Acne and mental health: Statistics, tips & my story

Acne. It’s right there on your face for the world to see. It can be red, painful, oozy and scabby. And often, it’s relentless. No matter how hard you try, how healthy you are or how many new treatments you test out, new spots are hell-bent on creeping up.

But acne can impact more than your appearance. It can negatively impact your mental health, too. So if you’re here because your acne is getting you down, I know exactly how you feel – I’ve been through the hormonal acne rollercoaster for over 10 years now.

The good news? I’ve got loads of tips to share to help you deal with the emotional impact of acne and, with time, feel great about yourself no matter what your skin looks like. With that said, let’s talk all things acne and mental health.

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Acne’s impact on mental health: What does the research say?

There’s no shortage of research on the link between acne and mental health:

Research published by the British Journal of Dermatology in 2018 found that acne patients in the UK have a greater risk of major depression.

In a questionnaire-based study of 4,744 18–19-year-olds with acne by the Journal of Investigative Dermatology, girls with substantial acne were twice as likely to have suicidal thoughts as girls with no or little acne, while boys were three times more likely.

A systematic review of 40 acne studies concluded that there is a significant association between acne with depression and anxiety and that “clinicians should pursue aggressive treatment of acne and consider psychiatric screening or referrals”.

I could go on and on – a quick search for ‘acne’ with mental health keywords like depression, anxiety and social anxiety on PubMed brings up a slew of relevant studies and research.

Every single one I’ve read concluded that people with acne – no what their age or gender – are at a higher risk of mental health problems such as depression, anxiety and low self-esteem.

Considering all the studies, research and evidence; it seems crazy to me that during my 10+ years of visiting the doctors due to cystic acne, I wasn’t once asked how I was doing mentally.

My acne & mental health story

It’s all good seeing the stats laid out like that, but sometimes, I think a personal story is helpful too. Because if you’ve never experienced acne yourself, it can be hard to imagine why or how it can have such a deep impact on your life.

Here’s my acne and mental health experience.

My skin consumed my thoughts

When my acne flared up (bare in mind that, for many years, this was most of the time), my skin would be the first thing I thought of when I woke up and the last thing I’d think of before I went to sleep.

And every morning, as I walked to the mirror, I had this strange hope or dream that I’d look in it and my skin would be clear. It’s all I wanted! Obviously, this rarely happened. It was always another spot. Another cyst. Another scar. I don’t know why I became so obsessed with it, but I did. I thought clear skin would solve absolutely everything (spoiler: it didn’t).

I was busy with school and university during the day, but I’d spend loads of this time being paranoid about how awful I thought I looked – and feeling like people were staring at my skin – rather than just enjoying the experience.

Looking back, it’s sad – these should’ve been some of the best years of my life, but my brain was consumed by insecurity the entire time.

Mental health books

Makeup became a necessity, not a choice

I 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 or more 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.

Acne ate away at my self-esteem and before I knew it, I couldn’t even show people my real face. I literally became trapped in my own skin and had to apply a mask in order to feel confident enough to face the world.

Obviously, I can’t speak for everyone on the makeup problem. I think, for me, getting bad skin so early on, paired with the rise of social media, meant it spiralled out of control.

Acne makeup mental health

Acne triggered social anxiety

Although I’m quite an introvert, I’m a pretty sociable one at that. I’ve always loved hanging out with people, going out, experiencing new things… all that good stuff.

But at times, my acne has definitely held me back. I’d even go as far to say that acne triggered mild social anxiety in me. I’d never been like this in my early years of school – but as my acne worsened, so did my confidence.

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 than my family. If I did sleep over, I’d rush to the bathroom in the morning before others woke up to reapply my makeup – and it’s all I’d think about the night before. In a way, it affected my friendships, as I couldn’t completely relax around anyone other than my family.

And it was more than just the makeup thing, too. I started struggling to make eye contact with people, especially when my skin was particularly inflamed, and I constantly worried about what people thought about me.

My life revolved around acne

For a long time, everything the doctor prescribed for my acne didn’t seem to work all that well. So, I channelled all my negative emotions into finding a solution. 

If you caught me scrolling on my phone, it’d probably be through Reddit forums, acne Facebook groups and every website on the planet to check what’s worked for other people. This research turned into an integral part of my morning and evening routine.

I’d also spend hours Googling various hormonal disorders/imbalances that could cause acne and trying to pinpoint which of them I might have (doctors refused to do that kind of investigation or testing for me, but that’s a blog for another day).

This meant spending – likely – thousands of pounds on various skincare products, acne treatments, and expensive supplements that claimed to treat the root hormonal imbalance. 

And it also meant cutting entire food groups out of my diet (think sugar, gluten, dairy, processed foods and more) in a bid to clear my skin. At one point, it got so extreme that I basically lived on salad and smoothies. I thought that, if I ate bread or chocolate, any new acne the following week would be 100% my fault – so I avoided it entirely.

