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Study: Individuals with acne prone to social and professional stigma

A new study from Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston has demonstrated that individuals with acne experience stigmatizing attitudes in a variety of social and professional settings. In the paper, published in JAMA Dermatology, the authors also determined that more severe acne and darker skin tones were associated with a greater degree of stigma.

The researchers obtained stock portraits of four adults including males and females with light or dark skin tones that were digitally altered to create two additional versions of each portrait with mild and severe acne, resulting in a total pool of 12 photos. Then, a cross-sectional internet survey of 1,357 participants was conducted through the ResearchMatch platform, with each participant shown one of the 12 images in a random fashion. Survey participants were asked a set of questions regarding stigmatizing attitudes about the individual in the photo. Using the corresponding original image without acne as baseline, the answer scores for images with acne were compared.

According to the results, the participants reported a greater desire to socially distance from individuals with acne, particularly if the pictured individual had a darker skin tone. Respondents were more likely to agree with stereotypes about individuals with severe acne, tending to perceive them as unhygienic, unattractive, unintelligent, and untrustworthy. This stereotype endorsement was also higher in individuals with darker skin. 

“Our findings show that stigmatizing attitudes about acne can impair quality of life, potentially by affecting personal relationships and employment opportunities,” said corresponding author John Barbieri, MD, MBA, of the Department of Dermatology in a press release. “Acne is often wrongly perceived as merely a cosmetic issue. It's important that people with this medical problem get access to treatment, just like any other condition.” 

The authors conclude this study highlights the need to identify approaches to reduce stigmatizing attitudes in the community and for adequate access to care, which might prevent negative downstream effects related to these stigmatizing attitudes.

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