How Acne Can Impact Mental Health

by Sa'iyda Shabazz
Originally Published: 
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Having a pimple or blemish can be absolutely devastating. I know it shouldn’t be (#firstworldproblems and all), but it is. Whether it’s because it comes at an inconvenient time, or because it’s large, or simply because you feel like you’re too damn old to still be getting pimples, they absolutely have an effect on you beyond the obvious changes in your skin.

If you are someone who suffers from acne, then there’s a chance that you’re familiar with the psychological effects that having acne has on a person. According to a Canadian study published in British Journal of Dermatology, there is absolutely a correlation between having acne and mental health issues, like depression.

There are different types of acne, including blackheads, whiteheads, and cysts that affect anywhere between the head and shoulders, including the back and chest. That’s a lot of square footage on the body, and a large portion of it is regularly visible.

According to the study, patients who have been diagnosed with acne are 60% more likely to be diagnosed with a major depressive disorder within the first year of their diagnosis, Reuters Health Canada reports. This includes people who are diagnosed with minor cases of acne too.

While some cases of acne go away quickly with various forms of treatments, some people suffer from acne long term, or have skin that is resistant to treatment, making it so much harder to forget about. If you’re someone who is suffering from something like cystic acne, which mainly occurs under the skin (and really can only be treated by medication,) your skin is going through something far more intense than someone who just gets the occasional pimple. Even the most cared for skin can be ravaged by acne and left permanently scarred and disfigured no matter how hard you try to prevent it.

“While it has been known for many years that people with acne might have a lower mood resulting from their skin, this is the first study to show conclusively that acne can be more than just a skin blemish, and can have a substantial impact on mental health in the form of clinical depression,” said Isabelle Vallerand, a researcher with the Community Health Sciences department of the Cumming School of Medicine at University of Calgary and lead author of the study.

In line with the study, the Canadian Dermatology Association released some startling statistics: nearly 20% of Canadians suffer from acne, which equals about 5.6 million people. 75% of those people are women, and 90% are adolescents. Acne usually starts during puberty and often lasts until adulthood, due to the changing hormones in the body, but honestly, acne knows no age.

Some of the psychological effects of acne include social withdrawal, decreased self-esteem, and poor body image. In addition to their personal perception of their looks, people who suffer long-term from chronic acne often have to deal with the opinions of other people — people who may have only gotten the occasional pimple and don’t really understand what it’s like to suffer from acne for months or years at a time.

Living with acne can also be isolating and frustrating. Singer Lorde, who has been quite open with her struggle with acne, recently shared some of the hidden struggles of acne sufferers, including how absolutely annoying and frustrating it is for acne sufferers to constantly be given “advice” by those who don’t suffer from acne. In a series of videos on Instagram, Lorde perfectly sums up what it’s like for chronic acne sufferers listening to these well-meaning people.

“You know what worked for me? Moisturizer!”

“All you need to do is buy apricot scrub.”

First of all, even people who only get the occasional breakout should know that every person has different skin, and just because something worked for you, doesn’t mean that it will work for another person. As a person with very oily skin, and therefore has some regular breakouts, I sometimes have to change up my skincare routine and always preface recommendations with “This worked for me, but I don’t know if it’ll work for you.”

The final frustration that Lorde mentions is one of the most apt and poignant of all her frustrations. People assume that those who suffer from chronic acne just don’t properly care for their skin. “Do you wash your face?” She has the perfect retort, “Yes, I wash my face. I’m just genetically cursed.”

According to the Canadian Dermatology Association (CDA), biology is a factor in how severe your acne could be. They say that if both of your parents suffered from acne, then you’re more likely to suffer from it as well. Most of the contributing factors to acne are purely biological, like the overproduction of oil by the sebaceous glands and genetics. Things like skin and hair care, physical activity, and medication may have some sort effect on the biological components, but they are not the root cause. And the CDA confirms that there is no link between dietary choices, like sugar or dairy, and acne. But they do say that if you notice certain foods cause flare-ups in your acne, you may want to eliminate them from your diet.

All in all, Vallerand believes that it is in the best interest of doctors who are treating patients for acne to also keep an eye on their mood and mental health. “We believe that health-care providers treating patients with acne should firstly be aware that acne is a risk factor for developing major depressive disorder and that they should encourage any of their patients with acne to feel comfortable raising any mental health concerns to their attention, as these should be taken seriously,” she told Reuters Health.

Acne isn’t something that you should suffer from in silence. There may not be a way to cure it 100%, or even forever, but there are ways to try and manage it. And if you feel like your mental health is taking a hit because of your acne, you should most absolutely speak up.

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