I Tried a ‘Sensory’ Beauty Routine To See if It Would Calm My Anxiety—Here’s How It Went
When my anxiety was so bad that I was having multiple panic attacks a week, mindfulness felt like a joke. Working out and meditating felt both unmanageable and futile. 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 is at a point where I'm willing to do the small 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 move through the steps while tuning into my senses and reducing stress.
"When we engage our senses during a beauty routine—mindfully focusing on elements such as scent and texture—we move away from performing a mundane task and into the realm of enjoying a luxuriously soothing ritual," says Carla Marie Manly, PhD, a psychologist and author of Joy from Fear ($20). By mindfully focusing on the calming sensory aspects of a routine, stress and anxiety tend to melt away. Racing thoughts and worries tend to subside when we put our energy into enjoying each moment of a beauty routine.
While you may not think of applying skin-care products as meditation, Dr. Manly says that when done with mindfulness, it absolutely can be.
"A skin-care routine can surely be an act of mediation," she says. "Although some considered seated meditation the ideal, I firmly believe that any activity that feels meditative in nature—whether a morning ritual or a pre-bedtime routine—can bring inner tranquility."
How to curate a sensory beauty routine
As clinical psychologist Jeshana Johnson, Ph.D., previously told Well+Good, a sensory beauty routine employs beauty products that stimulate our senses—sound, sight, taste, smell, and/or touch—for a calming and positive effect. “Living' sensually' means we are stimulating all of our senses,” she says. “It grounds us in the 'now,' back into the body, so the mind can be in the moment, which fends off anxiety and depression.”
To curate this type of routine for yourself, you want to really be intentional about choosing products that bring you joy.
"As you create a sensory beauty ritual, take care to craft your routine in highly personal ways," says Dr. Manly. "The more you feel connected to your beauty routine—altering it in ways that suit your needs—the more you’ll benefit. For example, you might find one scent more soothing for anxiety or stress-filled days and another scent more appropriate for the times you weary or feeling blue."
Just as importantly, you want to make sure you're using products that agree with your skin—especially if it's sensitive, explains Kim Nichols, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in Connecticut.
"Products that evoke the senses can be beneficial to skin, but it is imperative to choose the right ones," says Dr. Nichols. "Having sensitive skin means it is all the more important to curate 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 include 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 may lend themselves to a sensory beauty routine—you just have to take your time as you use them, and tune into how they feel on your skin, and how they make your
The ins and outs of my sensory beauty routine
My sensory beauty routine starts when I wash my face. I douse my skin in ice-cold water and take in how energizing it feels. Then, I apply the Alpyn Beauty Juneberry & Collagen Hydrating Cold Cream Cleanser ($39), a product I like to refer to as my "emotional support face wash" (seriously—I'm not exaggerating when I say I can't live without it). Because it's a cold cream, it makes your face feel cool and invigorated. I apply a thin layer all over and because 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 bonus of boosting blood circulation and shrinking the appearance of pores. Dr. Nichols says using temperature in this way to appeal to your senses is much better for your skin than using super-harsh exfoliating scrubs. While rinsing off the cream, I also get to experience a very, very gentle physical exfoliation courtesy of circular jojoba beads.
After patting my face dry, I grab a set of under-eye masks from my fridge and slap them on. The coolness from the fridge makes any mask feel so much more invigorating, but absolute favorites are the 111Skin Celestial Black Diamond Eye Masks ($115). They're pricey, but they feel ridiculously good. They're the only under-eye masks that I've used so far that retain that tingly, fresh, cool feeling even when I have them on for 15+ minutes. This isn't surprising—the 111Skin Celestian Black Diamond line is used at the Four Seasons spas, so you know they've gotta be good. I keep these on while I meditate using the Hyperice Core Mediation Trainer ($179). I put on my headphones and become immersed in a guided meditation while the Core device vibrates in my hands, keeping me grounded 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 time to enjoy the gorgeous scent. Then, I continue with my serums and face cream, which tend to be fragrance-free. During these steps, I try to think about how the products feel gliding across my skin. Next, I apply the Katini Skin Soleil Day Serum ($75). It's a blend of marula, apricot, and quandong oils and it has the most intoxicating scent. I place a few drops in my hands, rub them together, and cup them over my nose and mouth, taking a few deep inhales to really experience the scent before patting it on my skin. I finish my routine by patting on SPF.
Dr. Manly says indulging in 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 thoughtfully choose scents that are soothing to our senses, we naturally boost our mood as we reduce stress and anxiety. Every individual has a unique response to each scent that is highly dependent on mental associations, personal preferences, and mental health. For example, one person may find rose-scented products uplifting and soothing; the scent may also be positively associated with memories of a friend or loved one. Another person, however, may find the same scent off-putting for various reasons such as an association with a romance gone wrong. Whether considering the calming essence of lavender, the uplifting energy of citrus, or another wondrous scent it’s always important to choose scents that align with your personal needs."
My evening sensory routine starts the second I step in the shower: I spritz the Canyon Ranch Eucalyptus Shower Spa Mist ($30) toward the floor behind the shower stream (so to the drain side of the tub) and instantly the shower is filled with the most intense and soothing scent. I first experienced this mist when I stayed at Canyon Ranch's Lennox, Massachusetts location. I loved 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 rich. It is the thickest cleansing balm on God's green earth and is made with a stunning, sleep-inducing blend of 14 essential oils including English lavender, chamomile, and patchouli. It melts away makeup, provides very gentle exfoliation with rice powder, and leaves my face feeling so soft. Because it's so thick, I do like to follow up with a traditional cleanser to remove residual oils.
Once I'm out of the shower and settled into a fuzzy robe, I apply my serums. If I'm not about to pass out, I'll spend a few minutes with a skin-care 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 face cream and a sleeping mask before sealing my routine with the Katini Skin Clarity Facial Oil ($115). Same as the morning, I rub a few drops in my hands and take time to breathe in the scent before patting it on my skin.
How following a sensory beauty routine has impacted my anxiety
Being more intentional with my skin-care routines and finding products that connect to my senses has provided soothing, centering bookends to the chaos of my days. It provides scheduled mindfulness that allows me to take time for myself free of distraction and has proved to be instrumental in my self-care journey.
Is my anxiety cured? Of course not. But, my sensory beauty routine is now another tool in my anxiety-soothing arsenal that overall keeps me grounded and less stressed.
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