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Teens Put a Price on Zit-Free Life

What would the average teenager pay to be zit-free for life?


That's what a study in the August issue of the Archives of Dermatology reports. Researchers at the School of Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco asked 266 acne-ridden teens (ages 14-18) what they would pay to never have had acne and to never have it in the future; other scenarios to which they attached costs included getting their face 100 percent acne-free and keeping it that way for the rest of their lives, clearing all their acne but having scars, and reducing the amount of acne on their face by half.

Total, life-long freedom from acne was worth a median of $275, whereas being zit-free from this day forward, with no scarring, was only worth $100. The teens would pay a scant $10 to reduce their acne by half. As for the prospect of total clearing with visible scarring, teens said they'd pay zilch.

For perspective, the same questions were posed to the teens' parents -- the ones actually paying the bills. Parents' responses nearly matched their kids'; they'd pay top dollar -- a median of $250 -- for their teens to be once-and-future acne-free but much less for the other outcomes. (Sixty-five percent of the parents reported having had acne themselves.)

The teenagers (but not the parents) were also asked how much of their expected life span they'd be willing to trade for those same outcomes; the results (which in the study are presented not in simple years or months but via a ratio between the kids' actual life expectancy and the years of acne-free living they'd bargain for) were in keeping with the how-much-would-you-spend answers, with teens viewing life with scars as barely better than life with acne. In both instances, the kids who thought their acne was severe were willing to part with more money and time to be rid of it.

When I was a teenager, I had the worst acne of anyone I knew: I'll spare you the ghastly details, but, believe me, it was bad. If you had asked me then what I would have given to be rid of it forever and never to have had it, I would have pledged thousands -- and perhaps my first-born child.

On the other hand, now that that first-born child is 14 and dealing with a mild case of acne of her own, my perspective has shifted. Having acne was hardly the worst thing ever to happen to me, and in many ways it was character building; after all, it takes a lot of courage to get through your day with a face full of zits. And then there's this unexpected benefit: the knowledge that the people who liked and loved me did so on the basis of who I was, not what I looked like.

The study notes that acne has been linked to anxiety, depression, embarrassment, lack of self-confidence, social dysfunction, and unemployment.

But from where I sit, it seems to me as though teens today might handle these kinds of things better than some of us did in the 1970s. Nobody blinks at braces any more; hairstyles and clothing choices seem less rigidly dictated and more accommodating to a broader variety of personalities and physical types, and, though I have no science to support this, kids I know seem to accept acne as a natural part of growing up. Of the teens I know, I never see any of them hiding their acne behind their hand, and I see no evidence that they pick at their zits the way I did. (Of course, those kids who are bothered by their bumpy skin now have access to lots of anti-acne treatments and products that we didn't have three decades ago.)

I asked my daughter whether she would pay money or time to have avoided acne altogether. No, she answered after a moment's thought. If she'd never had acne and then had a child who did, she reasoned, how could she understand what that child was going through?

Does the teen in your life have acne? How does he or she handle it? Does seeing those zits bring back memories of your own face-off with zits?

By Jennifer LaRue Huget  |  August 20, 2008; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Teens  
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I have acne now in my early 30s. $275 is by far too little money.

Posted by: Arlington | August 20, 2008 8:08 AM | Report abuse

Oh, God! I'm 35 and I'd happily pay $100 a month to be blemish-free (and scar-free) for life.

Posted by: nyny | August 20, 2008 8:37 AM | Report abuse

I think that was a remarkably insightful response that your daughter gave to your question. She sounds like a good egg.

Posted by: AmberGale | August 20, 2008 10:34 AM | Report abuse

I would have given everything I had to be zit-free. I had it on my face, my chest, my shoulders, and my back. It was horrible. I went to dermatologists, and nothing ever cleared it up.

Fortunately now that I'm almost 30 years old, it is almost gone. I only get the occassional blemish on my face. But I can still vividly remember the pain I felt starting at the age of 12.

Honestly, I've considered not having biological children so that I don't pass this curse on to them.

Posted by: 29 and just now outgrowing it | August 20, 2008 10:49 AM | Report abuse

I was also a teenager in the 70s and starting at age 14 cannot remember a time my day wasnt determined by how good/bad my complexion was, how I had to pay over $300 from my own money to dermatologist who did nothing but give me useless prescriptions and say, "its not that bad." My son is 16 and has family curse and I would gladly pay thousands if he didnt have it. does this answer your question?

