In pre-historic times, did those with bad acne get fewer dates?

Is there any natural selection going on here?

I don’t really know whether humans would have got as bad acne 10,000 years ago as compared with now, but I really do wonder.

Given the state of how both boys and girls with acne were treated in my school and especially how few dates the dudes got, I’m wondering what type of natural selection bias there was against those with spots.

I know that evolutionarily we tend to prefer those of our species with the fewest blemishes, since this indicates a strong immune system.

But I’m also wondering whether or not there’s some “cool scar” status going on here. I’ve read that apparently scars can be a badge of honor amongst males in certain African tribes, since it shows resilience to a (presumably) bad or harsh environment.

Could it be possible that the scars (or pockmarks) from acne are ever treated in the same way? As in, “these guys survived this particular ailment and must thus be fitter”?

Is there any current thinking on the subject?

I rather doubt that the concept of “dating” existed in pre-historic times.

I don’t recall ever seeing any research on the subject, but considering that hygiene in those days was nowhere near what we’re used to today and people more often than not had to deal with such things as lice and festering infections, and more than likely the occasional pox epidemic, even a bad case of acne certainly would not have been the social stigma it is these days.

Besides, by the time we approach historic times, marriages in most cultures tended to be arranged and the couples themselves would have had very little to say in the matter and were usually married off by their mid-teens and would have been expected to have their first child by the late teen years, so dating in itself was probably not a significant factor in the lives of ancient teenagers.

Of course there’s no factual answer but there’s a few things that need to be appreciated before you can even start speculating.

First off acne is negatively correlated with sun exposure and the amount of melanin in the skin. Although there are obvious exceptions acne is worse in pale Caucasians than in people with darker skin. That’s in part because of the sterilising and drying effect on sun exposure and partly because of the antibiotic effect of melanin itself. For most of our history everyone lived and worked outdoors, so it’s possible that severe acne was only a seasonal condition at worst. Similarly there appears to be a correspondence between acne and physical exertion, and for most of our history everybody was physically exerting themselves constantly.

Next point is that acne is the result of hormonal disturbances caused by rapid ‘growth’ that the body and skin flora can’t compensate for. People in the past, at least the farmers, tended to be chronically malnourished and stressed, so it may well be that the rapid growth simply didn’t occur constantly. In late summer and autumn teenagers got acne for a few months, then it went away again as growth slowed.

Added to that people for most of our history weren’t spoiled for choice of partners. People lived in small tribes of 3-10 closely related people and interacted with maybe 200 others. Inbreeding was a constant risk and people developed legal systems that dictated who could and could not marry who. For men seniority usually meant first refusal of eligible spouses and that marriage was used to cement social bonds between disparate groups. Dating as we know it simply never existed. Severe acne as we know it would have meant that at worst a girl would have to accept a less senior husband (which may be disadvantageous or not depending on the circumstances). For the boys it presumably had little effect at all since the girls rarely if ever had a right to refuse a marriage.

So you really have to wonder if acne ever had any chance to have any effect on 99% people. It probably didn’t.

I think that you are making erroneous assumptions about the nature and distribution of acne. I have seen plenty of african americans with severe acne scarring. Just because the skin color makes it more difficult to see the blemishes does not mean that they don’t exist.

I would be most suprised to find any scholarly literature linking exercise with a reduction in acne. If this were really a factor, you’d see many many more people exercising just to get rid of the acne.

As for the idea that acne is correlated to growth spurts? Never even heard that one suggested before.

Sooo, to sum up… cite?

Exactly. The idea of romantic love historically is fairly modern.

“acne occurs slightly less often in those with darker skin types. For example, one US health interview survey reported “trouble with acne” in 28% of white households under 45 years of age versus 19% for black households”

Callender,. V.D, 2004.; Acne in ethnic skin: special considerations for therapy. Dermatologic Therapy Volume 17

Consider that this is the US, where ‘black’ and ‘white’ form sets with considerable overlap. There are other better references that skin melanisation affects acne, but that suffices to support my contention that “acne is negatively correlated with sun exposure and the amount of melanin in the skin”.

