My Relationship with my Skin: Acne and Self-Esteem

Photo by Roslyn Brennen

You might be thinking: WOW what a vain and narcissistic way to start your article Roslyn! With a selfie? Really? I promise it’s not what you think (Although there’s no shame in taking a selfie if you’re feeling yourself. Go off sis!) I took this selfie in August of 2019, and it was the first time in almost five years that I felt confident without makeup on. I finally didn’t have to apply an absurd amount of concealer to hide the pimples scattered across my face.

By the time this article is uploaded and published I will have just finished a grueling and crusty nine-month process. Yes, you read that correctly, crusty. In April of 2019 I embarked on a long, tedious journey, this journey being Accutane. For those of you who may be unfamiliar, Accutane is an extremely powerful medication used to treat severe acne. Looking at my skin in the picture above you would never know the battle I had been fighting for almost five years. By the time I was in my third year of university my skin was littered and entirely covered with pimples and my self-esteem was at an all-time low. And I’m not talking about the type of pimples you get before you get your period or the type of pimples you get when you’re stressed out, I’m taking about having multiple, large and in charge pimples on your face chronically for five years. This is my relationship with my skin and the effect acne had on my self-esteem and mental health.

Part 1: The Beginning

In high school I never struggled tremendously with my skin. However, when I did get the odd pimple I felt like the universe was trying to sabotage me. I was, and unfortunately still continue to be, a very anxious person struggling with my appearance and self-esteem. Getting a pimple was a great reminder of my unhealthy relationship with my self-esteem. I felt like, when I did get a pimple, everyone was staring at my skin while they were talking to me as opposed to actually being focused on the conversation we were having. I thought that having the odd pimple made me undesirable and unattractive, and that boys would never be interested in me. I thought pimples made me look disgusting. I thought that I couldn’t go outside without makeup. Pimples deemed me unattractive. 

As you can see, this was not a healthy mentality for little high school Roslyn. On top of having general anxiety I can argue that acne gave me a form of body dysmorphia. I didn’t necessary hate my body physically, but I hated the skin encapsulating my body. Little did I know that the odd pimple would turn into everyday pimples for the next five years. In grade 12 my acne intensified. I would wake up extra early before school to pack on the foundation and concealer to cover up my acne a.k.a. the bane of my existence. During 12th grade I would have makeup on morning, noon and night. The makeup would go on approximately at 6:45 a.m., be touched up in the washroom at 12:30p.m. during lunch, and continue to remain on my face through a hockey, soccer or rugby practice depending on the season, and be removed somewhere around 11:00 p.m. Having makeup on for such a long duration of time was definitely not helpful to my acne; however, there was no telling me. This brings me to part two.

Part 2: Hiding - The Beanie, Fear of Rejection and Wasting Money on Every Skin Care Product Under the Sun 

Out of high school and into university, my acne got worse and worse. Moving into residence, I was terrified. I wasn’t even worried about the fact that I was in a new place, far away from home; my biggest concern was how I was going to navigate around my res so I wouldn’t be caught with a bare, pimply face. I figured out that, because I primarily broke out on my forehead, a beanie would work to cover up some of my acne when I didn’t have time to do a full face of makeup. In my mind, my beanie was protection from how others would perceive me. If they couldn’t see my acne, they couldn’t judge me. Out of sight, out of mind. I managed to hide my acne by wearing the beanie 24/7, even when the weather became warm early in April (for sure questionable weather to be wearing a hat) the beanie would still come with me everywhere. 

In second year, I had my first serious relationship. In the first few weeks of dating I was terrified that if my boyfriend at the time saw me without makeup he would leave me or decide that I was unattractive or undesirable. This, of course, was ridiculous because we all know that that’s not how a relationship should work. My mind had convinced me that I was ugly without makeup. I remember in the first few weeks of dating I would either sleep with makeup on, or sometimes run to the bathroom in the morning if I had slept over to reapply concealer to my pimples. I couldn’t keep up the act, and he eventually saw me bare-faced and pimply. As you probably could’ve guessed, my acne didn’t disturb him whatsoever. I had nothing to be worried about; he wasn’t going anywhere because of a face full of acne. He ended up being very empathetic and supportive knowing my skin was one of my biggest insecurities. 

In second year I also ended up wasting far too much of my money on lotions and potions that would supposedly “fix” my acne. Sure, some of it may have helped slightly, but at the end of the day I still had countless pimples and on top of that I was broke!

