The mental and emotional impact of adult acne: finding the root cause

The mental and emotional impact of adult acne: finding the root cause

I specialise in mental health, however, today I am venturing into skin health and specifically adult acne.

In fact, mental health and acne are very closely linked. Acne can have a significant impact on mood.

Understandably, there is a greater risk of depression and anxiety in people suffering from acne and emerging research is demonstrating that the gut, brain, and skin all communicate with each other.

I am passionate about skin health, and I know first-hand that acne can hugely impact confidence and mood. It can literally take over your life. Obsessing with the mirror, covering up spots with makeup, spending a fortune on lotions and potions which simply don’t work. Endlessly searching the internet for the latest solution. Home remedies included light masks, sunbeds, toothpaste, and TCP – which I burnt my face with when I was 16!

I also had every lotion and pill from the doctor – including the heavy-duty Roaccutane twice as an adult to no avail.

I was willing to try absolutely anything to have clear skin and feel better.

Those who have been lucky not to experience it can’t always appreciate just how dreadful it can leave you feeling. Teenage acne is embarrassing enough but to experience it as an adult woman can feel very shaming.

Acne can make you feel:

  • Depressed
  • Anxious
  • Ashamed
  • Judged for not looking after yourself
  • Exposed
  • Unclean
  • Unable to leave the house

How does acne happen?

Regardless of age, acne is an inflammatory condition involving the overproduction of skin cells, with reduced shedding, and increased oil synthesis. This creates a thicker skin layer and an oily environment, which blocks pores and creates the ideal breeding ground for C. acnes, the skin bacteria implicated in acne. C. acnes is a normal skin inhabitant, however, an overpopulation can trigger skin inflammation and the redness and swelling seen in acne.    

Why does acne happen?

Acne, especially adult acne, does not always respond so well to a topical, skin-deep solution – it tends to be something imbalanced that needs to be addressed.

Without a doubt, diet can have a hugely positive influence on acne, however in my experience, without addressing the following areas, improvements are not always consistent. Once these areas have been addressed, a good diet can continue to promote much clearer skin and improve mood.

I test and help to rebalance all three of the following as part of my one-to-one programmes:

  • Hormone balance
  • Gut health
  • Stress levels (adrenal health)

These areas tend to be somewhat neglected as part of mainstream medical care for acne (and mood disorders).

Hormones and acne:

When women develop adult acne, it is often referred to as hormonal acne, however in reality all acne is related to hormones in some way. There is often an increase in women being treated for acne during the perimenopausal period (around 40 years onwards). This can be especially problematic because women often experience other challenging mood symptoms at this time such as brain fog, depression, anxiety, all resulting in a loss of confidence.

In perimenopause, declining oestrogen levels naturally give rise to an increase in androgen hormones, such as testosterone. Androgens stimulate both increased skin cell production and excess oil, creating an ideal breeding ground for C. acnes bacteria to flourish and cause acne.

Menstruation and ovulation can also have a similar effect on androgen levels; hence breakouts can occur during these times.

Just as I would usually recommend testing hormones for depression and anxiety in women, I also find it an invaluable tool for acne sufferers too.

I use an accurate and sophisticated test that provides a detailed insight into sex hormones and an abundance of information that can be acted upon through targeted diet and lifestyle interventions. These can have a hugely beneficial effect on acne and overall mood.

Gut health and acne:

Just like gut health and mood, gut health and acne are also very closely linked.

Studies have demonstrated that the gut, skin, and brain communicate with each other via the bacterial composition present in our guts. Friendly bacteria play a huge role in our overall health, impacting hormones, neurotransmitters, and the immune system.  

An average western diet tends not to support a healthy gut bacteria population, and this can lead to imbalances in gut species, with a tendency for more ‘unfriendly’ bacteria to proliferate. These types of harmful bacteria can promote the production of toxic by-products, which enter the blood circulation via the gut wall and travel to the skin, causing inflammation and the promotion of acne. I use a comprehensive gut test that gives an accurate picture of gastrointestinal health and provides actionable clinical data that can really make a difference to both acne and mood. It is very common for both acne sufferers and people experiencing mood issues to have an underlying gut issue.

Stress and acne:

A little bit of stress is normal and healthy, however, we live in a world where persistent stress is common and can have detrimental effects on health. Women often must carry the burden of work, home, and family life and stress can be a huge issue, often they don’t appreciate how stressed they are!

Evidence has shown that stress can directly trigger acne because it drives a cascade of hormones that promote inflammation and increase oil production on the skin. This then unfortunately drives the cycle of acne development all over again.

I usually recommend thoroughly testing and evaluating an acne sufferer’s adrenal glands and levels of their stress hormone cortisol. Having a deeper understanding of where an individual is at facilitates a personalised and targeted intervention protocol that can help make a huge difference to acne and mood. It also wasn’t until I addressed my own stress and adrenal health that my skin began to settle down.

You don’t need to feel low and anxious about your skin – let’s get this sorted together!

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