I wouldn’t. The link between exercise and acne reduction is universally accepted. Exercise is recommended by very doctor and health organisation I know of. Exercise combats stress, mediates insulin response and improves cutaneous blood flow aside from anything else, and all those things play a roles in acne occurence.

A simple search of the databases readily reveals nothing, but that’s because ‘exercise’ is a ubiquitous term in medical literature. Note that it readily reveals nothing at all pertaining to acne and exercise (excluding acne mechanica), no studies at all. Frankly I haven’t the time or inclination to construct an in-depth search, but a simple Google search using ( acne exercise ) will confirm that exercise is recommended for reducing acne by health professionals.

Perhaps at this point you might provide some evidence or reasoning for your claim that they are all giving erroneous advice? Until then I’ll stick by what I and they say.

Umm, what did you think it was related to if not pubertal ‘growth’?

I assume the OP meant to ask a question about evolution, not dating habits.
(i.e.–why wasn’t acne eliminated through evolution, because people prefer to mate with healthy looking partners.)
Acne would have been a pretty minor problem in the past. Modern hygiene has eliminated all the real health hazards that made life dangerous, so we can afford to let acne become a major issue.

Thank you. Yes it does. Acne is still present but less so.

Well the reasoning for my claim is that both my wife and I had moderate acne from age 15 to age 35. We have both been to many dermatologists in several states, and not one of them ever suggested a link between exercise and reduced breakout. And anecdotally, exercise oftens increases breakouts in my wife.

Well I imagine that if doctors really knew what the root cause was, they would do a better job of combatting it. And unless you are suggesting that I grew in steady growth spurts from age 15 to age 35, i would have to say that you are making unfounded guesses. Hormones I will believe. Certain types of skin I would buy. But growth spurts? Sorry. I’m not 9 ft tall.

Well as I said , every doctor, dermatoligist and I know of recommends execrise. Your anecdote suggests that it may not be universal as I thought, but it must be close.

There’s no doubt that acne is caused by overactive sebaceous glands associated with puberty. Just because doctors know that doesn’t mean they are able to treat it. Doctors know that the common cold is caused by a rhinovrus infecting the mucous membranes of the respiratory tract too. They’ve known that for over 50 years. No treatment exists. There’s a gulf between knowing what causes somehting and knowing how to prevent it causing it.

Notice how I put ‘growth’ in quotes every single time I used it? I wasn’t suggesting literal physical growth. Acne is caused by rapid hormonal and physical changes associated with body transformation at pubery. That’s a mouthful, so I used ‘growth’ instead’.

Sorry if it confused you, but in GQ I run the risk of being so technical it becomes unreadable or incomprehensible for many people. Unfortunately at the other end there;s a risk thatpeopel will take a generalistaion or simplifctaion and miconstrue it, even if it’s labelled as being non literal by the use of quotations. My bad.

My point is that acne is mostly the result of hormanal imbalance or overload causing the sebaceous glands to overproduce and the inability of the skin bacteria to adjust to that. That hormonal imbalance is caused by the changes that are occuring as a result of puberty. If those changes are stalled as a result of acute malnutrition, illness etc. the the acne will often retreat as well because the hormones stabilise, oil production stsbilises and the skin flora adapt to the new conditions.

Starvation and life-threatening illness are not recommended as acne tretaments of course.

Hm. Not a single one recommended it to me, and believe me, I’ve seen many, many dermatologists.

Yes, but it is still not correct. I battled moderate acne for 20 years after I left puberty behind, and still battle mild acne years later. While acne relates heavily to puberty, it is by no means caused by puberty.

In prehistoric times, if someone had most of their teeth in the right places, had grown to a reasonable size, could see straight, had no major injuries or scarring elsewhere, some skill at hunting/foraging and a reasonable level of general health, it probably made them a very desireable partner indeed even with quite severe acne.

If they were total klutzes at feeding the tribe, were missing an eye or had some bones broken and set badly, even skin like a peach wouldn’t make them no 1 on the draft list.

Relative frequency aside, I think in those days acne would have been regarded much more as a minor skin irritation rather than as the social affliction it is nowadays, when people don’t have quite as many other crippling illnesses to worry about.