The Relationship Between Depression and Acne
There is an article in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology (Consequences of Psychological Distress in Adolescents with Acne, Laurent Misery) that helps us with an interesting question. Can depression cause acne? Or, at the very least contribute to it? It says that teens are psychologically vulnerable and sensitive to changes in their bodies and appearance.
Teenagers with acne have lower self-attitude (especially boys), self-esteem, self-worth (especially girls) and body satisfaction than those without acne.
Such feelings inevitably end up affecting their quality of life. Also, teens with a severe acne problem are more likely to have mental health problems than those with lesser/moderate acne.
The emotional roller-coaster we experience as teens may continue into adulthood. Can our emotions bring with it acne? From that then, could our teenage and adult acne therefore develop into depression.
Or, Does the Opposite Apply?
Do our insecurities as teenagers then develop into depression or other mental hurdles whether it be in our teens or adolescence. Then acne follows?
The flip side is, as other studies suggest, that teens with mental illnesses are more likely to have acne. Mental health problems have also been found to aggravate acne. Here’s a discussion of how one can possible affect the other.
You can probably imagine acne causing depression.
Can Depression Cause Acne?
Acne is one of those skin conditions that you cannot hide from. It can strike at the worst times. Like just before your prom (debutante) night, on the day of your wedding, before your big interview. Or, when you’re due to give that important TED talk before hundreds of people.
When that happens, you feel your enthusiasm and joy dissipate.
Even if you keep telling yourself, “Don’t let that zit on your nose bother you!” You struggle to shake off the feeling of self-consciousness…at least for a while. Hundreds and thousands of people around the world living with acne feel that every single day. And those who cannot shake off that feeling often end up with depression. I can confirm that first hand. 🙁
Why Does Acne Cause Depression in Teens?
The ‘teen phase’ is an awkward one for most. If bodily changes weren’t enough. There is also an anxiety about others’ perceptions about your appearance.
Eventually manifesting as depression.
Especially if you’re sensitive to their remarks about your skin. Which happens all too much in the “theater of war” known as high school.
This can perpetuate well into their twenties for some people. Our self-consciousness never ends. Even if the remarks, or better yet, the acne eases off. The negative thought processes are locked in and are hard to break.
Then there’s the whole idea of what constitutes beauty fed to us by the media. Those airbrushed images of models with pristine skin on magazine covers make us feel inferior.
Like It or Not
We do envy in others what we ourselves don’t have. In today’s looks-obsessed culture, it is easy for impressionable youth to feel that acne defines their personality. As well as who they are. When that’s far from the truth.
A 1999 study (The quality of life in acne : A comparison with general medical conditions using genetic questionnaires) found something interesting. Teens with a major acne problem and who’re seeking dermatological help are more likely to report social and emotional problems as severe as those reported by patients with debilitating epilepsy and diabetes.
The good news is that some anxiety symptoms tend to go away after high school graduation. Even if the acne still stays. For most, you get a job or go to college, and you redefine yourself in a different light. Which enhances self-esteem. However, there are some whose acne can be a continuing problem into their college years and adult life. This can affect their mental health.
Does Depression Cause Aggravate The Skin?
In 2004, the University of Oslo asked 18- and 19-year old high school students to complete a questionnaire on their acne problems.
This included the amount of depression and anxiety they were experiencing, and their eating, smoking and alcohol consumption habits. Researchers at the university also separately collected the teens’ socioeconomic data from the country’s statistics bureau.
A analysis found a strong association between the severity of acne in teens and the amount of anxiety and depression experienced by them.
Regardless of lifestyle and eating habits.
Boys with poor mental health were 68% more likely to have acne than those without. Girls with mental health issues were twice as likely to be acne-sufferers than those without acne problems.
The University of Oslo study was among the first to find a correlation between acne and mental health. However, it wasn’t able to determine how exactly stress may affect acne. Researchers have offered a couple of hypotheses.
One is that stress may stimulate the growth of nerve fibers near sebaceous glands. It can increase the production of sebum, which can combine with dead cells and dirt to form pustules and blackheads. This is, of course, an unproved theory, and more investigation is needed.
Antidepressants Have Been Found to Improve the Condition of Acne
Also, some acne medications have been linked to an increase in depression. So removing those would help acne.
Dermatologists have made another discovery on the association between acne and depression. It has to do with a neurotransmitter (chemicals that transmit signals from one neuron to another) called substance P (SP). Substance P increases the level of inflammatory stress hormones. Which could affect acne.
It is also one of the factors responsible for creating a feeling of stress and anxiety. Very high levels of can lead to depression.
Substance P Affects Your Akin in Three Ways
One, it increases sebum production. Second, it increases inflammation on your skin. And third, it increases the rate at which your skin produces new skin (skin cell turnover). All three factors can cause or aggravate acne.
Has your acne flared-up and gotten worse when you were feeling down and out?
Depression has been seen to increase stress response and make your skin more vulnerable to breakouts. Those suffering from depression have a more severe inflammatory response to stress than their happier counterparts. Depression can weaken your immune system, and give bacteria an opportunity to attack, increasing levels of inflammation.
Depression can also make you disinterested in taking good care of yourself by eating right and leading a healthy lifestyle. This, in turn, can affect your skin.
When You’re Depressed, You Feel Anxious and on the Edge
Anxiety can prompt different changes in your body, which can be involved in acne breakouts.
