- A study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, found that having acne was linked to a risk of depression and anxiety.
- Previous research has not shown a link, though doctors and patients have always known there was one, the researchers said.
- The study found that adults with acne were more likely to be depressed or anxious than adolescents with acne.
- The authors called on doctors to treat acne like the mental health risk that it is.
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For the teenagers and adults examining the blemishes and scars on their skin in the mirror, the idea that having acne can lead to an increased risk of depression and anxiety seems obvious. But now there’s finally proper data to back up what they know. An analysis of 42 other existing studies on acne and mental health has finally found evidence that having acne does, in fact, seem to be linked to mental health issues.
Until now, no study had definitively drawn a link between the two, because proving a link between acne and mental health can be difficult, when there are so many other factors that could also contribute to depression. It’s only with a bird’s eye view of pre-existing studies that researchers can spot trends.
“This resolves the question of whether acne is associated with depression and anxiety,” said study author Danielle Samuels, a psychology professor at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. “We found that it is, and this just hadn’t been established yet by a consensus in the literature.”
The authors of the study, published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, called on doctors to treat acne like the mental health risk that it is, improving access to treatments and consider referring patients for therapy or psychiatric screenings.
“We live in a culture that is quite focused on appearance,” said Samuels. “Having acne is distressing because of the high visibility of the face. These findings validate the feelings of psychological distress that people with acne undoubtedly feel at some point.”
Proving a link between acne and mental health issues has proved difficult
“Previous studies have found associations between acne and depression, while others have failed to show a significant relationship between them,” Kathleen Suozzi, assistant professor in Yale’s dermatology department, told Insider. She was not involved in the study. “This new study shows a strong association between acne and both depression and anxiety.”
And there’s a reason that association couldn’t be easily proven, as there are many factors that can be linked to depression and anxiety that can be occurring along with acne, such as stress or illness. But by analyzing over 42 already-existing studies, Samuels and her co-authors found strong associations.
“This study should empower patients with acne to seek out a dermatologist for treatment,” Suozzi said, “as improving their skin condition could lead to improvement in depression and anxiety they are experiencing.”
When Samuels began her analysis, she was surprised to see that the study found that depression and anxiety were more prevalent in adults with acne than in adolescents. She was expected the opposite, as adolescence is a time when self-consciousness peaks, and she assumed having acne would be more brutal for teens than adults.
“But if you take the fact that about 85% of adolescents will experience acne at some point, then as awkward and as sad as you may feel, you know that you’re not alone,” said Samuels. “But for adults, this sense of being out of step with one’s peers, and that acne is a teenage problem, are aspects of adult acne that can be particularly distressing.”
In many states, acne treatment is not covered by Medicaid, because acne treatments are seen as cosmetic concerns and trivialized. “Dermatologists have long observed that people with acne suffer, psychologically,” said Samuels. “There’s a bit of a disparity between the cultural beliefs about acne, and the beliefs of the actual people that work with patients that have acne.”