“I just feel like most people come from a good place… but they go about it the wrong way because I didn’t ask.”
Since I crossed the delicious threshold of puberty, I have had acne. It has fluctuated over the years, coming and going like a fluffy but dear friend, but eventually acne did make its mark on my face (and my self-esteem).
It wasn’t until last year, however, that my acne did turn into terrible, painful cystic acne territory. Desperate to rid my face of the offspring of Satan who had decided to claim it as their home, I spent a lot of time scouring the internet for answers.
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I read numerous magazine articles, WebMD pages, skincare blogs, and comment threads in skincare focused Facebook groups. Next to a lot of product recommendations, there were bits of advice saying my gut health was probably in bad shape and it was leading to acne.
Or, there were countless suggestions to eliminate dairy or sugar from my diet and watch my acne go away. There’s always the classic “Drink more water and your skin will clear up”. I absorbed this message without thinking too much about it and wondered what else could I be doing wrong that was taking such havoc on my face.
When I thought about it a bit more, I couldn’t help but notice that a lot of advice implicitly (or sometimes explicitly) puts people with acne to shame. This assumes that we are not really trying to take care of our skin, or that we are neglecting our diet. Worse yet, much of this advice is provided by unskilled (albeit generally well-intentioned) people.
Content Creator and Beautician in Melbourne Maddie edwards knows this dilemma intimately. Maddie is open about her experiences with acne and eczema, which has led to the creation of an online community focused on skin acceptance and self-love. But it’s because Maddie doesn’t try to hide her acne that people feel like they need to give advice.
“… I just feel like most people come from a good place, they speak from experience, or they really want to help, but they do it the wrong way because I haven’t demand. What makes you think I’m not already doing what you tell me to do? she says.
Maddie tells me the shame can get even worse when a brand repost their images on their social media pages.
“I did this job with Laura Mercier for a proofreader, and the comments that was on that post under their page were just disgusting. It was disgusting. It was like, ‘Oh my God, this girl needs some see a dermatologist ‘,’ No wonder she has acne, she puts it all on her face ‘,’ She obviously doesn’t wash her face well ‘… I think social media gives everyone a voice so that they feel obligated to use it.
While Maddie is able to get past these comments, I can only imagine how damaging these sarcastic remarks could be for other acne sufferers. These kinds of comments assume that the acne sufferer has full control over the pimples that appear on their face, which made me wonder: is that even the case?
According to a consulting dermatologist Dr Bevin Bhoyrul, The answer is no. When he tells me about the processes that cause acne, it is clear that much of the advice given does not include what actually triggers it.
Dr Bhoyrul explains that acne occurs after a “cascade of events”: the production of sebum (which makes your skin oily) is increased, too much sebum causes a blockage in the opening of your pores, blocked areas fill up with bacteria, the bacteria cause inflammation – and voila, acne.
Dr Bhoyrul explains that certain factors can precipitate acne, such as taking hormonal treatments or using heavy makeup that blocks pores. So whether our pores get clogged or not is in our control, but will it lead to acne? We can’t control that.
But what about all the claims that eating fatty foods or dairy products cause acne? “In terms of factors related to lifestyle, diet or whatever, there is no concrete evidence of this. There’s a lot going around online about chocolate and dairy. There might be a suggestion that dairy could precipitate acne, but nothing consistent.
“You have to be careful with this because if you think that diet is the cause of everything and then you are removing the things that are necessary for your normal development, it can be dangerous, especially if you are a teenager who is always growing and you need protein… if you start to randomly cut things out of your diet, other aspects of your health could be compromised.
When I ask Maddie if people have ever told her to change her diet to cure her acne, she doesn’t hesitate. “All the time. People believe in it so much that they don’t follow me if I don’t take their advice. It’s not even me saying ‘No thank you’, it’s just that people can’t stand. to come and see my MDs, give me advice, then see me keep complaining about acne and not following their advice.
“I post things that I eat, you know I could post my lunch and someone will say ‘Oh you sure you should eat that tomato blah blah blah it’s bad for inflammation” . “
Besides being totally unsolicited, this kind of advice is based on the inference that people with acne shouldn’t complain about their acne unless they are willing to do absolutely anything for it. to cure. Towards the end of our conversation, Maddie distills the problem perfectly with this guilt-ridden acne tip.
“This is the funniest thing about unsolicited advice. You look at me and basically tell me that I have a problem that I need to solve, and if I don’t do everything I can, I’m an idiot. It’s weird.
Instead of taking a stranger’s advice as gospel, Dr. Bhoyrul advises seeking professional advice when it comes to treating acne. He says your GP should be your first port of call and will likely recommend trying treatments like prescription retinoids or antibiotic creams and tablets. If you try these things and still don’t get very far, Dr. Bhoyrul recommends seeing a dermatologist.
At the end of the day, you never know what’s going on behind the scenes when it comes to someone’s skin condition. Dealing with the painful acne and the self-awareness that often comes with it is hard enough, let alone the misguided advice on what to do about it.
I’m lucky that the aforementioned Satan offspring doing at home on my face seems to be calming down, but I know what worked for me won’t work for everyone. Plus, even if they do reappear, I’ll be okay with that more, thanks to the impact of the acne positivity movement and people like Maddie. There are so many nicer things I can do besides worrying about my acne.
To learn more about skin acceptance, visit here.