For first-year students especially, it’s an exciting time full of change and challenge. A time to shrug offthe shackles of high school and begin reinventing themselves as independent adults. Unfortunately, for many, there is one hallmark of their high school years that will not be so easy to leave behind: acne.

Acne vulgaris, the condition responsible for embarrassingly blotchy and pimply faces, has always plagued teenagers worldwide. It’s a common belief that acne is something that you should have grown out of by the time your 18th birthday rolls around, but the truth is that more than 25 percent of Canadians will continue to struggle with the condition into adulthood.

For those suffering from acne as they begin their university career, the effects can be profoundly troubling. “You go to university to meet people and to become integrated into the culture of the university,” says Dr. Jason Rivers, President of the Acne and Rosacea Society. “If you have bad acne, it can be socially isolating and have a negative effect on your experience.”

More than skin deep 

While the skin condition itself is usually harmless, the effects on mental health are anything but cosmetic. “There are issues of anxiety and depression that can occur with acne, especially in people of this age group,” says Dr. Rivers. “In fact, acne is one of the top health concerns for people of this age, largely because of the mental health aspect.” In severe cases, acne sufferers have even been shown to be at increased risk of suicidal ideation.

In all, acne is the very last problem any university student needs at a time that can already be challenging and stressful. Unfortunately, the two may well be related. “Acne is primarily a hormonally mediated disorder, but stress can cause hormonal imbalances that affect the symptoms,” explains Dr. Rivers. “When you find yourself in a new environment and are unde

r stress, your adrenal hormones will pump a bit more, contributing to the production of androgen-like hormones which can in turn aggravate the acne.” 

Of course, avoiding stress in your first-year of university would be welcome, but it’s hardly realistic. And while diet may play a role in some acne outbreaks, many who suffer from the disorder find that there are simply no diet choices that will prevent them from occurring

. Fortunately, there is a wealth of treatments available, from topical ointments like salicylic acid, to oral antibiotics, to hormonal remedies. New treatments are constantly being developed and some treatments can be combined for greater effectiveness.

With all these options, there is no reason anyone should have to suffer with untreated acne. Further, by treating acne when it appears, you can dramatically reduce your risk for the lesions and scarring that could leave an imprint on you for life.

The most important thing is to take acne seriously and not be ashamed to seek treatment. After all, you only experience the adventure of first-year university once, and you deserve to face it as the most confident and happiest you.