Actors and Acne

Eighty percent of teens get acne. Eighty percent of television and movie stars go through acne in their teenage years, too, and some of the celebrities you always see with flawless skin on the big and small screen had to battle with acne while they were teens—and in some cases long after they were teens. Here are some famous examples.

In 1995, actor Brad Pitt was selected as People Magazine’s “Sexiest Man Alive.” In 1975, however, the then-unknown Brad Pitt was about to start Kickapoo High School in Springfield, Missouri. He was plagued by acne. In 1985, Pitt was earning his living by wearing a chicken suit for an El Pollo Loco restaurant in Los Angeles, California, keeping his acne scars under synthetic chicken feathers.

Since he began his acting career in 1987, Brad Pitt has always had makeup artists available to cover his acne scars for public appearances, but even today (so I am told by a friend who shared a cab with him a few years ago) Pitt’s scars are visible without makeup. But his self-confidence is more noticeable than a few blemishes in his complexion.

Growing up a Baptist preacher’s daughter in Abilene, Texas, actress, singer, and philanthropist Jessica Simpson was recording albums at the age of 12. She pursued a highly visible music and acting career despite having teenage acne—making no effort to hide the fact that acne was a part of her life. She even agreed to be photographed when her skin was broken out, and used her position to show how well various acne products (especially ProActiv) worked for her.

In 2004, Simpson launched a line of edible cosmetics she called “Desert Beauty,” and in 2005 she introduced a line of cosmetics for girls she called “Desert Treats.” On October 31, 2011, Simpson launched an e-commerce beauty site with celebrity aesthetician Nerida Joy called BeautyMint, and the combined revenues of Simpson’s cosmetics and clothing ventures is expected to exceed $1 billion in 2012.

Sixty-four year-old actor Edward James Olmos once suffered severe cystic acne on his cheeks and forehead, but that did not keep him from winning an Emmy and a Golden Globe for his roles on Miami Vice, Battlestar Galactica, The West Wing, and Dexter. He has starred in over 40 movies ranging from the serious 12 Angry Men to the not-so-serious Green Hornet and Beverly Hills Chihuahua. And throughout his career he has played nearly all of his roles with very visible acne scars.

Beautiful and phenomenally talented Serbian tennis star Anna Ivanovic allows herself to be photographed when she has active pimples not covered up by makeup. Canadian singer-songwriter Nelly Furtado, known for her hit songs Promiscuous and Like a Bird, has been photographed with dozens of active pimples on her forehead, as has Daniel Radcliffe, best known for playing Harry Potter. Socialite Nicole Richey did not attempt to cover up acne when she was pregnant with her first child, and CSI star and famed actor Laurence Fishburn has had active acne his entire career.

If active is so disfiguring, how can actors be considered sex symbols in spite of it? There is some truth to the old adage that beauty is more than skin deep. Psychologists have studied why certain people seem beautiful and reached some surprising and not-so-surprising conclusions:

  • Facial symmetry is a major component of attractiveness.
  • Makeup makes more of a difference when someone is seen for a “split second” than when he or she is seen for an extended period.
  • Makeup makes people seem more likeable, but not more trustworthy.
  • Darker color for the eyes and lips and skin tones that make the cheekbones more prominent can compensate for acne scars.
  • Redness caused by inflammation is unattractive, but redness caused by oxygenation (better circulation to the skin) is highly attractive.
  • The “glow” estrogen gives women’s skin is attractive because of heightened red coloration of the skin, and occurs when women are at their greatest fertility.
  • Even color of the skin across the face is associated with perception of health and vitality. Even texture of the skin across the face is associated with perception of youthfulness. In laboratory tests in which participants were only shown a photo of a face with varying degrees of rough skin, estimates of age varied by as much as 20 years.
  • Most Asians have relatively tight skin that makes blemishes in the cheeks and jawlines more noticeable.
  • People who have acne are often regarded as more trustworthy—just not as lust-worthy—compared to people who have clear skin.

So how do these principles explain the attractiveness of actors who have acne? Here are some of the reasons acne does keep actors from “beautiful people” status.

  • Edward James Olmos, Laurence Fishburne, and Anna Invanovic allows themselves to be photographed with acne scars or active acne, but they tend to have equal numbers of blemishes on both top and bottom and left and right sides of their faces. A television star who has a single nasty zit on one side of his or her face would not be seen as equally attractive.
  • We tend to be more accepting of celebrity imperfections if we get other cues about them—Jessica Simpson promoting a charity, for example. A quick glance of a star caught in public without makeup leads to greater rejection than a 15-minute interview with an obvious cosmetic malfunction, assuming the celebrity is otherwise likeable. A 15-minute interview with Gilbert Gottfried, voice of the AFLAC duck fired after making jokes about dead people in Japan after the 2011 earthquake, for example, is unlikely to make him appear more handsome.
  • Edward James Olmos doesn’t use makeup to cover his acne scars, but this does not hurt him because he plays authority figures, a math teacher in an inner city high school, for example, or the exceptionally brave captain on a spaceship.
  • Jessica Simpson’s eye shadow and lipstick tend to make her acne invisible.
  • Sixty-eight year-old actress Holland Taylor, famous for her role as grandmother and seductress on Two and One-Half Men, is credible playing a vixen in part because her skin is evenly matte and smooth.
  • Korean actress Song Hye Kyo is famous for admitting she uses a product called Blemish Balm to control acne on her cheeks, making them less prominent.
  • Catherine Zeta-Jones in the movie Traffic and Jodie Foster in the movie Panic Room both were filmed when they had serious acne breakouts due to their pregnancies. But acne did not detract from their stage presence in playing these serious roles.

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