Looking past the pizza face
January 23, 2010 9:14 PM   Subscribe

I skipped out on most of the woes of growing up; I've never had issues with my figure (naturally wicked metabolism), never cared too much about social circle pressures, no issues with clothes and dressing up. But...I've always had issues with my skin.

Acne was my nightmare growing up. Looking back, my acne from high school really wasn't so bad but it was terrible in the OMG teenager way. Then when I hit college it really did turn bad, peaked at its worst about 2, 2.5 years ago (complete with scarring), and has been slowly petering down (but not gone!) since. I've had many comments about it, most/all unsolicited, and much as I love my family they're often the most graceless about it (Dad has literally said "How will you get a boyfriend like that?" and Mom has said "you look like you have chicken pox"). Explicit (bordering on impolite) requests/demands for them to kindly STFU about my skin hadn't done anything until my skin really did start improving, so...my skin was a very, very, very sore subject with me. It still is (I think it's understandable when strangers on the bus accost me about it). I lived with my parents, was on their insurance, and since they sincerely thought I could fix my face if only I had more homemade facials/ate more vegetables/consumed this random Chinese medicine (okay, I'm somewhat cynical about Chinese meds)/what have you, I never actually tried the more conventional Western approaches (antibiotics, birth control, Accutane).

My face has improved from growing up, and now I'm actually taking medication for it (since I need birth control now anyway). It's not gone, but it's getting better. And my boyfriend, whom I think is absolutely gorgeous, seems to have absolutely no issue with my face even in the midst of a breakout, so I'm actually hearing direct positive things about my looks for once!

But my face is still the One Body Image Issue I have, and frequently I am envious of strangers I see (male and female) who have complexions like porcelain, and even those without makeup have at least even toned and smooth skin and look simple and clean and nice. I know everyone has their own issues, but while I can say 'people love all different sizes and shapes, not everyone has to be supermodel thin' I can't really convince myself that people have a preference for a face like a pizza. (Although I am aware that my face is nowhere near that bad anymore.) I am not a fan of makeup, though I am possibly in the minority there (I don't care enough about fashion to actually research how many women in my age and beyond wear makeup on a regular basis), so the impression that everyone else has perfect skin is probably a little flawed.

As a broke college student, I really can't afford laser resurfacing or what have you. This isn't a question on how to treat my acne anyway (the Pill is helping, I just need to give it more time. And frankly, after scarring and years of acne, I'm not exactly expecting miracles, so hopefully I don't have unrealistic expectations). Just...how do I stop letting my face affect my self esteem so much? Especially on days when I look in the mirror and can't seem to see past OMG SPOTS?
posted by Hakaisha to Human Relations (38 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
You've answered your own question. You're funny, perceptive, and self-aware, and as you get older, these things that you perceive as flaws will become less important to you, and less noticable to others. It will happen gradually, but it will happen.

By way of context, I had surgery to remove a neck tumour when I was 25, and I was mortified about the scar for the first few years, but by the time I was thirty, it was barely noticeable.
posted by Optamystic at 9:30 PM on January 23, 2010 [2 favorites]

Unfortunately, how you look does affect how other people perceive and treat you. Not everyone can have naturally flawless skin -- the rest of us need to use skin care products and wear makeup.

At night:
1. After washing your face, use a product containing salicylic acid (aka beta hydroxy acid) to get the gunk out of your pores.
2. Use a product containing benzoyl peroxide to kill the bacteria that causes acne.
3. Once your acne is healing up, start using a product containing alpha hydroxy acid to help exfoliate the surface so as to get rid of the old acne-damaged skin faster.

In the morning:
1. Wear sunscreen. Experiment with a few different brands to find one that doesn't make you feel greasy or clogged up or exacerbate your breakouts. (Personally, I've had good luck with Neutrogena's sunscreen.) This will help prevent you from developing those ugly brown "liver spots" and other visible sun damage when you're older.
2. Start wearing makeup to cover up your remaining spots and scars. Wash your hands very thoroughly before applying makeup. Ideally, use foundation that is dispensed with a pump so that the remaining makeup inside the bottle remains untouched and thus protected from contamination by bacteria. Use brushes to apply other makeup. (In general, try to avoid touching your face or touching stuff that goes on your face except when your hands are very clean.)
posted by Jacqueline at 9:41 PM on January 23, 2010

I can't stop myself from crossposting this meme that may actually be helpful.
posted by sanka at 9:43 PM on January 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

Ah, as someone who's struggled with her skin, I really appreciate this.

Tip 1: shift the focus to something else so that when you see yourself in the mirror you'll notice something besides your complexion: a new hair cut or color, maybe. Or make it your fitness goal to have really great arms by summer.

Tip 2 (small, fast trick): on days when I feel my skin is bad, I'll wear an interesting shirt or necklace, or flashy shoes.

Tip 3: Removed harsh light bulbs from your bathroom and do your best not to linger there scrutinizing your complexion. Seriously. Give yourself five minutes to wash your face at night and then get out of the bathroom. I can't recommend this enough.

