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The Effects of Relaxation Before or After Skin Damage on Skin Barrier Recovery: A Preliminary Study

Robinson, Hayley MSc; Jarrett, Paul FRCP, FRACP; Broadbent, Elizabeth PhD

doi: 10.1097/PSY.0000000000000222

Objectives Psychological interventions administered before wounding can reduce stress and improve healing. However, in many cases, it would be more practical for interventions to be delivered after wounding. This preliminary study investigated whether a brief relaxation intervention could improve healing when administered either before or after skin damage produced by tape stripping in comparison to a control group.

Methods One hundred twenty-one healthy adults were randomized into one of three groups: a) relaxation prestripping group, b) relaxation poststripping group, or c) no relaxation. Participants completed measures of stress, fatigue, relaxation, and pain. Relaxation consisted of listening to 20 minutes of guided relaxation, whereas the control condition was quiet reading for 20 minutes. Skin barrier function was measured using transepidermal water loss at baseline, immediately after tape stripping and 25 minutes later.

Results Relaxation either before or after tape stripping improved skin barrier recovery compared with the control group (F(2,92) = 3.58, p = .032, partial η2 = 0.074). Participants who took part in the relaxation intervention were significantly more relaxed and reported greater reductions in pain than the control group did 25 minutes after tape stripping. Perceived stress over the last month was not significantly related to healing.

Conclusions This study showed that a relaxation intervention had a beneficial effect on skin barrier recovery regardless of whether the intervention was administered before or after wounding. Future research needs to replicate these findings in other wound types and in clinical settings, and investigate the biological mechanisms involved.

From the Departments of Psychological Medicine (Robinson, Broadbent) and Medicine (Jarett), Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences, The University of Auckland, Auckland, New Zealand; and Department of Dermatology (Jarett), Middlemore Hospital, Counties Manukau District Health Board, Otahuhu, Auckland.

Address correspondence and reprint requests to Elizabeth Broadbent, PhD, Department of Psychological Medicine, Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences, The University of Auckland, Private Bag 92109, Auckland 1142, New Zealand. E-mail:

Received for publication August 28, 2014; revision received May 7, 2015.

Copyright © 2015 by American Psychosomatic Society
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