Do you seek advice for your skin issues from the internet?
Social media has become such an inherent part of our lives that often, the first thing that comes to mind when we have a question to answer is scroll through our Facebook, Instagram, TikTok feeds for the solution. This often gives us a mix of results, some work, and some do not work. We often just laugh off the ones that do not work and promise ourselves not to follow it again, just to go through the same cycle soon after.
This is benign in many circumstances, but more recently, a survey published (Yousaf A et al. Pediatr Dermatol. 2020 Jan 15. doi: 10.1111/pde.14091.) suggests that many patients consult social media for advice even on acne treatment. Also showed in that same study is that the majority of people who do will go on to follow recommendations that do not align with proven clinical guidelines.
The study surveyed 130 patients of whom 45% consulted social media for advice on acne treatment and 52% of those went on to follow recommendations that do not correspond to medical guidelines. Most patients reported no (40%) to minimal (53%) improvement in their acne after following the advice.
Of the most common social media platforms used, YouTube and Instagram came tops, with 58% each, followed by Pinterest (31%), Facebook (19%), Twitter (9%), Snapchat (7%). [patients could select more than one platform].
The social media advice patients went on to follow included using over the counter products (81%), making dietary adjustments (40%), using self-made products (19%) and taking supplements (16%).
Of these, only 7% reported significant improvement in their acne. This is a concerning trend, and poor results are likely due to inaccurate content on social media compared to healthcare sources.
It is not difficult to see why there is so much misinformation on the internet. Social media is increasingly becoming not just the main route of marketing products, it has also indirectly fueled emotional and mental associations of an individual to their appearance by increase in usage of social media and photo-editing apps. The global anti-acne cosmetics market size was valued at USD2.07 billion in 2018 and continues to grow year on year. With multiple parties trying to get a share of the market, unscrupulous parties have marketed products either with false claims, using a variety of marketing tactics to reach these vulnerable patients.
Acne patients are prone to suffer from anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, poor quality of life and loneliness, and it is not rocket science as to why that is. Acne can be a debilitating disease, and may leave permanent scars which are sometimes even more difficult to treat than the acne itself. In the survey, about half of the patients (51%) had moderate acne, while 38% had severe acne. Only 11% of the patients surveyed had mild acne. Taking up the advice on social media means that patients with moderate to severe acne may have been delayed in their seeking medical treatment for their acne, and deprived of early treatment. It is especially crucial in these patients that medical treatment of acne is instituted quickly and effectively to prevent lifelong scarring.
Acne is not only a social concern. It is a medical condition with medical treatments that are able to address it. Solutions seen on social media may be effective for one person, but the results may be the complete opposite in another individual. Treatment of acne is never a once-size-fits-all solution and a tailored treatment based on the assessment of the doctor is crucial for its success. Unproven treatments are never a replacement to medically proven treatments that have not only been reviewed for their efficacy in labs, but in large randomized controlled trials all over the world.
If you are suffering from acne, speak to your doctor about treatments before speaking to Dr. Social Media.