Coping and Living With Acne

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Although acne is a cosmetic issue, it can affect your life in real ways. Acne can impact your self-esteem, your confidence, your social life, and the way you interact with others. It's more than just a skin condition; acne can affect the way you feel about yourself as a whole. Acknowledging those feelings is the first step, and taking time to manage your emotional wellbeing goes hand-in-hand with treating acne.

Emotional

Acne doesn't just affect your skin; it can affect the way you feel about yourself. It's important to know that the degree to which acne affects you emotionally doesn't—and shouldn't—directly correspond with its severity. Some people with severe acne aren't all that bothered by it, others are intensely embarrassed and depressed by fairly mild acne. Whatever type of acne you have, your feelings are normal and okay.

Loss of Confidence

Because it appears visibly on the face, having acne can impact your self-esteem. People with acne often say they feel less confident than they did before having acne. You may feel it's harder to put yourself "out there," asking for a promotion or for a date, for example. Tweens and teens, unfortunately, may be the subject of teasing and bullying because of their skin. This can have a direct impact on their self-confidence at a critical period in their life.

One thing to remember is that acne is much more obvious—and thus a bigger deal—to you than it is to anyone else.

Anger and Frustration

An emotion that acne brings up that might surprise you is anger. You're not alone with this one. Acne is a frustrating condition. It's frustrating to take good care of your skin every day and still break out. It's frustrating to try treatment after treatment and still have acne. It's frustrating to see others sleep in their makeup and never cleanse their faces and still have clear skin. It's understandable to feel angry.

The best thing to do when you're feeling this way, though, is to stick with it. You most likely will have to try several acne treatment medications before finding the right one, or combination, that works best for you. It may cause you to feel anger and frustration, but each step gets you closer to the right treatment plan.

Hopelessness and Feeling Out of Control

Other people, instead of feeling angry and frustrated, feel hopeless. Some people feel out of control, like they're at the mercy of the whims of their skin. This is normal too.

Often, people feel they shouldn't be so upset because it's "just" acne. Studies have found that acne impacts the lives of those who have it just as much as other chronic diseases, like diabetes and thyroid disease. In that light, understand that many people in your shoes feel just the way you do right now. There's no need to minimize your feelings, try to talk yourself out of them, or feel guilty for having them.

The good news is, studies have found that just starting an acne treatment helps people feel hopeful and more in control. So, if you haven't started treatment, do so now. A call to your doctor is the first step.

Keep in mind, it takes time for any treatment to work. At the beginning of treatment, you'll still get new breakouts. This doesn't mean the acne medication isn't working, it just needs more time. Improvement comes slowly over the course of several months.

Feeling That Acne Has "Taken Over Your Life"

Checking the mirror first thing in the morning to see how your skin looks. Talking with a friend and suddenly wondering if they are looking at your skin. Not wanting to go to sleepovers because you can't stand the thought of people seeing you without makeup. Avoiding wearing certain clothing, or going swimming, because it will show your body acne. It may seem like your acne is always at the top of your mind. It controls what you do, what you wear, how you think.

Nearly everyone with acne has had these thoughts at one point or another. The key here is the extent of their influence. If you feel acne has completely taken over your life to the point you're not functioning at a normal level, you must let your doctor know. They may decide to treat your acne more aggressively or refer you to a therapist, or both to help you get through these feelings.

Anxiety and Depression

Depression is fairly common in people with acne, especially for those with long-lasting or severe acne. Signs of depression include:

  • Feeling sad or down
  • Withdrawing from friends and loved ones
  • Sleep problems
  • Not feeling interested in things you once enjoyed

This isn't an exhaustive list, though, so if you think you may be depressed, let your doctor know right away. For parents of teens with acne, be on the lookout for signs your teen may be depressed.

Depression or thoughts of suicide should be taken seriously. Contact your physician or the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255.

Physical

Of course, taking care of yourself physically will help you feel better too, and in some cases can also help improve your acne.

Diet

Let's clear up one thing right away: diet doesn't cause acne. You didn't create your skin problem by eating chocolate and potato chips. That said, a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains will give you a boost both mentally and physically.

Diet may play a role in how severe your acne is, though. Some studies have found a possible link between acne severity and dairy products, as well as high-glycemic-index foods (think white bread, pasta, cake and such). Talk to your doctor to see what they recommend. You can also avoid any foods which seem to trigger breakouts for you.

Regardless of whether or not it affects your skin, a balanced diet is the foundation for good health.

Exercise

Along the same lines, exercise is also important. Will it clear up your skin? No. Sweating doesn't "clean out" your pores. In fact, sweat can clog your pores and irritate existing breakouts, so it's always important to shower as soon as possible after sweating.

Exercise can improve your mental health. It can boost your mood, help you feel stronger and more confident, and reduce feelings of anxiety, stress, and depression.

All of these are crucial to help you feel better about yourself at a time when you may be feeling a bit low. Find something you enjoy, get out, and do it.

Relieve Stress

Having acne can be stressful. Much like with diet, some studies have shown a link between stress and how severe acne is. To be clear, these studies aren't saying stress causes acne, just that it may make existing breakouts worse.

Even if stress has absolutely no effect on your skin, it definitely influences your day-to-day life.

When you're stressed, having acne may feel like an even bigger deal than it is, as stress tends to amplify negative feelings.

Stress-relieving activities—whether it's tai chi or yoga, reading a book, hanging out with friends, fishing, or anything that makes you feel relaxed—will give you a better outlook.

