Why did we ever think acne was a ‘teenage’ problem? The idea that acne is a downside of puberty and will magically clear up in adulthood is, for lots of us, false. And yet while acne is the eighth most prevalent disease worldwide and increasing in adult women, very few studies have looked at the emotional, mental, social and professional costs of a breakout.
A new study, published in JAMA Dermatology, aims to change that. Researchers spoke to 50 women dealing with adult acne about how it affects their lives, and the results are both frustrating and familiar to anyone who’s skipped an event thanks to a giant chin pimple.
The women — who were largely in their late 20s, and about half of whom were white — nearly all reported feelings of anxiety, depression and low self-worth as a result of breakouts. Many said they felt isolated as fewer people around them had acne when compared to puberty. For people who’d been dealing with skin issues from a young age, there was an overwhelming feeling of fatigue.
The most common experience, however, was the hit a breakout took to their confidence.
“I would say it makes me self-conscious about myself and the way I look,” one woman said. “It’s impacted me in a professional sense where I feel like I’m not taken as seriously [or] professionally in my career because I have acne. It makes me seem younger, in a sense, even though I’m not.”
Another woman said she was unable to leave her house — even to check her mail — without putting on a face full of makeup. “It 100% affects my entire life,” she said.
Unsolicited advice was another common frustration. In a world where skincare is growing faster than any other part of the beauty industry, it’s no surprise that well-meaning friends, family and colleagues have a great product to try, or a fab dermatologist to recommend.
The result, however, is nothing more than shame and frustration, making women believe those around them thought they were doing nothing to ‘fix’ their skin already.
Even seeking professional treatment wasn’t always a positive experience. One woman of colour voiced her frustrations with the medical profession’s lack of understanding of acne in women with darker skin tones.
“For me, it’s been like hearing the same thing from each dermatologist: ‘Oh, people with your skin colour scar easily or [develop] hyperpigmentation, or we don’t really know the right products to use,” she said.
“You go to the dermatologist and they don’t really know how to help you. It’s just like, geez, do you not specialise in all types of skin? Do I have to go to the dermatologist that only specialises in my skin tone?”
The one positive? The women who’d been dealing with their acne the longest described building emotional resilience to a breakout, refusing to let it define either their lives or their self-worth. And that’s something we can definitely get behind.