Acne: Neurodiverse, Nerds and Native Americans

The title of this post may seem somewhat boring, but there is something really interesting here. There is a real link between neurodiversity and acne and it’s a paradox because neurodiversity is all about having a different brain and acne is all about skin problems. How could there be any connection at all?

A few days ago I noticed that severe acne was more common in people with a certain personality type I knew: intuitives (in Myers-Briggs). I have termed these people “hunter-gatherer neurotribe” before. It includes most people with neurodiversities as well as people who are typically nerdy and somewhat socially awkward. So, I started to research the topic online. What about autism and acne? Bingo, there it is:

Compared to controls, significantly more women with ASC reported (a) hirsutism, (b) bisexuality or asexuality, © irregular menstrual cycle, (d) dysmenorrhea, (e) polycystic ovary syndrome, (f) severe acne , (g) epilepsy, (h) tomboyism, and (i) family history of ovarian, uterine, and prostate cancers, tumors, or growths. Compared to controls, significantly more mothers of ASC children reported (a) severe acne , (b) breast and uterine cancers, tumors, or growths, and © family history of ovarian and uterine cancers, tumors, or growths. These results suggest current hormone abnormalities in women with ASC and their mothers. ()

What about ADHD, then? Bingo again:

Yes, says a Canadian psychiatrist whose study shows that people with acne are substantially more likely to have ADHD than people with other skin problems. “ Acne patients should be screened for ADHD , especially if they complain about [classic symptoms such as] trouble paying attention and impulsivity,” says Madhulika A. Results showed visits involving a diagnosis of acne were 6.3 times more likely to also involve a diagnosis of ADHD than visits involving diagnoses of other skin problems()

It’s so common that an expert advises screening for ADHD in cases of severe acne. Where is the connection between body and mind here? Some research (controversial) says that diet can aggravate problems with acne, especially dairy and wheat (herder and farmer foods). It’s no big secret that neurodiverse people often struggle with allergies to these two types of food. Another link to a “mind-body” connection among neurodiverse people.

Next, I decided to do a poll on Reddit in an INFP subreddit. Once again, there are indications that acne is a real problem among “hunter-gatherer”/intuitive types (N=hunter-gatherer, SJ=farmer, SP is herder).

What about real hunter-gatherers?

The researchers examined 1,200 (including 300 teens) Kitavan Islanders from Papua New Guinea and 115 (including 15 teens) Ache hunter-gatherers from Paraguay. They found no cases of acne in either population. In fact, the study says they found no pimples on any of those people studied. (source)

Nope, there doesn’t seem to be a link. No acne at all among hunter-gatherers. Not so quick, what about hunter-gatherers living in “civilized” or “farmer” societies?

Schaefer,7 a general practitioner who spent almost 30 years treating Inuit (Eskimo) people as they made the transition to modern life, reported that acne was absent in the Inuit population when they were living and eating in their traditional manner, but upon acculturation, acne prevalence became similar to that in Western societies. ()

While Native Americans have approximately the same prevalence of acne as the general US population, they have extremely high rates of acne scarring, indicating more severe symptoms.

Prevalence of acne scarring by ethnicity. A, Prevalence of acne scarring among Native Americans, as reported by participants in the present study. B, Combined rates of atrophic and hypertrophic acne scarring observed in other ethnic groups in the 2011 study by Perkins et al.

What does all this mean? There is certainly a lot more research needed to explore the similarities between neurodiverse people and hunter-gatherers. In the meantime, this may be a bit of consolation to nerdy or geeky (hunter-gatherer) types with acne who don’t seem to be popular with the opposite sex anyway. Yes, there is this stereotype of the nerdy guy or girl with pimples. Cutting down on carbs and dairy may help. And we do often find our partner, many of us later in life than the average population. Science has been showing us for a while now that neurodiverse people tend to have their offspring later in life.

Originally published at on October 22, 2021.