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Original Investigation
July 28, 2021

Patient Perspectives on the Lived Experience of Acne and Its Treatment Among Adult Women With Acne: A Qualitative Study

Author Affiliations
  • 1Department of Dermatology, University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine, Philadelphia
  • 2Geisinger Commonwealth School of Medicine, Scranton, Pennsylvania
  • 3Mixed Methods Research Lab, University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine, Philadelphia
  • 4Department of Family Medicine and Community Health, University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine, Philadelphia
  • 5Center for Clinical Epidemiology and Biostatistics, Department of Biostatistics, Epidemiology and Informatics, University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine, Philadelphia
JAMA Dermatol. 2021;157(9):1040-1046. doi:10.1001/jamadermatol.2021.2185
Key Points

Question  What is the lived experience of acne among adult women?

Findings  In this qualitative study of 50 adult women with acne, participants described diverse lived experiences, including concerns about appearance, mental and emotional health consequences, and disruption to their personal and professional lives.

Meaning  These findings suggest that ensuring access to care and identifying optimal treatment approaches for women with acne are needed to improve outcomes in this population.

Abstract

Introduction  Acne often persists into adulthood in women. However, few studies have specifically explored the lived experience of acne in adult populations.

Objective  To examine the lived experience of acne and its treatment among a cohort of adult women.

Design, Setting, and Participants  A qualitative analysis was conducted from free listing and open-ended, semistructured interviews of patients at a large academic health care system (University of Pennsylvania Health System) and a private practice (Dermatologists of Southwest Ohio). Fifty women 18 to 40 years of age with moderate to severe acne participated in interviews conducted between August 30, 2019, and December 31, 2020.

Main Outcomes and Measures  Free-listing data from interviews were used to calculate the Smith S, a measure of saliency for each list item. Semistructured interviews were examined to detect themes about patient perspectives regarding their acne and its treatment.

Results  Fifty participants (mean [SD] age, 28 [5.38] years; 24 [48%] White) described acne-related concerns about their appearance that affected their social, professional, and personal lives, with many altering their behavior because of their acne. Depression, anxiety, and social isolation were commonly reported. Participants described successful treatment as having completely clear skin over time or a manageable number of blemishes. Many participants described frustration with finding a dermatologist with whom they were comfortable and with identifying effective treatments for their acne.

Conclusions and Relevance  The results of this qualitative study suggest that women with acne have strong concerns about appearance and experience mental and emotional health consequences and disruption of their personal and professional lives. In addition, many patients describe challenges finding effective treatments and accessing care. Future trials to understand the optimal treatment approaches for women with acne are needed to improve outcomes in this population.

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