The social stigma around certain skin conditions—think breakouts and pimples in general—is unfair for many reasons. The reality is that skin cannot be inherently “good” or “bad.” Skin is simply skin, and breakouts do not make you ugly. They also don’t have any reflection of your self-worth.
Still, if you’ve ever felt like you have “bad skin,” we promise you’re not alone in this mindset. In the United States, over 50 million people experience breakouts, which can begin as early as the pre-teen years and last through adulthood. What’s more, the American Academy of Dermatology Association (AAD) says that many people with ongoing breakouts say that this skin condition impacts their mental health.1
Specifically, it’s common to struggle with:
Depression and anxiety
Feeling like they’re alone
Reduced quality of life due to perceived social stigma2
Did You Know? IT Cosmetics was actually founded by Jamie Kern Lima because she struggled with her skin. Specifically, she dealt with highly sensitive, red skin from rosacea which caused her to feel embarrassed and frustrated with the current offering of skincare and makeup products.
Here we’re exploring why there’s a stigma surrounding “bad skin,” the momentum building around the skin positivity movement, and how prioritizing self-care and mental health can help you feel better.
Why Is Blemish-Prone Skin Stigmatized?
You’ve probably noticed that pop culture, advertising, and social media tend to depict the same sorts of images of what it means to have “healthy skin” over and over again. While there is still more work to be done, we’ve seen improved diversity in terms of bodies, hair types, skin color, and ethnicities in recent years.
One area that’s still catching up, however, is skin appearance. The reality is that there’s poor representation of people with pimples, whiteheads, blackheads, and post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (PIH, also known as pimple scars).
Spend any time on Snapchat or Instagram, and there are filters to change your eye color and shape, give you freckles or poreless skin, swap your hair color, or plump your lips. While it’s fun to see what different filters look like, they can sometimes affect our self-esteem.
Did You Know? At IT Cosmetics, we say you're beautiful with makeup, and beautiful without it. We want to show real women with real skin concerns in our before and after images and offer a coverage solution if that's your preference. That’s why we don’t retouch our images.
Studies show that women and girls are more impacted by poor skin than their male counterparts. "This can lead people with [breakouts] to feel that they are 'not normal' and therefore negatively viewed by others,” says Jamie Davern, PhD., lead author of a 2018 study from the University of Limerick.3
There’s some good news though. Everyday people and even household brands are pivoting toward skin positivity messaging that moves away from the notion of “bad skin” and puts breakouts in a more accepting light.
For example, there are “blemishes are beautiful” and #freethepimple movements, which help us embrace our skin at all stages even as we use products that soothe and promote a clearer complexion.
What’s more, some advertisers are banning edited imagery, more people are speaking out about dramatic social media filters, and there’s greater priority placed on self-care and mental health over trying to obtain “perfect skin.”
This skin positivity momentum is building. Best of all, it’s creating a community that helps the many people who get breakouts learn how to be confident with their blemishes publicly while rejecting the lingering social stigma that contributes to issues like breakouts and depression or anxiety.
Is Skincare Good for Mental Health?
Keeping a skincare routine isn’t just important for the health of your skin—research says it can be a boon to your mental wellness. Even a simple skincare ritual creates a space to honor and care for yourself. In that sense, skincare is self-care. It’s an act of self-love, and your mental health reaps the rewards.
For some concrete proof, let’s look at an eight-week study conducted in 2020 that examined how mental health was impacted when people with adult breakouts followed a simple three-step skincare routine.4 It found that there was a notable reduction in the participants’ stress levels after the study was completed.
Specifically, the results showed that cortisol (the stress hormone) decreased by 83%, and participants felt 76% more confident taking a selfie compared to 53% at the beginning of the study.
Not only does stress reduction benefit your mental health, but a recent study found that it can also help improve your overall skin health and potentially reduce breakouts.5
In addition to setting aside time each day for a skincare routine, consider the following methods of building more confidence in your skin and practicing self-love:
Participate in the skin positivity movement (#freethepimple) to embrace your skin at all stages
Follow and celebrate people and brands that make you feel good about your skin
Meet with a board-certified dermatologist for skincare advice
Participate in therapy to discuss self-image
Check out empowering self-help books, such as Believe IT: How to Go from Underestimated to Unstoppable written by IT Cosmetics founder Jamie Kern Lima.
The Bottom Line on ‘Bad Skin,’ Self Care and Mental Health
While there’s a clearly demonstrated, prominent link between skin and our happiness, there are steps you can take to break the tie between breakouts and anxiety or even breakouts and depression.
That includes adopting a simple skincare routine, leaning into the skin positivity movement, and prioritizing self-care and mental health. While health insurance and financial obligations may pose barriers, speaking with professionals—like a dermatologist or psychologist—can help you address skin concerns and learn how to be confident just as you are.
So, the next time you’re thinking to yourself “Why is my skin so bad?” remember that skin is neither inherently “good” or “bad,” that your skin is not a reflection of your self-worth, and that there are simple steps you can take to feel better starting now.
Sources:1. “Acne Can Affect More than Your Skin.” American Academy of Dermatology Association (AAD). https://www.aad.org/public/diseases/acne/acne-emotional-effects.
2. Davern, Jamie, and Aisling T. O’Donnell. “Stigma Predicts Health-Related Quality of Life Impairment, Psychological Distress, and Somatic Symptoms in Acne Sufferers.” PLOS ONE, vol. 13, no. 9, Sept. 2018, p. e0205009. PLoS Journals, https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0205009.
3. “Acne Stigma Linked to Lower Overall Quality of Life, Irish Study Finds: Women and Girls with Acne Reported Greater Impairment of Life Quality than Their Male Counterparts.” ScienceDaily. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/09/180928162311.htm.
4. “Improvements in acne-prone skin quality correlate with a reduction in saliva cortisol levels after use of an 8-week 3-step topical regimen.” Journal of Investigative Dermatology. July 2020. 140(7):B11 DOI:10.1016/j.jid.2020.05.040
5. Chatzikonstantinou, Foteini, et al. “A Novel Cognitive Stress Management Technique for Acne Vulgaris: A Short Report of a Pilot Experimental Study.” International Journal of Dermatology, vol. 58, no. 2, Feb. 2019, pp. 218–20. DOI.org (Crossref), https://doi.org/10.1111/ijd.14227.