NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Makeup works like medicine to improve the quality of life for children with visible birthmarks and skin diseases, researchers say.

A new study of 38 children in Montreal, Canada, proved what some pediatric dermatologists say they already knew – children and teenagers with disfiguring skin conditions who wore durable makeup, or “cosmetic camouflage,” were less subject to teasing and more comfortable in their own skin.

Dr. Nanette Silverberg has had patients who were too embarrassed about skin conditions to go to school. The pediatric dermatologist told Reuters Health that cosmetic camouflage helped them return to class.

Silverberg runs a support group for people with vitiligo. She works at St. Luke’s Roosevelt Hospital Center in New York and has done similar research but was not involved in the current study.

“While a lot of people would like to say these conditions are cosmetic, they are disfiguring, and not all children can get accustomed to having a birthmark on the face,” she said. “The cosmetic camouflage can help.”

Dr. Michele Ramien led a team of University of Montreal researchers who studied 35 girls and three boys, ages five to 18, who had vitiligo, birthmarks and other skin irregularities.

Ramien told Reuters Health her group tried to recruit more boys into the study, but she said boys often recoil at the notion of makeup.

A trained cosmetician gave participants a six-month supply of foundation matched to their skin tone and taught them to apply it, according to the report online September 13 in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology.

The average score on the Children’s Dermatology Life Quality Index before the study began was 5.1 on a scale of 0 to 30 (with higher numbers reflecting worse quality of life related to the skin problem).

Six months after the makeup lesson, the majority of patients’ scores improved, the study found. Moreover, the average score on the index dropped significantly to 2.1, the study found.

“People in dermatology, we know that cosmetic camouflage helps,” Ramien said. “Here we were able to quantify that.”

The index asks questions like, “Over the last week, how embarrassed or self conscious, upset or sad have you been because of your skin,” and “how much trouble have you had because of your skin with other people calling you names, teasing, bullying, asking questions or avoiding you?”

Ramien said verbal feedback from her patients was an even more enthusiastic endorsement for cosmetic camouflage than the index numbers revealed.

Photographs accompanying the article show dramatic before and after shots of the children.

“It really is a huge difference. Your eyes can focus on her eyes, rather than on the skin anomaly,” Ramien said.

Cosmetic camouflage can be particularly helpful for children newly diagnosed with conditions like vitiligo or for kids with birth defects entering adolescence, she said.

“Having the opportunity to use makeup is a sort of nice buffer,” Ramien said.

Prior research has shown that skin conditions can cause emotional and psychological stress, the authors write.

“We would like to think that every child can weather walking around with birth spots or white spots or red spots on their face. But in reality, it’s not fair to burden a child with this,” Silverberg said.

“It’s difficult for a child or an adolescent to walk around with visible disease,” she said. “Cosmetic camouflage can create a happier situation for a child with noticeable skin disease.”

American health insurance companies do not cover cosmetic camouflage, although Silverberg said, “for some kids it is ‘medicine.’”

People with visible skin disease tell her that bystanders often point, stare, ask questions and offer advice. Wearing cosmetic camouflage helps keep the bullies and the commentators at bay.

“It just makes them able to avoid the commentary so that they don’t have to share their skin condition with everyone,” she said. “These are personal issues. Not everybody wants to share them with the world. It calms things for them and makes their life better overall.”

SOURCE: J Am Acad Derm 2014.