Acne and Mental Wellness: Understanding the Connection

Acne is a common skin condition that affects adolescent and teen populations, but what many people do not know is the connection between acne and mental health. The relationship between acne and mental health is strongest among young people. According to research, adolescents with moderate-to-severe acne were more likely to experience symptoms of depression than those without it. This connection may be due in part because teens who suffer from acne often feel self-conscious about their appearance which can lead to anxiety or depression. 

Improving your mental wellbeing starts with understanding the connection between mental health and acne breakouts.  

How Mental Health and Acne are Connected

The connection between acne and mental health is most prominent among young people. Teenagers make up the majority of those who suffer from this condition, as hormonal changes during their formative years contribute greatly to breakouts. In fact, over 80% of those with acne conditions are teenagers, and research has found that teen girls are the ones who are most affected by poor mental health linked to acne. Depression, low self-esteem, and low levels of confidence can all stem from acne breakouts. 

Our confidence levels can be tied to our appearance and how others perceive us, so it is not surprising to see many acne patients suffer from chronic low self-esteem. Those with chronic acne can also become withdrawn and isolated as they avoid situations where others can see their complexion. Individuals who isolate themselves are more at risk for developing mental health conditions like anxiety and depression.  

Those with chronic acne tend to believe their complexion is their fault, but the truth is acne is frequently beyond a person’s control (like from hormones or genetics). In these situations, acne breakouts have nothing to do with how often someone washes their face or lets it breathe without makeup. Acne does not always need to be chronic or severe to affect an individual’s mental wellbeing. Mild breakouts, or even the occasional zit, can cause someone’s perception of themselves to feel worse.

Not a One-Way Street 

It is not a surprise that your mental wellbeing can also affect your complexion. Higher levels of stress lead to hormonal imbalances that can cause breakouts. Higher stress levels can also lead to a decline in physical wellbeing (like eating more processed junk food) which leads to an increase in facial oil production, which in turn causes more acne.  

The more stressed you become, the more likely you will experience breakouts. In order to decrease the likelihood of breakouts, you must address your daily stress levels and make time to care for your mental wellbeing. 

How to Improve Skin and Mental Wellness 

The first thing to address is any lifestyle changes that could improve your stress levels and therefore decrease your breakouts. There are many lifestyle change options to choose from- regular exercise, a healthy diet of leafy greens and unprocessed foods, and participating in self-care activities can all improve your mental health. Chronic stress can cause mild to severe breakouts but taking the time to address your stress levels and care for yourself will help lessen those acne breakouts.  

If your acne breakouts are mild or infrequent, you may be able to see improvement from using over the counter (OTC) medicines. Some ingredients to look for are salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide. Salicylic acid will help to unclog pores, while benzoyl peroxide is used as an anti-inflammatory for existing breakouts.  

If OTC medicines do not help with acne, then there are always prescription options for helping to reduce acne breakouts, whether they are severe or chronic. There are a variety of options when it comes to prescription medications that help acne. Retinoids are used to unclog pores and antibiotics are used to kill bacteria that lead to breakouts. There is also hormone balancing prescription treatments like spironolactone and birth control (which can be used to help more than just menstruation).  

A Final Reminder 

Acne may cause embarrassment or frustration, but breakouts are just part of being human. Your complexion should not control how you live your day-to-day life, or how you view yourself. Acne breakouts do not make someone “dirty” or mean they have poor hygiene. Acne, whether mild or severe, does not always come from a lack of self-care, but frequently starts from something outside of the individual’s control.  

No one deserves to feel bad about their skin. You should be able enjoy life and love yourself without feeling ashamed or embarrassed, no matter what your complexion may look like! 

If you are looking to improve your complexion and your mental health, then there are options. Lifestyle changes build your self-esteem and can help stop breakouts from forming. OTC medicines can help mild acne cases, and prescription medications can help adjust hormone levels or kill bacteria that cause acne.

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