The Changing View of Skin Diseases

Dermatologists and historians discuss how physicians and their patients have interpreted and treated skin problems from the Enlightenment up through today.

Event Details


swissnex San Francisco
730 Montgomery St., San Francisco, 94111 United States


October 11, 2012 from 5:30 pm to 9:00 pm America/Los Angeles (UTC-08:00)

Pustules, boils, warts, psoriasis, and rashes have been annoyances on the surface of the skin since the dawn of time, with different interpretations for their presence. As early as in the 11th century, Arabic medical reference books such as The Canon of Medicine described skin problems and their treatments. But they have not always been viewed in the same manner. Through her research on medical culture in the Age of Enlightenment in the 18th century, Dr. Severine Pilloud, a medical historian, has shown that the discourse and practices related to skin diseases were quite different from what we have today.

Three hundred years ago, afflictions of the skin carried strong social and cultural stigmas, as they were often diagnosed as the result of venereal pathologies. Have these stigmas changed today? Are we seeing contemporary skin diseases that did not exist before? How have the treatment and care of patients with skin maladies evolved? Dr. Kieron Leslie, a dermatologist who is fascinated by the history of dermatology, is an expert on HIV and infectious diseases. Rashes and skin lesions heralded the advent of the HIV epidemic. Suffering and stigmatization have been significant throughout the last 30 years, as the skin is often the initial marker of HIV infection. Treating patients with combination anti-HIV medications has improved many dermatological conditions but exacerbated others. Again, we see that the skin, as the interface between the individual and society, is at the center of complex medical and social situations.

“The changing view of skin diseases” is part of our series Feel the Skin: a Multidimensional Approach and brings together Dr. Séverine Pilloud, historian of medicine at the University of Applied Science Western Switzerland, in Lausanne and Dr. Kieron Leslie, associate professor of dermatology at UCSF. Victoria Sweet, a physician, writer, and medical historian, will moderate the evening’s discussion.


6:30 pm  doors open
7:00 pm  presentations and audience Q&A
8:30 pm  reception and networking
10:00 pm  doors close


Dr. Kieron Leslie

Dr. Kieron Leslie is an associate professor of dermatology. His clinical practice is split between the Mount Zion Campus, UCSF, and San Francisco General Hospital. He co-directs the HIV Dermatology clinic and the General Dermatology clinics at SFGH. His internal medicine training informs his dermatological practice with complex medical patients. A major clinical and research interest is autoinflammatory syndromes where he has been involved in developing new therapies. In 2011, he was elected fellow of the Royal College of Physicians, London, in recognition of his academic and clinical work.


Dr. Severine Pilloud

Dr. Severine Pilloud is a historian specializing in the history of medicine, body, and the patient-healer relationship. She’s been collaborating since 1998 with the Institute of History of Medicine and Health (Faculty of Biology and Medicine, Lausanne University), where, in 2008, she obtained a doctorate in the experience of illness from patients’ point of view. She is particularly interested in the historical and cultural significance of the body. Several of her publications analyze, from a historical and anthropological perspective, the representations and practices related to body, health, and medicine.


Victoria Sweet, M.D.

Dr. Sweet is an Associate Clinical Professor of Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco. She is also a prize-winning historian with a Ph.D. in history and social medicine. She has practiced medicine for more than twenty years at Laguna Honda Hospital in San Francisco, which is where she began writing. Her writing has received numerous honors, including the Shryock Medal, the Estes Award, and the Stannard Memorial Award.




Photo: Myleen Hollero

Event Photos