When acne scars your confidence (Photo: iStock)

Anyone who has ever had a skin issue knows the scars are more than skin deep. The reality is, despite how common acne is, it can have a negative impact on one's mental well-being.

Acne, one of the most common skin disorders, peaks in adolescence and early adulthood, according to the Yale School of Medicine, affecting around 85 per cent of people between the ages of 12 and 24. However, over 25 per cent of women and 12 per cent of men in their 40s report having acne.

According to Dr Fibian Nyorita, a Clinical Dermatologist, acne leaves a lot of patients with deep emotional scars.

"Acne, especially when it affects the face, provokes cruel taunts from other teenagers," he says. "Some find it hard to form new relationships, especially with the opposite sex. Those with acne may lack the self-confidence to go out and form these bonds."

As a result, Dr Nyorita says, some people with acne become shy and elusive due to fear or negative appraisal by others.

"This can cause mental illness since they can't associate and communicate with their peers," she says.

Dr Nyorita explains that acne patients suffer from anxiety with common symptoms ranging from loss of appetite, mood disturbance, and a general feeling of unworthiness. Sometimes a patient might even develop suicidal feelings but this happens in rare cases.

"It doesn't matter whether your acne is mild or more severe. Your feelings are valid," she adds.

Dr Marren Akong'o, a university lecture at Rongo University says she has observed that many people with this skin condition feel uncomfortable and embarrassed.

"The prevalence of myths regarding why acne forms might even make you to feel a sense of guilt or shame as if you are somehow responsible for your acne. These feelings can be so strong that it prevent you from doing what you really want to do," she says.

According to a 2018 study in the British Journal of Dermatology, people with acne had 46 per cent risk of developing a major depressive disorder.The American Academy of Dermatology(AAD) makes it clear that this worrying skin condition tremendously affects the mental health of the person suffering from it, especially young people who take it more seriously. Bullying at school can exacerbate the problem leading to more severe psychological damage but even those who aren't bullied about their acne can experience negative psychosocial consequences.

According to research at the University of Limerick in Ireland, negative stigma surrounding acne can lower the quality of life of sufferers, increasing psychological distress levels and causing physical symptoms such as sleep disturbance, headaches and gastrointestinal problems. The study, which surveyed 271 acne sufferers, showed that participants who had acne were significantly stigmatised in the society.

Eunice Moraa, a registered clinical officer says that many acne patients report that they are acutely sensitive about how others perceive them on first meeting.

"Almost half of them felt others considered them to be dirty because of their acne and such experiences may breed a vicious cycle of fear to face others. In such cases, an individual may develop a social phobia and become housebound," Moraa says.

According to Dr Nyorita, acne doesn't have to rule your life. Looking for preventive and treatment options can help bring about a more positive attitude.

"See a clinical dermatologist for medical consultation and follow up until discharge," she says.

AAD gives remedies of gently washing the face up to twice daily. After sweating, choose a gentle, non-abrasive cleanser.

Also, use make-up sparingly and, during breakouts, avoid wearing foundation. If you must wear it, wash it off at the end of the day. One can also try over-the-counter products to keep his/her skin free from acne. Drinking a lot of water also helps in cleaning the skin from the inside.

"Be honest with your healthcare provider and let him/her know if acne is considerably affecting your self-esteem, interfering with your social life or making you feel depressed. The absolute best way to improve negative feelings about acne is to treat it," says David Pariser, a medical doctor and former president of the American Academy of Dermatology.

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