Acne is a sick joke that I wouldn’t wish upon my worst enemy. Unfortunately, the journey toward clear skin is often a lot longer than we’d like it to be.
Most of us never find a silver bullet that magically gives us clear skin overnight. For most of us, there is some amount of waiting, persistence, and patience that has to take place.
So, that begs the question, what am I supposed to do in the meantime? Should I just hide away until my skin gets better? How can I be confident when there is something about myself I fundamentally dislike? Something I feel powerless to change?
When I was suffering from severe cystic acne, there were days when all I wanted to do was stay locked in my room and cry. After forcing myself to be out in the world, I would experience a few fleeting moments of forgetting, when my skin struggles would escape my thoughts. But those blissful moments would inevitably be interrupted when the pain flared up on my face or when I caught a glimpse of my reflection in a window, and I would return to hyper-focusing on my skin.
As time went on, I grew tired of acne ruling my story. I was tired of not feeling like myself, and because the acne was still on my face, I knew I needed to find ways to be happy and confident in spite of it.
This is the advice I wish I would have been given then: if you can learn to be confident while you have acne, you can be confident in pretty much any situation hereafter. Not to mention you’ll gain your life back.
Life is WAY TOO SHORT to press pause until you’re perfectly happy with the way you look, so you might as well learn to accept yourself exactly as you are. This doesn’t mean you should stop working toward becoming the best version of yourself; it just means that every version of you – the past you who took her clear skin for granted, the present you who has acne, and the future you who is yet to be seen – are all equally valuable and worthy of love and acceptance. So let’s start acting like it.
Ditch the Makeup
I know, me telling you not to wear makeup probably makes you want to push me out a window. When my acne was at its worst, I knew the makeup I used to cover it up was probably not helping it. But I’m not suggesting you go bare-faced because it might help your skin clear up. I’m suggesting you go bare-faced because it will teach you something powerful.
When I suggest going out in public without covering up your acne, what emotions come up for you? Close your eyes right now and imagine yourself leaving the house and going about your day without makeup on. What feelings course through your body? You might feel anxious or downright terrified. Or, who knows? Maybe you actually feel liberated and sure of yourself.
Doing this experiment in your head might provide some insight into the fears you have about other people’s judgment. When you do it for real instead of just inside your head, you’ll learn that you can survive out there without covering up your biggest insecurity.
In fact, you can offer up that insecurity for the world to see, and chances are, nothing will happen. You’ll likely discover that unless you draw attention to it yourself, no one will think anything of your acne. And if they do notice it, so what? Really think about that – so what? What is the worst thing that could happen?
Since we’re all social distancing in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, you might think that there’s not much you can do to practice putting your bare face out in public. But, thanks to technology, there are lots of ways to try this out. If the idea of going out without makeup scares you, start small. Maybe start by FaceTiming a friend without wearing makeup, and then work up to joining your company Zoom meeting without it.
This is actually a great time to practice being makeup-free and to get in touch with your natural beauty. Being intentional with this time of isolation will help you build confidence that you can carry with you out into the world once we’re able to resume social activities.
This is about giving yourself the opportunity to show up as you. And while you might not think of your makeup-free self as your best self, it is the raw, unfiltered version of you; deep down, this is the version of you that longs to know she is loved and accepted. So give that person a chance to be seen and acknowledged by the world, and more importantly, by you. More likely than not, you’ll grow to love her.
Share the Burden
A truth about acne that most people can’t understand until they’ve suffered from it: acne is a burden. It is not just a superficial concern – it is one that involves many aspects of the person suffering including psychology, physiology, and even spirituality.
My acne was at its worst when I was nearing the end of my first year as a missionary in northern California. It made doing my job, which involved sitting face-to-face with people all day long, very difficult. When I sat down to pray, my acne consumed my thoughts. I felt guilty for fixating on what seemed like such a small concern in the grand scheme of things. One night, after my acne had been worsening for weeks and I could hardly bear it anymore, I finally let God into the emotional and physical pain I had been enduring alone. Immediately, I remembered the part of Scripture when Jesus’s dear friend Lazarus dies:
Mary, when she came where Jesus was and saw him, fell at his feet, saying to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled; and he said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus wept. (John 11:32-35)
That’s right – Jesus wept. In that moment, I was reminded that we have a God whose heart breaks for what breaks ours. Sure, in the grand scheme of life, acne might not seem like something worth complaining about. But He wants to help us carry our burdens, even the things we think are too small to bring to Him.
The troubles that bring us suffering in secret lose much of their power when we are courageous enough to bring them out into the light. Whether it’s via prayer to our Creator or vocalization to a trusted friend, make your burden known to someone else. Healing begins when we remove the dark veil of shame from our pain and bring it into the light.
Reflect on Your Identity (Literally)
Most of us look at our reflections at least a few times a day – in the morning when we’re getting ready, during bathroom breaks throughout the day, at night when we’re brushing our teeth. And, when you have acne, looking in the mirror can be a not-so-fun experience. If you’re anything like me, your eyes tend to lock on the marks and scars on your skin, and it’s not long before your inner critic steps in and starts putting you down.
Changing these small experiences you have with yourself in the mirror can do a lot to transform your perspective. This is something I discovered through trial and error. I was so tired of the feeling I got when I looked in the mirror that I decided to stop looking there altogether. I thought, “If I’m going to talk negatively to myself when I see my own reflection, then I’m cutting out the mirrors.” So I stopped mirror-checking entirely. And it worked – that mean voice in my head had far less air time.
The problem was, this fix was temporary. It was just a bandaid, and bandaids don’t fix gaping wounds. I couldn’t avoid mirrors forever, and as soon as I got in front of one, my inner critic returned.
So, I took a new approach. Instead of throwing out all the mirrors, I decided to take them head-on. This looked like me crawling out of bed in the morning, unrolling my yoga mat, sitting cross-legged on my bedroom floor, facing the full-length mirror that hung on the wall, and spending a solid five minutes staring at my own reflection. I’m aware of how strange that sounds, but let me tell you, it worked.
At first, these morning mirror meditations were super uncomfortable. I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that there were a few tears. But eventually, as the minutes ticked by, I started to notice some pretty profound things about the girl gazing back at me. She had such beautiful, sad eyes. When I looked into them, I recognized the bright soul that had been present there my whole life. And I was moved with compassion for her.
Just like going out in public without makeup tends to be a big fear for us acne-sufferers, our reflection can torment us. The only way around this fear is through it, and you might be surprised by what you find when you confront it. You’ll probably realize what I did – that the mirror doesn’t tell the whole story. Your reflection can’t possibly depict the totality of who you are; it only shows the surface. Take time to sit with yourself and let this reality sink down into your heart.
If your acne is causing you suffering, know that my heart goes out to you, and you are not alone. But also be assured that even if you were to have skin problems for the rest of your life, that would not make you an ounce less valuable or any less worthy of love.
A word of encouragement: most likely, you won’t have acne forever. But there is no sense in waiting for your life to begin until that’s true for you. Confidence, happiness, love – they’re all accessible to you in the here and now. The work lies in learning to accept them.
For me, learning to be confident with acne was Step 1 in clearing it up. If you’re interested in learning more about the practical steps I took toward healing my acne, check out my post about how I cleared my skin naturally, and how you can, too.