In a 60-minute scripted television segment I counted twelve commercials selling acne products that claimed to all but miraculously deliver to consumers a brand new face in just 7-10 business days all for no more than $30, excluding shipping and handling. What none of these commercials highlighted were children.
Despite the reported rise in children–even in children as young as elementary school age—suffering from what has been dubbed pediatric acne, the skin care industry has barely skimmed the surface to address this growing issue. And by address, I mean researching and determining the causes of why pre-adolescent children are running face and hormones first into puberty, and its more tragic subsidiary, acne.
According to the Journal of Pediatrics, it has become commonplace for children ages 7 to 12 to seek out acne treatment. If that isn’t alarming enough, the acne drugs prescribed to these children have never undergone clinical trials where the subjects were younger than 12.
So in visiting my Dermatologist earlier this year —- more for the purpose of catching up on the latest issue of National Geographic and Food & Wine magazine, than for yet another acne prescription — I expressed to the doctor my fear that my daughter would one day inherent my acne-prone skin.
I understand that many doctors aren’t primarily known for their amazing bedside manner or for being supremely empathetic. However, I wasn’t expecting for the dermatologist to be so insensitive as to dismissively tell me to just put my now 4-year-old daughter on Accutane if in a few years her skin fate will unfortunately mirror mine. She said it as though she was prescribing Vaseline for chapped lips. I was shocked by her admittance that if in a few years my daughter experiences pustules and comedones before she ever enters the world of menstrual cycles and maxi pads, she would not be alone. The ease in which the dermatologist spoke of prescribing the drug Accutane to one of her current pre-teen patients gave credence to my grandmother’s assertion that “these kids nowadays aren’t like we used to be,” and there has definitely been a shift in the onset age of acne.
Accutane is a powerful drug reserved for patients with the most severe form of acne and scarring that fails to respond to other acne treatments. Like many medications, the adverse effects of Accutane are extremely dangerous. So dangerous, in fact, that its users must commit to a special program that obligates them to monthly blood tests, two forms of birth control, and a monthly review and acknowledgement of the dangers of the medication.
To think that a 12-year-old is experiencing such severe acne and facing even more severe side effects from the acne treatment, it makes one wonder about the cause of the shift. Is it the food? After all, KFC was mandated to change its name because it wasn’t “chicken” that was being fried at Kentucky Fried Chicken. Is it the depleting ozone layer? Or is the real culprit more along the lines of what some experts describe as 21st century parents being less tolerant of acne and doctors more willing to prescribe more aggressive treatment to younger children? Dr. Anne Lucky, a pediatric dermatologist and consultant for the pharmaceutical company Galderma, said, “Twenty years ago, a pediatrician would say, ‘Ah, you’ll outgrow it,’ and now we think, ‘Why wait to outgrow it when we can address it earlier?’” I’m inclined to believe that the cause may be all of the above, plus our penchant for new and improved methods of bullying and our growing infatuation with a “flawless, I woke up like this” appearance that has driven people to succumb to dangerous—sometimes, deadly—facial and body modifications.
Although the cosmetic industry has failed to cast any prepubescent actors in their commercials, the American Academy of Pediatrics is attempting to address the rise in acne among children ages 7 to 12 by recently publishing treatment guidelines. The treatment guidelines suggest that other-the-counter acne treatments may need to be added to the school supply list for elementary students.
Now if only we could determine and address the cause.