Acne in Latin America

Acne is a common disease that is characterized by chronic inflammation of the sebaceous follicles, causing pimples on the face, scalp, neck, back, shoulders, upper arms and chest of the body.  While acne is not a serious life-threatening disease, it assumes a greater presence in the psyche, because it is common and highly visible.  The damage inflicted by acne is less the physical pain than the psychological damage.  Acne has been known to cause embarrassment, diminished self-esteem, lack of self-confidence, depression, feelings of rejection and unworthiness, obsession, anger, frustration, guilt, social withdrawal, and so on.

We will now cite some survey data from the TGI Latina study.  This is a survey of 52,639 persons between the ages of 12 to 64 years old conducted during the second half of 2001 and the first half of 2002 in eight Latin American countries (Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Mexico, Panama, Peru and Venezuela).  During this survey, the respondents were asked if they had used acne control products during the past 7 days.  A total of 9.4% said that they had done so.  

In the next chart, we show the incidences by age/sex groups.  Acne is thought to afflict nearly one hundred percent of people between the ages of twelve to seventeen years old in some form or the other, and this is irrespective of race or ethnicity.  It can be just the occasional pimple or two, or it can be the full-blown chronic version.  Normally, acne goes away on its own later in life, but it may occasionally persist in some people.  The data in this chart certainly confirms these beliefs.

Acne also affects males and females equally.  Although acne among males is likely to be more severe and long-lasting, females are the ones who are more likely to seek treatment, whether it is the over-the-counter non-prescription drug or visits to the doctor.  

(source: TGI Latina)

In the next chart, we show the incidences by socio-economic level.  The incidence decreases as we move down the socio-economic scale.  This is not to say that acne is a class disease.  It is simply an indication that the affluent people have the greater need and means to seek remedies.

(source: TGI Latina)

Although acne has been the subject of scientific investigation over many years, the exact causes are still not known with any certainty.  Instead, a number of myths/legends have emerged around the subject of acne.

Myth #1: Acne is caused by dirt, which produces the stigma of acne as the result of unclean habits.  Acne is caused by an inflammation of a sebaceous follicle which is plugged with dead cells, and it is not induced by external matters such as dirt or sweat.  Aggressive scrubbing of the skin does not root out the problem, and it can only irritate the inflamed cells further.  

Myth #2:  Acne is related to food consumption, which produces the stigma of acne as the result of gluttonous behavior, especially for chocolate, candies, sweets, potato chips, ice cream and soft drinks.  After many years of controlled studies, in which controlled groups were compared on food consumption and acne outbreaks, there is no scientific evidence to support this hypothesis.  Some people may have allergic reactions to certain types of food which result in acne-like symptoms such as hives, but that is something else altogether.

Myth #3: Acne is due to masturbation.  There is no scientific evidence for this hypothesis.  But the origin of this medieval myth would make an interesting psycho-socio-historical study of the tendency to attribute disease to sinning.

In the next chart, we show the incidences by the use of skin-cleansing products and the consumption of food products.  In all cases, the incidences are significantly higher among the consumers.  Does this not support the myths then?  Ah, but we are forgetting that these are correlational (and not necessarily causal) relationships.  It so happens that (1) teenagers are more likely to suffer from acne; (2) teenagers are more likely to use skin-care products; (3) teenagers are more likely to consume these types of food products, and it follows naturally that consumers of those products would have a higher incidence of acne.  Nowhere does this imply that these products cause acne.

(source: TGI Latina)

(posted by Roland Soong, 12/05/2002)

(Return to Zona Latina's Home Page)