The causes of acne are multilayered and include bacterial overgrowth, clogged pores, hormones and genetics, but there’s certainly a relationship between stress and skin.
For some people, having acne that’s scarring makes them psychologically distressed, depressed or anxious. But it can work the other way, too. Stressful life episodes can initiate and worsen an acne flare-up.
I know – fun, right? We spoke to Dr Love to find out more on how that mind-body connection works:
What’s your personal experience with acne?
I suffered from nodulocystic acne [a severe type with oversize cysts] from Year 9 to Year 12 and a bit during [university]. It really wasn’t until my acne cleared that I realised the huge impact it had on my mental health.
How did having severe acne affect you emotionally?
In addition to the physical pain caused by the lesions, I lived with constant anxiety that people saw only my breakouts when they looked at me. So I made myself small and invisible: I moved to the back of the class, I stopped raising my hand, and I isolated myself socially. During high school, I met a dermatologist who I credit with changing the trajectory of my life. She cleared my skin, but she also helped me find the outgoing, opinionated woman capable of manifesting my dreams –the woman that I am now.
What are some of the effects you’ve seen in your practice?
My experiences with my patients echo what we know from the literature: there’s a higher rate of anxiety disorders, depression and social isolation among patients with acne compared with their peers who don’t have acne. People with breakouts are more likely to detach from friends and family and are also more likely to experience bullying in adolescence. Teens with severe pimples have a longer delay before their first romantic relationship too.
How would you address the psychological downside of acne? Are there any wellness measures you’d recommend on top of medical treatment?
Stress management is essential, and joy is a key part of my regimen. Often, patients find themselves in a cycle where stress flares up their acne, then acne causes even more stress. Sometimes, my simple reassurance is enough. Other times, I suggest seeing a mental health professional, not just a dermatologist. I also think fitness is a great way to relieve stress. I personally love running – I turned to it during a difficult period of my life, and it transformed my self-esteem. Just remember: wellness is a long-term commitment. There will be times you fall off the wagon and that’s OK; the most important thing is to be kind to yourself.