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can depression cause acne

Can Depression Cause Acne? 11 Surprising Factors Revealed

Writen By: Huma Khan
Reviewed By: Huma Khan
Publish Date: October 14, 2023

To begin with, answering the question, Can depression cause acne? is not so simple as it involves a web of interconnected factors that go beyond a mere cause-and-effect scenario. When it comes to mental health, depression can often feel like an unstoppable monster, robbing us of joy, hope, and optimism and plunging us into a dark and lonely world. But it doesn’t stop there. Depression may leave an unexpected imprint on our skin in the form of acne. Acne and depression together can weigh heavily, making even the simplest tasks seem difficult and unachievable.

Your mental and physical well-being are closely related. This is psychodermatology, or the relationship between the psyche and the skin. Stress in its various forms, including the emotional strain caused by anxiety and sadness, can exacerbate acne. In turn, the presence of acne can contribute to or worsen feelings of anxiety and depression. If you’re dealing with both acne and mental health challenges, addressing both issues simultaneously is a key approach to effective treatment.

This blog post will delve into the complex relationship between depression and facial acne, shedding light on the ways in which these two seemingly unrelated issues can influence each other. We will explore how can depression cause acne and what makes it even worse. Also, don’t miss out on the treatment options and coping tips to fight off depression and acne together.

Understanding Depression and its effects

Depression is a mental health condition marked by prolonged feelings of sadness and despair and a lack of interest in once-enjoyable activities. It may have an impact on a person’s moods, actions, and thoughts, as well as their physical health.

Depressive disorders can have severe and pervasive effects, such as:

  • Weakness and poor energy levels
  • Diminished self-worth
  • Insomnia or excessive sleeping
  • Loss of appetite or overeating
  • Guilt and feelings of worthlessness
  • Loss of interest in hobbies and activities
  • Withdrawal from social relationships
  • Physical signs, including persistent pain, gastrointestinal issues, and headaches
  • Difficulty focusing and making decisions
  • Suicidal ideas or actions  

Depression has a profound impact on one’s mental and emotional health, leaving us unable to take care of ourselves. On the other hand, acne’s physical discomfort can make this mental and emotional suffering much worse, and it may also worsen emotions of worry, guilt, and self-doubt. It might seem like there is no way out of the cycle’s constant repetition.

In addition to negatively affecting a person’s quality of life, depression can also affect their relationships and productivity at work. It’s critical to get treatment if you or someone you love is going through signs of depression. Therapy, medication, or other types of care can help manage the symptoms and enhance the quality of life.

What Is Acne, and How Does It Develop?

Acne, a widespread skin condition, shows up as the occurrence of blackheads, whiteheads, pimples, and occasionally more severe forms like cysts and nodules on the skin. It usually affects the face, neck, shoulders, chest, and back. The primary causes of acne are excessive oil production and the accumulation of dead skin cells in hair follicles. This may cause blocked pores, which may subsequently swell and develop into pimples, blackheads, or whiteheads.

Prevalence of Acne

In 2015, a study found that acne affects 9.4% of the world’s population, ranking it as the eighth most common disease globally. The study also suggested that acne is a common condition that affects people of all ages and ethnicities. The prevalence of acne is highest in teenagers and young adults, but it can also occur in adults and children. 

Types of Facial Acne

Acne comes in a variety of forms, including:

  • Fungal acne (pityrosporum folliculitis) arises from the accumulation of yeast in your hair follicles. These may become inflamed and itchy.
  • Cystic acne results in nodules and deep, pus-filled zits. These can cause scars.
  • Hormonal acne impacts adults who have clogged pores due to excessive sebum production. 
  • Acne nodularis is a severe type of acne that results in tender, nodulent lumps under the skin’s surface as well as pimples on it.

Any of these acne types can lower your self-esteem, and scarring from cystic and nodular acne can result in long-term skin damage. It’s best to seek help from a healthcare provider early so they can determine the best treatment options for you.

Now that we know what depression and acne actually are, let’s explore the connection between them and find answers to the complicated question, “Can depression cause acne?” Or “Can acne cause depression?” in the following sections.

Can Depression Cause Acne? Understanding the Mind-Body Connection

To find the answer to “Can Depression Cause Acne?”, its important to first understand that the body and the mind are closely related in the context of health, and it’s important to look into how emotions impact physical wellness. As you may know, stress and mental health have a big impact on our entire body, including our skin. As strange as it may seem, depression—a disorder firmly ingrained in our emotional state—may have a role in the onset or aggravation of acne. 

The Mind-Body Connection:

Our bodies are complicated structures where physical and mental health often go hand in hand. The idea of the mind-body connection emphasizes how our emotions and thoughts can affect how we feel physically. Our bodies respond differently depending on whether we are depressed, anxious, or under stress. Physical manifestations of this interaction can include skin conditions like acne.

