What Acne Patients Don't Know Can Scar Them

From the WebMD Archives

April 2, 2001 -- Patients with acne harbor a surprising amount of misinformation about the disease -- most of it from television, magazines, or friends. And those wrong ideas can hurt them.

In a recent issue of the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, Jerry K.L. Tan, MD, reports on the beliefs and perceptions of 78 patients referred to his Windsor, Ontario, dermatology practice for treatment of acne.

"We found that many patients correctly identified hormones and heredity as primary factors in causing acne, but patients often had inaccurate ideas about the role of diet and of skin hygiene. We were also somewhat surprised to find that many had unrealistic ideas about how long acne treatment was likely to take and about what the results of treatment were likely to be," Tan tells WebMD.

Patients who had been referred from family physicians for acne treatment were given a self-administered questionnaire at the beginning of the first office visit, before meeting with medical personnel. The survey inquired about beliefs on the causes and aggravating factors of acne, sources of information, beliefs about treatment, and the impact of acne on the patient's self-image, interpersonal relationships, work, or school activities.

Tan and colleagues found that 64% of patients thought hormones caused acne, while 38% blamed genetic factors. However, 32% of patients blamed diet, and 29% blamed poor skin hygiene, both common misconceptions about the cause of acne.

"This is important because although proper cleansing is important, overcleaning and scrubbing cause inflammation and contribute to the problem," Tan says. "Patients who put excess emphasis on dirt are likely to cleanse often and to use abrasive cleansing agents that can cause additional problems."

The study found that family physicians were the most frequent source of acne information, but magazines and television accounted for a substantial amount of information and misinformation.

"Fifty-eight percent of our patients said the information they had about acne was inadequate. That points to the need for better, community-based education programs and for better brochures and patient information materials," Tan says.

Dermatologist Paul Bujanauskas, MD, tells WebMD that he too has noticed that many patients have misconceptions about acne when they first come in for their office visit. Still, some arrive with a lot of questions. Either way, it's easy to tell patients what they need to know.