After a widespread, worldwide shift to virtual gatherings at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, a study conducted by Mass General researchers also showed a shift in the way many people were feeling about their physical appearance on video-based platforms.

“People have been spending hours logged on to computers, staring at distorted images of themselves on videoconferencing,” says Shadi Kourosh, MD, MPH, director of the Pigmentary Disorder and Multi-Ethnic Skin Clinic at Mass General and director of Community Health in Mass General Hospital Dermatology. “Last year, our offices had been temporarily shuttered, but we were still getting dozens of calls from patients who were feeling unhappy about their image from the neck up.”

The phenomenon gave rise to a new term coined by Kourosh—“Zoom dysmorphia”—similar to body dysmorphic disorder (BDD), in which a patient perceives a flaw in their appearance.

Kourosh found the experience wasn’t limited to Mass General patients. In a published survey she conducted of more than 100 board-certified dermatologists nationwide, 56% reported an increase in the number of patients desiring cosmetic consultations—even at the height of the pandemic. And 86% said patients cited videoconferencing as their reason for seeking care.

“Technology has been both a help and a hindrance to us in the last year,” says Kourosh. “Front-facing cameras can make some parts of the face appear larger and features like the eyes appear smaller. Add in social isolation and more time spent on social media, and you’ve got a recipe for dysmorphia.”

If you are feeling dissatisfied with your appearance on videoconferencing, Kourosh suggests the following:
  • Adjust the camera and lighting: Try moving your camera farther away from your face and keep it at eye level to minimize the distortion of the lens. Ring lights or a source of lighting in front of your face can also improve how you appear on video
  • Consider turning off your video: If possible, turn off the “self-view” feature on your platform—or turn off your video altogether when not required by the call organizer
  • Limit time on social media: “Keep in mind that most photos on social media are heavily filtered,” says Kourosh
Kourosh says if you decide to pursue a cosmetic treatment or procedure, it is important to consult with a board-certified dermatologist.