Acne and mental health: It isn’t just a physical condition

In the literal sense, acne is just on my skin. It’s just skin — it’s no big deal, right?

But what about acne and mental health?

It’s not just my skin, it’s my mind

Acne is more than skin deep — serious skin conditions like acne have both mental and emotional effects. My entire teenage years and early 20s would have been different if I never had this condition. It’s hard to even explain.

Every day I’d wake up and immediately look at my skin in the mirror. Most of the time, I was disappointed with what was staring back at me. Another spot. Another cyst. Another scar. I don’t know why I became so obsessed with it, but I did.

I wanted to look nice. And what I believed was nice back then, was clear, flawless, smooth, even skin. Mine was the opposite – it was red, blotchy, swollen and sore. Acne and mental health are more closely linked than people may think.

Girl with red bobble hat looking at menai straits

Makeup almost became a mask

I’d started covering my acne up in my teens. What started as a small dab of concealer here and there, quickly became an obsessive habit. I didn’t let anyone see my face without make-up on, not even my own grandparents. How ridiculous is that? I truly believed that if anyone saw my acne, they’d hate me or think I was disgusting.

I’d wake up an hour before school and spend 45 minutes obsessively covering every little spot up with concealer and foundation. When I was first in university, I’d put makeup on to walk to the shower. I’d have a shower, wash my face and then quickly put concealer on again before I left the bathroom. In my head, it was too much of a risk to walk to my room without it. I literally thought my own skin, as it was, would disgust people.

See what I’m getting at? Acne isn’t just a physical condition. Acne can affect your mental health. It eats away at your self-esteem and before you know it, you can’t even show people your real face. You become trapped in your own skin. I didn’t like my face as it naturally was — every morning I had to apply a mask in order to feel confident enough to face the world.

Obviously, I can’t speak for everyone. I think, for me, getting bad skin so early meant I hadn’t had the chance to develop any real confidence — so it just spiralled out of control.

Girl with acne putting makeup on mirror

Acne affected my social life

Although I’m quite an introvert (I neeeeed my own space at times!), I’m a pretty sociable one at that. I’ve always loved hanging out with people, going out, getting dressed up, experiencing new things… all that good stuff.

But at times, I genuinely feel that my acne has held me back. In fact, I genuinely believe that acne actually made me develop mild social anxiety. I’d never been like this in my early years of school – but as my acne worsened, so did my confidence. I seemed to lose my ability to talk confidently to new people – and, to be honest, even people I knew well.

For a while, I wouldn’t do anything that required taking my makeup off or that risked my makeup fading. It sounds so dramatic, I know – but this is genuinely how I felt. I’d make up excuses not to sleep over at people’s houses. I’d make up excuses not to go swimming or for weekends away with anyone other my family. If I did sleep over, I’d rush away in the morning to reapply my makeup – and it’s all I’d think about the night before. Ugh.

And it was more than just the makeup thing, too. I started struggling to make eye contact with people and I constantly worried about what people thought about me. I was too scared, for a while, to basically, be myself. I thought people would judge.

Couple silhouette in Cambodia

Acne is directly linked to depression

Anyway, don’t just take it from me. Take a look at these acne and mental health statistics:

Personally, I do feel that acne has affected my mental health. Sometimes I wonder how much more confident I’d be if I was never lumbered with this condition. Still, I’m (weirdly) glad I did – as I feel like it’s shaped me into who I am now!

I really don’t want my blog to be negative. I just wanted to make this point for all the people out there suffering now, who get called dramatic (okay, maybe just by keyboard warriors and Daily Mail readers – but still!).

I also feel that the NHS needs to start looking into the link between acne and mental health, rather than just offering treatment for the physical symptoms. During my 10 or so years of acne, not one doctor has asked me how I feel.

Girl looking in a hostel mirror with acne

Still, there’s always a silver lining – even to acne!

But anyway… like I said, I don’t want my blog to be all negative — and I always like to end on a positive note.

Yes, having acne has made my confidence drop down to the floor at times. It’s probably even weakened some of my relationships and friendships. For a while, I think it put out the spark (you know, everyone has their own weird lil spark) to my personality.

But at the same time, having acne has made me into who I am now. I feel that having acne has made me a much more empathetic and patient person.

And ironically, from being the girl who was obsessive about covering up her skin and looking a certain way, having acne has made me realise that looks aren’t everything. In fact, they’re nothing in comparison to your personality.

Having acne doesn’t make you ugly. I find all the girls and guys I see online with acne absolutely beautiful! All I can think is, “what an honest and strong person they are” — and surely that’s the purest form of beauty? I think so, anyway.

So, to end this little ramble about acne and mental health, I urge you to seek help if you’re struggling. I wish I’d been more open with doctors about how I was feeling — and maybe the process would have been way easier to deal with.

Girl in red bobble hat on harbour

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