Fascinating research carried out by the British Journal of Dermatology has found a compelling connection between acne and depression, showing that the link between our thoughts and our body might be more connected then you think.
A British database of 134,427 patients with acne and 1,731,608 without, were tracked over a 15 year period. Most participants were under 19 at the start of the study, though a number of them also ranged in age from 7 to 50.
The study revealed that the possibility of developing severe depression was 18.5% among patients with acne and 12% in those without, with the risk for depression being strongest in the first five years after diagnosis. What’s more, it was also found that the risk of suffering from depression significantly increased for as long as five years after a patient was diagnosed with acne compared to those with clear skin. Those at risk were more likely to be young, non-smoking females of high socioeconomic status. Interestingly, they were also less likely to use alcohol or be obese.
This research suggests that as acne is treated and clears, the risk for depression returns to normal levels. So, acne is more than just skin deep; it can have a genuine impact on our mental health. Understanding the root cause of the problem – i.e. how emotional stress may cause acne, and how alleviating the stress may help alleviate the problem – can heal both emotionally and physically.
Acne can be Emotionally Debilitating
Even mild acne can be distressing, but for some, it can be really debilitating. Having inflamed papules and pustules on the skin can make us really self-conscious, making us insecure about our looks, leading to depression and anxiety.
This study shows that those with acne can be so negatively affected by their appearance that social stress can lead to low self-esteem. But some scientists in psycho-dermatology, who study the direct link between the science of how your feelings affect your face, believe that the inflammatory response associated with acne vulgaris may have a direct link in causing both the skin problem and the state of the person’s mental health; they even believe that it may also work the other way around.
What is Psychodermatology?
Recent research has found that Cortisol is a key factor in the body’s physiological stress response. They have also investigated how specific immune cells react in response to stress; certain neurohormones, such as Cortisol, are released by the body and can make the body’s blood vessels dilate. This shows up on the skin as inflammation and redness. If you are genetically predisposed to inflammatory skin conditions such as acne, this can start a vicious cycle of flare-ups, skin problems, and mental health problems.
Chronic stress also takes its toll on the body, causing the release of androgens – hormones that stimulate oil glands. When these go into overdrive, it can lead to acne; moreover, other factors such as hormonal imbalances and age also increase the severity of acne vulgaris. That, coupled with the fact that chronic depression weakens the immune system and slows healing time, creates havoc on the skin.
Some people are so tuned into their flaws that they can only see the breakout.
Today, we are more hyper-aware than ever about our appearance. Many are not only grappling with acne and breakouts but severe psychological scarring that transcends beyond the physical, which can linger even after it clears.
Many agonize over every pimple and therefore plant the seed for the symptoms of acne to go that much further than breakouts. This new research shows a real connection between the mind and the skin, and how acne vulgaris can negatively affect self-esteem, leading to depression. Those with acne can become socially withdrawn and begin to obsess, only looking at themselves in terms of their flaws.
The study puts the science behind the emotional toll that the experience of having acne vulgaris and breakouts can really have on a person. It confirms what many with acne already know, which is that acne can profoundly impact your self-esteem.
People with acne are not only just at risk of feeling low, but of also having very real clinical depression – and that is not to be treated lightly. Those affected by acne, who are showing signs of depression, should absolutely be taken seriously. Furthermore, prescription drugs such as Isotretinoin (Accutane) show a possible relationship with mental health conditions.
I recommend that skincare specialists, healthcare providers, and dermatologists treat clients with acne and be tuned into the emerging patterns of depression in their clients. This means helping their clients manage the emotional toll of acne and not just the physiological toll that acne can have on the skin.
Whilst psycho dermatology may sound a little quacky, taking the treatment program one step further and understanding the relationship a client has with their skin, will help you not only fix their skin topically but help them understand how the emotional stress may be worsening their skin problems, and how by alleviating the stress, this may help alleviate their skin problems.
For further reading on mental health problems, this article on ADD medicine shows how certain medications can help people with ADD or ADHD get on with their lives.