It’s morning, and sunlight is beaming through your bedroom window, informing you the day has started whether you like it not.
You feel your heart pounding as you open your eyes, instinctively reaching for your face. Tears well in your eyes as you discover the three swollen cysts from yesterday are even bigger, despite icing them for hours last night. Even worse, two more eruptions appeared overnight and have set up camp next to the others. From the feel of them, they’re going to be there well into next month.
You take a deep breath and anxiously head to the bathroom to get ready, a place you’ve come to dread.
It’s time to look in the mirror and assess the damage.
You’re again hit with the harsh reminder that no makeup in the world can hide the painful cystic acne plaguing you. But in an effort to feel and look “normal,” you start applying it anyway because there’s no way in hell you’re leaving the house without it.
Thankfully, you can usually conceal the redness without much effort. But as much as you hoped today would be different, your attempts to cover the multiple whiteheads and inflamed lesions are still futile.
Your thoughts start swirling, and you feel a rush of intense jealousy toward people with clear skin. Jealousy soon turns to anger, and it’s all you can do to keep from punching something.
You tell yourself to stay strong and positive, that looks aren’t everything, but it’s not long before you feel hot tears fall down your cheek, right over the concealer and foundation you so meticulously applied.
I’ve been there too, and I want to share my story with you.
At the oh-so-delicate age of 12, thanks to yet another bout of pneumonia, I was admitted to the hospital because my lungs were closing. There, the hospital staff proceeded to pump me full of steroids in an effort to save my life. Good news, bad news. Their plan obviously worked, but it left my face looking like something out of a horror film. “Pretty scarring” doesn’t even begin to describe that time in my life.
It was the summer of 2000, and I was hanging out at my school gym, a few days away from starting 8th grade. I had recently finished an intense game of volleyball, and what little makeup my mom allowed me to wear had melted off, just in time for a member of the yearbook committee to stick a camera in my face. I never thought much about what it would be like to have superpowers, but at that moment, I would have killed for the ability to pause time and run out the door.
But no such powers were granted, and I was left hoping that picture would never see the light of day. Unfortunately, my deepest fear came true.
I can still remember how horrific I felt when I noticed that picture had made it into a basket on my teacher’s desk, for all my classmates to see. I tried to hide it before my friend found it, but I wasn’t quick enough. This “friend” thought it was hilarious how terrible I looked and how great she looked. I remember shrugging it off, silently fighting back tears.
Unfortunately, my acne journey was just beginning.
I’d like to say that I didn’t let my physical appearance determine my self-worth, but that would be a lie. The truth is, I fell into a deep depression. My perfectionist self could barely handle regular acne, and severe cystic acne made it hard to function in society, let alone make eye contact.
I’d heard avoiding makeup would give my skin time to breathe, but there wasn’t one day I felt brave enough to leave the house without some form of coverage. My foundation and concealer were my security, like a kid and his pacifier. I would even have nightmares about people seeing me without makeup. In one dream, the fire alarm went off, and I chose to stay in the house and burn rather than go outside sans foundation.
My house was the only place in the world I felt safe enough to go makeup-free, and I had become quite skilled at fleeing to my room when I heard an unexpected knock at the door.
But one fateful day, my brother’s friend came by unannounced while I was on the opposite end of the house, making it impossible for me to reach my safe haven. My last and only option was retreating the opposite way. So I raced to the laundry room that was attached to the kitchen, hoping my family would keep him out of the vicinity and not offer him food. My odds weren’t great given that my Russian mother loved to feed anyone who stepped foot in our house.
My breathing became labored, and my stress levels shot through the roof. It was the longest 10 minutes of my life. Finally, I heard the sweet sound of the door shutting, my brother yelling, “He’s gone.”
I breathed a sigh of relief, collapsing on the floor. I hated who I had become, but I felt powerless to change.
I’ve debated ever telling that story because of how it portrays me. I mean, I was insane. But as cliche as it sounds, I’m hoping baring my soul will help you realize you’re not alone and you will make it through this. Even at my lowest point, I found listening to other people share their acne story helped me tremendously. No, that alone didn’t cure my acne, but it slowly started to heal a part of my soul I thought would never heal.
