All historical films that I have watched never showed anyone with acne, not that films usually do that sort of thing. Even any historical books I have read that devoted some minutes to the description of a character never mention acne. Not even romantic and aesthetic paintings like those done by Dante Gabriel Rossetti show any subjects with acne.
And this got me thinking, when did acne become a problem, almost a pandemic? How far back can we trace the emergence of acne? Did cavemen have acne? Read on for more
Cavemen did not have acne because their skin was covered with fur. The oil/sebum from their sebaceous glands was used to keep their hair smooth and shiny. But now, human skin is not covered with fur, and sebum produced clogs our poles and gets infected.
Currently, acne is one of the top three most common dermatological problems globally in both primary and secondary care. It affects approximately 80% to 95% of the population in westernized countries.
Research shows that the mentions of acne can be traced as far back as Aristotle and Hippocrates, who coined terms such as “ionthoi” and “varus” to refer to acne, which was considered a condition that is strongly linked to puberty.
Ancient Egyptians also had a term for acne, “aku-t,” which is slightly similar to the modern term. Aku-t referred to blains, boils, sores, or pustules.
Research shows that some communities, such as the Kitavan Islanders of Papua New Guinea and the Aché hunter-gatherers of Paraguay, have zero cases of acne.
This data raises the question of is acne a problem for western countries. And how far back does the history of acne go?
Research indicates that acne goes as far back as ancient Rome, 25 BC-50 AD, where people were treated with mineral baths mixed with Sulphur. In ancient Egypt, Tutankhamun 1332 BC – 1323 BC was also known to have acne, which gives us a basic timeline of acne.
But if you dig deeper and go further in history, to the era of our ancestors, the cavemen, you will find that no, they did not have acne.
But why, why didn’t cavemen have acne? I did my research on all acne-related studies that I could find, and here is what I discovered.
Cavemen did not have acne because the acne-causing factors were not present at the time.
And if they were, they were so negligible that they could not affect them. What are these acne-causing factors, you ask?
Well, after my research, I found that diet, environment, human evolution, and acne-care procedures are some of the reasons we have acne and cavemen did not.
Reasons Why Cavemen Did Not Have Acne
Most of the reasons we can give about why cavemen did not have acne are simply hypotheses (educated guesses); we can’t prove them, not really.
One such explanation given is that evolution of human evolution has changed us and made our skin more vulnerable to acne.
Cavemen had their bodies covered with fur, and sebaceous glands produced sebum to keep this fur shiny and smooth.
But we no longer have this fur, and when our sebaceous glands produce sebum, the oil is just clogging our poles, leading to acne.
According to Kellett and Gilbert, when humans evolved and lost their fur, their sebaceous glands did not evolve, which leaves human skin at risk from excessive substances associated with the sebaceous gland and acne.
There is no doubt that our environment has changed to include more pollutants and allergens. All these factors, coupled with skin that is already vulnerable due to clogged poles, increase the risk that these clogged poles will be infected. During the cavemen’s era
Acne is a disease, not a normal physiological process that occurs during puberty. Research has shown that two non-westernized communities Trobriand Islands near Papua New Guinea and the Ache hunter-gatherers of Paraguay, do not have acne even though they experience puberty.
Scientists think that these communities do not have acne because of their diet and their environment. They consume less processed foods, and a low-glycemic-load diet may have therapeutic potential in reducing symptoms of acne.
Acne has increased in response to westernization, which makes it safe to assume that our ancestors, the cavemen, did not have acne. Due to westernization (change in diet and environment), the sebaceous follicles are pathologically stimulated; they become blocked and are then infected and inflamed, which results in acne.
Randomized controlled trials have shown that people who consume a low-glycemic-index diet have less acne. Research also shows that cow milk consumption also increases the prevalence and severity of acne. The paleolithic era (cavemen era) was about 2.5 million years ago, and humans didn’t start consuming cow milk until about 6 000 years ago. Also, the hormonal factors that cause acne are influenced by the food we eat.
Our ancestors, the cavemen, were hunters and gatherers; their diet was as natural as it gets, which is why acne is considered a disease of civilization, such as obesity, diabetes, and cancer, which result from the western diet.
Another reason why cavemen did not have acne is that they did not participate in the harsh facial procedures that we engage in these days. Most of our acne results from rough facial care, which disrupts the skin’s acid mantle.
The acid mantle on the skin refers to the slightly acidic film on the surface of human skin, which works as a barrier against bacteria, viruses, and other pollutants that might otherwise penetrate the skin. When we are rough with our skincare, we can sometimes exfoliate this acid mantle and leave our skin vulnerable.
The acid mantle is the reason behind the caveman regimen, which advocates for a hands-off approach. It means leaving your skin unattended for a couple of days so that the skin can rebalance without interruptions from facial and acne products.
Cavemen did not constantly wash their faces (we are not even sure they actually washed their faces). Their acid mantle was not disrupted, which could have acted as a barrier and the reason for them not having acne.