I’ve struggled with varying degrees of acne for nearly 6 years now. I’ve previously written posts on things not to say to someone with acne as well as explaining how painful unsolicited advice can be making us feel like we aren’t trying hard enough, that there’s something wrong with us, the list goes on. This prompted me to write this post. After covering everything not to do I felt obliged to write a more positive how to guide on how to support someone with their acne journey. I’d have found a post like this helpful to send relatives or friends once upon a time when my confidence was at its lowest hence deciding to compile this now in case it may help someone else.
Active Listening & Acknowledgement
I don’t care if you have never experienced acne therefore can’t relate or understand the extent of what it can do to person’s resolve but actively listening to them without offering possibly unwanted advice can be hugely helpful. I’ve previously struggled with GPs feeling as though they’re not completely listening to me and are just trying to dismiss me with prescriptions without acknowledging my journey so far. At times this has been incredibly frustrating, heartbreaking and I’ve been made to feel like a nuisance for wanting to clear my acne. One of the strongest emotions I’ve felt over the last 5 years with acne is just desperately wanting someone to listen and help me. If someone tells you their acne hurts, makes them cry often and breakouts are driving them crazy please say something like “that sounds so upsetting, I’m sorry you’re having to deal with that” rather than “oh it could be worse” or “it doesn’t look that bad, at least you can wear make up” etc. Validate their feelings towards their skin and their journey rather than brushing them under the carpet. Having people invalidate my journey by not listening to the extent that acne was upsetting me actually made me feel worse, added to my frustrations and at times put me off seeking further treatment options thus prolonging a lot of the negativity I felt.
Last month without much thought I briefly mentioned the result of a recent GP appointment where they told me I was out of options and surely “halfway better was good enough” to a friend. They asked me to repeat myself before announcing how awful it sounded with a few curse words thrown in. My instant reaction was to scream “thank you” with relief because my journey and the frustration I felt from lack of support was instantly validated. I no longer felt like I was going mad in my own bubble. My friend then offered to come to appointments with me if needed so that I left feeling hopeful instead of hopeless. My friend, who has no personal experience of acne and admitted this, didn’t tell me to try another product, or just pay to go private, change my diet etc, they simply listened before asking if there was anything that could be done to help. This is the best example to follow.
Understand It Is NOT A Vanity Issue
A lot of people assume the quest for clear skin comes from a place of vanity but this is far from the truth. Acne has close ties to mental health concerns. I challenge anyone to struggle with acne and not experience some form of self-worth or image issues, anxiety or depression even if only on a mild level although for some it can be severe. Acne can be painful, at its worst I’ve been unable to sleep on sides of my face due to cysts along my jawline and felt like parts of my face were throbbing. This left me physically exhausted to go with the emotional exhaustion of dealing with near constant breakouts. Every time I try a new treatment I pin every hope on it which has led to some heavy blows of disappointment over the last few years, it’s a roller coaster. Understand it is more than just ‘superficial’ spots and people with acne can be very vulnerable.
Understand The Complexity – There Often Isn’t a Magic 5 Second Fix
Acne is a lot more complicated than most people realise unlike typical teenage spots. It isn’t as simple as drinking more water, not eating sugar and washing your face. It isn’t something we all miraculously grow out of. I’ve listed everything I’ve tried to clear my skin in a previous post which includes dietary changes, supplements, topical medications, oral antibiotics, birth control pills, specialist skin care, a regular bedsheet and towel washing regime etc and my skin still isn’t perfectly clear. Acne journeys are also often non-linear so rather than being a straight line to clear skin success there are often improvements and set backs hand in hand. Improvements take time.
Remind Them That Filtered Skin In The Media Isn’t Real & They Aren’t Alone
A friendly reminder that everyone has pores and flaws of some description can help without dismissing acne saying “everyone gets spots you’ll grow out of it”. Skin isn’t naturally faultless like we see in magazines and on social media. Real life doesn’t have filters. We have moles, stretch marks, scars, cellulite, wrinkles, bloating, folds, blemishes, blackheads, redness, dark eye circles and so many more and that it’s completely fine. I didn’t really know anyone my age who had acne when I first developed it in my early 20s so felt very much like the odd one out. The acne positivity movement on Instagram helped me so much to change this when I found it earlier this year. It made me realise I wasn’t alone, I wasn’t ugly and I found a community of people to whom I could relate, making me feel seen including some hilarious acne memes that really made me laugh. I’ve learnt a lot about good skincare products, been able to compare prescription notes with others and experienced huge support from strangers who know what I’m going through. I’d encourage anyone struggling with acne to follow some of the skin positivity accounts and unfollow any others that make them feel like their skin isn’t good enough.
Non Appearance Based Compliments
By this I don’t mean the dreaded “your skin looks so much better today” given acne has its ups and downs. I mean genuine compliments that aren’t based on a person’s appearance to help improve their likely already knocked confidence and help boost self esteem. When my skin was at it worst 4 – 5 years ago I felt ugly, hopeless, insecure, unhappy and like a lesser version of myself. Being complimented on my work, studies or talents of any description helped remind me that there were things acne hadn’t taken away from me that I was still good at and this helped me feel better. There are so many compliments that aren’t appearance based that are easy to pay such as what a great friend someone is, their kindness, their drive towards goals, their organisation skills, the list is endless and can make a positive difference.
Ask What You Can Do
So you can provide support in whatever way they’ll find helpful. This could be offering to accompany them to speak to pharmacists about skincare routines, finding an understanding GP, attending appointments, supporting trial diet changes and so many more. There are countless ways to help without giving advice they may not necessarily have asked for that an expert would be better qualified to give out. I personally only welcome advice from sympathetic professionals like pharmacists, nutritionists, GPs or people who have acne prone skin. I tend to find anyone else simply lacks the experience or knowledge I’d need to be truly helpful. I’ve asked a few friends before to kindly not bring up the condition of my skin in conversation unless I do so I can relax without worrying about unsolicited advice as I’m already giving this everything I’ve got. You’ll be going off whatever they say so please see these as examples rather than a one size fits all instruction list that you should offer!
Support doesn’t have to be directly skin related. I recently went dairy free in an experiment for my skin and only live near small supermarkets so was struggling for choice. A friend offered to drive me to a superstore and helped me browse new options. I felt supported in my journey without having to centre everything around the state of my skin that day. It made things that bit easier for me, I felt as though I was missing out on less and therefore was a happier. Creative solutions like this can make a world of difference as experiences like this make me feel as though I’m not going through this alone.
Sensitive Comments Welcome