Yes, it royally sucks, but I understand what you’re going through. I was there too.
Do any of these sound familiar?
- angrily muting skincare ads because you can’t take another false hope
- planning dinners around restaurants with dim lighting
- feeling your heart sink when you realize the restaurant your friend picked has fluorescent lighting
- using alcohol as a coping mechanism
- avoiding mirrors
- Sitting with your back to the sun to avoid unwanted comments harsh sunlight inevitably brings
- hiding behind your hair, never feeling comfortable enough to wear a ponytail
- making excuses for why you can’t make it to a pool party
- sleeping in your makeup because you’re not comfortable letting anyone but immediate family see the real you
- hating Daylight Saving Time not because you lose an hour of precious beauty sleep, but because of the longer days
- shelling out thousands of dollars on skincare and makeup
- trying a urine treatment, only to be left feeling devastated and at an all-time low
- constantly turning your face away
- developing an anxiety disorder because, no matter how hard you try, you can’t stop caring about what others think
- feeling inferior to people with clear skin
- trying to forget about your acne, but you can’t because it physically hurts and it feels like it’s on fire
- wishing you lived in a country where women are forced to cover their faces
- despising yourself for even thinking that
- hearing things like, “Have you tried Proactive?” or “How often do you wash your pillowcase?”
- biting your lip and answering politely, when all you want to say is, “How often do you ask invasive questions that are none of your damn business?”
- enduring the judging looks of beauty and skincare consultants
- dealing with the side effects of acne medications
- dreading intimacy because it means your partner will touch your face
Acne ruled my life.
I had no more tears to cry.
I felt like I had tried everything.
I was at rock bottom.
I felt hopeless.
Breaking the Cycle
For years, my skin was trying to tell me I had a bigger issue I needed to address. But I ignored all the signs, refused to believe my diet played a huge part, and continued numbing my pain with the pleasure foods that exacerbated my acne. Junk food in particular was my kryptonite.
It was a vicious cycle that took me 15 years to break.
Only within the last year have I been able to take control of my health and cure my acne, and I want to help you take back your life, too!
So here’s exactly what I did:
- Dairy-free Ketogenic Diet
- Feeding your body foods that are nourishing, not inflammation-inducing, is the first step to ending this nightmare.
- Intermittent Fasting
- Giving your body time to heal by practicing intermittent fasting is essential to clearing up your acne.
- Manage Stress Levels
- It blows my mind how many minutes of the day I was under extreme stress, my thoughts racing a mile a minute.
I know it probably feels damn near impossible currently, but find ways to manage your daily stress, and make time for things that relax you.
- Get Rid of Toxic People
I had some really great moments I remember fondly, but somehow those traumatic moments and toxic people always stand out the most. Plus, in an effort to block out the bad, I lost a lot of the good. Don’t do what I did. Surround yourself with people who will encourage and support you, and say sayonara to those who don’t.
- Love Yourself
As much as it sucked, acne helped me realize I had a deeper issue: poor self-esteem. I would wear makeup to hide my “flaws,” not to feel pretty. And it didn’t even matter that I had suitors; I didn’t believe them anyway. In my mind, I was hideous, and no one would ever love the real me.
But against all odds, I finally allowed myself to be loved by a wonderful man who strived every day to help me see the beauty he saw. Unfortunately, I still struggled to see past my own insecurities. I felt like no one understood my pain, not even him, and I reflexively starting pushing him away. I nearly lost an amazing guy because of my inability to love myself.
Again, don’t do what I did.
“You are perfect. To think anything less is as pointless as a river thinking that it’s got too many curves, or that it moves too slowly, or that its rapids are too rapid. Says who? You’re on a journey with no defined beginning, middle, or end. There are no wrong twists and turns. There is just being. And your job is to be as you as you can be. This is why you’re here. To shy away from who you truly are would leave the world you-less. You are the only you there is and ever will be. I repeat, you are the only you there is and ever will be. Do not deny the world its one and only chance to bask in your brilliance.” — Jen Sincero
If you found Natalie’s article helpful and you’re interested in receiving more acne tips and future articles written by Natalie, read more here.