Tip 4: Try really hard to love yourself. As the years go by self-acceptance will come easier. It's hard to imagine, but it's true. Things that caused me great self-consciousness in college just don't bother me as much 10 years later, and I regret not feeling freer and more outgoing in those days. I don't know how to say this without sounding really trite and earnest, but don't waste time with jealous or negative thoughts. Try to see how lovable you are, flawless skin or no.

Tip 5: Experiment with makeup. I know you're not a fan, but there are some lovely all-natural foundations on the market (Sephora carries some lines of non-chemically varieties). Give it a try. A light layer of foundation, a bit of mascara and lip gloss can make an enormous difference.
posted by cymru_j at 9:52 PM on January 23, 2010 [6 favorites]

Well, many of the people you meet who appear to have "even toned and smooth skin and look simple and clean and nice" only look that way because they're wearing makeup. If you're going to rank yourself below the rest of humanity because your face "looks like pizza", you ought to be aware that many of the people you're comparing yourself to are 'cheating' at your game.

That doesn't mean you should also wear makeup (especially if it maces your acne worse), but it might be comforting to know it's an option - especially on those occasions when you're particularly anxious about your appearance. Learn how to apply it properly - either seek out a knowledgeable friend, or check out some of the tutorials on Youtube.

If makeup is completely out of the question for you, I guess you just need to accept that most people occasionally feel that some part of their body is less than perfect. If it helps, imagine what people with perfect skin are worrying about instead - wobbly thighs? Crooked teeth? Smelly feet?

Really, spotty skin isn't the worst malady you could have, and if you every want to disguise it, there's a whole industry producing products that are actually pretty good at making that happen.
posted by embrangled at 9:53 PM on January 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

Seconding check your bathroom lighting. There's this one bathroom at school that makes my skin look awful, but when I'm at home it looks ten times better.
posted by kylej at 10:00 PM on January 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

Age is a great equalizer. Everybody gets old. Everybody's skin deteriorates, wrinkles. Those with naturally great skin will be much more traumatized by this process. They will lose something that society values, that they once had through no effort on their part, but since you didn't have it— no problemo. If you already know that your value is not in your face, you will be leagues ahead of your superficial peers. Plus, you already know that your boyfriend (and your other friends) like you as you are, not for your looks. Take comfort in this, other people can't.
posted by bobobox at 10:07 PM on January 23, 2010 [2 favorites]

You may be a broke college student, but you can still hopefully afford some moisturizer and face cleaning stuff. It's not a matter of what you should do to make your skin nice for other people, though. You should love yourself and give your own body the respect it deserves, and part of that is helping your skin heal and making you feel comfortable. If you try to take care of your skin with the attitude that it's because you deserve to have nice skin, it can help turn around your discomfort with yourself. The added benefit, of course, is that you'll heal faster and learn how to maintain a smoother complexion naturally.

You don't have to spend a lot of money to give yourself a little lovin' in the skincare department. You should be able to find everything you need at a well-stocked drugstore. The key is to maintain a nice even level of moisture - a lot of acne fighting products will dry out your skin so much that you'll just break out again! Find a nice face lotion that smells good to you and use a little bit of it after your shower, in the mornings, or whenever you feel like you need it. Wash your face every night with gentle soap that you love the smell of. Don't do this because you're trying to hide a problem, do it because you like yourself enough to want to! Since your acne is being taken care of through the magic of modern science, all you need to do is make sure you have a good base for it to work off of.

It's a matter of upping your self esteem in this area by deliberate application of affection and care, not a matter of building up a barrier to ignore a problem that's steadily getting less worse.
posted by Mizu at 10:42 PM on January 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

I know you didn't ask for this but a few things that helped me:
- acne.org's cleanser and BP regime
- changing shampoo and conditioner (a month ago I ran out and had to revert - breakout city!)
- drink more water
- don't touch your face

all of this can be done cheaply.
good luck.
posted by k8t at 10:42 PM on January 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

People compliment me on my skin, and I am ALWAYS wearing makeup when it happens. When I'm not wearing makeup nobody ever compliments my skin. My skin is probably in somewhat better-than-average shape for my age, but when people *notice* it, it's 100% because I'm wearing powder foundation + blush + eye makeup + lipgloss.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 10:43 PM on January 23, 2010

Oops, sorry, hit post and didn't notice that I accidentally deleted the first half of what I meant to say:

Yes, most women with seemingly flawless skin in real life are wearing makeup. The test for this is to consider how many flawlessly skinned men you've seen? Not that many, right? That's because so few men wear makeup to daily events. Judiciously-applied makeup makes a huge difference.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 10:45 PM on January 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

Personal details ahoy: I had perfect skin until I got pregnant, at which point I developed cystic acne. It was the worst case my dermatologist had seen, and because I was pregnant, there was really nothing they could do about it. I was in constant throbbing pain, people would stare and make comments. As a result there are no pictures of me pregnant, which I regret somewhat except that the ones of me holding my infant daughter show me looking like a monster and are STILL painful to look at. Needless to say this was a massive, MASSIVE blow to my self esteem.

