A Decade of Dermatology in Cinema

It started with a few posts, publicity photos that revealed common skin conditions. Movies still use the skin as a central aspect of storytelling, but it turns out that a lot has changed in ten years.

What's changed?

Adult acne no longer a secret

Keira Knightley is shocked to learn
that Jessica Alba is one of many...
...also troubled by adult acne.

Acne, an ailment usually associated with adolescent angst, is also very common in the over 18 set. Yet in the mid 1990's, this seemed a societal secret. Now, word is out, with A-list stars like Jessica Alba, Renee Zellweger, Cameron Diaz, and Kiera Knightley forthright about their pimple problems in high profile magazine interviews. Not-so-dumb blonde Jessica Simpson has even shilled for a heavily marketed over-the-counter acne line after she had admitted in print that the prescription medicine Accutane had already cleared her complexion. Though no one stop cure-all for problem pores exists, at least patients need not feel alone when Brad Pitt and alleged paramour Angelina Jolie share not only a movie star bond. They're acne survivors as well.

Bald est beau

"Transporter" Jason Statham...
..."Pacifier" Vin Diesel...
...and "Doom"-sayer The Rock baldly go where few action stars have gone before.

Until the early 1990's, a movie actor's receding hair line meant a recession in leading man roles. Other than Thai king Yul Brynner and sanitation savior Mr. Clean, bald actors had to settle for playing the heavy. Beginning with African American sports figures and actors, the clean shaven scalp has slowly become an option for the sparsely forested among us. Bruce Willis nearly single-handedly made comb-overs a painful historical footnote for Caucasian men. With his brave lead, current hunks Jason Statham, Vin Diesel, and the Rock can open a can of whup-arse without resorting to a wig. While no one would choose to lose their locks, and plenty of research is ongoing to conquer this cosmetic conundrum, at least bald action stars can now keep their day jobs.

Plus the rest of can opt for cleaner shaved scalp rather than a combover. Who knows? Maybe hair stretching empresario Donald Trump will tell his hairdresser, "You're fired!"

Snake oil explosion

The trailer for "Resident Evil: Apocalypse"...

...Looks like an infomercial for an anti-aging cream...

...Until side effects occur!

Milla's not buying.

In the late 1980's, a vitamin A cream, known to be helpful in controlling acne, was also shown to minimize sun damage. Retin-A (tretinoin) was a breakthrough, maybe not in eradicating every visible wrinkle, but certainly in jump-starting a cornerstone of the international economy. Cream upon cream has since been introduced, some with data to support skin rejuvenation (alpha hydroxy acid and vitamin C), and many many with no data to back their producers' claims (Does topical soy really help the skin?). This supposed fountain of youth has become a snake oil tsunami that threatens to drown any baby boomer with a disposable income and a high magnification mirror.

Hollywood itself has even begun a backlash, with cruel cosmetic companies despicably attempting to destroy humanity. Good thing Halle Berry and Milla Jovavich are available to stop them. The irony that both these stars have modelled for cosmetic lines is not lost on us. Looks like commerce trumps comedones any day.

The (near) end of the Evil Albino

Movies have long used problem skin to identify movie villains, but one trend has been particularly disturbing. When bad guys are scarred, bald, or tattooed, we recognize that producers are just trying evoke evil efficiently. But the increasing use of the villainous albino character, usually as a gun-toting assassin, seemed to us excessive. Particularly since people born with albinism, a genetic deficiency in pigmentation, usually have problems with vision, so would not be the first choice for a career as a sharpshooter. Working with the albinism advocacy group NOAH, we have tried to raise awareness about the exploitation of this minority group. Campaigns addressing the albino twins in the "Matrix: Reloaded" and now "The Da Vinci Code" have started to spread the word that the vicious, red-eyed, ghostly pale evil albino deserves a much needed retirement from film.

Have these press releases had any impact? By 2003, albino adversaries were at an all time high. Yet in 2004 and 2005, no evil albino characters have been seen onscreen. While Ralph Fiennes as Lord Voldemort in "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire" fits the bald and pale category of albinopecia, no one would mistake his nose-free serpentine self as a typical case of albinism.

Yet 2006 promises to cut short this trend. Despite attempts to convince the makers of "Da Vinci Code" that the gun-worshiping monk Silas was frightening enough without having albinism, actor Paul Bettany adopts the white faced look anyway. Here he gives hero Tom Hanks a jowl-gripping choke. We hope, with increased awareness, this silly stereotype will be trotted out for the final time! Occasionally, some bad things also come to an end.

Real faces are increasingly in our face

In the glorious studio system days of the first half of the 20th century, the illusion of perfect movie star complexions was tightly controlled. Makeup and lighting techniques were perfected to insure not one acne scar, wrinkle, or blemish was visible to disrupt the enjoyment of an afternoon matinee. These days, the times are a-changin'. With reality TV, HDTV, Tivo, and (for better or worse) the exploding tabloid industry, the exposure of epidermal defects is exponential. Even King Kong appears unhappy that his sizable scars are visible to his many fans. While an understandable issue for celebs, our view is that this reduces the pressure on the rest of society to maintain an unrealistic goal. It reminds us that flawless film skin is as much a fantasy as a Peter Jackson cgi extravaganza. And helping lend a hand to recognize common skin problems and provide answers and treatment tips, we will continue to be here, for a second decade of dermatology in movies. Skinema, to inflammation...and beyond!

Many thanks to all fans, visitors, and supporters of the skinema site. We look forward to continuing to amuse and enlighten in the years to come.

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