Spots, zits, pimples… whatever you decide to call them, for some people, they can be easy to ignore and manage. For me, however, they’re my absolute worst nightmare. Having dealt with problematic skin for as long as I can remember due to raging teenage hormones and genetics, acne didn’t just leave me with stubborn imperfections on my cheeks and forehead, but they sunk deeper and had a much nastier effect on my mental wellbeing. Whilst navigating through my already emotional adolescence, this acne agony made me feel gross and ugly.
Acne is a common experience we all go through at some point during puberty because of the increase in the hormone testosterone. The oil glands in our skin grow bigger, releasing sebum, an oily substance that blocks the pores, causing spots due to trapped bacteria. However, acne can appear because of other reasons such as stress, taking certain kinds of medication, cosmetics, or friction on the skin. For me though, when acne first started appearing on my skin around the age of 13, I didn’t really understand how to control it and thought that maybe I was just not taking care of my skin properly.
I began an excessive skincare regime in the hope that it would solve the problem, but as soon as I thought my acne had cleared up, it flared up again with a vengeance. Picking and prodding at my skin didn’t help either, and I was left with hyperpigmentation and dark spots as a cruel memory of what used to be there. I tried literally everything, every home-remedy you could think of, such as honey and turmeric which made a sticky mess and stained my skin yellow, problematic and gimmicky Asian skin lightening creams from the Cash & Carry and every Neutrogena toner or Clean & Clear face wash I could get my hands on, yet nothing worked. It was something I just had to deal with, alongside the taunting from boys in my class. There were times when I felt so frustrated, that I wished one day I could just peel my skin off to reveal clear and fresh skin underneath.
My makeup journey began around the same time in an effort to feel better about my appearance, hide the scarring and raise my self-esteem. This seemed to work for a time until my mother decided to start countless arguments with me because she thought that I was too young to be wearing makeup. Not to channel my inner teen angst, but she just didn’t seem to understand the emotional impact and depression I was experiencing because I was so fixated with my appearance, and she just thought I wanted to act ‘grown up’.
Finally, as I entered my twenties, my problematic skin began to calm down. Not only was I earning money, so I could buy my own skincare and create a routine, but I was able to get clued up on what was good for my skin and what wasn’t because of the numerous forums I had joined and the articles I had read over the years. These days, I’m considering the deeper and more emotional scars that the acne left behind, which took much longer to heal.
The lifelong impact of the psychological problems associated with acne is now finally being taken seriously within the medical profession. Mental health support provided by NICE (National Institute for Health and Care Excellence) is for people who have been left psychologically scarred because of their acne, with research linking severe acne to suicidal behaviour, anxiety and depression. With social media playing a big part in how we perceive ourselves and other people, there is an extensive amount of photo editing apps that can disguise unwanted blemishes, which has a detrimental effect on young girls who scroll endlessly through Instagram seeing other girls with airbrushed skin.
Within the last couple of years and especially during the recent Covid-19 pandemic, skincare sales have skyrocketed as people discovered Korean skincare, wanting to achieve ‘glass skin’ and sharing their extensive routines. Platforms such as TikTok had dermatologists naming their favourite brands, as well as debunking a lot of products too. What I have noticed though is that we as a community were being more open with how problematic skin can be and instead of hiding it and being ashamed, we are beginning to embrace it. Makeup artists have started removing the beauty filter that TikTok automatically applies on the front-facing camera so that they can show their acne scars, wide pores and fine lines to show their audience that no one has ‘perfect’ skin. After years of oppressive aesthetic perfection, people being more skin positive has allowed so many people, including myself, to understand that everyone’s skin is different, whether it’s their texture, uneven skin tones or hyperpigmentation.
Embracing the skin you’re in, whether it be having acne or other skin conditions such as vitiligo, stretch marks or freckles, has now been highlighted in the fashion and beauty world in an effort to normalise the stigma around it. Photographer and Illustrator Peter DeVito created a new photo series last year, photographing people with all types of skin conditions or features that would be deemed “unconventional” by society to show the beauty in every one of us. By displaying untouched, raw, close-up shots of people with acne since 2017, he has helped contribute to the destigmatisation that people have around acne and other skin conditions.
Having these movements being shared allows this community of people to educate and erase ideologies that have been held for so long and create a more understanding and accepting place than it was a couple of years ago. Although I’m so much happier and much more confident in my skin these days, I wish I could tell my 13-year-old self to just be a little kinder to myself.
What advice would you give to anyone who feels less confident in the skin they're in? Leave your comments below!