After I finished breastfeeding I did a course of Acutaine which cleared up the cysts, although it left me with blotchy dry skin and terrible scarring as well as occasional smaller breakouts. One day on a complete whim I walked up to the makeup counter at Nordstrom and asked one of the counter girls for help. She actually directed me to another girl at another product line who gave me the "mall makeover" which was humiliating but she totally stayed within my parameters (Make me look like I'm not wearing makeup). When she finished and I looked in the mirror I could not believe the change. I walked out of there feeling like I was floating 6 inches above the ground.

People who tell you that it's all in your head and that it doesn't matter and that other people are just as self conscious about their appearance can't possibly understand what it's like. Your face is the first thing people see. People make assumptions about your cleansing routine and offer unsolicited advice (over the counter shit don't touch hormonal acne). It fucking sucks. I've been there. So I won't do any of that. I WILL say that a little bit of makeup can make a world of difference, and it shouldn't involve painting on an inch of tinted spackle.

I use a tinted moisturizer and mineral powder* and maybe MAYBE some mascara. It hides EVERYTHING and looks completely natural. I encourage you to actually work with someone who can show you how to apply everything in a way that looks natural instead of trying to figure it out yourself, especially if you're not experienced in wearing make up (like I wasn't).

I also have to say that therapy helped a ton with my self-acceptance issues. That and an incredibly supportive partner.

Good Luck.

*Laura Mercier mineral powder and Hourglass Illusion tinted moisturizer along with some special brushes and a boatload of practice fwiw but seriously, consult a professional. Apparently those people are good for something other than standing around looking better than you (me).
posted by lilnublet at 10:48 PM on January 23, 2010 [11 favorites]

I feel your pain! I have (what I think is terrible!) acne and I feel so bad about it. I wasn't a big fan of makeup either for a variety of reasons, but it really can help. After a month or so I felt much more confident about my presentation. You can still tell I'm covering up acne, but it hides the redness (which is the most embarrassing thing, in my opinion). Moving into that world can be weird and awkward, so start with wearing it just on the weekends. Play with the type and color and get used to it before you ease into everyday use. You don't have to be an expert to use concealer + foundation, and that doesn't obligate you to a full on routine of blush, lipstick, liner, etc. I use Maybelline mousse concealer and liquid foundation. Powder can be easier to apply, but when you have bad skin it can sometimes make it look worse.
posted by lilac girl at 11:04 PM on January 23, 2010

This was said up thread but I think it bears repeating..

You are funny, perceptive and selfaware - Remember this - these are far more important things!

and from your post - my boyfriend, whom I think is absolutely gorgeous, seems to have absolutely no issue with my face even in the midst of a breakout, so I'm actually hearing direct positive things about my looks for once! - so when you hear the negative things repeating in your mind...think of the positive things he says and say them back to yourself.

Inner beauty does wonders to enhance our outter appeal - and it seems to me you have both going for you!!
posted by Weaslegirl at 11:29 PM on January 23, 2010

Well, for whatever it's worth: I grew up with (the male version of) almost the exact same situation, complete with well-meaning parents tremendously eager to endlessly recommend (in my case) new-agey / "natural" "healing" concoctions-du-jour, who would get furious at me if I said 'no' to anything.

After I learned to stand up for myself, I went to a for reals dermatologist and got Accutane, and, uh, that stuff is magic. One cycle kept me totally clear for ~3 years, a second one kept me totally, maintenance-free clear for ~2 more, and ever since I've been able to stay clear with the 2.5% benzoyl peroxide / gentle cleaner / moisturizer combo mentioned above, twice a day. It sounds like just being on birth control works for you, so that's great; maybe add a benzoyl peroxide regime to speed things up / help stabilize?

For whatever it's worth, not everyone's skin naturally clears as they get older. I've read a lot of different unreliable sources speculating about why; the most popular story right now is that we process lactose in a different way, that happens to cause hormone spikes. Shrug! Fortunately, we have decent medication for acne now...
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 11:37 PM on January 23, 2010

Congratulations on getting your problem under control!

You probably do this already, but you can help boost your confidence by focusing on your strengths, both in terms of your character and appearance. Wear clothing that'll accentuate your figure, or put yourself in situations where you can show off your intelligence and creativity.

I find that I obsess over my physical shortcomings when I'm not pursuing enough activities that I enjoy, so you may want to start focusing on your passions, too.

I'm not a fan of makeup either, but I'd agree that a simple concealer will help you out. I'd recommend taking a look at 'clean' makeup, that is designed not to clog your pores. You don't have to wear it all the time, but it might help you to become comfortable with wearing basic makeup, just so you have an additional 'tool' for controlling how your face looks (and so you can put any perceived inadequacies out of your mind).

