Acne is a prevalent skin condition which many of us may have struggled with at some point in our lives. In our society, where physical appearance is deemed ‘important’, the emotional and physiological issues caused by acne can destroy one’s confidence and self-esteem.
And yet, it doesn’t just stop at acne; the scarring left behind can be even more of a nuisance and harder to tackle, leading to a vicious cycle.
For some people, acne can arise or continue past their teenage years and into adult life which can have a severe impact on their mental health. In some cases, it can lead to depression and anxiety.
A research project that analysed 42 existing studies found evidence that acne can be linked to mental health issues. Until May of this year, no such study had drawn the link between the two, as there are plenty of other issues that contribute to anxiety and depression, however that has all changed now.
“If a patient shows signs of depression due to their acne, the increase in stress can essentially cause the acne to worsen,” said Dr Kristina Semkova, a dermatologist from the Cadogan Clinic.
“Society must take more steps towards treating acne as a serious skin condition. It needs to be seen as a medical condition, just like any other,” she added.
Research conducted by the British Skin Foundation has found that nearly 20% of acne sufferers have either attempted or considered suicide. The social stigma surrounding acne is one of the most common links between the condition and mental health, not to mention the bullying.Christina Yannello, also known as @Barefacedfemme, is a beauty blogger in the city of New York, who built a worldwide audience by telling her own acne story.
“Through my teenage years I struggled with acne, I remember one boy at school came up to me and asked me ‘What’s wrong with your face?’ Ever since then I became closed off and severely insecure about my skin. As the years went on, my acne got worse, and it became hard to leave the house. After visiting dermatologist after dermatologist, my skin was not improving, I suffered from severe painful acne, depression and anxiety. All at the age of 13,” she told us.
“I truly believe acne is beyond a skin disease. Acne impacts more than just your appearance; it destroys your self-confidence. It felt like my acne journey would never end; at one point, I wanted to give up,” she added.
At first, Christina’s blog was created merely to document her acne journey, however she soon realised she was not alone, and there was a whole community of people out there with similar problems.
Since becoming acne free, Christina has cultivated her blog and tries to empower others who may be going through something similar.
“Although I’m in such a great place with my skin and living acne-free, I am still battling all the mental health issues as a result of my skin condition. Mental health issues do not go overnight, and it is something I now have to learn to live with,” Christina said.
For some people, visiting a high-end private dermatologist is simply out of their price range or not accessible, and visiting their GP is the only option.
“How can a young woman cultivate confidence if all she wants is to hide her face from the world?“
“Most patients who suffer from acne want to be referred to a dermatologist, however, due to the demand, we can’t refer everyone. This can be quite distressing for the patient, especially if they are already experiencing signs of depression,” said Dr Mary Sommerlad, a former GP who now works for Dermatica, an online prescription service to help combat acne.
“Patients can feel totally isolated and may feel like there is nothing they can do to cure their acne. Mental health has definitely been overlooked, and the problem lies with people not accepting that acne can lead to serious physiological issues, medical professionals included,” Dr Sommerlad told us.
The controversial acne drug Roaccutane, also known as Isotretinoin, has been linked to more serious cases of depression and anxiety. The drug is taken by around 30,000 people in the UK each year, and although many people state it has treated their acne, research has found it also has potentially severe side effects, depression being one of them.
However, no matter how strong the link is between certain acne medication and mental health issues, most experts agree that all patients should proceed with extreme caution and should always be screened for certain risk factors. Patients will also be monitored by their dermatologist whilst on medications such as Isotretinoin.
Although acne can cause serious long-term side effects, the way we handle it is continually developing, both in terms of treatments and in the way, somewhat, society perceives acne. Movements on Instagram such as #skinpositivity, #freethepimple and #realskin can work to reassure acne sufferers that they’re not alone. While Instagram won’t cure acne or mental health issues, it does create a community of people going through similar problems.
More information on acne can be found on the NHS website. If you think you have depression, anxiety or any mental health problems, helplines can be found on the Mind website. If you are feeling suicidal, The Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123 or by email.
Feature image by Christina Yanello on Instagram.
Edited by Martha Stevens, Giuli Graziano, Jussi Grut and Daniela Ferreira Teixeira.