Cystic Acne: Let's Talk About It
My acne story starts around a similar time like many others, middle school. The hormones are kicking, the body is changing. All the beautifully awkward transitions of teenagerhood are in full swing. I would get the occasional breakout on my chin and between my eyebrows, but those were pretty tame for the most part. It didn’t really bother me much back then, as I was more focused on sports, Fall Out Boy and my friends. Plus, I thought it was pretty cool! As weird as that might seem, zits were always portrayed as the indicator that you were finally becoming a teenager. I almost felt grown up when I got the occasional breakout.
Then came high school. Freshman year I was still experiencing the same kind of breakouts. Small, manageable, not really a big deal. I switched schools in the middle of my freshman year, and moved 40 miles away from my hometown. This was a very big stressor on me.
The breakouts seemed to be spreading around my face more; I started getting bad breakouts on my forehead. This is when I started to experiment with makeup, trying my hand at different foundations and powders. I wish I could go back in time and tell myself to chill with such heavy foundation, but alas. Cue sophomore year, the cystic acne began to appear.
This was probably the lowest point of my self-esteem. I had cystic acne and hyperpigmenation nearly EVERYWHERE on my face, my back and my shoulders. What was once a small thing I barely noticed, became an insecurity that made me avoid any mirror or even wanting to go into natural sunlight.
To make matters worse, the media around me was treating acne like an absolute abomination. In every face wash commercial, all the kids looked absolutely miserable with one, small, photoshopped zit on their face. Now imagine having like 20 of those in all different shapes and sizes on your face. I was made to believe that I was an ugly outcast. There were days I’d have anxiety attacks and rub my face until it was raw, wishing I could take a scraper to my face. I felt like this was necessary to be “beautiful” and “accepted”. The picture I used here is from years later, because I never wanted to be in pictures around this time.
Every face cleanser the television and internet told me would take my acne away, burned my skin and made my breakouts worse. The antibiotics didn’t work, the Minocycline didn’t work. I felt trapped inside a cage that was my body that I had no control over. All because I was fed an image that I was *supposed* to look like.
As insecure as I was, I did learn how to deal with it. After surviving a traumatic childhood, which led me to leaving my home when I was in the middle of my senior year, a lot of internal work began. Focusing on myself and my mental health helped me to start overlooking my acne. It helped me realize what my skin looks like on my outside doesn’t determine who I am on the inside. So, although my skin got even worse going into college, it didn’t faze me as much anymore.
Eventually, my papa did end up helping me get on Accutane. Now, I believe it’s important to note that I went through several doctors and many years of trying things that didn’t work. I didn’t just skip to Accutane, I had completely ran out of options which led my new dermatologist to suggest Accutane. Because while my acne/hyperpigmentation did not define my beauty, it still was very painful which became a concern for my well-being. After six months of being on Accutane, my skin had cleared up nearly completely. However, our bodies are always changing and going through things so I do still get a breakout from time-to-time.
While this new life of not having cystic acne was nice, it wasn’t like my whole entire world was changed. Yes, I felt more comfortable looking into mirrors and being in the sunlight again, but it wasn’t this huge, life-changing event. Because who I was on the inside had already accepted what I look like on the outside. And I was beautiful, acne or not. I was still me, and I had grown and worked towards liking the person that I am.
Not once did my friends ever judge me for my acne. They weren’t around me because of what I look like, they were around me because of I was and am. Beauty culture wants to play this narrative that as long as you look “pretty” on the outside, you will be more desirable to people. Through my years of dealing with acne, I learned that this is not the case at all. If you’re not treating people with kindness and love, no one is going to want to be around you no matter what external “flaws” you may or may not have. Going off of that, acne is NOT a flaw. It’s what middle school Emily first believed it was before media intervened. It is a beautiful part of being a human. It does not increase nor decrease your value. Everything said above applies to body image, too.
To anyone else who has acne out there, don’t fret. I know it’s easier said than done, but I encourage you to look beyond the skin and body that your soul is housing in. You’re so much more than your looks, you are a beautiful being filled with stories and joy to bring into the world. Now I want you take a look in the mirror and say it with me: Fuck beauty culture. I am more than enough.
Take care of yourself, do things that actually positively help your body, and please never stop being you no matter what the damaging beauty culture tells you.