I'd also agree with others who have recommended creams and moisturizers, which will make your skin feel and look better in its 'natural' state.

I know this is a bit off-topic, but, out of curiosity, would you want to go in for laser resurfacing or another expensive treatment sometime down the line? Even if you're a poor student, you might want to think of an estimate as to how much money you're willing to put towards your skin. Once you've done that, you can check with a good dermatologist and see how much the procedures would cost for you (it may be less than you think, especially if the scarring doesn't cover your entire face), and decide whether it would be worth it. Obviously, none of the treatments will make the scarring go away completely, but it might help you if you can start saving towards a treatment, or if the prospect of a 'fuller recovery' is in your future.

Good luck!
posted by jennyesq at 12:01 AM on January 24, 2010

Although I always sought a more mental/emotional/logical/abstract answer (like it seems you do), Accutane was a miracle for me. It did wonders for my self esteem when I was in your position years ago. I had horrible skin that I was constantly self-conscious about and now I don't. I would avoid seeing friends because of embarrassment. Although people liked me for other reasons, I couldn't see it because I was constantly beneath the cloud of frustration and discouragement that acne brought.

ymmv, but accutane was arguably the best decision of my life. Never had any serious side effects, either. For the most part they can be minimized by careful attention (ie consistent internal and external hydration).

I know this isn't exactly what you were looking for, but I hope my experience will be (at the least) comforting to you.
posted by bradly at 12:03 AM on January 24, 2010

Fellow skin sufferer here (rosacea and eczema for me). The way I figure it, everyone's got something their unhappy with about their bodies with, and we will almost certainly never know the depths of their pain.

Some people feel fat, others too skinny. Some people have no visible ankles. Others feel like their face is made of elbow skin. Others are going bald. Others have hair where baldness would be optimum. So, you know, there's the elbow-skin people, the baldies, the hairies, the cankles, and me. And my thing is Rumpole Nose. And that's okay, cause we all got a thing. Having a thing unites us all, and rest assured no one cares more about your looks than you. Everyone else cares degrees of magnitude less.

So, to quote the Muppet show:

I'm ugly, I'm ugly as sin,
But beautiful's out, ugly's in.
If you're ugly like me, you're in good company.
There are millions of us who are ugly!

posted by smoke at 1:16 AM on January 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

If you're still dealing with extensive breakouts, a trip to the dermatologist would be worth looking into. There's a lot they can do to help these days. I developed some cystic acne after my pregnancy, and the derm prescribed a dabber-bottle that contained a liquid anti-biotic solution that cleared me right up. (These days I find that dabbing a little hand sanitizer on an emerging zit will usually clear it up by the next day, and surprisingly enough doesn't seem to bother my generally sensitive and dry skin at all.)

I had bad acne as a teenager and still broke out quite often through my twenties. At 44 I'm down to the occasional hormonal pimple, but due to the slight scarring from my acne days and some issues with flushing and general redness, I am never going to have pretty skin. I'm not a big makeup person either... if my skin were nice I'd wear only lipcolor and mascara... but I find the redness really bothersome so I use makeup to tone it down a bit. Personally I've never had any success at creating flawless skin with makeup, but a powder foundation does a nice job of evening out my skin tone and making imperfections less noticeable. Just having a little something there makes me feel a whole lot more confident, and that's probably the biggest benefit I get out of it.

Another way to deal with not having great skin is to really accent your good features. Nobody is going to be looking at your skin much if your eyes, hair, figure or clothes are pretty. Plus it give the appearance of immaculate grooming which offsets the generally wrong idea that acne sufferers are not clean about themselves. (I damn near scrubbed my skin right off, multiple times a day no less, as a teen trying to get the acne to go away, and was shocked when I learned that my best friend with the gorgeous complexion didn't think a thing about not washing her face for a day or two.)

What it boils down to for me is to take care of my face to get my skin as nice as it can be, camouflage the remaining imperfections a little, do other things to make myself look nice, and then just forget about my skin while I'm interacting with the world.

I also try to keep in mind that when I interact with other people, particularly those I know and like, I'm generally not focusing in on their flaws. It isn't that I don't see it, it's just that it is only one element of the overall impression of their appearance. Most people who are not model-quality attractive have something fucked up about their appearance... weird teeth, bad skin, an unfortunate mole... but as you get to know them the weird stuff just fades into the background.

One of the most attractive women I know has oddly yellow teeth, sun-damaged skin and a figure that is far from perfect... but she dresses really well, plays up her good features and carries herself so confidently that her overall impression is of being a very good-looking woman. Good grooming and confidence will always carry the day, in my experience.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 1:33 AM on January 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

Other than the fact that I'm a 29 year old mom of three, I could have written this question. My problem is that it's totally hormonal. Just as my face starts to clear up my cycle comes around and I break out all over again. I understand completely what you mean about people mentioning it. Why on earth do people think it is okay to point out breakout? I mean come on, would you point out a missing limb to an amputee? I actually left a bridal shower in tears because some random lady told me to put toothpaste on all my 'red spots' to make them go away. For the love of Pete people, keep your mouths shut! (Sorry about the rant. I'm done now. I promise.)

