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Systematically discriminated against: Young people with severe acne

Photo: Jacob Lund / iStockphoto / Getty Images

Young people with severe acne, whose face is marked by pimples and pustules, are systematically discriminated against. This is the frightening result of a new study by researchers at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts, the Yale School of Medicine and other universities, which has now been published in the renowned journal JAMA Dermatology.

For their study, the scientists had four portrait photos of friendly-looking people (two men and two women) with clear skin digitally processed in such a way that each of the depicted could then be seen in two further pictures with mild and severe acne.

In an online survey, more than 1300 volunteers were randomly presented with a total of 12 different photos with and without acne and were asked to approve or disagree with statements such as:

  • "I'd feel comfortable being friends with the person in the picture."

  • "I'd feel comfortable hiring the person in the picture for a job."

  • "The person in the picture is intelligent."

  • "The person in the picture is trustworthy."

Compared to their original photos with pure skin, the same people in the digitally edited photos showing them with severe acne performed significantly worse in numerous statements. For example, the study participants were significantly less likely to want to be friends with people who appeared to suffer from acne and were significantly less likely to be willing to offer them a job. They judged her to be less attractive, less hygienic, and less intelligent, amiable, and trustworthy.

The gender of the depicted had no effect on the result, but the skin color of the depicted did: The acne had an even more negative effect on the two depicted people with darker skin than on the two with light skin. "Our findings," the researchers conclude, "expand our understanding of the impairment of quality of life associated with acne and suggest that stigmatizing attitudes can have negative effects on relationships, education, and employment opportunities." It is important that those affected receive therapy in order to "prevent the negative effects of these stigmatizing attitudes."

Acne usually develops during puberty under the influence of testosterone, which leads to an overproduction of sebum and material in the skin. Overall, around 90 percent of pubescent children are affected, but only about 30 percent of them are severe enough to require treatment of acne. If regular pH-neutral skin cleansing and a healthy lifestyle with a balanced diet and exercise do not help, a doctor should be consulted, who can prescribe antibacterial benzoyl peroxide and antibiotic skin ointments, for example.