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Acne and Mental Health: Are You Comfortable in Your Own Skin?

Discussing the impact of acne on mental health and the acne neutrality movement

girl looking at her reflection in a broken mirror

I have struggled with acne for nearly ten years, now in my late twenties I have accepted that I will never have perfectly glowing skin, but during my worst acne flare ups I have felt incredibly embarrassed by it. I resent my reliance on antibiotics and topical gel to have just some shred of control over it. I find myself comparing myself to others, highly self-conscious about my skin. Unfortunately this is the reality of many with acne.

Acne is not uncommon, the skin condition affects 95% of people aged 11 to 30. Some cases are more severe than others, ranging from mild to severe. Acne can affect the face, back and sometimes the chest. It has a big impact on mental health and emotional wellbeing, often causing people to develop low self-esteem issues, anxiety and depression.

There is not a lot of research on the lasting psychological effects of acne on mental health. One effect we do know about though, is acne dysmorphia. Acne dysmorphia is an anxiety disorder where you constantly obsess about your skin's appearance. It can be overwhelming and all consuming for people with acne, leaving them feeling as though their acne is worse and more noticeable than it actually is. What does not help this dysmorphia is the pressure to have perfect skin.

Social media and the acne neutrality movement

Social media has a major negative impact on body image. The rise in popularity of face tuning and filters is a big contributor to unrealistic beauty standards. It is common practice to compare yourself to others. This becomes a highly dangerous practice when criticising your skin and body by comparing yourself to doctored images. People are becoming more and more dissatisfied with themselves as a result of social media making them anxious about their own appearance.

In the pursuit to look flawless and perfect like filters on social media, people are trying to go under the knife and get various cosmetic work done to their faces. This phenomenon has been dubbed ‘snapchat dysmorphia’. Snapchat filters cover up any pre-existing insecurities you may have had about your face. If you think your lips look thin? There is most definitely a filter there to plump them up. Want blue eyes? Easy, done at the click of a button. It can be distorting to see yourself only through filters and lose that sense of the real you. The struggle for people with acne is seeing skin you wish you had, or becoming even more aware of your acne when the filter is off. The truth is having pixel perfect skin is unattainable and the practice of airbrushing ‘imperfections’ is a vicious practice that is destructive to our body image.

Online, there is a growing acne positivity movement that seeks to support those with acne. With bare faced influencers leading the charge, we find that social media can be a safe space to connect, build a support system and experiment with self-identity. However, it is easier said than done. Telling people to celebrate their acne is one thing but living with acne is stressful and it can be physically painful too. The leap from hating your skin to loving your acne is a big one. This is why there is a need for acne neutrality.. The idea of the acne neutrality movement is to remain neutral about your skin. So even in the worst flare ups, you don’t need to feign positivity about it but accept your skin for what it is. It is about normalising your perception of your own skin and building on accepting that there will be good days and bad days.

Acne neutrality is not as widespread as it should be, but that doesn’t mean we as individuals can’t choose to practise it in our daily lives. Choose to keep going on your worst skin days, don't cancel that date or job interview because of a bad flare up. Take a break from the snapchat filters, take a natural skin selfie, you don’t need to post it, just introduce yourself to your skin. Getting older, I realise that I am the only person dwelling on how my skin looks but it is hard to reconcile years of self conscious and anxious behaviour. If you feel the same, please be mindful that a change in mindset won’t happen overnight. For anyone who needs it, here are some tips to help living with acne. Please be kinder to the person in the mirror.


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