A face to die for: acne, Accutane and the quest for perfect skin, 1950s-present

Year of award: 2015


  • Iain Ferguson    

    University of Strathclyde

Project summary

Acne is a blight on the social and emotional lives of many adolescents, often leaving physical and psychological scars. This project will recount the history of acne and its most controversial treatment: the prescription drug Accutane. Although Accutane dominated the treatment of acne by the 1980s, it also caused dangerous side-effects, ranging from neurological symptoms to birth defects. It has also been linked to more than 100 suicides and 5,000 lawsuits worldwide. Accutane has been withdrawn for sale in the US but is still available in the UK under the name Roaccutane. 

I intend to chart how acne became the subject of medical concern and how its causes and treatments were understood. I will examine how physicians and pharmaceutical companies turned to the perceived health needs of adolescent patients and analyse how the risks and benefits of Accutane and other acne treatments were perceived by patients and physicians.