4 Acne-Positive Influencers Discuss the Term "Bad Skin"—And Why It's Problematic

Plus, they open up about skin type representation in beauty.

Photo of Lou Northcote

Byrdie / Lou Northcote

As someone who has struggled with “imperfect” skin over the years, I find myself posing this question more often lately: What exactly is bad skin?  What does it look like? If you asked 100 different people, you’re likely to get 100 different answers.  

Let’s start with what we know: Society’s perception of perfect, pore-less skin has long been the norm in the beauty industry and, subsequently, our daily lives. I can’t think of a single beauty advertisement featuring someone with visible acne, scars, or any other skin condition off the top of my head. We have become so conditioned to see the clear, glowing skin from campaigns and social media as "normal." If we happen to see an inclusive image regarding skin texture, it stands out.

And that’s the thing, the purposeful placement of a model with visible skin texture is just that—purposeful. They are few and far between. When brands attempt to highlight this, it is almost always done in an overtly obvious way. It’s as if the message they wish to convey is: "Here! We’re inclusive, see! Look at this model and all of her pimples!" and then fail to continue this same intentional messaging throughout the rest of their branding and future campaigns. This comes across to consumers as artificial. While it’s obvious skin inclusivity is the goal here, doing so in this way isn’t effective overall, especially when there are up to 50 million Americans affected annually by acne (which makes breakouts far more "normal" than flawless, glass-like skin).

The cultural significance of embracing any skin issue you may be struggling with, whether acne, scarring, psoriasis, rosacea, wrinkles, vitiligo, or a plethora of other prevalent conditions, has certainly become more prominent in recent years through the #SkinPositivity movement. When I look in the mirror, I don’t see "bad skin" anymore. I see my skin. I see it for everything it has been through, and I can imagine how it will look in a few years. While it’s fun to play with different beauty products, that’s honestly all it should be: fun. I asked a few influencers their thoughts on the term "bad skin," self-love, and representation of different skin types within the beauty industry. Keep scrolling for what they have to say.

Whitney Madueke

Whitney Madueke

Whitney Madueke

"'Bad skin' is a word that should not be used to describe skin and carries such a negative tone that we all shouldn't associate ourselves with at any point. Skin is skin no matter how it looks, and there is so much that comes into play in the look and feel of our skin. I'm always reminding myself to associate positive words with me and to stay clear of moments or thoughts that downgrade me. It's definitely easier said than done, but I learned that my skin doesn't define me, and my mere existence is beautiful no matter what I look like. I've always preached self-love and empowerment even at my worst acne moments because I never saw it as a bad thing, but just a moment happening that I could either cry over or find a happy point to stay on.

"The beauty industry can definitely do a lot more, and I see the area of product education as an essential aspect. Each day, we have a new product that we should add to our skincare routines. I found that my 8 step routine was causing more harm to my skin. I simplified it to a 3-4 step routine, and my skin has gotten a lot better. A lot of product usage needs to be shared, and brands not educating consumers puts them at risk of overbuying and further harming their skin. How many people know that AHAs/BHAs shouldn't be mixed with retinol? Things like that are very important, and consumers won’t know this, especially from a brand that wants us to buy every single product as if they could all be used at the same time."

Rocio Cervantes

Rocio Cervantes

Rocio Cervantes

"I don’t like the term 'bad skin' because my skin isn’t bad; it just needs extra help. I honestly wish we could get rid of the term "bad skin." All it does is make me feel bad about myself, so I can only imagine how it makes others who deal with skin conditions feel. I don’t always love my skin, and I think that's okay. I would say that I’m more accepting of my skin because I’ve learned how to manage my acne.

"I don’t think the beauty industry has made enough progress to include different skin types in campaigns. I think they need to include people with a variety of skin types. When I look for a foundation, I look to see if it will work with my acne-prone skin. Hardly do I see products that demonstrate use on acne-prone skin. This is why I have a series on YouTube called Acne vs. Foundation, so people can see how foundations work on acne-prone skin. Most of the time, they wear really nicely. If brands could only see that and how inclusive their products can be, then why not include us?"

Sarah Perkins

Sarah Perkins

Sarah Perkins

"'Bad skin' is a term I would have unconsciously used in the past, but over the last few years, I've really reflected on that term, and it seems quite strange to attach morality to a body part. Bad skin implies that our skin is doing something wrong, when in fact, it's just reacting to its internal and external environment. That being said, I don't judge anyone for using that term as I understand what they're trying to imply; I just choose not to use it anymore.

"My skin is forever changing, sometimes I wake up, and it's clear, and by the time I go to bed, I have new breakouts. It would be exhausting if I kept measuring my worth based on what my skin looks like, so I gave up doing that. I've also met so many amazing people in the acne community online that have helped me to see things differently; they're now my influence, not advertisements and magazines I would have grown up with. I think the beauty industry has finally had no choice but to take notice, thanks to the skin positivity movement online; however, I think they have a long, long way to go. Not only on skin type but color too. Boots Health and Beauty magazine is an example of brands finally choosing to feature real skin, Louisa Northcote modeled for one of their features this month, and it felt like a real win for the skin positivity movement."

Kali Kushner

Kali Kushner

Kali Kushner

"The term 'bad skin' definitely doesn't make anyone feel good. But really, skin isn't good or bad; it's just skin. To say someone has bad skin then means it's less than, needs fixing, or that something, in general, is inherently wrong with it. I think referring to acnegenic skin as "bad skin" perpetuates the stigmas and stereotypes that acne sufferers face. I think loving your skin comes down to understanding that you're worthy just by being. Whether you're breaking out or not, it shouldn't affect your self-worth or the love you have for yourself. Your external appearance, accomplishments, possessions, etc., do not make you worthy. If you rely on external validation from others or are always chasing beauty standards, you'll be running your whole life in pursuit of false happiness. All you can do is accept the here and now and make the most out of what you have.

"I think a few brands, in particular, have made significant progress towards showcasing different types of skin within campaigns (Banish for one), but in general, I would say it's still rare to see someone with acne, scars, or wrinkles be featured in skincare campaigns. As a society in general, I think there is still more work to be done in breaking down stereotypes and stigmas before that happens."

Lou Northcote

Lou Northcote

Lou Northcote

"The term 'bad skin' really does upset me and makes me realize people are so uneducated on what acne actually is. We're thrown this 'perfect' beauty expectation when models in images don't even look like that themselves. There is no such thing as good or bad skin because everyone's skin is different. You aren't 'bad' to your skin if you have acne; acne is caused by so many things that are usually out of your own control. The framing and language we use to discuss authentic things that our skin goes through during different life stages directly affect our societal attitudes and purchasing behaviors.  Essentially, everything is connected when it comes to the conversation of embracing the skin you’re in (or not).  Loving the way your skin looks is a radical act in and of itself. It is up to us as consumers, and executives of beauty brands and media companies to drive the conversation and overall shift towards skin acceptance within society and culminate a culture of self-love, reflection, and skin neutrality, regardless of if we have 'bad skin' or not."

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