Tips for dealing with the mental health impact of acne

If you’re feeling the way I felt, I’ve got some tips to help you make a positive change in your life and your mindset – even if your acne doesn’t go away just yet.

But first things first: know that one day you will feel better, even if it feels impossible right now. You’ve got this – and I’ve got your back (feel free to message me on Instagram anytime).

Smiling with acne

1. Flip your mindset

The difference between a bad skin day ruining your entire day – vs having a bad skin day yet having a great day regardless – is down to your mindset. This one’s easier said than done, I know. But with practice, it can make a big difference!

When my acne flared up back in the day, I’d wake up, look in the mirror and instantly let my skin dictate my mood. My skin looked shit (in my head, at least), so my day would be shit too. I’d cancel plans, I’d do the minimum uni work and I’d mope around waiting for my skin to get better in order to live my best life.

Now (and this has taken a lot of work), when my skin flares up, I fight back. In my head, I say to myself “so what if I’ve got acne? I’m still gonna have a great day at work/with my friends. I’m still going to be productive and get closer to my goals.” – even if I don’t actually believe it in the moment.

So next time you have a bad skin day, repeat these sentences in your head – no matter how silly it seems:

Acne positive thinking

2. Fill your social media feeds with skin positivity

Struggling with acne and finding social media an uncomfortable place? I’d encourage you to unfollow accounts that make you feel shit about your appearance or make you compare yourself. Hit unfollow or – if it’s someone you know personally – make use of the ‘mute’ button. It’s there for a reason.

The good news? You’ll soon find lots of accounts to replace them. Enter, the acne community: think unfiltered breakout snaps, acne scars proudly on show, mental health tips and real, relatable, unfiltered images everywhere you look!

For me, following acne accounts was an absolute game-changer. They constantly remind me to work on my mindset, as well as my acne, and to love myself 100% of the time – with breakouts, clear skin and everything in between.

Need some inspo to get started? Here are some accounts to follow:

3. Open up to your friends & family

My acne affected me the most when I hid it from the world.

During university, I didn’t speak to my housemates about my skin issues. I applied concealer to go downstairs to take a shower and applied it again before I left the bathroom – just in case I saw anyone. When I was having a low day, I pretended I was fine. It was like I was living a double life.

When I finally started this blog and opened up to my close friends about how I was feeling, it was like a weight had lifted off my shoulders. I now know that I can talk to any of them about it whenever I need to. And I know they won’t judge me if they see me without makeup on a bad skin day. They’ve made that clear.

Whenever I have a really bad skin day, I make sure to call up my Mum, Dad or sister rather than bottling it up inside. Knowing you’re never alone – and knowing that there are people in your life that will love you no matter what you look like – makes such a positive difference.

What’s the moral of the story? Open up. Grab a coffee with one of your friends, or a family member, and tell them you’ve been struggling with your skin and self esteem. I promise it’ll help!

Girlfriend boyfriend with acne

4. Treat your acne, but don’t let it consume you

Being more positive about your skin doesn’t mean you can’t treat your acne. It’s simply about not letting acne hold you back or consume your every thought whilst you’re searching for that treatment.

If you find yourself spending too much of your time googling acne causes and solutions, trying new treatments or spending too much money on ‘miracle’ cures and products, you need to set some boundaries. This might look like:

It’s easy to let acne consume your thoughts and your bank account, but setting some light boundaries can help you to avoid letting it take over everything in your life.

4. Keep saying yes to events & opportunities

Don’t get me wrong, I know that on a very bad skin day, cancelling plans can feel like a necessity. I’ve done the same; and you’re in every right to prioritise your mental health on days you just really need a break.

But try to avoid making a habit of it. Not seeing your friends, turning down invites, quitting hobbies or avoiding new career opportunities because of your skin is letting acne win.

The truth is this: you’ll have just as good of a time with your friends if you’ve got 1 spot or 20 spots. You’re just as capable in a new job if your skin is clear or broken out. And your life doesn’t need to stop because you’ve got acne.

So let yourself have that occasional break when you need it, but get stuck into all the things you want to do, love to do and need to do. Future you will thank you for just saying yes.

Acne mental health

6. Seek professional help – no, really, do it!

Look, I get it. Dealing with the mental health impact of acne requires more than just listening to some random girl’s tips on the internet. If you’re really struggling with your mental health, you deserve more support.

I know that booking that first appointment to speak to your GP can be daunting, but know that it’s nothing to be ashamed of. They speak to people who’re struggling with their mental health on a daily basis; it’s the norm for them. They’re there to help you, not judge.

So make that appointment. Set an alarm on your phone for tomorrow morning and get it booked in. I promise it’ll be the start of a much brighter future.

If you’re having a really bad day and need to speak to someone urgently, you can get in touch with one of the following UK organisations for free:

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