Unsolicited Acne Advice & Why I Am Done Apologising For My Skin

Anyone with acne I’m sure will agree with the pain that is unsolicited advice or unwanted attention because of their skin. I honestly don’t know what compels people to dish it out as some comments are downright insensitive. I appreciate they’re trying to help but I find it really difficult the number of people that make the condition of my skin their business. Particularly as acne varies so much from person to person and it can be incredibly complicated to overcome.

For me personally it isn’t as simple as some of the suggestions I’ve had in the past from strangers, friends and family. Ultimately no one would ever choose to have acne hence me trying topical prescriptions, diet changes, supplements, birth control and lengthy antibiotic treatments whilst riding an emotional roller coaster spanning 6 years and I still don’t have clear skin. It’s so complex and far from easy which people don’t seem to understand – all the things I’ve tried to clear my skin can be found here and I’m still trying.

Over the years without asking and sometimes out of the blue I’ve had products suggested, generally skin care but once this included laundry detergent along with a suggested sheet washing regime from a stranger in a supermarket. I’ve had people suggest I just give up dairy, eggs, caffeine, alcohol, anything. I’ve had a housemate randomly announce if I stopped washing my face with all those products then surely everything would regulate itself and I wouldn’t look like this anymore. Others without being close to me have criticised my diet for being too sugary and unhealthy or that I simply don’t drink enough water or poke my face too often. I’ve lost count of the number of random people who’ve offered miraculous solutions to me. Unsurprisingly unless they’re really out of the box I’ve probably come across them when hopelessly Googling “how to clear acne” or “how to get clear skin” and here we are still without 100% success.

The trouble with unsolicited advice is it can come across as insulting, as though we’re lazy and not trying hard enough to look better or that we’re dirty with poor hygiene for not washing our faces with the Clearasil someone recommended. It can easily make me feel like a failure for not winning the physical war with acne. Part of the problem with unsolicited advice is that unfortunately lots of people think that having a smattering of pimples in your teens, which is very normal, qualifies them to dole out acne advice – it doesn’t. Most normal, considerate people wouldn’t walk up to someone they didn’t know with dandruff and tell them to buy Head and Shoulders because it worked for their sister in law. Just like they wouldn’t approach someone overweight and suggest meal replacement shakes that worked for their twice removed cousin. So why do so many people often make my skin, or acne, their business?

Is it that people are that horrified at the sight of blemishes and scarring that they feel the need to try and impart some wisdom to correct it? Or that they feel sorry for me? It has crossed my mind. Nowadays I can leave the house without make up on which is something that would once have been impossible for me aged 20 and this is not out of vanity it was largely out of self-preservation. Yet if I were to bump into someone I know until very recently I’d feel like I had to apologise for my un-made up face thinking that if I didn’t acknowledge “I looked awful” then they’d do it on my behalf which always hurt that bit more. I’d say sorry for not having air-brush perfect skin when my foundation-mask was removed just in case the shock of my real skin offended them.

It’s been 6 years since the condition of my skin took a nose dive for the worse. The older I’ve got the closer I’ve shifted towards some sort of unwilling acceptance of my acne because I’ve realised as much as I might will it to clear up it may continue to affect me for quite some time as opposed to just “growing out of it”. Honestly I’m tired of carrying around the shame, self-hate, disgust and misery I’ve felt because of my acne. If I can learn to look in the mirror every day at blemishes of all varieties and scarring knowing that it can be upsetting and is something I’d never have chosen but at the same time that I am so much more than the condition of my skin, why can’t those who have to look at for a tiny fraction of time always just bite their tongue and accept it too? It’s my face, if I can learn to live with it then I’d sure as hell hope others can too as opposed to having strangers say things like “she’d be pretty if it weren’t for her face” or relatives saying “oh you’ll look ok when you cover it all up”.

I decided this month that I am done apologising for my skin from here on out? I came to the dramatic realisation that why should I apologise for something that isn’t my fault and for having less than “perfect” skin when I’ve given this everything I’ve got without ever quitting? I will no longer say sorry for having a bare face on days I decide I not to wear make up for whatever reason. I won’t text friends an advanced warning anymore that I couldn’t be bothered to put on foundation and “look like a troll” because I can appreciate now that acne doesn’t make me ugly. Those who cannot accept my skin are people I don’t need in my life and the ones making rude remarks are the ugly ones. I am determined to do my very best to win the emotional war with acne so me verbally insulting my skin will be a thing of the past. To those who said years back “she’d be pretty if it weren’t for her face” I would now be inclined to say that they’d be pretty if it weren’t for their personality as their insults say a lot more about them than me.

