Many individuals with acne suffer from perceived social stigma surrounding the skin condition, according to a new Irish study from the University of Limerick (UL). This can lead to a lower quality of life for those living with the condition, particularly women.

Researchers surveyed 271 people with acne and found that the participants’ own negative perceptions of how society views their appearance contributes to greater levels of mental distress and other physical symptoms such as sleep disturbances, headaches and gastrointestinal problems.

According to the findings, acne severity was strongly correlated with health-related quality of life and psychological distress. Females reported poorer quality of life and experienced more negative symptoms than males.

The aim of the study was to investigate whether the participants’ perceptions of stigmatization could significantly predict psychological and physical health outcomes; specifically, health-related quality of life, psychological distress and somatic symptoms.

“We know from previous research that many acne sufferers experience negative feelings about their condition, but we have never before been able to draw such a direct link between quality of life and perception of social stigma around acne,” said Dr. Aisling O’Donnell of the Department of Psychology and Centre for Social Issues Research at UL.

Survey respondents who perceived high levels of acne stigma also reported higher levels of psychological distress, anxiety and depression as well as somatic conditions such as respiratory illness.

“The findings of this study echo previous research showing that individuals with visible physical distinctions, which are viewed negatively by society, can experience impaired psychological and physical well-being as a result,” O’Donnell said.

According to the researchers, a lack of representation of people with acne in popular culture can increase the perceived stigma surrounding the condition.

“Like many physical attributes that are stigmatized, acne is not well-represented in popular culture, advertising or social media,” said lead author and Ph.D. student Jamie Davern.

“This can lead people with acne to feel that they are ‘not normal’ and therefore negatively viewed by others. Online campaigns like #freethepimple and the recent ‘acne-positive’ movement emerging on social media is an encouraging development for people of all ages that are affected by acne.”

Although acne is more common in adolescents, the condition affects 10.8 percent of children between the ages of 5-13 years and 12.7 percent of adults aged over 59.

“Importantly, the findings provide further support for the comparatively limited amount of studies investigating physical health problems experienced by acne sufferers,” said Davern.

“This is important information for clinicians dealing with acne conditions. 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.”

Source: University of Limerick