Acne and Unexpressed Emotion: Is There a Connection?

Young people are infamous for their unwillingness to express certain emotions. Is there a link between acne and unexpressed emotion?

One of the more interesting ideas we've come across lately is that acne and unexpressed emotion might be causally linked, with the latter causing the former. After all, many young people (the primary sufferers of everyone's favorite skin condition) do tend to be sullen and uncommunicative.

And we've known for some time that stress and other emotional/psychological conditions can cause or worsen some physical problems, from ulcers to twitchiness. The brain can be surprisingly influential on the body. But could something like repressed emotion really cause acne?

Let's Look at the Evidence

Some people are convinced it can. Perhaps, they argue, the stress of unrelieved emotion, which doctors call alexithymia, might cause an increase in hormonal or sebum production that could, in fact, clog pores and cause zits. But does this actually occur?

Well, the answer is "maybe," leaning toward a "probably not." While dermatological conditions of all kinds can cause emotional issues and stress, it seems less likely to occur the other way around. But let's take a closer look.

One View

Some scientists are convinced that acne flares up with increased stress, especially that associated with premenstrual issues in women. But then again, premenstrual issues are often the result of hormone imbalances during natural biological cycles.

But even there, the researchers often emphasize the stress over having the acne at least as much as the possibility of some other source of stress causing the acne in the first place... so really, a causal relationship remains uncertain.

The Other View

On the other hand, scientists have also directly tested the possible relationship between alexithymia and acne by using scientific methods. One group tested 111 acne-sufferers at an out-patient dermatology clinic for alexithymia against a control group of 78 patients who visited their GP for other reasons.

All patients were between 15 and 25 years of age, and were of a mix of both genders. The testing, which took place by means of a questionnaire that determined scores on the Toronto Alexithymia Scale, by which alexithymia is measured, took place in Ankara, Turkey in 2011.

There were no statistically significant differences between the two groups. In fact, with 23.4% of the acne sufferers scoring as alexithymic as opposed to 24.4% in the control group, the controls were apparently slightly more likely to suffer from repressed emotion.

The Upshot?

According to this study, alexithymia doesn't cause acne, pure and simple. But like all such research, it needs to be repeated and confirmed in order to settle, once and for all, the true relationship alexithymia and acne -- if any exists.

At this point, it seems that the idea that acne and unexpressed emotion are effect and cause is another acne myth.

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