There is growing scientific evidence to support the mind-body connection. For example, studies have shown that stress can weaken the immune system, making people more susceptible to illness. Stress can also worsen existing health conditions, such as heart disease, asthma, and diabetes.

Stress and Its Effects:

Stress is a common emotional response to life’s challenges. When we’re under stress, our bodies release hormones like cortisol, which can affect various systems, including our skin. Cortisol prompts our sebaceous glands to produce more oil, and as we discussed earlier, excess oil can clog our hair follicles and contribute to acne.

The Mind-Skin Connection:

Knowing that there is a significant relationship between the mind and the skin won’t come as a surprise. Most individuals can relate to times when stress levels are up, they are unwell, or they are exhausted and their skin breaks out.This link is known as the mind-skin connection. 

This is the main focus of psychodermatology, where skin and mental health specialists focus on treating the interplay between the two. To get the best results, they usually work together to treat every symptom in balance.

According to research, there is a strong connection between the mind and the skin, and dermatologic disorders can have a significant impact on mental health. In fact, people with chronic skin conditions such as psoriasis and atopic dermatitis (eczema) can also be severely psychologically ill. And this could lead to a lower quality of life.

Acne and Depression: Current Research and Studies

Scientists have been curious about the connection between depression and acne. Although there is not enough data to draw a firm conclusion, some research has produced intriguing results. For instance, one study found that people with depression were more likely to have acne than people without depression. Another study found that people with acne were more likely to develop depression than people without acne.

  • A study published by the NIH suggested that there is a strong association between acne and depressive symptoms, anxiety, and suicidal behaviors in adolescents.
  • Studies reveal that benzodiazepines, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), relaxation methods, and stress management are effective in treating skin conditions.
  • Mental health professional Josie Howard, MD, a specialist in psychodermatology, says: “It is probably underestimated, but at least 30% of patients who visit a dermatologist also have anxiety or depression.”
  • Another study in 2021 by PubMed revealed a strong correlation between acne, anxiety, and depression in adult individuals.

The research studies not only suggest that depression can be a contributing factor to the onset or worsening of acne but also raise the question of whether acne itself can be a potential cause of depression.

  • The results of the 2020 study indicate that acne vulgaris patients are prone to depression, loneliness, and internet addiction. It emphasized that loneliness and depression should be assessed and treated to prevent internet addiction in these patients.
  • According to the findings of a study in 2020, depression is more prevalent in acne patients than in the general population, and it is important to screen for depression in acne patients. The study also suggests that acne can have a significant impact on many aspects of life, including social function, education, and psychological health.

All things considered, these research studies show how closely our emotional health is related to the condition of our skin. They emphasize how important it is to look after our mental health in order to preserve not only our emotional well-being but also the general health of our bodies, including the skin.

In conclusion, when pondering, “Can depression cause acne?” All of these studies highlight a significant relationship between the two. They consistently show that people who are depressed are more likely to get acne, and vice versa. Furthermore, the severity of one condition frequently corresponds with the severity of the other. 

It is important to keep in mind that these are observational studies, so they cannot conclusively prove a cause-and-effect relationship between acne and depression. However, they do indicate a strong correlation between these two states, emphasizing the complex interaction between our mental and physical health. 

How Does Depression Cause Acne? Exploring the Factors 

So, how might depression be linked to acne? Despite the fact that the exact mechanisms remain unclear, multiple factors are involved:

1. Stress Hormones

Depression has been linked to an increase in stress hormones such as cortisol. These changes in hormones may cause the sebaceous glands to secrete more oil, which raises the risk of acne flare-ups. 

2. Corticotropin-Releasing Hormone (CRH)

Depression can disrupt the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, leading to an overproduction of CRH. According to research, elevated CRH levels are linked to increased sebum production and skin inflammation, potentially contributing to acne breakouts in individuals with depression.

3. Inflammation

Depression is associated with increased inflammation in the body due to elevated stress levels. This inflammation can extend to the skin, making it more susceptible to acne. Inflamed skin is more likely to produce comedones (blackheads and whiteheads) and trigger inflammatory acne.

4. Lifestyle Choices

People may be less likely to lead healthy lifestyles when they are depressed. This can include not doing your skincare routines, eating poorly, and not exercising, all of which can aggravate acne.

5. Medications

Some medications prescribed to manage depression can have side effects that impact the skin. For instance, some SSRIs may be able to reduce acne because of their anti-inflammatory effects, whereas other drugs like lithium, corticosteroids, and anticonvulsants increase the likelihood of acne forming or getting worse. They might lead to increased skin sensitivity or oil production, potentially leading to acne.

6. Sleep disturbances

Depression can cause sleep disturbances, which can result in insomnia or erratic sleeping patterns. Sleep deprivation can worsen acne outbreaks and have a detrimental effect on the health of the skin.