My wishes for change are that we all abide by the rule of never commenting on a feature of another person’s appearance unless it is something that can be changed within the space of a minute and that real skin, pores, scars, blemishes, redness and anything that isn’t air brushed are normalised instead of blurred filter edits.

Sensitive comments welcome.

Adult Acne – My Before and Afters – Comparing My Clear Skinned Teen Years to Now

I’m writing this with another birthday looming on the horizon and possibly the worst breakout I’ve had all year rearing it’s unwanted head – or in this cast, many heads – white heads, cysts etc. In the last month I’ve experienced a new area of breakouts down the sides of my neck, an area where I’ve previously never had a single blemish as far as I can remember which has dealt quite a blow. It reminded me of how I felt in 2016 when my cheeks began breaking out for the first time leading me to seeking GP help. With that in mind I decided to write a comparison post on some then and nows of acne with a dose of my usual dark humour.

Before – Aged 19 – “What is a blackhead?” – Yes. I was blessed to not have a clue about these pesky little things even in my late teens and I remember asking a housemate this as she sat there with a pore strip across her nose complaining about them.

Now – mid twenties – virtually fluent in acne-speak and am able to churn out lists of acne-busting medication and terms like they’re my regular weekly food shopping list. Non comedogenic? Oxytetracycline? Benzyl Peroxide? Got those terms well and truly covered. Friend starts using a new moisturising serum and I’m there like “its hyluronic acid right?”

Before – mid teens – paid less than £2 per beauty product. Didn’t understand why relatives were shelling out hundreds on Lancome products a year.

Now – mid twenties – has previously paid £20 a month for Clinique Anti Blemish solutions products and now uses items averaging from £12-20 a pop. I also have more than 3 – night cream that offsets harsh prescriptions, targeted blemish treatments etc. Thank goodness for store promotions.

My current battalion of skincare / prescriptions

Before – mid teens – haphazardly cleansed face, vaguely kept up a skincare routine but it was frequently missed and not massively bothered with. Often skipped.

Now – mid twenties – follows my skincare routine almost like its a religion. Will remove all traces of make up and complete each blemish busting step even at 3am if I’ve been out all evening. Never sleeps with make up on, ever, out of extreme paranoia.

Before – mid teens – wouldn’t care what went on my face so cheap make up, face paint, etc was all no problem.

Now – mid twenties – gets worried about even touching my face too much (and this has always been the case even pre-Covid 19!) . Researches ingredient lists of products to check suitability. Has online skin consultations to confirm research is correct. Reads product reviews. Pays £34 for an acne-friendly bottle of foundation.

To end on a positive note…

Mid Acne – First time round – Aged 21 – Refused to leave the house without make up, refused to make plans once make up had been removed upon arriving home. Felt instant dread, panic and fear almost to the point of pain at the idea of people witnessing my make-up free face. Wouldn’t look people in the eye on a really bad day, which I deemed almost every day, and had many conversations whilst making eye-contact with the floor. Tried hiding the worst breakouts behind my hands, wore tattoo concealer on my face, regularly cried at my reflection in the mirror with and without make up on. Frequently felt embarrassed, uncomfortable, ugly, disheartened, and a huge sense of unfairness. Was desperate enough to try any form of medication available regardless of the potential scary side effects.

Mid Acne – Second time round – mid twenties – Still cares, but slightly less and doesn’t let acne rule life. Will leave the house without make up to visit shops, runs errands etc. Will meet friends without feeling the urgent need to wear make up and hide. Doesn’t cancel plans because of acne. Doesn’t converse with the floor. Can appreciate the brilliance of a good foundation for improving appearance and confidence. Yes, it’s still frustrating and I’d still always rather it wasn’t there but after 6 years I’ve learnt as much acceptance as I can. I can now appreciate that I am so much more than just my sometimes questionable skin and anyone who chooses to judge me for it isn’t someone I need in my life.

Comments are welcome if you can relate – previous comments on my acne posts from others saying they’re in a similar boat have made my day.

Things Not To Say To Someone With Adult Acne

I read and related to a brilliant article in Elle magazine in 2014 called “My Skin But Better” by Katie Mulloy. It covered how adult acne can affect a person’s life, things not to say to someone struggling with it and how all encompassing the journey to clear skin can be. The article, which sadly I can’t find online, began with saying that one day the author would write a book on all the things not to say to someone with adult acne and I loved this idea hence finally writing this post.

It’s an accumulation of my biggest pet hates of dealing with the skin condition, some heavy sarcasm, small rays of optimism and my hope for acne acceptance within the media and beauty industry.

