A small survey suggests many patients consult social media for advice on acne treatment and follow recommendations that don’t align with clinical guidelines.

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Of the 130 patients surveyed, 45% consulted social media for advice on acne treatment, and 52% of those patients followed recommendations that don’t correspond to American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) guidelines. Most patients reported no improvement (40%) or minimal improvement (53%) in their acne after following advice from social media.

“These results suggest that dermatologists should inquire about social media acne treatment advice and directly address misinformation,” wrote Ahmed Yousaf, of West Virginia University, Morgantown, W.Va., and colleagues. Their report is in Pediatric Dermatology.

They conducted the survey of 130 patients treated for acne at West Virginia University. Most patients were female (60%), and a majority were adolescents (54%) or adults (44%). About half of the patients (51%) said their acne was moderate, 38% said it was severe, and 11% said it was mild.

Most patients said they consulted a medical professional for their first acne treatment (58%). However, 16% of patients said they first went to social media for advice, 26% said they consulted family or friends, and 10% took “other” steps as their first approach to acne treatment.

In all, 45% of patients consulted social media for acne treatment advice at some point. This includes 54% of women, 31% of men, 41% of adolescents, and 51% of adults. Social media consultation was more common among patients with severe acne (54%) than among those with mild (36%) or moderate (39%) acne.

The most common social media platforms used were YouTube and Instagram (58% each), followed by Pinterest (31%), Facebook (19%), Twitter (9%), Snapchat (7%), and Tumblr (3%). (Patients could select more than one social media platform.)

Roughly half (52%) of patients who consulted social media followed advice that does not align with AAD guidelines, 31% made changes that are recommended by the AAD, and 17% did not provide information on recommendations they followed.

The social media advice patients followed included using over-the-counter products (81%), making dietary changes (40%), using self-made products (19%), taking supplements (16%), and making changes in exercise routines (7%). (Patients could select more than one treatment approach.)

Among the patients who followed social media advice, 40% said they saw no change in their acne, and 53% reported minimal improvement.

“Only 7% of social media users reported significant improvement in their acne,” Mr. Yousaf and colleagues wrote. “This may be due to less accurate content found on social media compared to other health care sources.”

The authors acknowledged that the patients surveyed were recruited from a dermatology clinic. Therefore, these results “likely underestimate the percentage of patients who improve from social media acne treatment advice and do not consult a medical professional.”

Mr. Yousaf and colleagues did not disclose any conflicts of interest.

SOURCE: Yousaf A et al. Pediatr Dermatol. 2020 Jan 15. doi: 10.1111/pde.14091.