Tweeting the truth about acne


The truth about acne is out there, but it isn’t always on Twitter.

As the popular social-networking platform continues to grow as a forum for health information, clinicians should be aware of the acne myths, misinformation, and miscellaneous home remedies being shared, and take the opportunity to tweak their patient-education strategies in the clinic setting and online, according to information published in a research letter in JAMA Dermatology.

Health care providers who are comfortable with Twitter can use it to follow acne-related tweets and share reliable medical information and resources, Dr. Kamal Jethwani of the Center for Connected Health, Boston, and his colleagues suggested.

© Stephen Strathdee/

Many teens and young adults are looking to Twitter for information about acne.

During a 2-week period in June 2012, Dr. Jethwani and his colleagues identified more than 8,000 "high-impact" tweets related to acne. High-impact tweets were defined as those with one or more retweets during the study period, and contained at least one of five keywords: acne, pimple, pimples, zit, or zits.

They used the Twitter Streaming Application Programming Interface to determine how Twitter users share information (and misinformation) about acne.

The researchers sorted the tweets into four categories: personal, celebrity (because stars like Jessica Simpson get acne, too), education, and irrelevant/excluded.

Overall, the researchers examined 8,192 English-language high-impact tweets. Of these, 43% were personal, 20% were about celebrities (the researchers didn’t mention any names), 27% were educational, and 9% were excluded or irrelevant. Of the education tweets, 17% were related to disease information and 9% were treatment-related.

Approximately two-thirds of the disease tweets were variations on the theme of "Why does acne exist?" Not surprisingly, the most often tweeted treatment-related question was a variation of "How do I get rid of my acne?"

"There were a large variety of acne home remedies suggested, including topical food-based remedies ranging from eggs to herbs to fruit," the researchers noted. In addition, 3% of tweeters recommended the topical use of over-the-counter products including baking soda, aloe vera gel, and crushed aspirin (for salicylic acid).

The researchers then compared the word frequency of the selected tweets to the word choices on the American Academy of Dermatology website. Tweeters were more likely to use nonmedical terms such as pimple or pimples vs. terms like pores, skin, or cells used on the AAD website.

"In addition, the AAD website did not address topics that are commonly discussed on Twitter, like makeup, stress, and the efficacy of diet, toothpaste, or other home remedies on acne," the researchers noted.

So, doctors who tweet, you have 140 characters to say whether toothpaste works on zits.

One of the study coauthors, Dr. Joseph Kvedar, reported serving as a consultant for and holding stock in Healthrageous. The other researchers had no financial conflicts to disclose.

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