The Psychological Effects of Acne: My Experience

Psychological Effects of Acne
by Kali Kushner

As a severe cystic acne sufferer, I know first hand that acne can have long lasting social and psychological effects. Unless you’ve dealt with the condition first hand it’s nearly impossible to understand the feeling. Today, I want to share my story with severe cystic acne and how it affected me personally. I hope it helps someone else out there who is also suffering with the psychological effects of acne- and so you realize you absolutely are not alone.


What Are The Psychological Effects Of Acne?

 I feel that my acne story is a similar one you’ll hear over and over again. I didn’t develop severe cystic acne until I was around 19, before that I had clear, glowing skin so I wasn’t really sure what was going on. I tried countless over the counter creams, washes, diets, even the caveman regimen, without realizing how drastically the deep cystic spots were permanently affecting my skin as well as my confidence.

It’s easy to say, just be positive, there are worse things going on in the world, and it’s just skin. But in reality, severe cystic acne hits you like a ton of bricks- even after it’s healed the psychological wounds still linger. It’s hard watching your face go through drastic changes, without ever wanting or triggering those changes in the first place. And to have your friends, family, and total strangers comment on those changes or recommend treatments you’ve already tried, it can be devastating to your confidence, leaving you feeling less than or completely ashamed.

Effects Of Acne On Self Esteem

Acne or acne vulgaris may affect someone’s self-esteem in many ways, mostly in a negative manner. Acne vulgaris has been one of the most common skin concerns affecting people of all age groups, however women seem to be more severely affected psychologically by acne. 

Acne can have an impact on your overall well-being and life due to the social stigmas. Although it’s often thought of by other people as a minor problem compared to other conditions, acne sufferers might also need medical attention as it may cause feelings of depression, anxiety and other emotional consequences. There are at least 2 ways how acne affects one’s self esteem: socially and psychologically.

So what are the effects of acne on one’s self-esteem?

  • Feelings of embarrassment and avoidance of eye contact
  • Attempting to cover or hide ones face
  • Acne may provoke cruel taunts from other people
  • Difficulty in forming new friendships or relationships
  • Development of social phobia or anxiety
  • Some people with acne may risk their jobs or livelihood by taking sick leaves due to development of depression or anxiety
  • For some students, acne may lead to poor academic performance
  • Reduced career choices such as occupations that require personal appearance 

While acne may seem like a debilitating skin condition, it shouldn’t have to rule your quality of life and overall well-being.  There are plenty of people with acne who lead confident and successful lives.  

Acne Can Last For Years

The hardest part of dealing with acne is accepting the fact their isn’t one single cure. Think about it, if there was there wouldn’t be countless serums, spot treatments, and masks claiming to completely rid acne for good. If you have acne you can find ways to manage it but their isn’t one single miracle product that’ll get rid of acne for good. Even if you’re thinking accutane, the relapse rates are so high that even after three courses acne patients claim to still suffer from persistent to severe acne. I’m one of those people who took a full course, had miraculously clear skin for almost a year after and then all of a sudden the cystic spots swarmed back just as relentless as before.

The use of hundreds of products without results, can lead to extreme feelings of frustration, desperation, and hopelessness. If you’re always chasing after a cure-all you’ll be left heartbroken. The best way I’ve found is simply to accept the disease for what it is. Sometimes it’ll be better, sometimes it’ll be worse. Sometimes my skin is completely clear, even, and completely balanced with no problems for a month and other times I have a cluster of whiteheads on my chin, cysts on my cheeks, and dry skin on my forehead- without any changes in diet or skincare.

How Acne Caused Social Anxiety

 Not to mention, acne can trigger social (and just plain regular) anxiety. Life is hard enough as it is, but throw some breakouts on top of that and it can be too much to mentally deal with. I didn’t realize it until years later, but my severe acne was actually giving me panic attacks every time I looked into the mirror. I felt like I couldn’t breathe, I couldn’t think think, and I could barely see.

Now looking back I realize it was because I was severely self conscious and going out in public where others could see my face as well, gave me unreasonable amounts of anxiety. You’re constantly worried if they’re staring at your face, what they’re thinking, and if they’re going to say something. It’s exhausting.



Acne Leads To Depression and Isolation


As you can see acne brings in a whole slew of emotions, but the two biggest and ones I’ve saved for last (for good reason) are isolation and depression because all of these feeling combined set the perfect stage for these two to swoop in and take over. 

Acne can cause isolation in that it inhibits your motivation to see your friends, go to new places, or even be around family because you feel embarrassed or ashamed over your skin. At least this was the case in my experience. And even after the acne subsided, I still felt occasional sprouts of anxiety when going out with friends thinking about how my acne scars would appear under certain lighting.

Furthermore, withdrawing from these activities and staying at home locked in your room can create an obsession as you fixate over your skin and constantly compare the way your skin appears to others. As you can probably tell, feelings of isolation and social anxiety go hand in hand.

Many with chronic acne are likely to go on to develop depression. Like I mentioned- things like constantly secluding yourself, comparing yourself to others, and becoming socially withdrawn can lead to instances of depression.

Depression is hard, and it’s harder when you’re stressing over your skin. The depression-acne-stress cycle is a vicious one where acne indefinitely occurs within each stage, acne causes stress, stress causes acne, acne causes depression, and depression causes more acne! Sometimes acne can leave you feeling absolutely hopeless, but if you’re reading this right now know that you’re not alone!

 How To Improve Self Esteem From Acne 

Acne stinks, but it’s important to remember that it’s not your fault. Acne is a genetic disease, meaning you carry the predetermined factors inside your body, just as someone has red hair or blue eyes, acne is an inherited trait.

Learn as much as you can. Educate yourself on the chemicals you’re putting in your body, how your hormones could be affected, and even stress levels. Realizing what skincare ingredients or food items made my skin better or worse has made a worlds difference in managing my acne. What used to be cysts are now whiteheads which don’t scar, and I can deal with that any day of the week.

1. Try stress reduction techniques. Things like going for a jog, bicycling, and even yoga can help to balance out hormones and give the skin a detox from the inside.

2. Don’t beat yourself up. Count your blessings. You have a heart and are alive. You have the potential to do whatever you put your mind to. Acne cannot and will not hold you back and having acne isn't your fault.

3. Put your words into action. If you say you’re going to do something, stick to it. Regardless of the condition of your skin, don’t use it as an excuse or a crutch (because before you know it, you’ll find yourself opting out of everything).

4. Remember that acne doesn’t change who you are as a person. Think about it, you could have the most beautiful acne free skin but if you have a nasty personality it won’t exactly matter. It’s so so so important to remember what counts is on the inside (and don’t let acne take that away from you).

5. Don’t compare yourself to others! We’re all unique and there’s only one you for a reason! You are special.

6. Surround yourself with positive encouraging people. Just as this Dr.Seuss quote says. those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind”. Let your friends know how you are feeling and be open with your emotions, if they aren’t supportive or positive you don’t need em. 

7. Know that you aren’t alone! About 85% of the population suffers with acne, yes even your favorite movie stars. Most photographs are photoshopped to unrealistic standards of beauty- meaning that no matter how hard you try it’s meant to be an unachievable level of perfection. It’s fake. You’re real. And real trumps fake every time.

Leave any tips, tricks, words of encouragement or personal stories below!

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