Matt Traube, MFT

Healthy Mind, Healthy Skin

The Toll of Adult Acne

The psychological impact of adult acne can be highly significant.

Posted Dec 10, 2017

According to the American Academy of Dermatology, acne is the most common skin condition in the United States. In my experience, there are few common skin conditions that diminish self-esteem more than adult acne. Acne is difficult at any age, but adults in particular are vulnerable to gradually allowing the condition to take over their emotional lives.

Adults who experience acne report feeling less secure in their social lives, relationships, and occupations. They often make important life decisions based on how they feel about their acne. As acne sufferers wake up in the morning, look into the mirror, and judge their acne, the chances of having the typical “good day” are dramatically higher if they feel that their skin is acceptable. If they decide that their skin is unacceptable, the chances of a good day often vanish before the day even begins. 

The acne initially acts as a social barrier and gradually transforms into a restrictive force that colors their entire lives. The belief becomes deep-rooted: while the acne exists, success can’t. Clients often tell me that everything in their lives would be fine if their acne was gone. 

That insecurity starts a vicious cycle. The more one obsesses and feels stress about acne, the worse it can get. In 2003 a Stanford University study researched the relationship between acne and stress by measuring acne in university students during examination and non-examination periods. Researchers found that “changes in acne severity correlate highly with increasing stress, suggesting that emotional stress from external sources may have a significant influence on acne.”

Often, by the time someone realizes the wide-ranging emotional effects of adult acne on their lives, they’ve already fallen into a lifestyle that leaves them prone to acne flare-ups. They may find themselves feeling vulnerable and insecure in aspects of their lives that previously felt fine. The vulnerable and insecure feelings start an inner dialogue that goes beyond insecurity about the skin. People often experience self-criticism for allowing themselves to be preoccupied with negative thoughts about an already challenging skin condition. The net result is even more feelings of guilt and shame, and the vicious cycle continues. The cycle can be broken by learning your emotional triggers and understanding how to modify the distorted thinking patterns that allow the cycle to persist.