Medically reviewed by Dr. Nancy Shannon, MD, PhD on April 15, 2021
A pimple is never just a pimple, and a breakout is never just a breakout. Acne, especially severe cases, can have a serious impact on one’s confidence, self image, and overall mental health.
The first step to understanding and improving mental wellbeing and acne is learning about what connects the two. Here’s what you need to know:
Links Between Acne And Mental Wellbeing
The negative relationship between acne and mental health are strongest among young people. Teenagers and young adults make up the majority of those with acne, as the hormonal changes typical of this life stage make acne breakouts much more likely. Young people are also in the process of developing the self image, self esteem, and confidence — it’s no wonder, then, that acne can have such a negative impact.
Studies have shown that teenagers, particularly teen girls, who suffer from acne are more likely to become depressed than those who do not. For young people, it can be difficult to see acne as something treatable and temporary. Particularly in cases of severe acne where over-the-counter treatments aren’t working, seeing the light at the end of the tunnel is rarely easy. The effect can also be a lasting one: severe acne among young people can sometimes lead to acne scars, which may harm an individual’s self image past adolescence.
Although almost all of the factors that cause acne are beyond individual control — things like hormones and genetics — people often tend to think that breakouts are somehow their fault, or a sign that they are dirty or not taking care of themselves. In fact, people with acne are no dirtier than anyone else. We are all “dirty” because of our natural microbiome — the bacteria, funghi and viruses that live on our skin’s surface all the time. People with acne often wash their skin more than other people do, and that extra washing can even be counterproductive if it irritates skin and disrupts the normal skin microbiome.
Acne doesn’t need to be severe in order to have an impact. Some people suffer from what is called dysmorphophobic acne, which is acne that has an outsize impact on someone’s body image. Even though the acne itself may be mild or in its early stages, those with dysmorphophobic acne may think that their appearance is significantly impacted by it. Seeing acne in this way is almost guaranteed to negatively impact mental health and should be taken up with a professional as soon as possible.
Acne and mental health don’t just occupy a one-way street. Research has found that emotional stress can actually change the composition of the face’s oils in such a way that makes acne breakouts more likely. This may, in turn, cause acne which only aggravates the stress. Cycles like these are what makes seeing the connections between acne and mental health so important: you need to address both if you want to solve either.
Dealing with Acne-Related Mental Health Issues
There’s no one-size-fits-all treatment for acne and mental health-related problems. If you find yourself struggling, seek the advice of your mental health professional or other qualified health provider. Finding the right solution for you may take time and professional assistance, but here are a few places to consider starting:
- Lifestyle Changes
While changes in the way you live are unlikely to do away with acne and mental health issues entirely, they can help significantly. Work to keep your stress levels low through activities like exercise or meditation. Not only does stress compound and exacerbate mental health problems, there is some evidence that it increases acne frequency and/or severity. If you find yourself getting worked up over your acne (or anything!), pause and take some deep breaths.
- Over the Counter (OTC) Treatments
If your acne is mild or you only experience it occasionally, then over-the-counter treatments that contain ingredients like salicylic acid (unclogs pores), adapalene 0.1% (unclogs pores), and benzoyl peroxide (anti-inflammatory for pimples) may be enough to keep it under control. Severe acne can have a larger impact on mental health than mild acne does, meaning that preventive options should be pursued whenever possible.
- Prescription Options
If your acne is not improving withOTC treatments, look into prescription options that might be available to you. Antibiotics (topical and oral), retinoids (that unclog pores), and hormonal strategies like spironolactone and birth control pills (which are used for acne that flares with menstrual cycles) are all prescription methods that have been scientifically proven to improve acne. If your acne leaves scars you shouldn’t hesitate to consult with a medical professional about prescription treatment, since acne scars are challenging to treat and can have lasting impacts on self-esteem. For severe acne you should consider isotretinoin (Accutane), which Nurx doesn’t currently prescribe.
With all of the different options available, it can be difficult to know which acne treatments will work best for you. Our team of medical providers here at Nurx can help you sort through all of the choices out there and find what works. Get in touch today to learn more about what your next steps could look like.
This blog provides information about telemedicine, health and related subjects. The blog content and any linked materials herein are not intended to be, and should not be construed as a substitute for, medical or healthcare advice, diagnosis or treatment. Any reader or person with a medical concern should consult with an appropriately-licensed physician or other healthcare provider. This blog is provided purely for informational purposes. The views expressed herein are not sponsored by and do not represent the opinions of Nurx™.