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Acne in Adults Can Bring Stigma at Work and Socially

THURSDAY, Dec. 7, 2023 (HealthDay News) -- Acne can be terribly embarrassing for a teenager, but a new study has found that adults' blemishes might have even greater consequences for their social and professional reputation.

People are less likely to want to be friends, have close contact or post a pic on social media with a person who has severe acne, researchers found.

“Our findings show that stigmatizing attitudes about acne can impair quality of life, potentially by affecting personal relationships and employment opportunities,” said researcher Dr. John Barbieri, a dermatologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.

“Acne is often wrongly perceived as merely a cosmetic issue,” Barbieri added. “It's important that people with this medical problem get access to treatment, just like any other condition.”

Acne occurs in a person’s hair follicles and oil glands, according to Johns Hopkins.

Normally, oil from the glands travels up the hair follicles to the skin, keeping the skin moist. But if skin cells plug the follicles and block the oil, bacteria growing inside the follicles can cause pimples and cysts.

For this study, Barbieri and his colleagues obtained stock photos of four adults, including men and women with either light or dark skin tone.

The researchers digitally altered the pictures to create two additional versions of each, adding either mild or severe acne to the people’s faces.

They then performed an experiment with more than 1,300 people, in which each participant was randomly shown one of the 12 images and asked a set of questions about the person in the picture.

Participants were much less likely to want to have anything to do with individuals with acne, particularly if the person in the picture also had a darker skin tone.

They also were more likely to agree with stereotypes about people with severe acne, perceiving them as unhygienic, unattractive, untrustworthy and unintelligent.

These biases were blunted in participants who themselves had acne either now or in the past, the researchers noted.

The findings were published Dec. 6 in the journal JAMA Dermatology.

The results should prompt insurance companies to cover acne treatments, since the social reaction to the skin disease can do harm to a person’s life and livelihood, Barbieri said.

“Many insurers poorly cover acne and rosacea treatments, claiming that it’s cosmetic,” Barbieri said. “Our study highlights the need for that narrative to change and for ​​identifying approaches to reduce stigmatizing attitudes in the community.”

More information

Johns Hopkins Medicine has more about acne.

SOURCE: Mass General Brigham, news release, Dec. 6, 2023

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