Anxiety releases stress hormones, which may increase the pores and oils in your skin. When your facial pores get clogged with oil and create a breeding ground for bacteria, your acne may get worse.
You tend to touch your face more when you’re anxious.
Excessive facial touching may spread the bacteria across your face and possibly lead to breakouts.
There is a way of knowing if your anxiety is causing your acne. Any time you’re dealing with anxiety, make a note on the calendar. Then monitor for breakouts over the next one or two weeks.
Depression Isn’t Just the Temporary Blues
Depression or Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) is a mood disorder characterized by a continual feeling of sadness and a loss of interest in things around you. It isn’t something that you can just snap out of.
Depression can seep its way into every aspect of your life, affecting how you feel, think and behave. It can affect your personal and work life. It will make you less social (or anti-social), diffident and unmotivated. In a worst case scenario, depression can make you feel like it isn’t worth living and trigger suicidal thoughts.
Symptoms of depression include:
• A persistent feeling of dejection and an empty mood;
• Irritability and loss of temper over small issues;
• Trouble getting sleep/Insomnia;
• Weariness and a lack of energy;
• Change in appetite – either a lack of it or a craving for food;
• Trouble thinking clearly and concentrating on things;
• Unexplained physical problems like headaches or back pain;
• Blaming yourself for past problems and a loss of self-worth;
A common symptom of depression in young and older adults is a disinterest in socializing or trying out new things. The same is also observed in teens.
But it can get much worse than that.
Depressed youth who don’t get the moral support of parents tend to take to alcohol and drugs. They are prone to self-harm, and sleeping or eating too much. Their attendance and performance at school or work inevitably suffers.
A variety of other factors may be responsible for causing depression. These include life events like the death of a loved one, constant bullying and financial problems. Other reasons include hormonal changes, a chronic illness such as cancer or heart disease, and personality traits such as low self-esteem or being overly critical. In addition, an imbalance in brain chemistry may be cause of depression.
If you have experienced symptoms of depression arising from acne, here are some tips I strongly recommend that you consider.
How To Manage Difficult Emotions When You Have Acne
Don’t let acne get in the way of enjoying life. Take action and live life to the fullest!
Get medical treatment: The easiest way to address acne and the dejection arising from it is to see a dermatologist about your problem.
There are treatments, creams and pills that can help clear up or lessen acne. Getting rid of acne isn’t an overnight process. Be patient, invest in the best solution for your condition and give it time.
Analyze your lifestyle: Excessive alcohol consumption can trigger acne in some people.
Smoking can lead to sallow skin and make your acne appear more prominent. Be proactive in making changes. Addressing your suspect bad habits will not only make positive lifestyle improvements but have a positive effect on your skin.
Try not to cover up your acne: Look for ‘noncomedogenic’ make-up, lotion and skin cream labels as these products won’t clog your pores. I would also advise water-based and oil-free cosmetics that don’t make your skin greasy or your acne worse.
Reduce stress: Stress does not directly cause acne, but it’s one of the triggers contributing to its development.
Dermatologists say that stress is linked to habits like squeezing and picking zits. Only making it worse and making you feel even more anxious later. Acne apart, you need a way to deal with stress for physical and mental well-being. Stress busters are many and varied. Mostly, stress alleviation is about going to your “happy place”
Emerging with a calm, fresh mind.
Here’s a good article on simple ways to beat stress.
Share your feelings with others: You may feel like keeping to yourself. But that will only make you more isolated and depressed.
Sharing your anxiety with family and friends can lift a great burden off you. Kind words always help, and you may also get their inputs on how you can tackle your skin condition. If you feel embarrassed about discussing it.
Or, you’re not quite ready to do it immediately, you can get support from online groups and forums.
You have two options. Either spend some time finding a good one online on your own (make sure you research multiple forums) or ask your doctor for suggestions. Which brings me to the next point.
Also, These Are Very Important Too
Seek counseling/therapy: Sometimes, professional counseling can be invaluable in addressing negative emotions with roots in acne.
Those who’ve sought counseling for their skin condition consider therapy as an outlet for their negative emotions and thoughts. You’ll feel much better after your session. Reducing the risk of depression setting in. Make sure you ask around for recommendations on a good counselor or psychologist. It is important that he/she doesn’t dismiss your concerns.
So do ask for others’ experiences with their therapist to make a smart choice.
Love yourself: Your skin doesn’t define you.
In twenty years, people won’t remember that you had zits. They’ll remember you for what you said to them and how you made them feel. Work at improving your mood whenever you’re called out for having bad skin. Whether at school, on social media or on social outings. (There are many insensitive d***s out there).
If it makes you feel better, lots of successful people and celebrities have struggled with acne. Some beautiful people like Cameron Diaz, Miley Cyrus, Justin Bieber, Dane Cook, Lorde, Emma Stone, continue to battle with the condition.
Even Brad Pitt, the legend himself.
Conclusion – So Can Depression Cause Acne or Vice Versa?
Acne is largely the product of physical disturbances than emotional distress. There is no clear consensus that one necessarily causes the other. It is best to treat acne and depression as separate problems.
Don’t just wait it out with acne.
If your breakouts are frequent, seek dermatological help at the earliest. I strongly urge the same for depression – if you’re persistently feeling hopeless, sad and disinterested in life in general, share your problem and get psychiatric help.
Cheers for reading. Feel free to post any questions or comments below.