Acne is a common skin condition that affects 8 out of 10 people between the ages of 11 and 30 in the UK. Although it can be very visible, the underlying psychological impacts of the condition aren’t.
Acne is caused by a disorder of the pilosebaceous follicles; when tiny holes, also known as hair follicles, become blocked with an oily substance called sebum.
The skin disorder occurs in 80% of teenagers when testosterone levels increase during puberty and in adult women when hormone levels change. It is also hereditary.
Due to the visibility of acne, patients may suffer from psychological impacts. It’s been discovered that depression is three times more prevalent in acne patients than the general population.
Video: PhD Psychology student Kate Adkins, who has explored peoples’ experiences of acne, explains more about the psychological impact of the condition.
A survey conducted by the British Skin Foundation, which involved 878 people, aimed to explore the emotional impact of skin diseases in general.
- 66% said they experienced decreased self confidence and 56% of participants said making friends was a major problem.
- 1 in 5 blamed their skin condition for the breakdown of their most recent relationship or previous relationship.
- 1 in 6 admitted to self harming due to their skin, a third had contemplated suicide and 13 people had attempted suicide.
Audio: Luke Collin’s used to suffer from severe acne and was bullied by his classmates because of it. He shares his experience of the bullying.
The emotional impact of acne often motivates sufferers to seek professional help for their skin. A number of treatments can be prescribed, depending on the severity of the acne, the type of acne and the psychological impact on the patient.
Photo: Roaccutane; a strong drug commonly used to treat severe acne, has more recently been prescribed to patients with mild to moderate acne.
Studies have shown successful acne treatment helps to improve acne patients’ quality of life. Roaccutane, a strong drug known to treat severe acne, has more recently been prescribed to patients who suffer from mild to moderate acne if it causes scarring, if previous treatments haven’t worked and if they suffer from psychological distress.
Audio: Consultant Dermatologist Lindsay Whittom explains more about Roaccutane.
However, Roaccutane comes with a host of side effects such as cracked or peeling skin, dry lips, joint pain, nosebleeds and more. Controversially, it has also been linked to depression. Roaccutane might not be suitable for those who have a history of mental health.
Video: Kathryn McCarthey, a law student at Cardiff University, believes that although the drug cleared her skin, it also contributed to her severe depression.
Although skin treatments are considered beneficial in treating the psychological aspects of acne, there are a shortage of skin specialists. Out of 800 positions, 200 are unfilled.
This is concerning as the number of patients being referred to a dermatologist has more than doubled in the last five years; from 2,436 in 2010-11 to 6383 in 2015-16. This shortage is causing long waits for acne patients receiving treatment.
The longer the delay in the treatment of active acne, the more the likelihood it will scar. Scarring can be permanent and cause further psychological suffering.
Skin disfigurement charity ‘Changing Faces‘ provide help for those who have a skin condition. They also offer a free ‘Skin Camouflage’ service, for those who wish to cover scarring or their skin condition.
Audio: Emily Wheeler, a Changing Faces practitioner, explains more about the help available for acne patients.
There is also help for those dealing with acne online, if they feel that they can’t seek help in person. Acne.org provides advice on skin treatments and a message board so that users can interact with each other.
“It comforts me, knowing that there are other people going through the same thing”
University student Amber Sallah uses Acne.org’s message board. “I started using the message board as a way to cope with my acne. It comforts me, knowing that there are other people going through the same thing, as many of my friends with clear skin don’t understand the impact of acne”.