Facial disfigurements are one of the most overlooked but impactful conditions in the UK. It is not a romantic or particularly emotive subject to many and so, relative to its severity and extent, facial disfigurement gets very little attention. Or does it? Many people will be surprised to learn that acne and psoriasis are considered facial disfigurements, and with that in mind, the issue becomes much more close to home.
The statistics cited in this article come from important work carried out by the charity Changing Faces. They have campaigned tirelessly to increase awareness and availability of treatment for people with facial disfigurements. The numbers quoted here relate to the UK; it is more difficult to find global statistics. For example, in Latin America cleft lips and palates are much more common than they are here.
It is estimated that one in 111 people in the UK has a form of facial disfigurement. That is well over half a million people who may face discrimination, harassment, and bullying on the basis of simply their appearance. And that is just in the UK.
Acne and eczema – the largest cause of facial disfigurement
When most people think of facial disfigurement, they think of scarring or malformations of the face. In fact, the most common form of facial disfigurement is acne, which affects roughly 100,000 people in the UK at any given time. Most teenagers get pimples and spots but acne is a much more serious condition that can lead to permanent lifetime scarring and sometimes the need for extensive therapy and surgery. Research has consistently shown that bullying and stigma from acne can reduce somebody’s likelihood of achieving successful relationships and academic success.
Likewise, eczema is a condition that is not usually considered a facial disfigurement, however, many thousands of people do have eczema on their face. This can cause scarring, bleeding, and extreme discomfort. Both acne and eczema are in many cases treatable but in many cases are not and the toll on the individual and society from both of these conditions is extensive and underappreciated. Over 125,000 people suffer from acne or eczema every year.
Cleft lip and palate -an overlooked but prevalent condition
Cleft lips and palates are caused by a mixture of genetic and environmental factors, although the exact courses are still yet to be established. About 45,000 children are born with cleft lip and/or cleft lip and palate each year in the UK. Surgery to knit the lip and/or palate back together is routine and extremely successful, allowing children to feed successfully, breathe properly, and for their faces to grow in the right way. Cleft lip and palate surgery is so routine that it is mostly overlooked and not many people are aware of it. This is welcome news.
Psoriasis – a hidden but debilitating disfigurement
Psoriasis is a condition that is persistent in the UK population and can be extremely difficult or virtually impossible to treat effectively. As many as 30,000 new cases are reported each year, with an estimated 78,750 people living with psoriasis for more than a year. It is not a condition that is talked about very often but it has an enormous cost to the individual, especially for children, and could do with more attention.
Paralysis – strokes and Bell’s palsy affect hundreds of thousands
In total, around 100,000 people suffer from facial paralysis in the UK. Each year, 140,000 people have strokes that cause them to lose control of the muscles in their face. Most are successfully treated, but around 60000 people have persistent stroke symptoms in their face. Each year, roughly 12,000 people have a condition called Bell’s palsy, which causes half or all of the face to lose muscle tone. About 40,000 people have persistent symptoms from Bell’s palsy in the UK.
Burns, scarring and fractures
Each year, around 20,000 people suffer injuries to the face that cause some form of disfigurement. Of these, 2,000 are from burns and 18,000 are from scarring and fractures. Because of the nature of these injuries, the number of people living with permanent disfigurement to their face is proportionally higher than for other conditions. Reconstructive surgery is not quite at the level where we can accurately replace parts of people’s faces to an unnoticeable level, however, it does appear to be very close at hand. It is expected that in the next 15 years we will be able to grow new skin for anyone who needs it, as well as bones, muscle, and other facial tissues. Until then, people with burns, scars, and fractures to their faces will continue to suffer. All but the most extensive facial burns can be treated very effectively these days, the same is true for underlying damage.