In 2004, Dale F. Bloom wrote an interesting article which was published in the journal Medical Hypothesis. Mr. Bloom contends that acne may be evolution’s way of preventing us from reproducing before we are physically and mentally ready to take care of our offspring. My summary:

The brain: Our pre-frontal cortex, the part of our brain which makes us uniquely homo sapien, is only finished maturing in our early 20s. It develops last and is responsible for good judgement, impulse control, planning, and danger response–all of which help us raise healthy and safe children.

Adolescence: Our ancient ancestors needed to learn the tricky skills involved in hunting and gathering, and it is more than likely that the adolescent years were ground zero for learning these important life strategies. Once learned, a person would be much better prepared to raise his or her young.

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Acne’s role: Acne shows up at the onset of adolescence, and Bloom argues that unhealthy appearing skin may make a person less desirable to the opposite sex. Acne thus does the job of preventing conception. As acne subsides with the end of adolescence, a person is psychologically ready to raise children and has learned the skills needed to provide for his or her young.

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But what about adults with acne? Bloom hypothesizes that certain physical diseases such as polycystic ovary syndrome, various substances such as steroids, or chronic stress may result in hormonal imbalances which cause adults to suffer with acne. He goes on to entertain the notion that perhaps humans evolved adult signs of acne as a physical sign of chronic stress, thus reducing the likelihood that a chronically stressed individual would reproduce.

Today’s Hunter/Gatherers: Anthropologists have reported zero incidence of acne in two modern hunter/gatherer tribes from Papua New Guinea and Paraguay. Interestingly, the Paraguayan girls the anthopologists visited don’t get their first period until they are on average 16 years old. The average age in the U.S. is 12. The Peruvian girls, Bloom says, therefore have less need for acne in order to prevent early pregnancy.

Fascinating stuff to ponder. Thanks Mr. Bloom.

29 Responses to “Hypothesis: Acne evolved to prevent us from reproducing too young”

  • Sierra117

    It’s fascinatingly offensive imo. There’s plenty of completely decent people who suffer with the disease that is acne. Many of these people have stress in their lives thanks in most part because of acne itself.

    Maybe the reason girls in western society have their periods earlier than girls in untouched tribe regions is because those girls are not exposed to all the literal poison and hormones that are in nearly everything in the grocery store and school foods? Maybe that’s also the reason so many more people in these cultures have acne? Maybe acne is just our modern bodies’ way of saying, “Wow, everything is loaded with so much garbage and there’s so much pollution in the air, I can’t handle all these toxins like I normally would be able to!”

    This guy would be someone who would say kids who get cancer got it because they would have ended up becoming killers if allowed to live a healthy life.

  • Jon

    I think its alot of rubbish to be honest. I have acne but have had plenty of relationships aswell – i see people with severe acne with girlfriends or boyfriends and also people without acne in no relationship for whatever reason -

    Im quite surprised this even made its way onto Acne.org

  • Sharpy

    To the two above, I think you’re taking this too personally. Do you know how evolution works?

  • Kristina

    This absolutely makes sence from the evolutionary psychology’s perspective.
    However, I am not quite convinced why males also have acne, as according to evolutionary theory they are not that important in child rearing.

  • Nathaniel

    Thank you Sharpy. This has nothing to do whether or not anyone is actually personally ready for a relationship or even to have children or not. Nor would it be possible for any sort of natural selection process to give cancer to children because it somehow knew they would grow up to be killers.

    This only means that as a whole, people who had acne due to whatever natural reason (oil, bacteria, hormones etc etc etc etc) also happened to have children at a later age. In the very distant past, this may have been a benefit to their children because their parents were a bit older, and possibly more able to provide for them than people who had children earlier. Along with this unforseen benefit, the children also likely had an increased chance of having acne themselves, which would repeat the cycle over and over. If this happened for hundreds of generations then it would stand to reason that there would be more people with acne than without, because those without acne had children earlier and were not as well prepared to take care of them (meaning they had a higher risk of death in the difficult pre-industrial pre-medical pre-everything lives that they lived.

    I am not saying I believe in this theory, but I am saying you can’t take it personally at all. Again, it doesn’t have anything to do you anyone personally and this doctor is NOT saying that those with acne are really not ready for a relationship or kids. This theory is simply talking about why acne might have been a benefit ONLY in the sense that my offspring would have a higher chance of survival to reproductive age.

