Written by Dr. Mike Robinson ~ Guest Writer
Photo of Superboy, retrieved from https://www.codedread.com/comicbooks/275-superboy-debuts/
According to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD), almost 85% of teens are impacted by acne during their lives. While the AAD notes that acne can sometimes lead to problems involving scarring, self-image, depression and anxiety, dealing with acne seems commonplace.
For some though, the issue of acne is far more pressing. In addition to causing the usual adolescent concerns over personal appearance and identity (and we cannot have the most powerful teen in the universe getting anxious), any acne for Superboy* also runs the risk of revealing his secret identity. The population of Smallville may not seem bright enough to catch the fact that Superboy looks like young Clark Kent without his glasses, but surely someone (probably that darn Lana Lang) would notice if Clark and Superboy broke out in the exact same way.
At first, the issue seems moot due to Superboy’s advanced Kryptonian physiology. Since Superboy shrugs off Earth diseases with ease, one might assume that the same would apply to acne. This is likely true. Although human acne sometimes results from our microscopic defense systems battling bacteria and thus producing excess pus that clogs our pores, the Kryptonian body is probably better at this than our own bodies are.
Or one might also think that Kryptonian adolescence goes much easier. However, the existence of Superboy and Superman implies some kind of biological development. Perhaps this does not result in increased production of sebum, the oil that humans naturally produce to moisturize the skin, and thus would not mean more pimples for Superboy.
As the American Academy of Dermatology reminds us, there are a number of other causes of acne. Problems with facial follicles might prove an interesting problem, for example. As an adult, Superman shaves by using an indestructible piece of the spaceship that brought him to Earth as a mirror to reflect his heat vision back at his own face. It is a complex process. Adolescent Superboy would presumably do the same thing. Would he make more mistakes as he is learning? Would those hairs cause problems? How one removes an invulnerable hair that has become ingrown beneath invulnerable skin seems like a particular challenge. With luck, Superboy’s facial hair just does not do this.
Even if one assumes that Superboy’s genes protect him from the things that affect mere mortals, one must acknowledge that in his adventures, Superboy encounters many strange environments. Maybe he’s not bothered by Earth bacteria. Maybe his pores do not become clogged from our ordinary substances. But what about other worlds or other dimensions? The materials of those extraterrestrial environments may clog even the most advanced of pores.
Some materials affect Kryptonians in radical ways. Red kryptonite, for example, has a random effect with every encounter. Superman once got a giant ant-head (Action Comics #296, January 1963) from a red k exposure. Bad acne would be a relief in that context. And fortunately, all effects of this form of kryptonite pass in 24 hours.
Also, what about magic? Superboy is as vulnerable to magic as any ordinary person. Conceivably, Superboy could get magic acne too.
If Superboy does get acne, he has many options for treating it. Unlike we humans, this impervious kid can pour hydrochloric acid on his face or fly through a star. These extreme actions are likely to burn out any exotic materials clogging his super-pores.
Another, less dramatic option exists. One of the forgotten powers on Superboy’s resume is super-disguise.** Advanced Kryptonian physiology and extreme willpower lets Superboy shape his face in any way he likes, allowing him to pass himself off as others. Presumably Superboy could flex his face in such a way that no pore could clog.
*For purposes of this discussion, I will be considering the original Superboy who first appeared in More Fun Comics #101 (1945) and later starred for many years in Adventure Comics (starting with issue #103 in April 1946). Others have used the identity of Superboy. I will not consider Conner Kent because his Lex Luthor genetics are too complex.
**Well, it’s a power Superman has anyway (starting in Action Comics #55, December 1942). I do not know if Superboy ever did this. But why couldn’t he?