I'm blond haired and blue eyed and have always been tall and thin, even after having three kids I still wear a size six. On paper I sound gorgeous, and I am overall pretty happy with my looks. Except for the horrific scarring on my face from twenty years of acne. I can't do birth control, so I have to just deal with the problem.

I hate make-up, and I've never tried the mineral stuff (although I really want to). What I've found works for me is to use liquid foundation on top of moisturizer and no powder. The pressed powder makes things look cakey, so I just skip it and use a matte foundation. I've also found that exfoliating at least once a week makes a huge difference. When I wear foundation I make sure to use mascara and lip gloss to keep my face from looking 'blank'. Like I said, I hate wearing make-up (especially foundation) but for going out I bite the bullet. I just make sure that as soon as I get home I wash it off. If I sleep in make-up I'm guaranteed a massive breakout the next day.

As far as emotionally dealing with the "OMG Spots!", it's like the Empress said: People who know you aren't focusing on the spots. You are because your eyes jump right to them when you look in the mirror, but your boyfriend probably has to have his attention drawn to them to even see them any more. As a frame of reference: I had a boyfriend in high school who had a really huge (it was about three inches) scar on his face from a dog bite. When I first met him it wasn't the first thing I saw, but I did notice it right away. After I got to know him I didn't see it any more. Really. I didn't notice it at all. Once somebody called him 'the kid with the scar' and it took me a minute to realise who they were talking about. My husband doesn't notice my acne any more at all, and I'm sure it's the same with your boyfriend. If he's like most guys he's too distracted by your amazing smile, beautiful eyes, and rockin' body. (Not necessarily in that order!)
posted by TooFewShoes at 2:25 AM on January 24, 2010

Confidence is work, but at least it comes for free.

posted by Cuppatea at 2:28 AM on January 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

I think that the comments about limiting your time in front of a mirror and making sure you have reasonably flattering lighting in your abode are excellent suggestions. It is amazing how bad poor lighting can make even people with good skin look, and the longer one looks in a mirror the worse one looks. And while I am not generally a huge advocate of makeup, if you can use it in a way that makes you feel better about your skin then go for it.

I would add two other thoughts:

It can be helpful to find some nice pictures of oneself and look at those when you are feeling bad--they really can serve as a good reality check. These photographs do not need to be glamour shots by any means--just photos that you like of yourself. This is not about making your looks central to your self-concept but just helping you move on when you get worked up about your skin.

If anyone mentions your skin to you, especially people that you do not know, they are being incredibly rude. Family is tricky, but for anyone else you should feel perfectly justified in saying something along the lines of "That is a very sensitive subject for me and I do not want to talk about it". If they persist, then you can either repeat the same thing or walk away. People are sometimes really dense about this type of thing so they are not necessarily intending to be hurtful but really you should not have to deal with such nonsense.
posted by pie_seven at 5:24 AM on January 24, 2010

I'd be wary of any advice that doesn't come straight from a dermatologist. After years of complicating my acne by experimenting with regimens like the one Jacqueline recommends, I discovered in my mid-twenties that all my skin really needed to stop breaking out was moisture. All the benzoyl peroxide and stuff I'd been tinkering with had just dried me out even more and made things worse. For many years now, all I've had to do to keep my face clear is wash with mild soap and then fully moisturize immediately after.

A hundred different people will tell you a hundred different things about what "works". I'm glad your situation is improving.

As for the scarring, give that time too. I'm amazed at how little scarring I have now. It's entirely possible that one day soon most of this will seem like a bad dream.
posted by hermitosis at 6:41 AM on January 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

This isn't a question on how to treat my acne anyway [...] Just...how do I stop letting my face affect my self esteem so much?

Easiest way would be to just fix the problem. Sorry, I know there are plenty of "little tricks" and you can always cake on makeup but in the end the easiest way to deal with the problem is to not have it. But you're not interested in ways to treat your acne. Even though it doesn't sound like you've actually had anything remotely close to "competent analysis." If you want the shortcut that will save you time & money and remove the giant hulking weight on your shoulders, go to a dermatologist and get Accutane or Sulfa and fix the problem forever.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 7:08 AM on January 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'm almost 30 and my acne is still nearly as bad as it was as a teen. Combined with my nervous habit of obsessively picking at things when I'm under anxiety, It can get pretty bad.

When I go out to a club or on a date I will wear some light concealer to blend up any redness, but the biggest improvement to my complexion came when I came to terms with my own mental/emotional issues and was put on anti-anxiety drugs.

I no longer 'space out' while digging at my skin on my face and shoulders; moral of the story is even after doing the acne.org regimen (which is awesome, btw) or seeing a dermatologist. You may want to assess your personal habits that may affect your skin, especially if it is a source of stress.
posted by kzin602 at 8:57 AM on January 24, 2010

The lighting tips are really important - people are not noticing your skin so much as you do so the "good lighting" view is accurate measure of how you appaer to others. If you can go out an about with a half-way decent self-image that will improve your life.