  • D

    Don’t get riled up people. Academics in soft sciences need to pump out articles to get grants and salaries, so they resort to wild speculations to keep us thinking and them getting future grants and promotions.

    Can someone show me a single society where acne has slowed down “early reproduction”? If anything MTV teen moms show proves otherwise. :)

  • opera

    i don’t think the Peruvian girls come from Paraguay. Two very different countries Peru and Paraguay.

  • Francis

    You might want to get rid of acne scars in a more natural way. Things like tomatoes, honey, lemon juice, baking soda, aloe vera and other natural remedies might do you a little favour regarding your acne scars. Most of them act by softening the skin and lightening which will therefore reduce acne scars. Natural methods are more preferable since, compared to their synthetically prepared counterpart these things because virtually no side effects as long as properly used.

  • SethC

    Fascinating? I agree with Sierra – more like “Fascinatingly OFFENSIVE”. Disappointed you bothered posting this, Dan.

  • John

    as a contrast to francis, i’ll just say that natural does not mean better. side effects can come from natural foods as well. take for instance almonds. they have small amounts of cyanide but almond flavor would not have any cyanide. herbal remedies can interfere with your body’s processes as well. even spinach can inhibit your iron absorption. it’s not necessarily natural = better. if that were true we wouldn’t need science and medicine, we could all just go back to living caveman style and technically have longer lifespans, but that’s not the case. side effects can be virtually none for so called “synthetic” compounds, which molecularly are identical to how they are found in the plant

  • Jordan

    I think Dale Bloom needs to read some Stephen Jay Gould and drop the adaptationist program.

  • lucia

    wow…i cant believe so many of you are taking this so offensively..its just an article hypothesizing about the connection between acne and the evolutionary process…. if you are so sensitive and close minded enought to take this personally, you should just lock yourself in a closet now because life is full of many different ideas, thoughts, reasonings, ect. for the cause of things…

  • lucia

    by the way, this was a great read… hopefully we get more research on exactly why there is no sign of acne in those types of tribes and us regular folks… theres so many differences; it would be hard to pinpoint what exactly is preventing acne for them and having it be such an issue for us…maybe their diet? their environment?. their genetics?..very interesting.

  • Sierra117

    Being able to see something as offensive and stupid doesn’t make a person ultra-sensitive, it makes them aware and not afraid to speak out against garbage.

  • Vegan with acne

    The great thing about Science is that its true whether you believe it or not.
    Its an interesting study, thanks Dan!

  • Bob

    ^ Understand the difference between hypotheses and science.

    I thought the article was interesting. However, I must say: This site has readers who feel they need to kill themselves because of acne. This article, in a troubled mind, could very easily be interpreted as proof that their falsely founded inflated depression over acne is justified by science.

    Not a smart post, Dan. Right intention (stating interesting and new scientific views regarding acne). Wrong place.

    If this article offends you: the girl I have been trying to date for the past year ended up dating my friend instead. He has quite a few zits. I don’t. This is real world evidential proof against this hypothesis.

  • lucia

    ? ummmm a hypothesis and science go hand in hand last time i checked :|

    .. it is just a point of view gained from some research. it doesnt not state “ALERT: WE HAVE FOUND A CURE FOR ACNE”
    it is just an article.
    just like the thousand and billions of articles claiming that milk causes acne.. or chocolate.. or stress..or genes..or peanuts!… and the million other reasons scientists have linked acne to…

    “Mr. Bloom CONTENDS that acne MAY be evolution’s way of preventing us from reproducing before we are physically and mentally ready to take care of our offspring”…thats is. CONTENDS.. MAYYYYY

    people just HAVE to focus on the one paragraph out of the entire thing that speaks superficially about skin in a general aspect. and by the way i completely support speaking out against things you dont believe in, but i will say that rather than taking it in as just one more opinion thrown into the acne controversy, people are taking is as if this guy is rallying around trying prove that this is THE explaination and THE cause. Do i believe that this is really the cause of acne? :| uhhh no
    … but its interesting to see more research being done for one, and two, its interesting to see what type of connections we are linking acne to in general. without this research we would not have come as far as we have in the countless amounts of issues we have found answers to today. this is not stating a fact. this guy is merely CONTENDING

  • lucia

    …its one thing to think something is garabage, but its another to take something as offensive.

