THURSDAY, September 16 (Health.com) — Compared to their clear-skinned peers, teens who have bad acne are more than twice as likely to have mental health problems and are at greater risk of having suicidal thoughts, according to a new study of Norwegian youth.
Nearly all teenagers have some pimples, and up to one in five will develop a moderate to severe case of acne.
A bad complexion can be psychologically devastating at “a critical point in human development where self-image and confidence [are] being established,” says Jerry Tan, MD, a dermatologist at the University of Western Ontario, in Canada.
“There are hidden consequences to acne—particularly severe acne,” says Dr. Tan, who was not involved in the study.
However, the researchers can’t say for sure if acne is to blame or whether isotretinoin and other acne treatments may have played a role; they don’t know how many teens in the study (or which ones) were being treated.
Isotretinoin, the active ingredient in brand-name drugs such as Accutane and Claravis, has been linked to depression, suicide, and suicidal thinking in the past.
“There has been a lot of controversy about this, especially in the U.S.,” says the lead author of the study, Jon A. Halvorsen, MD, of the University of Oslo, in Norway. “But depression and suicidal [thoughts] in acne reflects the burden of acne, rather than being a side effect of isotretinoin.”
In the study, which was funded by the Norwegian Institute of Public Health and published in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology, the researchers surveyed nearly 4,000 teens ages 18 or 19. Fourteen percent of the teens reported having “a lot” or “very much” acne.
Nearly 25% of the teens with “very much” acne said they’d had thoughts of suicide, compared with 11% of the study participants overall.
In addition, the teens with bad acne were 52% more likely to have low attachment to friends. They were also more likely to do poorly in school, and were less likely to have had a boyfriend or girlfriend.