Are Skin and Acne Problems a Side Effect of Bulimia Nervosa?

Updated on November 2, 2016
While some experts say that bulimia has nothing to do with acne, others argue that there is a connection.
While some experts say that bulimia has nothing to do with acne, others argue that there is a connection.

Can bulimia cause acne and breakouts? Many people would like to know the answer to this question, but it seems that doctors and dermatologists are divided in their views. I had bulimia for 20 years—and I suffered from severe acne breakouts during that time—but I had breakouts when I started my recovery, as well. Allow me to address some frequently asked questions about bulimia and acne.

Does Bulimia Cause Acne?

While some experts would say that bulimia has nothing to do with acne, others argue that there is a connection. In my experience, bulimics feel that their bulimia and their acne are connected. Most dermatologists will tell you that acne is a result of genetics with some impact coming from poor skin care. It’s hard for me to argue with the experts, but I believe that eating fatty, fried, sugary, and unhealthy foods undoubtedly caused chemical changes in my skin composition, which resulted in the severe acne I experienced as a teenager and young adult.

One of the side effects of bulimia recovery, at least in the first few weeks or months, is that when bulimics resume normal eating, after restrictive diets, the sebaceous glands are reactivated and this causes acne breakouts. At least one study found bulimia and acne may be related, but more often it’s during bulimia recovery that acne breakouts occur.

It’s more commonly reported that acne is one of the effects of bulimia recovery than bulimia itself. But I assure you that your skin will soon settle down and normalize as your system grows more accustomed to healthier eating patterns.

Does Acne Cause Bulimia?

The easy answer is “no." Having acne is not going to give you bulimia. I know that our body image and our bulimic behavior is inextricably intertwined, but you don’t need to worry if you have acne and low self-esteem that bulimia will be your eventual fate. The problem is that acne does sometimes reinforce our bulimia because acne tends to weaken our self-image and makes us feel worse about ourselves.

Having an acne breakout when you stop your compulsive overeating can be upsetting. It feels like just one more thing you need to deal with when you’re overcoming bulimia. I don’t want to sugarcoat it; I would rather be honest about it. Knowing it it might happen in advance, so you can expect it and prepare yourself, will hopefully make it easier if it does happen.

Can Bulimia Cause Acne?

The effects of bulimia include hormonal imbalances, and when your hormones go off-kilter you can experience acne and skin problems. Also, if you used your cell phone a lot you may have developed acne where your phone and hand rub against your skin (on your chin or cheek). The phone isn’t causing your acne—it’s more likely the oils and dirt on your hand and on your phone are causing the acne. The same is true for bulimia and acne. Rather than the underlying addiction behaviors of bulimia causing your acne, instead it’s more often because of hygiene and improper skin care related to purging rather than a direct relationship between bulimia and acne.

Does Binging Cause Acne?

Even though some people may insist there is no connection between acne and diet, many others know from personal experience that acne does seem to be triggered by certain kinds of foods. So, if your binge foods did appear to cause acne, you’re not alone.

Does Bulimia Cause Skin Problems?

Many bulimics find that after years of disordered eating, there are visible skin changes—the skin may dry out, appear aged before its time, become wrinkled while still young, and appear lifeless, dull and sallow. For some of us, dryness tends to trigger other skin problems, as well.

So, while the jury may be out as to whether the effects of bulimia include acne and skin problems, my experience is that when I had bulimia and was eating unhealthy foods and not maintaining good skin care, I had severe acne problems. If you are in bulimia rehab and are experiencing breakouts, consider this a sign of healing. Wear your scars with pride and just ride it out! Things can and will get better soon. Know it.

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