As a university student, Hiroki Takahashi could barely step outside his home without a surgical mask on. Even when he did venture out, he was terrified of the fluorescent lighting ubiquitous in convenience stores and trains that ruthlessly illuminated what he was desperately trying to hide — a mass of pimples that had sprung up and spread all the way down to his neck.

The sudden onslaught of acne — which he had never experienced — prompted the 18-year-old Takahashi to frantically consult a dermatologist and even get a facial at a beauty salon.

But nothing helped his skin condition and he became withdrawn.