“Have you tried…” I know people mean well when offering product recommendations, lifestyle changes and advice but the reality is… I’ve been dealing with this for over 5 years and experience on-off major dislike for my face. I haven’t just sat idly feeling sorry for myself for more than half a decade. I’ve tried countless things from cutting favourite food groups out of my diet to £20 a month skin care regimes and hormonal medication that made me feel terrible to name but a few. I can guarantee unless its wildly out of the box I’ve probably tried whatever you’re about to suggest and your occasional teenage pimples don’t qualify you for doling out acne advice. I was ready to verbally destroy a GP I once saw who, after hearing I’d tried over 10 prescriptions in 5 years including 8 month antibiotic treatments, asked “have you used Clearasil? It works for my teenage son”. I nearly died with exasperation because yes, its normal for your teenage son to be spotty, but not so much for a girl in their mid 20s. Unless you’re an acne sufferer, a dermatologist or a sympathetic GP I appreciate the thought but I don’t want to hear it.

But you look fine with make up on” Yes, I might look passable with my £34-a-bottle foundation on but knowing the only way I can look, feel somewhat OK and socially accepted is to cover up my face can be pretty deflating. Don’t get me wrong, I’m grateful that Estee Lauder’s Double Wear Foundation works for me and gives me the confidence to face the world without wanting to put a paper bag over my head, but hearing someone say this further enforces that my natural appearance just isn’t good enough. I once woke up late and in a hurry to get to work on time I was faced with running out the door bare faced and the idea made me feel physically ill and I’m not a vain person. Needless to say I clocked in late.

Imperfections / anti imperfections” I wish cosmetic companies would just stick to terms like “anti acne” and “spot prone skin” etc. By plastering “anti imperfections” all over products you’re hammering home that my face doesn’t match up to the world’s perfect clear skin beauty standards and it’s not a reminder I need. Instead why not just stick with the more medical sounding terms that lessen the blow? Garnier almost broke me when I was shopping for a non-comedogenic anti blemish sun cream a few years ago when it was labelled for “greasy acne prone skin”. Greasy hit me hard and felt excessive. I wish for the sake of my imperfect self esteem they’d just written oily / combination.

“Your face looks so much better today” I’d always rather we just not acknowledge the state of my skin. By telling me its better one day as opposed to when you last saw me makes me think the time consuming cover up mission I embarked on was a total failure. Its a bumpy road as opposed to a linear journey of success – just ask my face, it can confirm it is often literally bumpy.

Best acne treatments… 33 Skin Clearing products that work” – This is a genuine title from Teen Vogue and I despise articles like this because I find them borderline offensive when having a particularly low self esteemed day. I get they’re trying to round up helpful products but I don’t need it implying that if I buy THIRTY THREE items like serums, brushes, patches etc for hundreds of pounds that I might actually have clear skin.

Beauty and skin care campaigns…Last, but not least, my complaint is with beauty and skin care companies advertising everything from miraculous anti blemish serums to full coverage foundations yet countless models used for advertising said products don’t look as though they’ve seen a spot or blemish in their airbrushed lives. Show me a before and after comparison of someone with a real skin condition as your selling point if you truly want me to believe in your product’s capabilities rather than just another faultless face which we’re forever surrounded by.

La Roche Posay – whose products I really rate but am unimpressed with their chosen face for promoting anti-acne products.
Vichy doing it right with their models and incidentally making me excited about trialing their products

On a more positive note – Boots Health and Beauty Magazine almost reduced me to tears earlier this year when I saw a generic article about make up looks. Within the glossy pages one model, beneath the even skin tone of foundation, had a small scattering of noticeable spots as their images aren’t edited or retouched. She looked beautiful and for once I saw an image in a beauty magazine that felt relatable, realistically attainable and in the short term it stopped me feeling like my skin was being shunned completely by the beauty world. The image wasn’t traditionally airbrushed “perfect”, like none us in reality are, and for me that made it so. It briefly it made me feel represented, more positive and accepting of my face and it made all the difference that the portrait wasn’t included in an anti acne article. I wish there were more examples of this – a heartfelt thank you to Boots, long may it continue.

According to an Elle article from 2019 10 million people in the UK say that a skin condition has affected their mental health and that acne sufferers are 63% more likely to experience depression. I have to say hats off to Elle for naming this article “Is ‘Bad’ Skin Affecting Your Mental Health” – I appreciate the inverted commas around “bad”, thank you. Reading stats like this aren’t the cheeriest but they give me a little comfort knowing that I’m not alone. The NHS page for acne prompted me to see a GP for my skin in 2016 which made a real difference for me, so despite me saying earlier how much I hated the acne-advise givers, this is the one piece I will leave you with as it has over the years changed my life.

Comments welcome.