Skin Health and Mental Wellbeing: NBIC Senior Innovation Consultant Awarded Project Funding

NBIC’s Senior Innovation Consultant, Dr Katerina Steventon, has been awarded funding from the University of Southampton’s FELS Knowledge Exchange and Enterprise Fund 2021/22, to facilitate an exciting project in skin health and mental health/wellbeing.



There is a clear industry need to help address patient and consumer mental health and wellbeing by improving skin health, within the cosmetics regulatory pathway. Skin barrier integrity is known to be the sentinel of skin health. Personal care is an effective means of modulating skin barrier integrity. According to early psycho-dermatology research, skin health can also affect mental health and wellbeing challenges, an area in need of prioritisation post pandemic. The skin-brain connection has been implicated in research and the personal care and wellness tech industry are keen to explore this area, as there is a considerable knowledge gap.

Bringing Academic Expertise Together

The overall aim of this project has been to enable Knowledge Exchange between Southampton academics, other UK academics and the industry. Southampton academics (including the University Hospital Southampton) have expertise in this emerging space and having highlighted this, we have facilitated sharing and developing of expertise cross-functionally.

We have set to explore an opportunity and build on early research by bringing together a diverse academic team to:

  1. Identify needs in personal care and mental health/wellbeing.
  2. Explore health benefits of new solutions and interventions.

There are 3 key priority areas in emerging research to be explored (across both the consumer and NHS primary care sectors):

  1. Skin health, skin feel and skin barrier integrity related to mental health and wellbeing.
  2. Skin-brain axis and the role of touch in stress (supporting mental resilience and self-esteem).
  3. Skin-brain link in healthy ageing and women’s health.

The academic workshop held in Southampton on 27 May 2022 has:

  • Enabled invited academics to share their knowledge and explore the association between biological, psychological and social factors affecting skin health and people living with (and on the borderline of) skin conditions.
  • Developed an initial understanding of this area of science that involves the relationship between skin and mental health/wellbeing.
  • Networking of researchers, clinicians and personal care experts who would have otherwise never met.

The workshop covered a morning session of invited presentations and an afternoon panel, brainstorming industry and clinical needs, solutions and the way forward to progress this area.



  • Introductions and industry trends overview
  • Skin health in relation to neuroscience and brain imaging
  • Immune to brain communication and microbiome 
  • Psychological factors: body image, self-esteem
  • Relationship of skin disease to mental health and wellbeing – quality of life questionnaires
  • Social factors and behavioural patterns: well-being and quality of life
  • Quality of life from the personal care industry perspective

Participating Academics – Skin Health and Mental Wellbeing Academic Workshop, 27 May 2022

With Key Highlights from individual presentations captured by artist Tom Bailey

Dr Emma MeredithDirector General Cosmetic, Toiletry & Perfumery Association (CTPA)
Professor Jessica Teeling – Professor in Experimental Neuroimmunology, University of Southampton
Dr Maria Charalampous – London College of Fashion
Dr Davide Filingeri – Associate Professor in Skin Health Skin Health Research Group, University of Southampton
Professor Alison Layton – Consultant Dermatologist and Associate Medical Director for Research and Development, Harrogate & District NHS Foundation Trust. Honorary Senior Clinical Lecturer, Hull York Medical School
Professor Paul Skipp – Professor in Proteomics, University of Southampton
Professor Eugene Healy – Professor of Dermatology, Honorary Consultant Dermatologist, University of Southampton
Dr Kerry Montgomery – Research Associate, University of Manchester
Professor Terence Ryan – Emeritus Fellow of Green Templeton College and Emeritus Professor of Dermatology, University of Oxford
Dr Silvia Caggiari – Research Fellow, School of Health Sciences, University of Southampton
Dr Georges Limbert – Associate Professor in Mathematical Modelling in Biotribology, Faculty of Engineering and Physical Sciences, University of Southampton
Professor Francis McGlone – Professor in Neuroscience, School of Natural Sciences & Psychology, Liverpool John Moores University. Visiting Professor, Institute of Psychology Health & Society, University of Liverpool
Dr Michael Ardern-Jones – University of Southampton
Dr Katerina Steventon – Senior Innovation Consultant, National Biofilms Innovation Centre
Professor Jo Slater-Jefferies – Associate Dean of Enterprise for the Faculty of Environmental and Life Sciences, University of Southampton. Operations Director, National Biofilms Innovation Centre
Dr Mark Richardson – CEO, National Biofilms Innovation Centre
Professor Jeremy Webb – Professor of Microbiology, Co-Director & Principal Investigator, Director of the Faculty Graduate School for Environmental and Life Sciences, Deputy Director of the Doctoral College, University of Southampton. Co-Director at the National Biofilms Innovation Centre

