Each year in the UK about 20,000 people suffer from facial disfigurement as a result of the injury. It is an under-reported and underappreciated aspect of life in the UK. Roughly one in 1,000 people in the UK have a significant facial disfigurement that was caused by an accident.
With modern surgery and rehabilitation techniques, an enormous number of people get the treatment they need and can go about their daily lives without people noticing their disfigurement. However, even though medical treatment is so good these days, there are about 66,000 people in the UK who have a persistent facial disfigurement from injury. Generations of stigma against people with facial disfigurements mean that the impact on someone’s life after an injury can be more than just the pain and the loss of work and freedom; an injury can significantly limit somebody’s educational and emotional aspirations.
Each year roughly 2,000 people suffer from burns to the face that result in facial disfigurement. That number is much lower than it used to be because of improved safety standards and awareness, however, it is still a high number of people. The tissues of the face are extremely delicate and can be very difficult to restore to the original appearance. Superficial burns can remove the top layer of skin, this is rarely the cause of permanent damage. But when the burns go deeper into the underlying tissue, it is very difficult for surgeons and therapists to give somebody their face back. Skin grafts and reconstruction of the underlying bones and tissues can do remarkable amounts to restore somebody’s face. However, the techniques and technologies do not exist yet to fully regenerate the tissue.
These technologies are not too far off. Scientists have successfully grown skin in laboratories from stem cells, raising the hopes that when somebody suffers from burns to the face or elsewhere, it will be possible to grow them some new skin and graft that on, instead of taking a flap from elsewhere on the body. There are many different types of skin on somebody’s body and this technique offers the opportunity to fully match skin types and make the results unnoticeable. There is a lot of work to be done before this is possible, but it is a very realistic possibility in the next 10 years.
Scarring and fractures
Most facial disfigurement from injury are the results of impact and the resulting scars from surgery, or the tissue being removed in the accident. The bones of the face are quite delicate and easily broken. Compared to the bones in your arms or legs, they can be extremely difficult to make heal in a simple and non-invasive way. Often, in order to repair the underlying damage to bones and muscles, extensive invasive surgery is needed. This can leave a person with large scars in the most noticeable places, even if their face has now got a relatively normal aspect.
About 54,000 people in the UK live with scarring and damage to the fractures of the face. Every year, nearly 18,000 people suffer from impacts that cause them facial disfigurements. Because of the remarkable work of surgeons and therapists, most people are able to have their faces almost fully restored. However, sometimes the damage is so great that many people are not able to have the original face structure restored. Progress is being made all the time and as stem cell technology and immune system understanding increases, it will be much easier in the future to build parts of somebody’s face in the laboratory and then graft them on. It is even possible that we could program their face to rebuild itself, but that’s much further off.
The impact of facial disfigurement from injury
Facial injury causing disfigurement can have a devastating impact both physically and mentally, not only on the person directly affected but also on family and friends. Thankfully there are a number of support services and charities in the UK that can help with the impact.
If the facial injury was caused deliberately or through somebody else being careless, irresponsible or negligent, the injured person might also be able to get compensation. Accident Claims Advice deals exclusively with people who have suffered a personal injury including burn injuries and criminal assaults. They have a lot of information on personal injuries and offer free legal advice on their website.
Discrimination against facial injury is common, widespread, and receives next to no attention in the news. When facial disfigurements do end up in media, it is usually rare or unusual cases. The important work done by Adam Pearson and others to raise awareness of facial disfigurement has been very helpful, but for most people with facial disfigurements resulting from injury, there is no real recognition. It is still a common trope that bad guys in movies have facial injuries or scarring, further reinforcing the idea that people with disfigurements are somehow inferior or wrong.
The impact of these attitudes is enormous. Regular harassment, taunting, and bullying is common. Having a facial injury can destroy somebody’s confidence and this can affect their academic achievement and especially their love lives. Just imagine trying to do online dating when your profile picture has a facial disfigurement. While progress is being made, people still make extremely shallow and superficial judgements based on somebody’s face. If you broke your leg you would get sympathy, if you’re missing your nose you would not. This has to change.