University of Limerick study finds acne stigma linked to psychological distress

Jess Casey

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Jess Casey

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Acne stigma linked to psychological distress, University of Limerick study finds

A study at the University of Limerick has found acne sufferers report higher levels of distress due to 'perceived social stigma' around their condition

ACNE sufferers struggle with psychological distress as a result of “perceived social stigma” around their skin condition, a new study by the University of Limerick has found. 

A survey of 271 acne sufferers found that their own negative perception of how society views their appearance is associated with higher distress, with those who perceived high-levels of stigma more likely to experience anxiety and depression. 

UL researchers Aisling O’Donnell and Jamie Davern have found that acne sufferers also report further physical symptoms such as sleep disturbance, headaches and gastrointestinal problems.

“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,” Dr O’Donnell, of the UL Department of Psychology and Centre for Social Issues Research, explained.  

The study found that more women than men reported acne as negatively impacting their wellbeing, with acne severity found to be significantly correlated with health-related quality of life and psychological distress.

A lack of representation of people with acne in popular culture can increase perceived stigma around the condition, according to the article’s lead author, PhD student Jamie Davern. 

“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. 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,” he added.

Although teenagers are most commonly afflicted by acne, the condition has been reported to affect 10.8% of children between the ages of 5 and 13 years and 12.7% 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,” Mr Davern said. 

“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,” he added. 

The UL article, Stigma predicts health-related quality of life impairment, psychological distress and somatic symptoms in acne sufferers, was published online by PLOS ONE, on September 28.