Study: Acne Treatment Disproportionately Affects Women, People With Darker Skin


More research has shown that females experience negative psychological impacts at a rate higher than males.

Women and people with darker skin disproportionately suffer from acne's psychological impacts, calling for a more aggressive approach to treat acne not only from a dermatology perspective, but also to address the psychological toll, according to researchers from UC Riverside.

"Acne is pervasive, physically harmless, and painless, so we all-too-often underestimate its impacts as the quintessential nuisance of adolescence and puberty," said study author and UCR psychology professor Misaki Natsuaki, PhD, in a press release.

The psychological effects of acne among adolescents are often “toxic,” according to the study authors. The researchers allude to the prevalence of acne among adolescents, with 20% suffering from moderate to severe acne and 85% experiencing recurrent bouts.

"Acne can leave psychological scars, especially during adolescence when physical appearance becomes more salient for self-esteem, and internalizing psychopathology such as depression gains prominence," Natsuaki said in a press release.

Numerous studies have shown the direct links between acne and depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts. With this, teens with acne have more difficulty forming friendships, finding romantic partners, and feeling connected to school, according to the study authors.

When shown a picture of a teenager with facial acne, 65% of adolescents said skin was the first thing they notice. However, in a picture of a clear-skinned teen, the adolescents said they noticed skin first only 14% of the time. The young people attributed acne sufferers with traits such as “nerdy,” “stressed,” and “lonely.”

More research has shown that females experience negative psychological impacts at a rate higher than males.

“Aesthetic ideals of clear and unblemished skin are held by both sexes,” the researchers wrote in their recent paper, Adolescent Acne and Disparities in Mental Health, published by the journal Child Development Perspectives. “But females experience greater social pressure to attain these ideals than males.”

Additionally, adolescents with darker skin color, many of whom come from ethnic-racial minority backgrounds in the United States, are likely to suffer disproportionate effects of acne because of heightened incidence of post-acne scarring and hyperpigmentation, according to the study.

The study authors argue that structural systems of inequality, which fuel health care disparities in the United States, further intensify acne and related psychosocial distress among individuals receiving public health insurance. Further, the complex infrastructure of health insurance system, uneven geographical density of health care providers, and reluctance to provide dermatology appointments to children with public insurance all contribute these disparities, according to the study authors.

One study, for example, found 29% of dermatology clinics schedule appointments with children on public insurance, whereas 96% of children with private insurance received appointments.

"According to dermatology research, the psychological burden of acne is on par with that of other serious illnesses, such as diabetes," said study author Tuppett Yates, PhD, in a press release. "Acne is a medical condition with clear psychological effects—effects that are non-randomly distributed as a function of gender, skin color, and socioeconomic status."


Study: acne treatment only addresses half of the problem. UC Riverside. Published February 11, 2021. Accessed February 16, 2021.

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