Acne sufferers can experience lower quality of life due to perceived stigma – study

UL researchers find significant correlations between acne severity and distress level

Among those surveyed, females experienced greater impairments to life quality and more symptoms than males. Photograph: iStock

Among those surveyed, females experienced greater impairments to life quality and more symptoms than males. Photograph: iStock

 

People with acne can suffer psychological distress and lower quality of life due to a perceived social stigma, new research has found.

Researchers from the University of Limerick’s department of psychology and centre for social issues research released a study on Friday linking the perceived social stigma of the skin condition to lower overall quality of life in people living with it.

The study, published in the PLOS One science journal, surveyed 271 acne sufferers and revealed they are susceptible to high levels of psychological distress, with significant correlation found between acne severity and distress level.

“We know from previous research that many acne sufferers experience negative feelings about their condition,” Dr Aisling O’Donnell said. “But we have never before been able to draw such a direct link between quality of life and perception of social stigma around acne.”

Among their conclusions, Dr O’Donnell and PhD student Jamie Davern found that perceptions about how society views acne can cause insecurities for those suffering with the skin condition and lead to worse physical symptoms such as sleep disturbance, headaches and gastrointestinal problems.

In addition to these symptoms, acne has been associated with depression, decreased self confidence, fatigue, poor body image satisfaction and increased suicidal ideation.

Distress, anxiety, depression

Study respondents perceiving high levels of acne stigma also reported increased levels of distress, anxiety, depression and somatic conditions such as respiratory illness. Among those surveyed, females experienced greater impairments to life quality and more symptoms than males.

“This is important information for clinicians dealing with acne conditions,” Mr Davern said. “It’s also useful for those who are close to acne sufferers. The wider negative impacts some acne sufferers experience are very challenging and require sensitivity and support.”

Although adolescents are most commonly afflicted by acne, the condition affects 10.8 per cent of children between the ages 5-13 and 12.7 per cent of adults over age 59, according to the study.

According to Mr Davern, a lack of acne representation in popular culture could be to blame for the stigma.

“Like many physical attributes that are stigmatised, acne is not well represented in popular culture, advertising or social media,” Mr Davern said. “This can lead people with acne to feel that they are ‘not normal’ and therefore negatively viewed by others.”

He cited the emergence of social media campaigns such as #freethepimple and the recent “acne-positive” movement as encouraging developments for people affected by acne.

As far as practical resolutions to counter the stigma of acne, the researchers suggest introducing classes at the primary level that teach young people how to cope with stigmatisation and scrutiny associated with physical appearance.