What do Freddie Kreuger, the Wicked Witch of the West, and Hannibal Lector have in common? If your first answer is “movie villains,” you’ve got one answer covered. If you answer “dermatological skin conditions,” way to go! Either you’re especially astute, or you read the article title. Either way, congratulations.
It’s not just this trio of baddies that has skincare problems. In fact, a recent study published in JAMA Dermatology evaluated the American Film Institute’s “100 greatest heroes and villains” list and found that 60% of villains featured “visible, diagnosable dermatological conditions.” These include facial scars, alopecia (hair loss), and verruca vulgaris (warts), among other maladies.
As dermatologists, we hate to break it to you, but in the real world anyone can have dermatological issues. Bad skin isn’t symbolic of your character or motivations whatsoever, though it can certainly be annoying and even painful to deal with.
As a trope, using skin disease as a shorthand for evil is a bit tiring. Moreover, it stigmatizes people with skin care issues, who are usually no less devious than you or me. If anything, they were dealt a bad hand in life by genetics or chance in the skin department (and let's face it, we all have our flaws).
Though obviously fictional, it’s worth noting that these villains have skin conditions that are treatable—just like our patients at Bobby Buka MD.
Here are three prevalent skin care issues movie villains present with, and how even bad guys have options to obtain clearer, healthier skin. Maybe with the right dermatologist, their evil deeds could have been avoided entirely.
Alopecia, or hair loss, is a common affliction that 40% of men notice by age 35, 65% by age 60, and 80% by 85. 30% of the analyzed villains had this condition, including Mr. Potter, the greedy banker from It’s a Wonderful Life. In the movie, the camera hovers on his scalp as if to emphasize it and conflate it with his moral bankruptcy.
But what if Mr. Potter were treated for alopecia early and regularly? He could have taken over the counter minoxidil, which retards the conversion of testosterone to 5HT, blocking its receptors that line every hair follicle and preventing hair loss. If worst came to worst, he could have opted for a hair transplant (with the right surgeon, we promise it looks natural).
Maybe, just maybe, the confidence of a full head of hair could have prompted him to use his wealth for good instead of evil. Instead, he was left with Stage 7 Alopecia and a heart of coal.
Scarring is a dermatological condition that comes after physical injury, and too often, a fair bit of violence or tragedy. In movies, they can be illustrative of “a stormy path filled with violence,” which could not be more true for Star War’s Darth Vader, whose past (and face) are so stormy, he needs a mask to disguise them.
Darth Vader’s scars, on his scalp and cheek, come in addition to alopecia, periorbital hyperpigmentation (dark pigmentation around eyes), and deep rhytides (wrinkles). To focus on the scars, though, even the deepest cuts and burns can be mitigated with the right treatment. He could have opted for surgical removal through skin grafts, dermbrasion, laser surgery, or excision; steroid injections to smooth them out; and over the counter ointments to aid the healing process.
Would less visible scarring have kept Darth Vader from going over to the dark side and facing off against his own son? Improbable, but hey, self-confidence can be nearly as powerful as the force.
Deep rhytides, or wrinkles, are common in female villains like the Wicked Witch of the West from The Wizard of Oz and the evil Queen from Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. The intention is to juxtapose the pure, good young heroines from old, jealous hags that oppose them.
It’s true that most people want a smooth complexion, though most won’t go as far as poisoning an apple to preserve it. Today’s dermatologists have many methods of preventing and treating rhytides safely and effectively. This includes simple skincare regimens (hydration, sunscreen, moisturization) to practice at all ages, laser skin enhancement, BOTOX and similar filler injections, microneedling, and other treatments tailored to your needs.
If the Queen knew she could preserve her clear skin for longer, maybe she wouldn’t have minded being second-fairest in the land. But the Wicked Witch's green, water-resistant skin? Dermatologists can keep it from cracking, sure, but they aren't cracking that affliction anytime soon.