Acne has been part of my life since I was a teenager. My spots were small back then, but I still stressed over every blackhead, cyst, and whitehead. My doctor prescribed topical creams and I scrubbed at my face with aggressive physical scrubs, desperately hoping they would "clear my pores." These were the dark days of the early oughts, and I knew nothing about skincare.
Now, I’m more informed about ingredients and formulas, and I look back and cringe at the thought of using anything so abrasive. My skin is sensitive, a little dry, and, to this day, acne-prone. Despite being told it would disappear as an adult, here I am, at the ripe old age of 27, with a chin full of acne.
Accutane cleared up the aggressive cystic acne I had in college, but hormonal pimples still pop up on my chin and jaw in the week before my period. I call them hormonal, but the reality is they rarely disappear—regardless of where I am in my cycle. I definitely see an increase when my estrogen and progesterone levels drop leading up to menstruation, but there’s always some sort of blemish somewhere on my face.
Now, after all these years, I’ve stopped fighting it.
I've been waging war on my skin for years, whether with prescription topical creams, aggressive acids, or face masks that dried out my sensitive skin—I would do anything to eliminate them. Even the language I used in regards to my skin was aggressively negative. I would regularly say I hated it, or that I looked disgusting. That’s all changed now.
After going through therapy, my relationship with myself and my body has changed dramatically. In the past, I used to vacillate between not looking after myself at all (not even cleansing!), and completing a long, complex, acne-focused routine. In the case of the latter, I'd follow it meticulously for about a week before giving up. These regimens were rarely right for my skin type, only aggravating my pimples and leaving my skin red and dry. I would layer on full-coverage foundations, wearing two or three at a time, even if I was just going to the grocery store.
My perception shifted when I stopped basing my self-worth on my appearance.
My perception shifted when I stopped basing my self-worth on my appearance. That’s not to say I no longer care the way I look—I most definitely do—but it’s not the sum total of what matters to me.
I stopped focusing on my acne so much. Surprise, surprise: When I stopped using products that did more harm than good and concentrated on giving my skin what it actually needed, my acne improved. However, that was a nice bonus, rather than the goal. Instead of trying to "fix" my skin, I was focused on good health, both physical and mental. In doing so, I had less time to obsess over the blackhead on my nose, or the whitehead on my chin.
I still have acne, and that’s probably always going to be the case. But I don’t feel the need to hide it.
I still have acne, and that’s probably always going to be the case. But I don’t feel the need to hide it. Like the eczema I get from time to time on my arms and legs, it’s something I treat but am not ashamed of. I concentrate on my skin as a whole, not just my pimples.
My skincare routine is now focused on hydration and antioxidants, with the odd bit of salicylic acid in that tricky week before my period. It’s simple and minimizes the breakouts, but the goal is to have healthy, hydrated and glowing skin, rather than completely smooth skin. Those two things are not mutually exclusive.
I so often forget acne is "normal," especially during COVID-19 when I’ve seen far fewer people in real life. I’ve only seen faces through the distorted lens of social media, so often smoothed out and and unrealistic. Now that restrictions are lifting a little where I am, I’m remembering that most people actually don’t have "perfect skin," whatever that means.
My acne may still get me down at times, but I’ve accepted it’s part of me. I'm no longer plastering on heavy-duty makeup as a way to shield the world from seeing my skin, and I feel so much better for it. So does my skin. My self-esteem around my skin has never been better, even though my acne remains ever-present. It’s been a long hard road to get here, with a great deal of self-loathing along the way, but ultimately, I’m at peace.
My acne may never go away entirely, and that’s fine. As long as my skin is healthy, I’m happy. Accepting my acne has been one of the most powerful and healing forms of self-love for me. I’m no longer stressing about my skin all the time, and I feel so much calmer and happier for it.