Getting Clear Doesn’t Make You Happy

by Seppo on August 26, 2011

Every acne victim knows that acne is more than just a skin disease. In fact pimples are just a minor part of acne. What really causes problems is the emotional suffering that acne causes. I see evidence of this suffering in almost every email and forum post I read.

Most would say that acne causes emotional suffering because it’s such a visible skin condition. And acne victims usually agree with this. They believe they will feel better once they manage to clear their skin. For many this leads to desperate measures; anything from extremely strict diet and detox routines to spending thousands and thousands of dollars on every imaginable treatment. Many even drink and douse their face with their own urine.

Clearly these people are in massive pain.

While it’s true that you do feel better when your skin is clear emotions-acne connection is more complex than that. My theory is that rather than causing emotional pain acne merely triggers some deep-seated insecurities and wounds.

Scientists have studies emotional suffering and quality of life of acne victims. In fact this subject has been studies extensively. Here are some interesting findings.

Research findings

Emotional pain and quality of life is not linked to severity of acne. This finding comes up in most studies. Researchers use validated questionnaires to measure the quality of life (or emotional suffering) of acne victims. They also have a dermatologist who objectively measures the severity of acne. These two measurements almost never correlate. If acne would be the cause of emotional pain then you would expect the more severe acne the more pain the person experiences. However this is not the case.

Another interesting point is that successful treatment of acne often doesn’t lead to improvements in quality of life. Again you would expect that if acne causes emotional pain then improvements in acne would improve the quality of life for the patients. This doesn’t happen always.

One study found that while emotional suffering is not linked to objective severity of acne it is linked to the patient’s subjective assessment of their acne. In other words the worse the patient thought their acne is the worse they felt.

Other studies have shown that patients rate their acne worse than dermatologists do. Similarly patients are less likely to notice improvements on their own skin.

Let me say this again. It’s not how bad your acne is that makes you feel bad, it’s how bad you think it is. And most people think their acne is far worse than it actually is.

Body Dysmorphic Disorder

While reading studies about acne and emotional suffering I came across something called body dysmorphic disorder (BDD). Mayo Clinic defines it well.

Body dysmorphic disorder is a type of chronic mental illness in which you can’t stop thinking about a flaw with your appearance — a flaw that is either minor or imagined. But to you, your appearance seems so shameful that you don’t want to be seen by anyone. Body dysmorphic disorder has sometimes been called “imagined ugliness.”

Body dysmorphic disorder – Definition
Mayo Clinic

Sounds at all familiar?

Here are some interesting things about BDD:

  • Prevalence in general population is 1 to 2%.
  • It’s much more common among dermatology patients and those seeking plastic surgery.
  • Surveys of acne patients estimate that 10 to 20% of acne patients suffer from BDD, a 10-fold increase from general population.

Dermatologists know that patients with BDD are notoriously difficult to treat. They often don’t respond to treatments as well as other patients do. Further, studies show that regardless of the objective outcome patients with BDD are rarely satisfied with the treatment.

Remember that how you feel is linked to what you think of your acne. So if you suffer from BDD then you are likely to see every little flaw as a major disaster (and who doesn’t have even a small flaw). In such case you wouldn’t be very satisfied with the treatment.

Can emotional problems cause acne?

It’s too early to say this yet, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they did. First, why is BDD so much more prevalent among acne victims? Of course this alone doesn’t mean BDD causes acne, but it’s an interesting point anyway.

Second, we know that stress can cause acne. If you suffer from BDD and constantly worry about your appearance, it’s likely that this causes a lot of stress on you. This then would trigger or aggravate acne and give you even more to worry about. Perpetual cycle.

Breaking free

You can’t break this cycle with fork and knife. In other words, if acne causes you a lot of suffering then diet is not the answer. This is a mistake I see over and over. People are desperate to get clear. They are in pain. In order to get clear they keep improving their diet. They cut out bad foods. They take supplements. They fast and detox. Don’t do this!

What you are dealing with is an emotional problem. You have to address it with emotional tools. After  being in touch with thousands of acne victims I can say that diet might help, but there are countless people who see no difference in their skin no matter how good their diet is.

This is clear even from research. Studies show that patients are most reliable helped by psychological treatment. Either drugs or therapy, such as cognitive behavioral therapy.

Some good self-help alternatives are:

  • Meditation, as little as 15 minutes a day helps. Just be consistent with it.
  • Journal writing. Take a few minutes to write about your problem can help a lot. When you write you are forced to organize the issue in your mind. This then helps you to resolve it. This whole exercise doesn’t have to take more than a few minutes a day. Again, consistency is the key.
  • SkinDeep book is also a good resource. See SkinDeep discussion at the forums for more info.

Take home messages

  • Emotional suffering acne causes is more complex than most people believe.
  • Rather than causing emotional problems acne may simply trigger deep-seated issues.
  • If you are overtly critical of your own skin and/or never satisfied with treatments it’s possible your suffering is rooted to self-esteem issues.
  • Trying to cure acne is not the answer to these problems. In fact making progress with your skin may not make you much happier.
  • These emotional problems may even slow down or prevent your skin from healing




Did you like this? Then you will also love these products:

Clear for Life: Lifestyle for Health, Happiness and Clear Skin

Clear for Life Meditations: Melt Away the Stress of Acne and Finally Be Free

Emotional Healing for Clear Skin: Simple system for healing the emotional pain acne causes

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Johanna September 15, 2011 at 5:53 am

I seem to always care about what people think of me and my acne. I get mean stares and even people who focus on m acne when I talk instead of my face. It’s really upsetting and hurts. I haven’t felt like this in years. I. Hardly feel attractive and go out now that I have a face full of zits and people can be so judgmental. Do. Have any tips to help me out to forget about people and just live my life? Anything to help or maybe do to better myself or focus n something self esteem is really so damaged

Seppo September 17, 2011 at 6:36 am

@Johanna, these are hard issues to deal with. Meditation and journalling are among the few universal solutions that help almost everyone. I would take some time every evening to write down and explore your feelings around acne. Writing helps you to clarify things, and that makes it easier to solve the issues. Just ask questions like ‘what am I feeling’, ‘why am I feeling like this’, ‘what does this mean about me’ and so on.

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