I have acne and here’s how I’ve learned to own it

“I would be pretty if I didn’t have bad skin. I know I would be.”

That’s just one of the many thoughts I was used to have when I left the house. I could be in a rush; jumping into the shower for a 2-minute rinse, running to my car with my bag in one hand a cookie (breakfast) in the other, and I would still find time to have the shameful, “I hate my skin” thought. I’m not proud of that, but it’s true.

I’ve always had bad skin. In my teens it was just annoying, and some products would keep the redness and outbreaks semi under control. But in my 20s my skin got much, much worse — so bad in fact, that I thought I just truly couldn’t deal with it anymore. But I was wrong, I could. It took me 12 years to make peace with my acne but now that I have, you know what?, life is way better. It hasn’t been an easy road, but I’ll tell you how it happened.

To say what I have is acne would be a bit of an understatement. I’ve met people with acne who look like the folks from the Proactiv commercials. Mine is at a whole different level. From redness to scarring, to huge cysts that make me cringe and cry at the most unexpected times, my condition is something my dermatologist calls inflammatory cystic acne. I kept it a little more simple and called it, “the only thing keeping me from actually being happy.”

Because my health insurance nor my wallet could cover one of the most effective acne treatments, Accutane, I had to live with the knowledge that my acne was always at risk of flaring up again. It would sometimes disappear for months at a time, but it was never gone. Spring seemed to be its favorite season. Spring may be when love is in the air but for me, spring is when my face burns.

After years of searching I did eventually find an Accutane alternative that I could take. It would be a seven-month treatment and I could start immediately. I put all of my eggs in this medicine’s basket. It was going to work, it was going to cure me, I was going to be happy, and pimple free.

But then, due to a mixup with my birth control, I couldn’t start the acne medication for another 30 days. 30 days might not sound like a lot but for someone who’s been dreaming of this moment every second of her life since the age of 12, 30 days felt like an eternity. I fell into a deep downward spiral. I sobbed. I moped, I called myself a “monster” and refused to go outside. And then, somehow, I turned over a new leaf.

What did I decide to do? I decided to live with the acne, to make peace with it, and to accept it. I decided my skin wasn’t worth all these tears and grief and that treatment would come when it came. Why did this happen when it did? I’m not quite sure. I think something in me just snapped. I think I realized that allowing my skin to rule my life was just not something I was OK with. And now I don’t. Here are a few things I’ve kept in mind that have helped me get over this most unsightly of life blemishes.

Always remember that you have other things going for you. (Aka, you are not your skin.)

I used to always ask my friends the same infuriating question before leaving the house: “Is my skin like ‘ew, what’s wrong with her face’ bad?” I see now that is possibly the most immature question in the history of forever, but my self-consciousness would get the best of me.

When asked that for the millionth time, one of my friends finally said, “You have a lot more things going for you, you know.” It took me a while to believe her, but after really chewing on what she said I realized she had a point. I have lots of friends, and I didn’t get them by moping around and they don’t love me because of my skin. Sure getting ready to go out with my friends can be painful sometimes, but once I’m finally in the presence of the people I love I feel comfortable and my real characteristics start to show: My humor, my thoughtfulness, my awkwardness. The things that make me, me.

So if you’re dealing with acne, remember: You have other things going for you! Skin is truly, well, skin deep, and when your personality shines through it definitely masks whatever skin ordeal you’re going through. 

Aways treat yourself with respect.

I’ll admit it, there have been times when I’ve sighed and been like, “What’s the point of even trying to dress nice if my skin looks like this.” Take my advice and push those thoughts aside immediately and remember that you deserve the best. This means that things like dressing like a badass and having a cool haircut are totally acceptable. Do not allow yourself to believe the thought that you don’t deserve to be yourself because you have bad skin. Don’t want your rockin’ outfit to draw attention too much attention to your face? Pshhhh, I’ve used that one plenty of times. Don’t let insecurity about your skin dampen your style.

For me this means dressing in my colorful dresses and having my bangs straight. This also means wearing red lipstick, even if my skin is already red. Dress how you feel inside, even if the inside is still shy about what people might think

Own it.

I like to think of the left side of my face as the Mexico-shaped birthmark Saoirse Ronan had in The Grand Budapest Hotel. Most of that side of my face is red, but sometimes I pretend that rather than pimples it’s a scar that should be accompanied with an even cooler story. That’s the kind of spirit you need to have sometimes when going out with acne. Just own it.

People might stare, people might even be rude enough to call you out in a public setting (unfortunately there are people like this) but just shrug it off or make a joke. Don’t call attention to it by making it seem like it’s the worst thing possible; instead make it seem like its something that happened, that will hopefully go away, and that could 100% be worse. Because trust me — it could be worse. Real talk: Acne sucks, but it’s not so bad!

Just remember that the greatest weapon against acne is loving yourself. Sounds cheesy, but it could never be more true.

An open letter to my adult acne 

I’m in my mid 20s and I still have my pimples 

[Image via Shutterstock]