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Self-esteem, stress and the skin in teens

Published:Wednesday | November 18, 2015 | 11:00 AM

The teenage years make up some of the most significant and defining years of an individual's life. It's a period of transformation, self-discovery, excitement, fear, laughter and tears.

The body is undergoing a number of physical changes and when it comes to the skin, those changes are usually visible for the world to see.

A lot of teens, therefore, become very concerned with their physical appearance. They may literally spend hours in front of the mirror. What may seem to others as minor skin problems may have a major impact on the teen's self-esteem.

This is not made easier by the fact that some people feel free to tell you about the state of your skin in the most insensitive manner. Whether or not this is done out of concern, even by family members, teachers and peers, it can significantly affect how the teen feels about him or herself. A little tact and sensitivity can, therefore, go a long way in how we express our concerns about the state of another individual's skin.

There's a strong link between the teen's skin problems and their emotional well-being.

In a previous skin, hair and nail health article, I explored the relationship between stress and the skin.

There are three main ways in which this relationship can be seen. First, stress can trigger or worsen some skin conditions like atopic eczema and acne.

Second, some teenagers who are under stress or suffering from psychological problems may abuse their skin or have incorrect perceptions regarding their skin. For instance, some may pull out their hair (trichotillomania), excessively scratch or pick their skin (psychogenic excoriation) or deliberately harm their skin (dermatitis artefacta). Some teens may be obsessed with their appearance and convince themselves that everything is wrong with their bodies (body dysmorphic disorder).

The third way in which stress and the skin are linked is where the individual has emotional problems as a result of their skin disease. It may manifest in low self-esteem and school-related problems, problems with relationships, anxiety, depression and even suicide.

For example, acne affects over 85 per cent of teens and has been found to have psychological effects comparable to arthritis, epilepsy, diabetes and asthma. There have even been reported cases of teen suicide due to acne.

Teenagers suffering from long-term skin diseases often suffer from rejection, feeling flawed, guilty and ashamed. It has been shown that their stress and emotional problems can be reduced when their skin conditions are effectively treated and vice versa.

Teens should foster effective coping skills, be encouraged to have a positive self-image and love the skin they're in. At the same time, their skin concerns should not be ignored and medical help should be sought when necessary.

In my upcoming articles, we will explore skin care and some common skin, hair and nail concerns of teens. There is no reason why the teenage years cannot remain some of the most enjoyable years of an individual's life.

- Dr Arusha Campbell-Chambers is a dermatologist and founder of Dermatology Solutions Skin Clinics & Medi-Spas. Email: yourhealth@gleanerjm.com.