And if you can see a derm, please do. "Bad skin" is a lot of things and a medical professional can help you with acne. We have benzoyl peroxide and sulfa drugs and retinoids because different skin responds to different treatments.

When friends (and complete strangers) with basically good skin feel free to lecture you about how they cured their "acne" by never eating sugar; or seafood; or by using some expensive, comedogenic, strongly-scented product, then just smile and nod and tell them you're happy they're happy and that a doctor is helping you with your skin and it's actually much better. Everyone has had a zit or two, so many people imagine they are managing acne when, in fact, they simply have nice skin.

What kzin602 and other say about your regimen and habits is true. Think of severe acne as being like (non-life-threatening) Type I diabetes - there's nothing you can do to get rid or it completely, but there are a wealth of things you can do to mitigate it and improve your life.

Given your history, it's possible that later in life it will calm down. (On the other hand, you may be one of those lucky women who share acne treatments with your own teenage children!)

As a person with lifelong bad skin, I can assure you that I can see through makeup. There are plenty of men and women who have flawless skin at the beach in broad daylight. But so what? Maybe those people have crippling anxiety or bad breath or maybe they are perfect in every way and will live a better and happier life than we will - so what? Everyone has a different life and you have to make the best of yours.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 9:16 AM on January 24, 2010

You haven't described what type of scars you have. Mine were very deep "pit" scars mostly on one cheek. Those scars made me very self conscious and I was convinced that I couldn't do anything about them..because dermabrasion wasn't something I could afford and I thought that was the only solution. I went to a dermatologist about another matter and she told me that she could fix the scars. What she did was miraculous. She cut out each pit hole to make it a bigger hole and then sewed the scar shut. I probably had 30 sutures all over my face for awhile (which was weird, but no more weird than the scars themselves). When the sutures were removed I had smooth skin! Best of all, she coded this so that my insurance at the time paid it! I can tell you first hand that getting rid of the scars was fantastic for my esteem. I hope you'll consider options about the scars. Just ask one qualified dermatologist what it would take to eradicate them. Nothing ventured, nothing gained! My scars were VERY noticeable..if your are too I encourage you to start thinking about what can be done. These days everything can be fixed. Think about working towards that. Additionally, just so you know, people like us are rewarded when we are older. People with oily skin look young later.
posted by naplesyellow at 9:58 AM on January 24, 2010 [3 favorites]

Come on over here and sit by me. My first love letter, written in fifth grade said "Dear (peagood), I think you are pretty, except for your zits." And that scarred me more than said zits did.

And now, I have pimples AND wrinkles, and I never "grew out of it". That hurts too. It wasn't enough to have to wear glasses, and have crooked teeth too, which are somehow more easily fixed.

Though you didn't ask for skincare advice, after all these years this thread lead me to the oil cleansing method, and holy popping pimples, it works for me. I've actually been out in public with only moisturizer and powder, not Dermablend.

But, you asked "Just...how do I stop letting my face affect my self esteem so much?" and all I can say is, keep on as you are, which sounds fantastic - and keep reminding yourself that we live in a world with unreal representations of ideal human forms. Consider the amount of photo retouching that goes into what we see in print; and in real life remember that good skin is an aberration, not the norm. These days, I can just look at a friend with good skin and say "lucky" or wonder how she takes such good care of herself, and move along with whatever world problems we're solving. It's the first thing I notice, because of my own self-consciousness. (And I'll admit to a certain glee upon seeing unretouched photos of stars, or occasionally catching them around town looking like real humans, not wax sculptures.)

That said, I can see that my almost-six year old daughter is prone to pimples and blackheads (ALREADY!), and I have made it a goal to help her to have nice skin (and teeth) however I can (hopefully without freaking her out about it). And, as someone who is feeling motherly lately, I'm going to urge you to do whatever it takes to get your skin to the point where you're as happy as you can be about it now, and keep it up - it seems that good skin takes work (even with good genes) Since it doesn't just get better naturally, usually, even with the pill - sooner is better than later. Because when my daughter asked me last year, "When I get old like you, am I going to have little holes in my face too?", I realized that it's not enough for me not to have pimples, but that better care ages ago might have helped me with my cavernous pores and blackhead-studded nose but easily powdered. Hence my decision for both of us - skincare shouldn't be an obsession, but an investment. Time, energy, money - it's worth it and it's something to feel good about when it works. After all, having a sparkling wit and a winning personality takes work too!

