The zit model

November 4, 2012

When my mom turned 42, I was 12 and a total wise-ass. For her present I bought her a coffee mug that had on it the phrase “Things could be worse. You could be old and still have zits”, to tease her about her bad skin. Considering how obnoxious that was, she took it really well and drank out of the mug for years.

Well, I’m sure you can all see where this is going. I’m now 40 and I have zits. I was contemplating this in the bath yesterday, wondering if I’d ever get rid of my zits and wondering if taking long hot baths helps or not. They come and go, so it seems vaguely controllable.

Then I had a thought: well, I could collect data and see what helps. After all, I don’t always have zits. I could keep a diary of all the things that I think might affect the situation: what I eat (I read somewhere that eating cheese makes you have zits), how often I take baths vs. showers, whether I use zit cream, my hormones, etc. and certainly whether or not I have zits on a given day or not.

The first step would be to do some research on the theories people have about what causes zits, and then set up a spreadsheet where I could efficiently add my daily data. Maybe a google form! I’m wild about google forms.

After collecting this data for some time I could build a model which tries to predict zittage, to see which of those many inputs actually have signal for my personal zit model.

Of course I expect a lag between the thing I do or eat or use and the actual resulting zit, and I don’t know what that lag is (do you get zits the day after you eat cheese? or three days after eating cheese?), so I’ll expect some difficulty with this or even over fitting.

Even so, this just might work!

Then I immediately felt tired because, if you think about spending your day collecting information like that about your potential zits, then you must be totally nuts.

I mean, I can imagine doing it just for fun, or to prove a point, or on a dare (there are few things I won’t do on a dare), but when it comes down to it I really don’t care that much about my zits.

Then I started thinking about technology and how it could help me with my zit model. I mean, you know about those bracelets you can wear that count your steps and then automatically record them on your phone, right? Well, how long until those bracelets can be trained to collect any kind of information you can imagine?

  • Baths? No problem. I’m sure they can detect moisture and heat.
  • Cheese eating? Maybe you’d have to say out loud what you’re eating, but again not a huge problem.
  • Hormones? I have no idea but let’s stipulate plausible: they already have an ankle bracelet that monitors blood alcohol levels.
  • Whether you have zits? Hmmm. Let’s say you could add any variable you want with voice command.

In other words, in 5 years this project will be a snap when I have my handy dandy techno bracelet which collects all the information I want. And maybe whatever other information as well, because information storage is cheap. I’ll have a bounty of data for my zit model.

This is exciting stuff. I’m looking forward to building the definitive model, from which I can conclude that eating my favorite kind of cheese does indeed give me zits. And I’ll say to myself, worth it!

  1. November 4, 2012 at 7:47 am

    if you are going down that road, here is a reference on seth roberts and self experimentation


    • November 4, 2012 at 7:53 am

      Awesome, but too bad the article didn’t mention the acne cure.



  2. Gary
    November 4, 2012 at 8:34 am

    Siri: I am eating cheese. Siri: I have a zit.


  3. JSE
    November 4, 2012 at 9:54 am

    Wait, isn’t it better NOT to know that eating your favorite kind of cheese gives you zits?


    • November 4, 2012 at 10:13 am

      You know what? I’ve been thinking about this all morning and I’ve decided that yeah, it probably would be better not to know. Moreover that it’s going to be impossible to stop this kind of thing from getting ridiculously common, and we’ll know all sorts of things we don’t want to know, and our culture is going to become even more naval-gazing than it already is.

      Another post, in other words 🙂



  4. November 4, 2012 at 11:31 am

    I had zit problems for decades. I had given up hope of significantly improving things when, as a result of a persistent skin problem that I cured practically overnight (it was insane how fast the years-long rashes cleared up) accidentally, I also significantly decreased my zittage.

    The serious skin problems that I solved were a result of allergies to the main foods I was eating. Elimination (or near elimination) did the trick. In fact, when I’m at a party or traveling and let my guard down when eating, the skin problems flare up almost immediately (and my zittage also).


    • E
      November 5, 2012 at 3:24 pm

      Yeeeeepp. I cured lifelong acne, in my late thirties, in four weeks, by (accidently) going off wheat and dairy. Changed my life very much for the better.


  5. Daydreamer
    November 4, 2012 at 12:25 pm

    Forget the bracelet. Why don’t you take a picture of everything that you do? Preferably with a smartphone. Take a quick picture of the meals you have, the showers you take, how much you drink every day etc. Taking a picture takes only a second, stores all the data you need (including date, time and location) then you can compile all that info on a Sunday morning.


  6. lol-a
    November 4, 2012 at 1:12 pm

    My family has carried three things for generations:
    1. Cystic acne -> roaccutane (100% efective)
    2. Baldness -> finasteride (100% efective)
    3. Anxiety issues -> nothing 100% effective, but SSRI work fucking well.

    Fuck tradition and catholic resignation. Give me my technology.


  7. November 4, 2012 at 1:17 pm

    If you want to know your approximate hormone levels, without daily blood tests, you could try fertility tracking. You measure certain body signals, and can line them up with sample hormone charts. There are many apps, books, websites, and even electronic monitors designed to help, though the simplest is taking your basal body temperature every morning when you first wake up. After a few months of tracking, you might be able to conclude that major zit outbreaks are more likely to occur ‘at that time of the month’. Good luck.


  8. Sendhil Revuluri
    November 5, 2012 at 11:09 am

    Have you connected with the Quantified Self folks in NYC? They have probably thought about similar questions. Not sure of the population of data science expertise so perhaps there is some mutually beneficial exchange possible…

    NY Quantified Self

    New York, NY
    2,189 Self-Quantifiers

    The NY Quantified Self meetup is modeled on the Bay Area Quantified Self Show & Tell meetings started in 2008 by Gary Wolf and Kevin Kelly in the Bay Area. Your host for the N…

    Next Meetup

    NY Quantified Self Show&Tell #26

    Wednesday, Sep 24, 2014, 6:00 PM
    29 Attending

    Check out this Meetup Group →


  9. mathematrucker
    November 6, 2012 at 10:43 am

    For a few years in my early 20s I was a tetracycline junkie.

    After much observation I concluded that the primary cause of my above-average case of acne through high school and college was probably lack of sleep. In high school I worked the night shift at the local bowling alley until 1 or 2 AM then bowled early-morning leagues on both Saturday and Sunday (the latter involving a ten-mile drive into Seattle). Four to five hours of sleep (sometimes less) two nights in a row was routine. I’m not someone who can get away with that. It carried a cost.

    Whenever I occasionally get a zit now it’s pretty much always after getting substandard sleep the night before.


  10. Evelyn
    November 6, 2012 at 1:43 pm suggests that Accutane, eating a Paleo diet and not eating gluten are effective.


  1. November 5, 2012 at 9:28 am
  2. November 10, 2012 at 8:04 am
Comments are closed.
%d bloggers like this: