Which comes first, acne or insecurity?

Which comes first, acne or insecurity?

Ask anyone dealing with acne if it affects how they feel about themselves and 99 times out of 100 they will tell you yes. Low self esteem is often a by-product of acne. But what if I told you it works the other way around as well? That low self esteem could be contributing to acne, and by having a sunnier outlook about yourself could help clear your skin?

If you raised an eyebrow or furrowed your forehead, you wouldn’t be alone. Everybody can understand that having acne may cause you to feel insecure, but when I tell people that their feelings of insecurity may be causing some of their acne, I’m often met with resistance and denial.

I understand why. When my troubles with acne were at their worst, I wouldn’t have believed it either. It wouldn’t have made sense because I knew the only thing that made me feel bad about myself was my acne. I was an otherwise confident, secure, self-assured person. My insecurity was triggered by the acne, not the other way around. When my skin went through a good phase, I would feel great. When I would have a bad breakout, I would feel awful. Cause – acne. Effect – insecurity. I knew for a fact that if the acne went away, my troubles would go away with it.

I soon learned that it’s more complicated than that after I went on a round of accutane (isotrentinoin) several years ago. My skin did indeed clear up. For a while I looked like a porcelain doll, my skin was absolutely flawless and all my problems were solved! I felt amazing, wonderful and confident … for a few months.

Soon, feelings of inadequacy began radiating out to other parts of my life. I became disappointed in my body and other aspects of myself and felt just as bad about those as I had about my acne. The acne was gone, but the insecurity was not. Then a year later the acne came back and I was right back where I started.

If you’re thinking that doesn’t prove the insecurity caused the acne, you would be right. There is no way to prove that emotional distress and anxiety actually cause acne, but when you understand how acne works, it doesn’t seem like too much of a stretch.

The short explanation is that stress alters hormones that are known to exacerbate acne. When I tell people that stress may be causing their acne, they more easily agree. Many don’t realize that insecurity, low self esteem, and feelings of inadequacy are also types of stress and can lead to the same problems.

I don’t believe that the relationship between how you look and how you feel is a one way street, where one leads the other. I believe that for many of us it’s a feedback loop. Having acne makes you feel bad, feeling bad causes more acne, which makes you feel bad, which causes more acne, and so on.

I’m also sure other factors are involved. Having acne isn’t causing all of your insecurity, nor is your insecurity causing all of your acne. But if you struggle emotionally with your skin, I do believe that making an effort to improve your sense of self worth is one of the most beneficial things you can for your skin, not to mention every other aspect of your life.

Pema Chodron is a Buddhist nun who says, “Nothing ever really goes away until it teaches us what we need to learn.” If you take this to heart, perhaps your acne is trying to teach you how to love yourself. That may sound cheesy, but that doesn’t mean it’s wrong.

I’ve seen it time and time again, where people found ways to clear their skin, but the anxiety and insecurity remained. It just manifested in other ways. For me it was feeling bad about my body. In other people, I’ve seen them develop troubles in their relationships, or with their work, or countless other things – because they did not address this underlying issue of self-worth.

By and large I believe the best and most helpful work you can do not just for your skin, but your whole life, is to work through issues of low self esteem. I do not believe acne is the real problem, rather, I think acne is showing you that there is a deeper problem. In all ways, acne is a checking engine light. Maybe it’s warning you about problems with your physical health, but it could also be showing you signs of weakened mental and emotional health.

If you still don’t believe me, that feeling better about yourself will improve your skin, that’s ok. But by addressing your sense of self worth, it will make the journey to heal your skin so much smoother and easier. Your confidence will be stronger, you’ll be able to approach the problem with a clearer mind and a healthier attitude, which will enhance all the other efforts you make.

If nothing else, ask yourself this question, why do you want your acne to go away? I’m guessing the answer is so that you can feel better. If that is the case, why not work toward feeling better first? You’ll get straight to the heart of the matter, and I’m guessing you’ll see improvements in your skin as a by product. It’s worth a shot. All you have to lose are feelings of insecurity, inadequacy and sadness.

This is a great first step in helping you feel better. Try it out.

If you feel like you need more help, I’m here for you.

Now, what do you think? Does it seem worthwhile to focus on your emotional health? Or do you still doubt the connection? I always enjoy hearing what you have to say.

Until next time.

Much love,

Brianne sig logo small



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  1. 1

    Yes, this is such good insight. Thank you Brianne…

    I had same experience it felt like a vicious circle I felt bad about acne and I felt insecure so I felt even worst about acne and even more insecure and also stressed etc. Removing one of elements can make such a difference and it’s really just your choice we are free to do what we want… it’s so empowering… (but of course it’s not easy when we are deep in this madness)

    It might be a strong opinion of mine but I stick to it – I believe that acne, like all misterious diseases especially skin-related (and medicine still doesn’t have answer to skin conditions besides intrusive symptomatic treatments) are rooted in the dark corners of our soul (which we might not want to aknowledge but we all have…)

    Love! Alicja

    • 2
      Brianne Grebil

      I’m glad you found value in this Alicja. There is much we have to learn about the mind-body connection. I think eventually science will show that it is not as “mysterious” as it seems, but rather follows the same rules of purely physical biology. Until then, at the very least there is no down side to focusing on bringing more positivity into your life. :)

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