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Dr. Joseph Sirven: Happiness Can Be Skin Deep

Dr. Joseph Sirven
Dr. Joseph Sirven
Dr. Joseph Sirven

A seemingly benign condition can be have bigger consequences. Our medical commentator, Dr. Joseph Sirven explains.

“Did you ever want to be a dermatologist where the biggest emergency is a pimple on prom night?” asked my patient somewhat randomly.

I laughingly responded, “No. I was always destined to the neurosciences. But dermatology is more than pimples.”

Clearly acne is more than just pimples too. A recent study published in the British Journal of Dermatology looked at a database composed of almost 1.8 million primary care patients and divided the group between those who had acne about 134,000 and those who didn’t — the other 1.7 million. Those with acne faced an almost 20 percent greater risk for developing clinical depression for up to five years after the diagnosis compared to those without it.

Even more fascinating a study funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation looked at the global burden of skin disease — their likelihood to cause disability — which included acne. The authors expected to find disfiguring third world infections or cancers as most problematic. Instead, they found that acne was most impactful to young people aged 10-24 years. To give it context, acne was actually more harmful to a young person than melanoma.

Acne is often dismissed as a rite of passage during adolescence. However, with the ever-rising increase in depression and anxiety in teens and young adults as well as the escalating number of cuttings and suicides, these studies are a major wake up call for all of us; parents, teachers, counselors, and doctors. Social media has exacerbated the stigma of acne magnifying its emotional toll.

When my patient asked, I should’ve responded that pimples are no laughing matter. Acne is more important to those afflicted than we ever imagined. These studies show there is a huge emotional component that often gets lost. I am oddly left with the sense that maybe, just maybe, happiness could actually be skin deep in these cases.