Part 3: *Crisis Mode Activated* - Third Year

By the time third year came around my skin was redder and pimplier than ever. It felt like everyday I would wake up with a new zit. The pimples that were normally isolated to my forehead had moved to my cheeks and chin. At this point I was in crisis mode. I didn’t want to go out in public looking like this. The make up could only cover so much. As ridiculous as it sounds, I somehow convinced myself that going out in public and having people see my acne was almost offensive to them. I felt like I was doing the public a disservice by having pimples.

My skin held me back to the point where I would avoid going to classes, going to work out and going out socially. Acne had taken over my life and killed any amount of self-esteem I had left. Desperate, I went to my doctor who had previous prescribed me creams and other medications to help with my acne. He thought my acne would go away over time so I should just stick with what he originally prescribed. I had been on a spironolactone for a year which is a mild oral drug also used to treat acne, however it did absolutely nothing for my skin. I was also prescribed multiple topical creams for acne, a cream called Bianca, a tactupump (cream), and clinical strength benzoyl peroxide, and it was safe to say they weren’t doing sh*t! At this point, I was in tears begging for the magical drug known as Accutane. I wanted my life back and Accutane was almost a guaranteed solution to clear up my skin. After pleading my case, and a decent amount of crying, I was prescribed Accutane.

Part: 4 Accutane

In April of 2019 I started my 9-month course of Accutane. As I previously mentioned, Accutane is an extremely powerful drug used to treat servere acne. Essentially, it reduces the amount of oil released by oil glands in your skin, and helps your skin renew itself more quickly. A side effect was that it made me look like a very dried out, crusty lady. Along with turning your skin into the Sahara Desert and making you look like a crustacean, while on Accutane you need to get your blood tested every month. As someone who doesn’t do well with blood work, I dreaded this every single month. The reason for getting your blood tested is because Accutane can be dangerous as it can sometimes increase the level of blood fats to risky levels. You are also urged not to consume alcohol on the drug (which can be challenging socially as a university student) as the combination of alcohol and accutane can be hard on your liver. Additionally, during blood testing, you will also be tested for pregnancy as the most damaging side effect of Accutane can cause serious birth defects to a child if taken while pregnant. 

This information alone is enough to turn many people off from trying the drug. However, with all of this being said I would urge you to try it (after medical consolation of course) if you are experiencing this type of dysmorphia similar to mine. Accutane did indeed dry me out as promised; however it gave me my life and confidence back.

Part 5: Self-esteem and Advice

Since being on Accutane I have seen dramatic improvements with my skin but, more importantly, my relationship with my self-esteem has been heavily reevaluated. Yes, my skin is in a much better place aesthetically, but I’ve come to realize I need to be much kinder to myself in order to prevent an insecurity from ever robbing me of my mental health ever again.

Here are some takeaways, and how I feel about my skin and self-esteem at this point in time:

1. Do not let your imperfections or insecurities convince you of your worth. 

I’ve seen on multiple social media platforms the phrase “You’re bigger than what’s making you anxious.” The same should be applied to your relationship with your insecurities. You are bigger than your insecurities. There is much more to you than what is making you insecure.

2. How people perceive you is on them, not on you.

If someone is going to judge you due to some pimply skin, are they really worth having in your life? Insecurities are not a defining characteristic concerning who you are as a person. They do not have anything to do with who you are, your morals or values. Additionally, people don’t tend to pick out your biggest insecurities. They likely won’t even notice them and if they do they likely won’t even be fazed.

3. Don't let others invalidate the way you feel.

For the longest time I felt extremely shallow being so uncomfortable with my appearance and skin. When I would express insecurity, I had friends and family telling me, “you’re getting worked up over something so stupid” and “It doesn’t even look that bad!” They didn't know anything about what my insecurity was doing to me internally. My insecurity ate away at my mental health and prevented me from being a functional human being.

4. You’ll never be perfect.

To this day I still get pimples and that’s just something I’ll have to live with. As I’m currently writing this article, I have a gorgeous pimple smack dead in the center of my forehead! Additionally, the beauty industry and social media give us so many ridiculous ideas about how we should look. We are forever trying to “fix” something about our appearance. The mentality is, “well now I have clear skin so I should be working on my body.” There is always something to “fix.” Don’t buy into that garbage! It will drive you mad and you will never truly connect with your appearance. 

I want to encourage everyone to remind themselves of the above because perhaps if I reminded myself my insecurity wouldn’t have ate away at my mental health so quickly. I know its far easier said then done but don’t be so hard on yourself. An insecurity is an insecurity whether people perceive it to be superficial or not. And finally, do not let your insecurities convince you of your worth. From one pimply girl to maybe another, stay strong and remember you’re bigger than all of this!