I woke up with a pimple today. I’ve lost track of the number of times that’s happened, but considering I’ve been dealing with acne for upwards of 15 years, it’s safe to say a few. You’d think that by this point I’d be able to shrug it off or at least have solid coping mechanisms in place, but every pimple still feels like everyone is staring straight at my imperfection.
To deal, I’ve tried tea tree oil, spot treatments, and sulfur galore. I’ve nixed dairy from my diet. I’ve even recently decided to take the prescription hormone-regulator Spironolactone because I’m most commonly afflicted with hormonal chin pimples. But today, I take a new approach: I’ve decided to be okay with my acne. Or, I’ve at least accepted that like having brown hair or an affinity for cocker spaniels, acne is simply a part of my life.
I’ve at least accepted that like having brown hair or an affinity for cocker spaniels, acne is simply a part of my life.
I’m not alone, which, I have to admit is kinda comforting. Data from the American Academy of Dermatology indicates that acne is the most common skin condition Americans battle (yes, even more than skin cancer, which is the most common form of cancer), with 85 percent of the population having some sort of run-in with it. What’s more? While it used to be a uniquely adolescent issue, these days women in their 20s, 30s, and 40s are struggling with it as well. A separate study from the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology surveyed 749 men and women who were 25+ and found that 54 percent had pimple problems that didn’t go away until they were at least 44.
That sucks. Not just because we have to empty our pockets for all the things at Sephora, but because acne is more than skin deep. And suffering through it from the time one is in middle school to the time one is 44 is way. too. long. Or rather: The only consistency in one’s life from the time they’re in middle school to the time they’re middle-aged shouldn’t just be acne.
“The skin and brain are both derived from the same embryonic layer during fetal development—so they’re intimately linked from a very early stage,” says Josie Howard, MD.
“There’s a very strong link between your mind and your skin,” says Josie Howard, MD, a psychodermatologist (AKA psychiatrist-slash-dermatologist) and Abreva spokesperson. “First, there’s the biological connection between the skin and the brain. The skin and brain are both derived from the same embryonic layer during fetal development—so they’re intimately linked from a very early stage. Also, we know that stress and mood fluctuations can cause direct effects on the skin through hormonal changes as well as neuropeptide release. And of course your mental states affect how you care for your skin—whether you overtreat or undertreat, for instance.”
It’s true: In the survey of over 700 Well+Good Readers, we found that the vast majority said acne impacts their mental health, and a good chunk have skipped out on social situations because of it. I’ve definitely done the same: my own skin insecurities have affected my love life, I’ve ditched dates in order to stay home and hide my pimple instead, and I’ve even been brought to tears about my skin, feeling helpless and without a solution.
“Acne is a micro infection of the follicles or pores—so then each pimple may be different in its own way than its neighbor and on your neighbor,” says Purvisha Patel, MD.
“Having any kind of visible skin condition—especially one that is on the face such as acne—can profoundly affect self-esteem as well as overall mental health,” says Dr. Howard. “It’s incredibly common for people to avoid social interactions when they’re experiencing an acne outbreak. There is a profound amount of shame and embarrassment that accompany these conditions, which is surprising in some ways given how common they are.” Sad but true.
So what on earth gives? For me, it was learning that acne is kind of like a math problem in a lot of ways. “Four things need to happen to make acne: follicular occlusion from dirt, sweat, oil, or makeup, bacteria and fungus growing in the follicle, oil that makes the small infection grow, and then an infection that causes inflammation and redness or soreness,” according to board-certified dermatologist and founder of Visha Skincare Purvisha Patel, MD. If you get rid of half of the causes of acne, you’ll likely best it. The giant asterisk? Because there are variables for all of the causes, one product can’t bust all kinds of acne.
Dr. Patel says it all comes down to the fact that we’re mammals covered in hair follicles—and none are the same. “Each follicle on our body is placed on us individually and differently,” she says. “Acne is a micro infection of the follicles or pores—so then each pimple may be different in its own way than its neighbor and on your neighbor.”
And because I can’t account for all of the variability that comes with different follicles and their own individual needs to help them cheer up and chill out, I choose today to deal with my reaction instead. Acne is part of my life; it’s made me who I am—imperfect and all.
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