7. Compulsive Skin Picking

Some individuals with depression may engage in skin-picking as a coping mechanism. This behavior can exacerbate acne and cause physical harm to the skin.

8. Reduced Interest in Self-Care

“People who are depressed may neglect their skin care, hygiene, or the use of topicals required for acne, eczema, or psoriasis,” says psychiatrist Josie Howard, MD. Depression frequently results in a decrease in motivation for self-care activities, which can cause an accumulation of oil, dead skin cells, and bacteria that cause acne.

9. Exacerbating Emotional Stress

The research suggests that there is a bidirectional relationship between acne and stress. This means that stress can cause acne to flare up, and acne can worsen stress. The emotional stress that accompanies depression can create a feedback loop, further aggravating skin conditions. Acne-related distress can exacerbate depression, creating a vicious cycle of reinforcement. 

10. Immune Function

Depression can have a significant impact on the immune system. Stress and inflammation over time can weaken or overactivate the immune system, making it more difficult for the body to fight off the bacteria that cause acne. Weakened immune function can lead to increased susceptibility to acne breakouts.

11. Skin Microflora

The skin has its own microbiota, a diverse community of microorganisms. These bacteria are essential for both preventing acne and preserving the health of the skin. Stress and inflammation associated with depression can upset the microbiota balance of the skin, which may create an environment that is favorable to bacteria that cause acne.

It’s essential to note that these connections between depression and acne are complex and vary from person to person. Although these elements may play a role in acne outbreaks in depressed people, not every case will be the same. Managing both depression and acne requires a comprehensive approach that considers individual needs and circumstances.

Causes of Acne Beyond Depression

Acne can have various causes beyond depression. Some common factors that can lead to acne breakouts include:

  • Hormone shifts: During puberty, the menstrual cycle, pregnancy, and conditions like polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), hormonal changes can lead to acne and increased sebum production.
  • Genetics: An increased chance of developing acne is associated with a family history of the condition.
  • Diet: Although the relationship between diet and acne is complicated and varies from person to person, some research indicates that dairy products and high-glycemic foods may make acne worse in certain people.
  • Cosmetics and Skincare Products: Certain products can clog pores and make acne worse. Products that are non-comedogenic are less likely to result in breakouts.
  • Environmental elements: Acne can worsen due to environmental factors like pollution and humidity that can irritate skin and clog pores. 
  • Overproduction of Sebum: Pore blockage and acne can result from overactive sebaceous glands producing too much sebum.
  • Bacterial Infection: Clogged hair follicles can become infected by the bacteria Propionibacterium acnes, which causes inflammation and the development of acne.
  • Medication: Acne can occur as a side effect of a number of medications, including hormonal contraceptives and some corticosteroids.

Can Acne Cause Depression?

While we’ve delved into the question, ‘Can depression cause acne?’ it’s equally crucial to consider the reverse: ‘Can acne cause depression?’ The complex relationship between skin conditions and emotional well-being can be better understood by analyzing the possible effects of acne on mental health. While acne may not be the direct cause of depression, it can exacerbate the onset of depressive symptoms. People with acne may experience low self-esteem, embarrassment, or frustration due to the way acne affects their body image and self-esteem; this can increase their risk of developing depression. 

According to research, people who have acne are 2-3 times more likely to experience depression than people who do not have acne. This is true for both genders. However, psychological symptoms in acne patients may be primarily caused by the presence of acne rather than the severity of the condition.

On the other hand, treating acne can make you feel better or worse. Although successful acne treatment can improve mood, but isotretinoin (common medicine used for treating acne) can make you depressed and anxious. According to a study, patients who had previously received isotretinoin had higher scores for internet addiction, depression, and life quality, but the results were not statistically significant, which means further research is needed.

Despite the fact that these results point to a strong link between depression and acne, it is important to keep in mind that not everyone who has acne will also experience depression. These two conditions have a complicated relationship that is influenced by many different factors. Thus, it is critical to get treatment and support for the skin condition as well as any related emotional difficulties.

Treatment Interventions for Depressed Acne

According to Ted Grossbart, PhD, a clinical psychologist and professor at Harvard Medical School, 60% of patients who seek treatment for skin and hair issues also report having severe life stress. If you experience anxiety or depression in addition to acne and feel that your acne is making your mental health worse, it is best to treat both your skin and mental health at the same time.

The following are some possible treatment options to consider:

1. Mental Health Support

  • Therapy: Sessions of counseling or therapy can offer a secure setting for discussing and managing depressive feelings. When it comes to treating negative thought patterns, cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is very successful.
  • Medication: Antidepressant medications may be prescribed in cases of severe depression. These drugs have the potential to improve mood regulation and lessen depressive symptoms, which may have an indirect effect on acne.

