Ah, clear skin. We’ve always wanted it, and it’s always avoided us – and we really mean ‘always’. Following Clear Start’s Acne Awareness Month Campaign, we’ll be discussing the big red issue that many of us face – is acne really that bad?
Like, historians have records of past royals in Europe who did basically everything to hide pockmarks – either scars from acne or leftover from more serious infections – even going so far as to paint their skin white with lead-laden makeup.
People haven’t really changed much over the years, even though they didn’t realise back then that lead (like, literal lead) caused more harm than what they were trying to conceal. Today, we still use photo-editing apps and programmes to ensure that no one, gasp, thinks you have a pimple or three, as well as desperately switching products to find a long-term quick fix – both of which could make it worse. You have to admit that treating acne with an attitude of disgust akin to that of syphilis in the Edwardian era – a disease that literally eats away at human flesh – is a little odd. Yum. (Not.)
We have to be honest with ourselves: It isn’t that bad most of the time. But why do we act like it is?
The difference between today and more than a century ago is modern advertising, or more generally, the widespread visibility of the impossibly ideal, and it is staring us in the face, so to speak. Most of us are exposed to perfection that doesn’t exist, in goldfish brain terms. The best part is that we feel the need to be just like that, flawless as if it were commonplace.
And, sure, there are a bunch of published in-depth articles on why this doesn’t help our collective perception of our skin and ourselves, but what you should take away is this: Ads twist the truth. And ads can’t sell you what you don’t need if you’ve figured that out. And you can’t be spending money on every “miracle” spot treatment!
But there is some validity to not wanting to have a lot of acne – most of us are visual creatures who go by what we see. Still, that can only go so far; deep down, we know that the idea that physical flaws as a personal failing is complete BS. Acne, in particular, has long been misrepresented as a signal of poor hygiene or diet – but myths that perpetuate are still only myths.
Sarah Miller, a dermatologist and Master Instructor for Dermalogica, spoke on a panel for Acne Awareness Month (June) and described the lengths people will go to get rid of their zits.
“I’ve had clients come in and tell me of the most outrageous things that they’ve tried – toothpaste, cotton with alcohol, [and] one instance was someone [who] used tape to try and fix their acne!” recounts Miller. “But there needs to be a change in how we see acne for all generations, most importantly for Gen Z, since they’re in a time of their life where they are most susceptible to it. Acne happens for various, even uncontrollable reasons, and that’s perfectly normal.”
Worrying about acne, like worrying about anything, doesn’t make it go away. A lot of the things we do (or are tempted to do) to get rid of it can often make it worse, or leave scars we didn’t need to have.
“We also have to acknowledge that we are currently experiencing a lot of anxiety, especially for Gen Z, which can trigger acne – the past couple of years [of the pandemic] haven’t helped,” says Miller, in her Industry Expert Webinar. “And teens try skin tips they see online that give them more skin issues, causing more anxiety; it’s as valid a factor as, say, hormones or genetics.”
Collectively, we have to do the more difficult thing: Be kinder to ourselves.
And while it is true that this sounds like more ineffective self-help that you wouldn’t even know where to begin, it is also true that the majority of us have spent the majority of our lives analysing ourselves. Despite the apparent simplicity of the statement, learning to be kind to oneself can be and frequently is a difficult process.
There are active, personal steps we can take to mold our minds towards being kinder to ourselves and other people:
- Every time you miss your skincare routine, ask yourself honestly what that says about you as a person. Compare it to the time you helped a friend in a jam, or covered for a coworker, or showed someone else generosity – it won’t even come close to revealing anything about you.
- Every time you experience acne, no matter how big the breakout, ask honestly if it makes you a worse person, or if you would talk about your best friend the way you’re talking about yourself.
- Don’t shy away from real-skin selfies, especially if you’re having the time of your life. A pimple shouldn’t get in the way of making and recording good memories.
Beauty standards come and go, but acne is so common that there is no logical point in shaming it. The sooner we learn to accept ourselves – and each other – zits and all, the much better off we might be!
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