Oh, and a dimmer switch and soft pink bulbs can help too - because confidence goes a long way toward having a good time when going out.
posted by peagood at 10:40 AM on January 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

Complexion-wise, I have heard a number or people absolutely swear by putting a clean pillowcase on their pillow every night, or at least putting a clean cloth/towel/t-shirt over it. Couldn't hurt to try!
posted by bunji at 11:21 AM on January 24, 2010

Salicylic acid, benzoyl peroxide and alpha hydroxy acid are all drying, and will create some skin peeling. Gentle exfoliation should help. Buff puff or something with beads. I used to use a product that had crushed apricot shells, which worked well. Exfoliation gets rid of dead skin, and seems to encourage circulation. Just don't be too aggressive and cause damage. It does give a bit of glow, and may be a small form of resurfacing.

Salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide kill the bacteria that causes acne. Keep using a mild version even when no acne is present. The timeline from bacteria -> zit -> welt -> healing is several weeks, so keeping bacteria at bay now keeps skin more clear next week and the week after.

Use a concealer that doesn't cause acne. Cover girl makes a concealer I like. I haven't bought any recently, and didn't find it on a quick googling. I still get some acne, and I use mascara and blush, as well as concealer on any blemishes, because I think the higher contrast reduces the noticeability of the blemishes.

A friend's skin improved dramatically when she gave up dairy products. Bonus, she lost weight, which may or may not be useful to you. I think my skin is better since I realized I was lactose intolerant and gave up dairy, but I'm not sure.

Fight bacteria. Consider buying a stack of white pillowcases, and changing pillow cases frequently. You can flip the pillow to use the other clean side. A little bleach ensures the pillow case is super clean(hence using white).

Wash your hands a lot. Keep your hands away from your face. If you pick or squeeze, only do so in the bathroom with a clean face and hands. Wipe your phone frequently. Use a clean washcloth every day.

Talk to a dermatologist about options for dealing with any scars/pits. Having a plan for the future might be encouraging.

My family was equally obnoxious about acne, weight and any other flaws, so I feel your pain. When your family talks about your flaws, have a list of topics available to change the subject. "Mom, I hate it when you talk about my skin. It hurts my feelings. Tell me about Aunt Gail's new condo." If they persist, leave the room, even if it means leaving the table. Over time, they will learn. maybe. Remind yourself that you are handling this problem with uncommon grace and poise. Confidence makes you look better, and you deserve to feel confident.
posted by theora55 at 11:22 AM on January 24, 2010

Thanks, everyone.

I wasn't specifically asking about treatments because over the years I've done quite a bit of reading on the subject and have tried damn near every OTC option at the drugstore (being on my parents' insurance, and their earnest insistence that no really, I just needed to cleanse my blood of toxins, means that I didn't exactly experiment much with prescriptives). Salicylic acid, benzyol peroxide, AHAs of various sorts, acne.org, Proactiv, etc. have all been tried with varying amounts of improvement but no cure...although the oil cleansing method is a new one. I might consider that in the future.

I do have a pretty full shelf of various moisturizers/salicylic and glycolic acid serums/benzyl peroxide that I somewhat regularly use (I admit, I sorta get lazy sometimes); given the wealth of good thoughts and advice (thank you!), I'll kick myself into using them more regularly again. I'll keep the makeup advice in mind too--I do own foundation/concealer/powder, just drugstore brands only--as a jeans and t-shirts kinda girl, I only get made up for special occasions, and it seems such a waste to blow it on expensive cosmetics I don't like using and will expire long before I finish them. But I will try.

I sleep on my back and don't turn in my sleep, so I admit I'm not religious about changing my pillowcases. I cut out dairy for a while; didn't help much. Haven't tried much other food changes because...man, grains are such a staple filler food when you're on your own. My acne is such now that I highly doubt derms would prescribe Accutane anyway (like I said, it is steadily if slowly improving), so I want to stick out the first 3 or so months of the Pill before I do any more regime-tweaking.

Mostly I was inquiring about the emotional fortitude because...yeah, I think they hurt the most. I've had friends politely inquire about if I've seen a dermatologist, which stung a little but was a fair question, but it was the wrinkly old lady on the bus telling me to use emu oil/my cousin's wife randomly buying me a pack of Proactiv and expecting me to be ecstatic about it/Mom's comments on "you're breaking out again, WHY? What did you do/didn't do this time?" and such that hurts the most. At least the comments have been lessening with the improvement, because they don't really seem to get that good intentions have very little to do with how it feels to be on the receiving end of such. (Lo, and there was many arguments because of it--at least I'm not a doormat--and general unhappiness all around.)

I'll keep this thread open for any others writing about the emotional fortitude of things, but even if some of the advice wasn't what I was looking for, the sympathy was extremely appreciated.

Thanks, MeFites.
posted by Hakaisha at 12:11 PM on January 24, 2010

(I damn near scrubbed my skin right off, multiple times a day no less, as a teen trying to get the acne to go away, and was shocked when I learned that my best friend with the gorgeous complexion didn't think a thing about not washing her face for a day or two.)

I see this sentiment a lot, and just want to point out for anyone who suffers from acne despite scrubbing it: if you have sensitive skin all of that stuff you put on it, like scrubs and strong soaps, might hurt more than help.

