When was acne first recorded in human history? I have seen some youtube videos from Japan people who said that acne was non-existing many years ago (in Japan) but now it is prevalent. Are there any studies or records that support this?

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    Emperors Augustus and Tiberius both had acne. No idea about the rest of the question. Btw, "did it worsen during the last decades" seems more like a question for medical scientists than historians.
    – two sheds
    Jan 10, 2015 at 12:52
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    @twosheds is that a well enough known fact that I should feel dumb for not knowing it?
    – CGCampbell
    Jan 10, 2015 at 17:02
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    @CGCampbell: Haha, not unless you're a historian of skincare. I just came across that fact in some book (forget which) that noted that Roman sculptors often depicted acne scars, even for emperors.
    – two sheds
    Jan 10, 2015 at 17:11
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    I have always suspected that acne was an evolutionary accompaniment to the late maturity of the human species, shielding not-quite-mature teens from the attentions of amorous adults by temporarily subverting their attractiveness. I have no concrete evidence for this however. Feb 17, 2015 at 2:26
  • I think it is worth noting that as late as the 1880s, syphilis and gonorrhea were not distinguished by physicians. By the same token, acne and other skin conditions might have not been understood as separate disorders. Perhaps common acne was considered dangerous, confused with symptoms of a more serious disease and I think severe acne can be a sign of syphilis.
    – Jeff
    Apr 23, 2017 at 21:04

4 Answers 4


Acne has always been with us.

According to "The Historic Panorama of Acne Vulgaris," Pharaohs had acne:

Some Egyptian writings have mentioned that Pharaohs suffered from acne and had also made efforts to resolve it. Many stories and superstitious beliefs were related to the cause, clinical presentation and treatment of the acne breakouts. Those were accustomed to magic, spells and charms to drive it. [It] is described to be treated with some animal origin preparations and honey. Ancient Egyptians around 3rd century were of the opinion that acne is caused by telling lies. Tutankhamun, Egyptian Pharaoh of the 18th dynasty who ruled during the period between 1332 BC - 1323 BC, had acne as evident from the anti acne remedies in his tomb.

Fittingly, one Greek term for acne is associated with the onset of puberty:

From the historical records, both Hippocrates and Aristotle were aware of this illness. Aristotle also explained this condition in detail. The ancient Greeks knew acne as ‘tovoot’. According to the meaning of this word in the singular as ‘the first growth of the beard’ hence it was associated with puberty.

And in Rome, they had some strange cures:

In ancient Rome, acne was treated with baths as people there believed that the pores of the skin may be lifted and cleaned with a mixture of sulfur in the mineral baths. Aulus Cornelius Celsus (25BC- 50BC), a Roman encyclopaedist, has mentioned about this treatment in his extant medical work De Medicina. Cassius in 3 AD interpreted that since this disorder is related to puberty, it is known by the name of ‘akmas’. In the 4th century AD, the court physician of Theodosius advised acne victims to wipe their “pimples” with a cloth while watching a falling star and the pimples would then ‘fall from the body’. Pliny and Celsus used the word ‘varus’ to elucidate this ailment.

As for Japan, I can't find as ancient or as specific references to acne. But Japan does have some rather old traditions for facial care, involving the combination of rice bran and guano. According to some sources, these facials have been in use since the third century. So I highly doubt that acne is a recent affliction in Japan.


There certainly is evidence that ancient Egyptians had acne. There is evidence that they drank dairy. There is evidence that they ate butter. There is a ton of evidence now that dairy can cause acne. Did acne exist before civilizations came about? Maybe we will never know because they weren't modern enough to even document it. Civilizations also create affluence. The foods of affluence (dairy, meat, refined foods such as bread) help cause acne.



Based on the much anecdotal evidence I have been reading lately and my own personal experience, acne does seem to have some kind of relationship with the type of oils we ingest mostly and by the oils that may come in contact with our skin.

It has been shown in studies that acneic skin tends to be much more deficient in linoliec acid and higher in oleic acids. Oleic acids are known to thicken human sebum and stick to the walls of the pores and occlude them. Perhaps then, acne can sometimes be associated with the diet a culture typically turns to.

For example, olive oil, though extremely healthy for the heart is high in oleic acid. If you research cultures known for oily skin, those of Mediterranean origin are frequently mentioned. Sesame and peanut oil is also very high in oleic oils and many Asian diets are built around this oil. As for Egyptians, in ancient times, the more well-off used mostly lard, sesame oil and flaxseed oil (sesame and flaxseed oils have nearly equal composition of oleic to linolieic acids and this has been shown to aggravate acne). Lard is extremly high in oleic acid, comprising over 50% of the monounsaturated fatty acid profile.

Perhaps today, in an age where foods that used to be unique to one area or culture is around the world, the variance of the affliction of acne may be at least in part to people, who are sensitive to the fatty acid composition of their skin,consuming foods that are high in oleic acid. Certainly there can be no argument that foods more processed and fried with lard is prevalent in today's societies around the world. It should be worth noting that milk fat is much, much higher in oleic fatty acid than linoleic fatty acid and could be why some poeple feel their acne improves once it has been removed. It may have less to do with hormones than it's fatty acid composition. As a note relating to that, wealthy Egyptians had endless supply of milk and archeologists and anthropologists have little doubt that Egyptians made butter and other products with milk as a part of their staple diet.

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    This answer would benefit from sources/citations/evidence of research.
    – MCW
    Apr 23, 2017 at 22:14

Acne has aways been around historically. The skin of the face, as opposed to the body, is smoother, softer, more oily and grows faster, hence it is more vulnerable to any kind of imbalance. The reason why certain populations have less or more acne depends on their breeding. Since acne is a strong, negative mating selector, as long as a population breeds within itself, people with poorly balanced skin tend to get weeded out over time. Mating outside the group can cause changes to the skin leading to it being imbalanced and not having the proper defenses against acne-related infection. Therefore, among close-knit ethnic groups with no outside mating you may often find no instances of acne, but among cosmopolitan populations like big international cities, you will find a lot of acne.

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