How Terrible Acne Made Me More Confident

From the moment acne became a thing, I had it.

There isn’t a time that I remember being a teenager and not having pimples on my face; a trial I know I am not alone in facing. I trudged through middle and high school by slathering layers of foundation and concealer on my face before scrubbing it off at night. Daily rituals consisted of dousing my cheeks and forehead with this face wash and that exfoliant and tube after tube of acne cream. My constant acne convinced me that I could never go out without makeup on -- making pool days stressful and early mornings a nightmare, and so I lived the majority of my teenage years in cracking foundation and crumbling self-esteem.

I comforted myself with the idea that the acne would slow down once I got to college. It had gotten relatively better in high school, to the point where I would fade in and out of having breakouts, and so for some reason, I thought that at the age of 18 I would magically “outgrow” my acne. Needless to say, that didn’t happen. In fact, instead of getting better, the zits got worse.

For whatever reason, going to college caused my face to breakout worse than ever. I remember visiting family over winter break and breaking down to cry when I couldn’t get my foundation to come even close to concealing the six giant zits that were clumped near my chin. All I wanted was to look nice for our fancy dinner, and I felt as though every time I looked in the mirror, all I could see was my acne.

My mom resolved to change things; we were finally going to go to the dermatologist. I was ecstatic when the doctor took one look at my face and promised me we could “clear that right up.” Perhaps the answer to all of my prayers was finally here, and I would have the beautiful, clear skin I had always dreamed of.

I started on two daily topical creams and a moisturizing wash. “Dryness may be normal,” they warned me, “and your acne may get worse at first.” I didn’t hear a word they said; just pranced out the door, slathered the creams on my face, and waited for my skin to improve.

Spoiler alert: it didn’t.

At first, my acne seemed to be receding somewhat, and I got incredibly excited. This is what I had been waiting for all these years! However, it wasn’t until a few weeks into my spring semester that things took a turn for the worse.

The topical creams caused my skin to peel off my face incessantly. It didn’t matter how much moisturizer I hurriedly slathered on; there was no way I could keep up. I couldn’t wear foundation anymore because it wouldn’t stay on my skin; the peeling combined with the weird texture of the moisturizer made it impossible for anything to provide coverage, or for me to even put on makeup at all. I felt mortified going out in public with what was essentially face dandruff.

Next, my lips started drying out as well, becoming peeled and chapped to the point where they were so inflamed and red that it hurt to speak. I knew my face was atrocious to look at; makeup free and peeling red on every surface. It was mortifying. Unfortunately, though, the worst was yet to come.

Somehow, I ended up with the worst acne of my life. Not only were zits cropping up everywhere, but they were gigantic painful things that I didn’t dare try and pop. I had learned over the years to deal with bad acne. I had never had to deal with the kind of acne that sat like a gigantic inflamed pebble on my chin along with my peeling face and stinging lips. I had never woken up without putting on makeup for so long. I had never felt so low about my body image.

Inexplicably, though, something started to change. Although I was still struggling with my face, I began to wake up and not care as much about whether I was going to wear makeup or not. I had to walk out the door every morning and get over the fact that there was no hiding the massive zits on my chin and cheeks. It was just a fact of my day. In short, I was forced to accept myself at my worst, because that was my current reality. And strangely, this began to change me for the better.

Learning to love myself with peeling skin and stinging lips and the worst acne of my life taught me how to love myself in all the other situations I had been lacking over the years. It taught me how to love myself with no makeup, taught me how to love my body even when I ate a few too many cookies, taught me how to love my smaller boobs and bigger butt.

Eventually, the giant zits faded. I returned to the dermatologist and got recommendations for a stronger moisturizer that has been working well, and just started on an antibiotic to hopefully kick that lingering acne to the curb. My skin is looking better, and I’m feeling more confident than ever.

The funny part is, though, that my acne isn’t much better than it ever was in high school. Hopefully, it’ll continue to improve with time, but for the moment I still have a fair amount of zits going on. The crazy part? I’m finally okay with it.

I walk out each morning with a little mascara on and not much else. Considering the lengths I used to go to so that I could cover myself up, I consider this a major win. I can see myself shining through so much more confidentially than I ever was, even when my skin was clearer than it was now. Did I enjoy going through those dark months? Certainly not. But I’m grateful that I’ve been able to come out the other side stronger, healthier and more confident than ever. No one ever wishes to be handed challenges, but it is how we come through those challenges that really defines us. And I’m happy to be here today, finally comfortable with the skin I’m in, acne and all.

photo provided by Alexa Benhart