My skin cleared up when I just started using a really gentle facewash (cetaphil) once a day.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 1:57 PM on January 24, 2010

I know you weren't asking this, but can I urge you to leave the benzoyl peroxide in place and untouched on your skin for 30 minutes before applying anything else? This will give it a chance to bind to your skin. It was when I was given this advice that I really started to see a dramatic improvement, whereas previously I'd gone for years with very little progress. It also helps to know that the Pill can take up to 9 months to work - that's another thing nobody will tell you. You may want, for a while, to use the benzoyl peroxide morning as well as evening.

And yeah, cetaphil.

Anyway. As for the question you actually were asking... comfort yourself with the thought that it's what comes out of a person's mouth that makes them dirty, not what goes into it, as it were. You would never be rude enough to offer unsolicited comments or advice on anybody else's appearance, let alone a complete stranger's, would you? Of course not! These people are in the wrong. So you already know you have much better manners and social skills than a huge number of people out there. Knowing that you're good at something that others aren't should cheer you up!
posted by tel3path at 3:24 PM on January 24, 2010

I do have a pretty full shelf of various moisturizers/salicylic and glycolic acid serums/benzyl peroxide that I somewhat regularly use (I admit, I sorta get lazy sometimes); given the wealth of good thoughts and advice (thank you!), I'll kick myself into using them more regularly again.

I know this wasn't part of your question, but I'd like to urge you to find a regimen (preferably through a dermatologist) and use it every single day twice a day (or as prescribed). I was like you in that I would start using something but not do it regularly and of course I would get periodic cystic acne. Once I started and kept a routine (4 months in advance of my wedding, so I had some major incentive to keep at it), my face cleared up and was literally glowy (to the point where I don't have to wear makeup anymore). It is worth it - and it may start out bad, but you have to push through the first couple weeks of redness and breakouts and flaky skin until things clear up - at least that's how it was for me.
posted by echo0720 at 3:47 PM on January 24, 2010

I know you mention trying to get your parents and relatives to stop commenting, but have you tried literally refusing to continue conversations? I mean leaving the room, hanging up the phone, etc. It's not ok for your relatives to persist in giving you advice about your skin once you've told them you're not interested. Believe that, regardless of your complexion, you deserve to be treated with respect--not treated with respect except when it comes to your skin, treated with respect, period.

As for the rest of the world, consider upgrading your makeup routine. Surely you have a more fashion-conscious girlfriend or two whom you could ask for tips. Not because you need to wear makeup, but because you notice other peoples' beautiful skin and it would very likely open your eyes to how much of an illusion that beauty often is.
posted by Meg_Murry at 4:29 PM on January 24, 2010

OMG. I kind of want to throttle the people offering cleansing routines. Cystic acne is NOT a cleanliness issue. For many people it is a genetic problem, and there is little to nothing they can do.

As a woman who struggled with bad skin starting at 13, whose mom was convinced that it was because I didn't wash (what teen girl with bad skin doesn't wash constantly??!!), and as someone who still gets soap every Christmas, I can't tell you how much I sympathize with your desire for some mental support. I have tried everything. Prescription, not prescription. Antibiotics, topical meds, Accutane. Pretty sure Accutane permanently damaged my liver and contributed to some interesting muscle strain issues and my skin was still bad after 2 rounds. Still don't have normal mucous membranes, wouldn't do it if I had it to do over. Washed my skin till it was red and peeling. Not fun.

Here is the good news. As you get older you will care less. It just isn't that important. Your friends think you are great, and the unsolicited advice about beauty routines is just a great way to avoid inconsiderate people. It took me years, and it really sucked sometimes, but I got over the skin thing and now that I am middle aged I am glad to not have to worry about it.Work to be good at the things you do, keep yourself strong and healthy and remember that smiling makes you really pretty. Good clothes help in the short term, as do rad shoes and frequent mani/pedis.

As an added bonus, I have noticed that those of us with oily skin seem wrinkle a LOT less as we age. Your revenge on all those helpful people will come in time. :-)
posted by chuke at 4:52 PM on January 24, 2010 [2 favorites]

I just wanted to say, one of my best friends had terrible, awful skin her entire life, and nothing (not even Accutane) helped.

She cut out all dairy, and within 90 days 90% of her acne was just...gone.

I mean, this isn't "friend of a friend, I heard bla bla bla". This is someone I knew for a decade who took some advice on a *lark*, and got incredible results. There's some truth to this lactose thing.
posted by effugas at 3:20 AM on January 25, 2010

it took a LONG time for me to find products that work for my skin and i went through a lot of misery and TERRIBLE breakouts. my skin still isn't perfect but finding the right products that work for my skin during the right time of year (i have to use different products in the summer and winter) as well as a combo of clarisonic, birth control, and retin a keep me clear most of the time. good luck!! as someone who has, like you, tried it all, i'm finally reaching a balance where my skin looks ok most of the time.
posted by raw sugar at 10:49 AM on January 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

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