Summary of Academic Workshop Discussions

  • Poor mental health and wellbeing is known to affect our ability and desire to look after our own health and skin; it is also implicated in the onset of skin conditions.
  • The question we asked: Can we improve wellbeing via improving (or at least maintaining) skin health?
  • Skin is a sophisticated sensory and protective organ and its appearance and care is important in improving wellbeing e.g. the instant visible impact to “lift mood” when applying a lipstick. Research has shown that poor skin health and appearance through skin conditions and ageing can lower Quality of Life and the CTPA data on self-esteem shown high underlying importance of personal care to both men and women.
  • There was strong agreement that influencing skin health and appearance could impact positively on mental health and wellbeing and recognition that regulatory guidelines could be barrier to being able to explain, educate or claim.
  • What are the best technologies and approaches? Unravelling the interplay between the brain and the skin is complex, even our understanding of relevant assessment methods and tools, as well as biological markers is limited at present e.g. in context of skin wetness, are we dealing with perception or a sense.
  • The discussion was tensioned between exploring the technological/scientific understanding and recognising the known importance of human/social dimension in delivering science and technology to consumers/patients. There is a strong emphasis on considering a person holistically.
  • Having explored the existence and importance of c-fibres and role of touch in pleasure – massage/stroking can make a big difference in lab preclinical studies and qualitatively in humans – and underpin the importance of grooming from an evolutionary perspective, we have understood that grooming is about feeling good and soothing, not just looking good. Whilst technology and science led interventions are important, the use of a “caring attitude” in the delivery of a “care technology” is paramount. A person’s involvement in their own skin care enhances the sense of agency and impacts on the sense of wellbeing. The pandemic has demonstrated clearly that lack of contact is detrimental to humans on many levels.
  • The academic presentations were excellent and very rich in detail and ideas; and the meeting highlighted potential collaborative links and expertise in skin health and mental wellbeing, the openness to sharing knowledge and an interdisciplinary presence in this academic group.


Industry Perspective and Impact Communication

Dr Steventon has engaged with industry experts to carry out structured interviews to gain better understanding of the industry perspective, consumer needs and ongoing industry work in this area.

The interviewed companies:

Paul Matts – Victor Mills Research Fellow at Procter & Gamble
Jason Harcup – Global Vice President Prestige Division R&D, Global Vice President Skin Care R&D, Global Vice President R&D New Business Channel Unit; R&D Campus Leader North America
Daniel Whitby – Chief Scientist, SMINK Laboratories
Clare O’Connor – Senior Research Scientist, No7 Beauty Company
Geoff Briggs – Technology Scout (Skincare Innovation), No7 Beauty Company
Kirsty Mawhinney – Sustainability, Circular Strategies Director, Cosmetics Cluster UK
Gill Westgate – Chair, Cosmetics Cluster UK
Jane Evison – Director, Cosmetics Cluster UK

We have commissioned Ortus Economic Research to work on a health economics based report on ‘Skincare, wellbeing and the economy’ to explore the economic effects of improved wellbeing to the society. The economic benefit of skin health and personal care to the UK economy is estimated at £4.8bn per annum – reflecting the reduced cost of healthcare, reduced cost related to sickness benefits and increased UK productivity.

The summary arising from this project was presented via an online forum, to Southampton’s Faculty of Environmental and Life Sciences (FELS), on Friday 29 July 2022 and is due to be published in a peer-reviewed journal Cosmetics & Toiletries.

If you require further information, please contact Dr Steventon at