Your state of mind can affect the way you look—you’ve seen it in your co-worker who returns from vacation looking like she’s five years, younger or your best friend’s gleaming eyes and radiant skin when she’s head-over-heels in love.
But the million-dollar question (or maybe billion? bazillion?) has always been: How can you get that glow on the regular? The answer may be a daily meditation practice.
New research shows that regular meditation can fundamentally change how your brain and body functions—and that can affect how your skin looks.
“It’s like the fountain of youth,” says Lynne Goldberg, a certified meditation coach and founder of the OMG I Can Meditate! app. “I hate to give clichéd overstatements, but it’s pretty cool.”
(Also cool—AKA amazing—was a photo project that you may remember from a few years back, showing seriously dramatic changes from a month-long meditation retreat.)
A better brain?
In a groundbreaking 2011 study that gave meditation major street cred in the science world, a team of investigators at Harvard University used MRI scans to show how just eight weeks (!) of regular meditation can change the brain structurally.
The scans showed an increase in what is known as the “cortical thickness” in the part of the brain that helps control good things (like learning and memory), and a decrease in the parts of the brain responsible for undesirables (like anxiety and stress).
More reading: How to practice mindfulness until you master it
“So that fight-flight response is limited,” Goldberg explains, referring to the physiological response to acute stress (think, flood of adrenaline and rapid heartbeat). “And the executive functioning and decision-making parts of the brain were expanded.”
In other words, the study provided clear evidence that the changes many meditators report—increased relaxation, decreased stress, clearer thinking—are very real.
Then there’s the 2015 study out of UCLA that found experienced meditators have smaller declines in the volume of their gray matter as they age (a process that typically begins in, gulp, a person’s late 20s) than non-meditators—meaning that meditation helps keep the brain young.
The meditation-skin connection
Scientists haven’t really tackled the question of whether there are specific beauty benefits tied to meditation, partly because it’s simply a tricky thing to test.
Studies can look at whether a pill works, explains Cybele Fishman, MD, an integrative dermatologist in New York City, by comparing it with a placebo, and researchers can test how meditation changes the brain by using MRIs. But you can’t tell some people to meditate and others to “pretend to meditate‚” and somehow measure the differences in their skin’s appearance, she says.
“What I can say for sure is that meditation has been found to reduce subjective perceptions of feeling stressed,” Fishman says. “That probably translates into less inflammation in the body. And less inflammation in the body equals healthier, younger-looking skin.”
Putting it into practice
The crazy thing is, it doesn’t appear to take a whole lot of meditation to see some of these deep physiological changes.
“The first studies looked at the results from 20 minutes [a day] for about eight weeks,” Goldberg says. “But recently what they’re showing is that more important than the duration of time is the frequency.”
Which means a daily 10-minute practice may have significant effects on how the brain perceives and responds to stress, which can—in turn—affect your complexion. Think of it as a brain-booster and age-defying skin serum in one.
(Top photo: Flickr.com; second photo: Summer Dilworth [pictured: Serene founder Millana Snow]; third photo: herbsandoilsworld.com)