Acne and the Stigma Behind It



Left side of Abigail Medina’s face in 2020.

Abigail Medina

Acne is not what you think it is. Those who may know nothing about the reality of having a skin condition might assume that living with it is just living with a blemish or two on your skin. They might see it as an external issue when in actuality, the skin condition causes internal conflicts as well. 

For most people who have acne, every day is a day of cowering in the shadows and doing everything to be invisible. It’s dreading the thought of being in a picture. A raw, unfiltered picture, for everyone to see. Listening to advice you never asked for, avoiding front cameras and mirrors, wishing you looked different. 

Acne makes people assume that their happiness relies on clear skin. However, given that acne can be a chronic condition, the wait for happiness can seem never-ending. If you have acne, stop putting a pause on your happiness just because of your skin. Embrace what makes you real. Embrace what makes you different from everyone else. 

The severity of acne falls onto a scale. Someone can have a singular pimple here and there, but others could have more moderate acne that covers an entire portion of the skin. There are a variety of acne types. Acne is a skin condition that consists of pimples and blemishes on either the surface level of the skin or the deeper layers. There are also various reasons someone can have acne. 

Anyone can have acne. It doesn’t matter if an individual is a junior in high school or an adult with children. Acne can be developed hereditarily, meaning acne can be passed down through genetics. Parents who had or have acne are more likely to be considered a component of why their child could have acne as well. Acne can not only be inherited, but it can also be prominent in women during their menstruation cycle and pregnancy, people with oily skin, and even users of certain cosmetic products. It’s most commonly developed in the early stages of puberty. However, this does not mean that adolescents are the only ones with acne-prone skin. Many adults can have acne as well. 

During my personal experience with acne, I had many encounters with people who truly believed they were dermatologists. People would suggest I wash my face with bar soap and water. I even got “you’re only breaking out because your skin is dirty.” Words could not formulate how mad this sentence would make me. These comments also made me self-conscious and lack any self-esteem. I could have a conversation with anyone and watch their eyes trail from one pimple to another. I forgot what it was like to look someone in the eye because they were always staring at my skin. I started to overthink a lot. I was under the constant impression that people thought I was disgusting or unhygienic. There were days when I pretended to be sick just so I could stay home from school when in reality I was just having another severe breakout. Overall, I struggled with my self-image, and it kept me from exploring new hobbies, joining clubs at school, and even causing me to avoid attending family events. I was defeated. 

During my struggles with acne, I persistently wanted to be unseen. The stigma behind acne made me feel ashamed of being in my own skin.  Then I met a community that taught each other how to accept their imperfections.  I had close friends and my parents to support me, but I also had celebrities on the media who spoke about their struggles with acne.

A lot of celebrities like Camilla Cabello shared relatable anecdotes by either posting about it or mentioning these stories in interviews. In an interview with J-14, Camilla says “I would wake up in the morning and be scared to look in the mirror. It was the worst thing ever.” To me, the fact that big celebrities could feel emotions of insecurity was encouraging. On Kendall Jenner’s personal website, she made a post that revealed her own struggles with acne as well. “I wouldn’t even look at people when I talked to them,” she wrote. “I felt like such an outcast; when I spoke, it was with my hand covering my face. Sure, I had crushes in high school, but I wouldn’t even think about looking at guys.”

There is a stigma associated with acne, one that needs to be shut down. People who struggle with acne do not have dirty skin, nor do they not take care of themselves. In fact, most people that have acne probably have a thorough skincare routine they follow every morning and night and probably have some of the best skin care products. From gentle cleansers to topical creams, to retinol, and even sunscreen. 

Point is, acne does damage one’s self-esteem especially when those with acne are treated differently because of it. Stigmas have the power to overpower and keep someone hidden in the shadows due to the mere fear of being visible to others. It embellishes a feeling of loneliness and pushes people into a corner of isolation. 

So how can we diminish the existence of the stigma? The first step is acceptance. In a room full of people, you must look around and be able to recognize that everyone is different. We also have to be accepting of the fact that everyone has their personal struggles. These struggles may be different from our own but no matter how small or how big someone’s struggle is, it will never be a good excuse to judge someone. 

If you choose to take anything away from this message, let it be motivation to support one another rather than tear each other down.