Friendships and romantic relationship with acne

Many people spoke about how friends and partners gave them support, but a few felt isolated or found it difficult to talk to others about their acne.

Most people recognised that their acne probably seemed worse to them than it did to other people. Nevertheless, for some, having acne could make them less confident about seeing friends, meeting new people or being in relationships. Ollie felt it was “harder to make new friends with low self-esteem, low confidence that acne often gives people”.
Friendships and acne

Having friends to talk to was usually seen as a good thing – Rachael’s friends were “really supportive and made me feel more positive about it”. Friends who also had acne often wanted to share their experiences and get or give advice and support. Will took isotretinoin when he was younger and, since then, has talked to some friends about it. Friends sometimes asked Tom about skincare products he recommended when they saw the products in his room at home. Friends without acne could also appreciate their expertise – Harriet’s friends saw her as a “fount of knowledge” about skin care in general. 

Friends could also offer practical support like going along to medical appointments with the person. Emotional support was important too and friends could help make the person with acne feel they weren’t being judged. Many young people liked having someone understanding to talk to about how acne affected their confidence and mood.
Feeling isolated with acne

However, some suffered from low self-esteem as a result of their acne or simply didn’t want to see friends when they felt they weren’t looking their best. Some people had experienced hurtful comments and a few were bullied because of their acne. Even when people had friends who were understanding, being self-conscious about their acne made some “withdraw” or “hide away”.
It could make it worse when friends who didn’t have acne, and so didn’t understand what it was like to have acne, tried to give advice. Rachael feels there’s a big difference between having just “the occasional spot” and having acne. If these were friends who they were not close to, they could feel awkward and a couple of people said they preferred it if friends didn’t mention their acne.
For some, talking about acne was just not something they wanted to do, whether they had close friends or not. Emma and Ish didn’t feel comfortable speaking to friends about their acne until they were in their mid to late teens.

Romantic relationships with acne

The people we interviewed ranged in age between 13 and 23 years old. Some who were older reflected back that when they first had acne in their early teens they were not looking for romantic relationships and were more interested in friendships and study.
People often wanted to look their best when meeting potential partners and felt that others would make judgements about them because of their acne. Eli felt that “boys don’t really find it [acne] attractive”.
Feeling self-conscious about their acne could affect how they interacted with others. When Nina met someone she found attractive, she felt ‘held back’ by the thought of “Oh but you’ve got bad skin”. Hester couldn’t keep eye contact with men when she had acne and wasn’t wearing make-up because she “felt guilty that they had to look at me and I’m just like a bit of an eyesore”. However, Rachael always felt like “quite a confident person” and that “if I was wearing make-up I was OK looking”.
But not everyone was as concerned about their acne. A few people spoke about being in a relationship as a source of support. Also people could become more confident over time, or as their skin cleared up.


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