Student-led acne education project eliminates stigma and empowers young people

An initiative launched by UBC students aims to eliminate the stigma of acne.

The Acne Education Project is a collaborative initiative between undergraduate students and medical students at UBC. Founded in late 2020, they aim to raise awareness of the effects of acne on mental health and support evidence-based workshops to educate young people in “fun and engaging ways”, according to its website.

Vincent Wan, co-founder and president of the Acne Education Project and MD candidate at UBC, said he and his co-founders started the project to increase education about the physical and psychological aspects of acne vulgaris.

The project began as an “evidence-based workshop” for elementary school grades, Wan said. After its launch, the acne education project caught the eye of a local dermatology resident, who connected the project leaders with three local Canadian dermatologists who reviewed their presentation.

This year, the Acne Education Project is offering free educational presentations to elementary and middle schools in grades five through eight across British Columbia.

“We’ve been able to present to over 40 different schools so far,” Wan said.

The project preaches three aspects in its presentation: prevention, management and awareness.

According to Wan, developing a skincare routine can help prevent inflammatory cystic, comedonal, and nodular acne.

“Having a good and consistent skincare routine can help prevent or combat these [types of acne]he said, “but it’s important to be gentle.

He also mentioned balance. “Exercise, have good hygiene, change masks and pillowcases. These are all different things that we can address in terms of prevention.

When discussing acne management, Wan said there are plenty of over-the-counter options available. Through the project, he learned that many young people are unaware of certain effective—and affordable—medications such as salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide. He mentioned oral isotretinoin as a prescribed medication that can help control acne.

Wan mentioned the commonality of highly reviewed and effective drugs, such as Retin A, which are relatively inexpensive. “Some of the Retin A tubes are $20 and can last all year round,” Wan said.

He warned of the numerous but perhaps less effective alternatives available in pharmacies.

“When I was in high school, I was so desperate to find something that worked,” he said. “I invested my own earnings into buying products that I thought would help me. In the long run, I ended up wasting a lot of money trying to fix my skin.

Wan said the severity of acne can be subjective, but talking to a doctor is important if it’s affecting daily life.

Much of the project also tackles the negative stigma surrounding acne. A 2020 meta-analysis of the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology found that there was a “significant association of acne vulgaris with depression”.

“Up to 90 percent of college students will suffer from acne at some point in their lives,” Wan said. “Yet we don’t really talk about it, ever. For any skin condition, there is a stigma that it could be infectious or that someone with acne is dirty.

The work of the Acne Education Project is growing and its members are recognized by the Canadian Dermatology Association. The project won the public education award presented by the association at the end of July this year.

“We really hope to use this recognition to direct our next steps,” Wan said. He said the Acne Education Project is trying to expand into rural BC. Project members are currently seeking grants to expand its operations.

“Eventually we want to get to a stage where we can get in touch with the Minister of Education, possibly incorporating some acne education at the elementary school level.” you

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