My Life With Adult Cystic Acne

Photo: Lordn / Shutterstock
woman looking at her face in the mirror

As I searched for an image for this post, I discovered that Unsplash must think that “acne” equals a few freckles over a pretty, smooth face.

As much as I would love for Unsplash to be correct, it is horribly off the mark.

Adult acne is more than a little bump that disappears under a swipe of concealer.

In my experience, it is a physically and emotionally painful patch of bumps that make me feel unattractive despite my typical body-positive point of view.

Before you call me vain for caring about a few zits, consider how you felt in high school when your face flared. 

Or, if you have been blessed with flawless skin since puberty, recall how your less fortunate friends felt during this season of life.

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Breakouts take me back to a crappier time when I was bullied for the state of my skin

My family thought it was totally appropriate to harass me for my (probably cystic and infected) acne from the time it developed when I was ten.

After expressing “concern” and scolding me for what they perceived as a hygiene problem, they dumped countless products onto my counter and told me to incorporate the latest trend into my face wash routine.

My peers also mercilessly taunted me for my pockmarked, bumpy face. I remember the days when I would have thanked the heavens for a couple of pimples. In comparison to my full face of acne, my current problems seemed like progress.

I was a perfectly fine-looking youngster but I felt disgusting and ugly.

Although I’ve learned that I’m beautiful no matter what dermatological issues surface, a simple patch of pimples carries a heavy emotional weight for me.

Acne sucks no matter how old you are when it hits

I’d like to say that I can hold my chin up high when there’s an angry red bump protruding from it, but that would be a lie.

I’m human like every awkward middle schooler — though my demeanor tends to convey my humanity more than some 7th graders’ angsty, savage attitudes.

I would like to say that looks don’t matter, but that seems disingenuous. Everyone wants to feel attractive and having skin problems is a common reason for feeling unattractive.

I still love myself even with the scars that dig into my face and the bumps that stick out in the most inconvenient places. Even so, it’s hard to feel pretty when I know my skin has conventionally ridiculed features.

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Acne is a punchline for middle school sitcoms, a shorthand for the weird, ugly kid. There’s no way to erase the cultural stigma.

Beyond the insecurity that comes with blemishes, I hate the lack of control. No matter how many creams or treatments or trends you follow, you can’t choose when a pimple will flatten on your face.

Even if you don’t pick at it, you can’t control whether it will scar or leave some other mark in its place. That’s disheartening and bothersome.

I don’t even have the luxury of hiding my breakouts behind a mask.

At the start of the pandemic, a phenomenon called “mask-ne” (mask+acne) swept through the nations as fast as the virus itself. These were little bumps and blemishes that appeared in areas where masks irritated the skin.

While mask-ne was annoying, at least you could continue to cover it up with a mask. For me, a mask wouldn’t help hide the breakouts on my face. Pimples that are cropping up on my forehead are impossible to cover with a mask or strategically placed hair swoop.

Although I know it’s bad for me, I still struggle with dermatillomania

It turns out that just because you know better than to do something that’s unhealthy doesn’t mean you will always do better. Acne is a huge trigger for my dermotillamania (also known as “skin picking”).

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I do my best to use healthy coping strategies. I opt to fidget with a fidget toy instead of digging into my skin or I keep my hands busy with crafting.

Nonetheless, I find myself picking my skin when I’m bored or anxious sometimes. When I have acne, it’s all the more tempting to revert to this unhealthy coping skill.

Acne isn’t just for middle schoolers or high schoolers — it’s a problem that affects adults, too

While many people think that acne is something that you “outgrow,” many folks who struggled with severe acne as a kid or teen still deal with this issue in adulthood. There’s nothing bad or embarrassing about having these kinds of problems as a youngster or an adult.

Although society might look down on us for having less-than-perfect skin, adults with acne are no less beautiful or worthy of love for the way we look.

While I’ve had this problem since I was a kid, the way I handled it as an adult is much different. Gone are the days when I burn my skin with painful chemicals or irritate it with heavy makeup application. Gone, too, are the days when I allow anyone to spit hateful, mean comments at me because of the condition of my skin.

Today, I accept that sometimes I’ll have breakouts, and sometimes they’ll be in inconvenient, uncomfortable places. I don’t know if I’ll ever outgrow my acne, but I’ve certainly outgrown the self-hate that used to come with it. That’s a step in the right direction.

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Maya Strong is a professional writer who has spent the last six years blogging about relationships, LGBTQIA+, mental health, lifestyle, and cultural commentary online.

This article was originally published at Medium. Reprinted with permission from the author.