  • Sierra117

    I don’t think it was offensive of Dan to post this though, I just find this guy’s core hypothesis to be offensive. It’s not really that it’s personally offensive or anything, it’s that it’s offensive to the overall information when it comes to acne. As we all know probably know, finding reliable information on what causes acne and what helps it is hard, and stuff like this just makes everything ever muddier. There’s so many false and negative misconceptions about acne and this just is another thing to add on top of that garbage pile.

    Almost everybody who doesn’t have skin problems still believes it’s all just about people not washing their face. It’s offensive to me whenever anybody tries to mislead people about actual problems people are having, especially when they’re being caused by all the crap that is put into nearly all our food (and water). Not unlike all the mass die-offs of animals that have occurred just this year (the birds, the dolphins, etc.), the uptick in so many people have acne problems is a sign from within that something is not right with how our world and our bodies are being treated.

    To ignore all that and simply say acne is something that naturally occurs in order to curse people and make them unable to try and stop them from having intimate relationships with another human being is as ignorant as the people who yell at the kid suffering from acne in school to wash his face.

  • Robin

    I don’t see how this makes sense as it is contrary to what we already know about puberty–humans become primed for reproduction in adolescence; why would nature fight itself by priming with one hand and then trying to “slow down” the process to encourage maturity with the other. I think other causes for acne are much more plausible…

  • Matt

    Did you not read the last paragraph anyone? There is ZERO incidence of acne in modern hunter-gatherer societies. The key difference between them and us? They don’t eat grains or legumes, and consume little to no dairy.

    I eat meat, vegetables and some fruit (mainly veges), and my acne has gone away completely. Every now and again I’ll have a few beers, some bread, or some pizza, and I wake up 1 or 2 days later with pimples.

    See *edit* for information on this lifestyle.

  • frank

    I read a book called “the acne cure ” written by a doctor from Calif .
    He said to apply ice to the skin . I can tell you this does work ! ! !
    I think the cold tempature causes the bacteria to hibernate and stop growing. signing off

  • Kiara

    When it comes to theories such as this one you cannot take what they are saying too seriously because in their nature they are designed to make sense of things that in themselves make no sense.

    While often in life there is no clear right or wrong or absolute answer to some issues, and this is prevalent in science as well, you just need to look at the issue from all angles, and the best you can do is find a solution that is neither right nor wrong, but makes the most sense based on the evidence. There are an abundant ways to look at this theory and disprove it based on the evidence, one way of looking at it is to consider evolution.

    Look at what we know about evolution. We know that evolution occurs over a very very long time. We also know that evolution needs certain pressures & certain environmental conditions to occur. We no longer face these same pressures & conditions, which is why many scientists contest to the fact that the evolutionary process has been halted. This means the evolutionary process required to develop acne as a preventative mechanism began a very very long time ago.

    However, if we examine the conditions in existence a very very long time ago the pressure for such as mechanism would not have been there. In fact, the pressure would have been to reproduce as young as possible. Back then life expectancy would have been significantly lower due to the harsher living conditions (possibly around 30), there was a significant absence of medical resources, a higher incidence of disease and a greater risk of death through childbirth. Evolution favours survival over all else. Therefore, given the conditions and pressures faced, in terms of survival it would have been optimal to reproduce as young as possible. This would explain why the capacity to give birth so young evolved. Waiting until it is “optimal” to reproduce is a concept that has developed in modern times because of the advances in medicine & living conditions.

    I just wish scientists would spend more time trying to figure out a way to get rid of acne as opposed to hypothesising about its purpose :(

  • Simon

    First thing I did after reading this was check it wasn’t posted on April 1st…

  • rapierr

    Sharpy
    Do you know how evolution works? It doesn’t work at all because it’s an idea, not a machine. It is how we can wrap our minds around why we are the way we are, and it’s borders don’t expand at will. Survival of the fittest is a law of nature, and obviously some of the fittest humans had zits and some didn’t. The reason it is about fifty fifty; acne doesn’t even matter so why is there a fucking website dedicated to “curing it”?

  • anonymous

    What a scientifically baseless article. How would acne prevent a person from having sex? If the person is good looking, he/she is good looking regardless of the acne. Isn’t it more obvious that ugly people with clear skin have less of a chance to have a sexual partner than good looking people with bad skin? Honestly, this article is a crock!

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