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, and 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 judge 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 in 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.”
The main challenge of managing the emotional aspects of adult acne is that often, by the time someone realizes the wide-ranging effects of their skin condition and their feelings about it, 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 were previously fine. That realization starts an inner dialogue that goes beyond insecurity about their skin, to 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.
It is time to break the cycle. It is time to learn your emotional triggers and understand the distorted thinking patterns that allow the cycle to persist. It is time to live a life that is not controlled by acne.
Matt Traube, MFT
Child and Adult Psychotherapy
Phone: (805) 324-4684 and (781) 223-8629