science of us

The Maybe-Not-Surprising Link Between Depression and Acne

Photo: Patrick Chondon/Eyeem/Getty Images

In a finding not likely to shock anyone who has lived with acne, researchers in the U.K. have identified a link between the skin condition and depression. The study, which is published online today in the British Journal of Dermatology, is a pretty substantial one, too.

The researchers drew from a large database of U.K. medical records, tracking the health of nearly 2 million men and women — 134,427 with acne; 1,731,608 without — over 15 years. In that time, those with acne saw an increased risk for developing depression; as the New York Times phrases it in a writeup today, “the probability of developing major depression was 18.5 percent among patients with acne and 12 percent in those without.” The risk for depression was strongest in the first five years after an acne diagnosis.

What this study can’t tell us is why these two conditions are linked. It’s a question scientists and therapists in the new(ish) field of psychodermatology are concerned with, the way your emotions may interact with your skin. Some with conditions like acne (or eczema, or psoriasis) may be so upset by their appearance that the social stress may lead to conditions like social anxiety or, indeed, depression. But some scientists studying psychodermatology believe that the inflammatory response associated with these skin conditions may play a role in causing both skin problems and mental-health problems. Maybe bad skin leads to emotional distress; maybe it works the other way around. Also: If emotional distress and skin problems really are linked, then no wonder everyone is obsessed with skin care right now. 

The Maybe-Not-Surprising Link Between Depression and Acne