Why Are Young Women's Bodies Falling Apart?
Cosmopolitan - South Africa|January-February 2020
Hair falling out. Skin flaring up. How did the most beauty-obsessed generation wind up feeling anything but beautiful?
Ingeborg Van Lotringen

Sarah* sits in the magnolia walled office of a Harley Street dermatologist’s office. Angry red bumps line her chin, climbing all the way up to her cheek on the right-hand side of her face. She twirls her chestnut-brown hair anxiously. There used to be a lot more of it there. Now, there is dry flaking scalp where baby hair used to sprout.

Someone at the front desk calls her name. A woman in a white coat with a clipboard says that the psychodermatologist will see her now.

As you probably already know, there’s something strange going on with Bright Young Things – those twenty- and thirty-somethings speed-walking alongside me through the city streets and bustling down the hallways of my glossy office building. Hair loss, break-outs, cystic acne, dermatitis or eczematic eruptions on their bodies or even faces have gone from unlucky fluke to uncomfortable norm in just a few short years. And not only can we barely keep up with the raft of new products supposedly designed to help stem the problem (that’s those grown-up spot serums, redness-soothing cleansers and folliclestimulatingscalp scrubs) – but a growing number of private clinics are adding psychodermatologists to their roster of experts. Specialising in treating the psychological causes (and effects) of skin and scalp disorders alongside the physical ones, they take a 360° approach to what are clearly mushrooming problems.

But why on earth is it that a generation credited with being the most clued-up cosmetics consumers and skintellectuals that ever existed has its beauty goals so blighted by break-outs, angry rashes and follicular issues? And what can really be done to tackle it?

Insta-dysmorphia

Alexia Inge knows a thing or two about what makes young women (and men) tick. As the co-founder of Cult Beauty (an online beauty emporium), she’s taken the pulse of the twenty- and thirty-somethings and found them … anxious. ‘Questions about adult acne make up 35% of all skincare queries, having grown to a point of real concern,’ she says. ‘What are the reasons for hair loss in women?’ is the fastest-growing search term on her site, she tells me, while sales in the hair- and scalp-treatment category saw lifts of 250% year on year. Equally telling, according to a recent study from Mintel, is that Millennials (in the UK) report roughly double the instances of acne, spots, allergies and eczema than the population as a whole.

The reason that we’re all falling apart, one pore at a time? You guessed it. Stress. Of course, as most of us know from experience, the fact that we’re exposed 24/7 to worries about career, housing and the world going to hell can lead to sallow complexions. But it’s the more insidious ways stress can chip away at your health (and, by extension, your looks) that are causing the most trouble.

At least that’s the view of Dr Alia Ahmed of London’s Eudelo clinic. She’s a consultant psychodermatologist, and the fact that she’s seen an uptick in the number of young women lining her waiting room is almost certainly a sign of the times.

‘The relentless social pressure to be a high achiever and the general awareness of “imperfection” are a real threat to Millennials’ physical and emotional health,’ she says. A steady diet of social media,not known for its warts-and-all depictions of reality, leads, she says, to heightened and unrealistic expectations of life, love, looks and everything else.

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