A face to die for : acne, dermatology, and the quest for perfect skin in Britain and the United States, c.1800–present

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


Acne is a blight on the social and emotional lives of many adolescents, often leaving both physical and psychological scars. Acne also carries a financial burden, with chronic unemployment being endemic amongst sufferers, costing over 3 billion dollars per year in direct and indirect health care costs in the US alone. But how far have adolescents, physicians and pharmaceutical companies been willing to go in order to treat it? This project addresses this question by providing the first history of acne. Drawing on unpublished archival material, medical literature, media sources, drug advertisements and oral history interviews, it charts how acne became the subject of medical concern from the nineteenth century onwards and explores how physicians and patients understood its causes and treatments. It examines the way physicians and pharmaceutical companies turned to the perceived health needs of adolescent patients and analyses how the risks and benefits of teratogenic drugs like Accutane were perceived by patients and physicians. It promises to add to the emergent historiography of skin and adolescent health, as well as to our understanding of the lived experience of those with acne. Finally, the project will engage with ongoing debates in the UK about whether Accutane (Roaccutane) should be sold in the UK and how drug policy should be informed more generally.
Date of Award11 Jun 2021
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University Of Strathclyde
SponsorsUniversity of Strathclyde
SupervisorMatthew Smith (Supervisor) & Arthur McIvor (Supervisor)

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