To find balance they need to get more in contact with their own feelings and try to express their will.
How do they get there?
LJ: People who match this description need to look for an activity which encourages them to explore their feelings. They might sign up for a painting class, for instance. Perception of colour leads to sensory activity, which normally happens automatically. While painting people allow feelings to arise – they turn inward and learn to answer a colour impression with a sensation.
A perfect metaphor for this is the almond: As part of the rose’s family the almond tree belongs to the most noble creatures in the plant kingdom. It directs light and warmth from outside entirely into its deeply hidden core, where the tender kernel ripens under a firm shell. Extracted from the ripe kernel, the almond’s essence, precious almond oil, envelopes the skin and offers it protection. Making the link between the physical self and the deep-centred essence of being, the soul, is an invitation to do yourself good and to remain calm and focussed in the midst of sometimes overwhelming daily demands.