Let’s Talk About Acne

Karlie Smith //

“Don’t worry–your skin will clear in a few years, pimples fade when you become an adult, anyway.” My mother comforted my acne-ridden self with statements similar to these in my pre-teen and teenage years. Of course, I don’t blame her for her desperate attempts to console me in such an insecure state, but she could not have been more incorrect. Acne is normal, obviously, and to be expected during these awkward pubescent years. So I was not entirely alone; other people my age were going through it as well. In a twisted way, I even felt lucky to have my twin sister, who experienced acne to the same extent that I did. I looked forward to adulthood because I was confident in the fact that my acne would disappear, and I would finally feel beautiful. I wholeheartedly believed that when the clock struck midnight on my 18th birthday–my acne would magically disappear. I must admit, I managed to concoct the perfect recipe for disappointment. 

Much to my surprise, I woke up on my 18th birthday with even more acne. I felt cheated, but more than that, I was heartbroken. My twin sister’s skin began to clear, and so did the faces of the people I went to school with. I felt left behind but simultaneously hopeful that my skin would adopt similar clearing patterns to those around me. However, my skin gradually worsened. In fact, I wish I could tell my younger self actually to enjoy the skin I once was so insecure about. 

I never really had a strong interest or desire to wear makeup during my teenage years. Until my first year of college, the bulk of “my” makeup collection belonged inside of this dusty bag my mom kept for herself inside of our bathroom mirror. However, as I grew older, the traces of acne and scarring on my face developed rapidly, and so did the festering pool of insecurity. At this point in my life, I began to use makeup for all of the wrong reasons–and all of the time. I wore makeup to school, work, and even made sure to put some on before leaving my house to take out the trash. I was terrified of what people might think when they saw the way my natural skin looked because I wasn’t a teenager anymore. Instead of wearing makeup because I wanted to, I wore it to avoid harassment. Not only did this toxic obsession with my appearance and covering up my alleged flaws cost me immense amounts of money (replacing makeup can get expensive), but it actually made my breakouts worse. I experienced this deeply melancholic disappointment with my skin and my life and often degraded myself for having acne in my 20s because everyone my age seemed to leave their breakouts back in high school. 

Realistically, many, many people experience acne in their adult years. Twenty-something acne is more common than people think, and the way our skin looks should not be the deciding factor for worth. Adult acne is a usual occurrence, but it is proven to show most commonly in female patients. There are plenty of causes for acne, and I am not an expert, but hormones, stress, and menstrual cycles are likely causes for acne in women post-teenage years. Oh yeah, and let’s not forget another significant contribution to the matter: makeup. If adult acne is so common, especially in women, and it originates from hormonal imbalances often out of our control–why are we judging ourselves so harshly for having it? Why is it strictly categorized as a problem specific to teens? Most importantly, how have we managed to alter a considerably normal diagnosis into something shameful and ugly? Acne is not ugly. What is ugly, is how we degrade each other and ourselves and determine worth by the ostensible blemishes on our skin.

My purpose for writing this piece is not to give off the impression that I am perfectly confident with the condition of my skin–I definitely am not, but I’m trying to. Also, the goal is not to convict makeup of being a toxic, skin-destroying demon, because it isn’t. Acne, breakouts, and textured skin do not constitute beauty, hygiene, or health–despite what conventional beauty standards tend to preach. Opinionated people will always have something negative to say about confident women or anyone flaunting unapologetic poise–but do not let those comments negatively affect your view of yourself. My skin has good days and bad days, but the latter does not alter my value or anyone else’s, for that matter. Regardless of what your skin looks or feels like, try to make peace with it. Make peace with the skin that protects you, and understand that having acne is never a flaw. 

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