2. Stress Management Techniques

  • Mindfulness and Meditation: Practices that promote mindfulness and meditation can be beneficial in reducing overall stress levels. These techniques encourage a focus on the present moment, aiding in stress reduction.
  • Deep Breathing Exercises: Simple deep breathing exercises can help to stimulate the body’s relaxation response, which can offset the stress response that may be connected to acne. 

3. Dermatological Interventions

  • Topical Treatments: To treat acne, dermatologists may advise topical medications that include retinoids or benzoyl peroxide as active ingredients.
  • Oral Medications: In extreme situations, dermatologists may recommend oral drugs, such as antibiotics or, for women, oral contraceptives, particularly if the acne is being caused by hormonal issues.

4. Holistic Approaches

  • Exercise: Getting regular exercise not only improves mental health but also helps to maintain good skin.
  • Alternative Therapies: Complementary methods like acupuncture or herbal remedies help some people find relief. While scientific evidence may vary, it’s essential to consult with healthcare professionals before trying alternative therapies.

It is crucial to consult with specialists in mental health and skincare to develop a personalized treatment plan. Dermatologists and mental health professionals working together guarantees a thorough strategy to treat the psychological as well as the physical components of depression-related acne. Finding the best and most appropriate treatment options requires open communication between patients and healthcare professionals.

Coping Tips for Depression

  • Speak with a mental health professional for advice on available treatments and for an assessment.
  • Follow the recommended course of treatment, which may involve medication and counseling (such as cognitive-behavioral therapy).
  • Make connections with loved ones who can help you through difficult times emotionally.
  • Include stress-relieving activities in your everyday routine, such as yoga, deep breathing exercises, or mindfulness.
  • Even on challenging days, adhere to your treatment plan consistently.
  • Make time for self-care practices such as eating a healthy diet, getting regular exercise, and getting enough sleep.
  • Steer clear of alcohol and drugs. These substances can exacerbate the symptoms of depression.
  • Tasks should be divided into smaller, more manageable steps to reduce feelings of overload.

Coping Tips for Acne

  • See a dermatologist for advice. Seek professional guidance for effective acne treatment.
  • Follow a regular skincare routine that involves washing your face and using acne treatments as prescribed.
  • Avoid the habit of picking at acne, as this can exacerbate the problem and cause scarring.
  • To help manage acne, think about making dietary changes, such as cutting back on dairy and high-glycemic foods.
  • To enhance the health of your skin, consider complementary therapies like acupuncture or herbal remedies.
  • Follow the skincare and acne treatment plan that has been prescribed.
  • To prevent further irritation, use gentle skincare products.
  • Keep up a healthy lifestyle by getting enough sleep and exercising frequently.


We have now covered the complex connection between depression and acne. To answer the complex question, “Can depression cause acne?” we explored the mind-body connection, showing how our emotional well-being affects our skin. We discovered that acne and depression can have an impact on one another, leading to a vicious cycle that can be challenging to escape. However, concurrently addressing both problems is essential for successful outcomes.

In conclusion, it is evident that skin health and emotional well-being are strongly related. While it may not be a simple cause-and-effect relationship, numerous studies suggest a strong connection between depression and acne. It emphasizes how crucial it is to take care of our mental health in order to maintain our general wellbeing, which includes our skin.

We would like to end by advising you to put your mental health first and get help from a professional if you are having acne and depression. Always remember that support and care are available to you, and that acting on that will greatly enhance your quality of life. Your well-being, both inside and out, matters.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is depression acne?

Although the term “depression acne” is not officially recognized medical terminology, it may be used to describe acne outbreaks that are brought on by or made worse by stress or depression. These breakouts, which mostly affect the face, neck, chest, or back, frequently include blackheads, whiteheads, pustules, and cysts. Stress and depression can exacerbate acne by causing hormonal imbalances, increased sebum production, and skin inflammation. Effective management of these breakouts requires addressing both skincare and emotional well-being.

What are the symptoms of depression on the skin?

Depression can have physical manifestations in the skin. Due to elevated stress levels, some people with depression may develop skin issues like hives, redness, dryness, acne, dermatitis, alopecia, or even vitiligo. They could also be brought on by the side effects of antidepressants. One behavior that can exacerbate skin conditions and leave scars is skin-picking, which has been linked to depression in certain cases. In many cases, the physical and psychological symptoms of depression outweigh these skin complaints.

Is acne a mental health issue?

No, acne is not considered a mental health condition in and of itself, but it can have a negative effect on mental health. Acne can aggravate psychological symptoms such as anxiety, depression, or low self-esteem. The mental health of an individual may be impacted by intense or prolonged emotional reactions. Getting assistance from mental health specialists can help people manage the psychological impacts of acne.