Posted by: fred | August 20, 2008 11:38 AM | Report abuse

I had it as a teen, started getting it bad again as an adult. And as an adult I spent hundreds on acupuncture and dermatologist visits. Probably spent well over $1,000. You know what did it though--cutting dairy and sugar out of my diet. Tell your kid to try it if they're flipping out about it. I went from having 12 cystic acne nodules on my nose and chin in a month to only having had one big one in the past 12 months.

Posted by: isis | August 20, 2008 12:38 PM | Report abuse

I managed acne as a teen just fine. Caught it early and a pediatrician reccommended Oxy10. I swore by this stuff for 8 years, despite all the bleaching of towels and favorite tee shirts--it was worth it to be zit-free.

Then I turned 21, or as I like to call it, puberty part deux. My face exploded with deep painful cystic acne...WTH, I had never had anything like that before! Nothing could cut it; even the dermo perscribe regime failed after a year. I finally have managed to control it on my own, but still it requires faithful adherence to my personal acne management system: 3.5% bz face wash, 2% Saly. acid toner, 3.5% bz moisturizer, reg moisturizer, 10%bz spot treatment, and weekly face masks. Cost=$45, not too shabby.

Posted by: SD | August 20, 2008 1:06 PM | Report abuse

I agree with many who say they would have given everything to be acne-free. Severe cases are very difficult to deal with as a teen, when peers are judging you solely on appearance, when you want to date but are considered unattractive, and when parents treat your acne as something you are doing wrong. I felt that way for a long time. The solution for me was oral contraceptives. they regulated hormone levels and kept it under control.

Posted by: 31 yr old | August 20, 2008 3:09 PM | Report abuse

Add me to the list of adults who had it bad as a teen, still have it, would pay just about anything to get rid of it, and have suffered all the psychological fallout described in your article. I shudder when I see S13 and D11 with it. I hope they deal with it (mentally) better than I have.

Posted by: taxguru | August 20, 2008 6:16 PM | Report abuse

I know that the commercials (infomercials) are very annoying, but I swear by the Proactiv system. It really does work. I've had acne as an adult and didn't even have it as a teen. The Proactiv stuff is drying, but it really does the trick - at least for me.

Posted by: SNCinDC | August 20, 2008 7:00 PM | Report abuse

At 55, I still get acne from time to time. Another consequence of original sin, no doubt.

Posted by: Mark In Irvine | August 20, 2008 8:59 PM | Report abuse

Uh, hello. Just try Accutane. Three months of it (and three months of dry skin) and you're virtually zit-free for the rest of your life. And it costs a lot less than $275.

No, Stacey, having acne does not "build character" or do anything wonderful for you except make self-conscious teenagers even more self-conscious. What a stupid thing to think is OK to have.

Get rid of it -- permanently.

Posted by: Ryan | August 20, 2008 8:59 PM | Report abuse

Oh, and by the way, I still notice when other people have acne-ridden faces and when they have scars from acne. It's not attractive AT ALL. So, why in the world would you make your child suffer (sometimes with scars for the rest of their lives) for your stupid belief that it "builds character"?

Some parents . . .

Posted by: Ryan | August 20, 2008 9:01 PM | Report abuse

Sorry, meant Jennifer.

Posted by: Ryan | August 20, 2008 9:02 PM | Report abuse

While I'm fortunate enough to have a fairly clear complexion (most of the time), my cousin was not so lucky. No matter what he did, he could not get rid of his acne. It was pretty bad in his late middle school years and throughout high school. But as far as I know, he just accepted it and kept on rolling. He was one of the most popular students in his class, among both boys and girls. I think it was because he cared so little about it and made sure his great personality shone through that no one else really dwelled on it. In fact, it was a bit weird when his acne finally cleared up...

Posted by: Anonymous | August 21, 2008 8:09 AM | Report abuse

Funny how, now that her own anguished pimply days are passed, the author thinks it's character building. In that case, maybe naturally clear-skinned kids should have to paint some on?

I'm 27 and have had bad acne since I was 11. These super-tolerant teenagers Jennifer mentions certainly feel free to comment on my face when I go out bare-faced on a bad day. Fortunately, now I can afford Proactiv and quality makeup. Looking good makes me feel good about myself. I guess I'm just weak.

Posted by: CB | August 25, 2008 12:04 PM | Report abuse

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