Conceal Acne

Many people find concealing their breakouts incredibly helpful in managing acne. If concealing pimples and dark marks makes you feel more confident when you go out into the world, then go for it.

Makeup won't make acne worse as long as you're doing two key things:

  • Using an oil-free, noncomedogenic brand (less likely to clog pores)
  • Cleansing your skin thoroughly every night before you go to bed

There are breakout camouflaging options for men too. You may like tinted moisturizers because they're super easy to apply and can tone down redness. For more complete coverage, there are concealing options made just for men on the market that further blend away acne blemishes.

No Picking or Popping

One of the most important things you can do while you're treating your acne is to take a hands-off approach. That means no picking, popping, squeezing, or otherwise bothering your pimples.

Squeezing a pimple, especially ones that are deep and inflamed, can damage the skin. It may make the existing blemishes worse and can lead to scarring. If you've already picked at a pimple, treat it as you would any small wound. If you have a compulsive need to pick at your skin, talk to your doctor about ways to manage it.

Treating Scars and Hyperpigmentation

Scars and dark marks (called post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation) can be just as troubling to you as acne. While there are ways to minimize scarring, you may still develop some scars even with careful care. This is especially true if you have severe acne, inflamed breakouts, or are simply prone to scarring.

Talk to your doctor about treatments for scars and dark marks. Topical medications that are used to treat acne (like topical retinoids and azelaic acid) also fade dark marks. For depressed or pitted scars, dermal fillers and scar surgeries are an option.

Social

For the vast majority of people with acne, finding support in understanding friends and family can go a long way in helping you cope with this skin disease. Remember, most everyone gets acne at some point in their lives, so most people can identify with what you are going through.

If you feel like you need more support, you may consider an online acne support group or forum. Most are connected to an acne treatment product, but they can still be a good place to connect with others who have acne.

For Parents and Guardians

It's important to be on the watch for signs that acne is negatively affecting your teen's life. This could be withdrawing from friends and family, going out less, quitting their favorite extracurricular activity, or other signs. Your teen may seem unusually sad, angry, or anxious. If you feel like something is just not right, let your child's doctor know.

It's also important to acknowledge your teen's feelings. It may be just a few pimples to you, but to your teen, it's a big deal. Yes, your teen will probably outgrow acne. But this could take years, and in the interim, your teen could be developing permanent scarring. During this time their self-esteem can also take a beating.

Treating teen acne is preferable to letting it runs its course, but it's crucial if acne is negatively impacting your teen's life. If over-the-counter acne treatments don't work sufficiently within three months' time, talk to a physician about prescription options.

Practical

Besides just using your treatment medications, there are other things you can do to help your skin look and feel better while waiting for acne to clear.

Use Moisturizer Regularly

Acne treatments will dry your skin. Although you may be reluctant to use a moisturizer, they are an incredibly important part of your acne treatment routine. Many people give up on their acne treatments because their skin becomes uncomfortably dry and irritated. Using moisturizer regularly will guard against excessive dryness, peeling, and flaking, and allow you to use your acne medications as directed.

Choose a moisturizer that is oil-free and noncomedogenic, as they are less likely to clog your pores. Also, consider choosing a product that is hypoallergenic or designed for sensitive skin. These are less likely to burn and sting skin that is feeling overworked thanks to drying acne medications.

Start using a moisturizer before your skin gets dry and flaky. Apply after every cleansing.

Wear Sunscreen Daily

Many acne treatment medications cause sun sensitivity. While using them you'll be more susceptible to sunburn and sun damage. It's very important that you wear sunscreen whenever going out in the sun.

You must be careful when choosing a product though, because the wrong sunscreen can clog your pores and make breakouts worse. Choose a sunscreen that is oil-free and noncomedogenic. There are also sunscreens on the market developed especially for acne-prone skin that you may want to try. You can find these at most drugstores and beauty/cosmetic stores. You can always ask your dermatologist for recommendations.

A sample morning skincare routine looks like this: topical acne treatment medications, followed by moisturizer, followed by sunscreen. Make sure you allow each step to thoroughly dry and absorb before moving on to the next.

Avoid Acne Medication Stains

Many acne treatments, both OTC and prescription, contain benzoyl peroxide. Benzoyl peroxide is quite effective at treating acne. Unfortunately, it also stains fabrics, so you'll want to take extra care when using this medication.

You can avoid benzoyl peroxide stains with some care. Don't allow benzoyl peroxide to come in contact with towels, sheets, or clothing. Even when it's completely dry, it still has the propensity to bleach out fabrics. You may want to switch to white linens, apply benzoyl peroxide at night only, and wear pajamas you don't mind staining for the duration of the time you're using this medication.

Remembering to Take Your Medication

Do you know the number one reason why acne medications don't work? It's not because they're ineffective, rather they aren't being used.

Being consistent with your treatment is the best thing you can do to get clearer skin. Simply put, your medications won't work if you're only using them sporadically.

If you have trouble remembering to use your medications, figure out ways to jog your memory. Setting them next to your toothbrush is a low tech way to remind yourself to use them. You can also set an alarm on your phone—but you have to actually go apply your medications at that time. It's tempting to just turn off the alarm and say you'll do it later and forget.

Above all, be consistent and patient while waiting for results.

A Word From Verywell

Although it can sometimes feel like you're the only person with acne, it's actually the most common skin disease in the U.S. Nearly 90% of people will have acne, at some point or another in their lives, according to the American Academy of Dermatology. So you're definitely not alone.

If you haven't already, get treatment for your acne. If over-the-counter acne products haven't improved your acne, contact your doctor for prescription options. Acne is a very treatable condition.

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