My War with Self-Esteem, Dealing with Acne & Acne Prone Skin

I developed acne when I was 12. Nearly 20 years later, I am still dealing with acne. They've been part of me as my own limbs. There isn't a day I don't dream about alien-like skin from a Glossier ad but such is not my real life and I have learned to accept my imperfect skin, my breakouts....and deal with them like an adult - meaning not letting them cripple my often fragile self-esteem.

If you want to skip my tale of woe, just scroll all the way down to the tips & steps I use to deal with my acne. But do read my disclaimer and skin reference. Its important.

I got my period when I was 12 during a summer vacation in Republika Srpska at my grandmother's house. I knew it was coming, mom was good at preparing us girls and my only freak out stemmed from seeing the blood. Mom gave me some pads, we talked about it, assured me it was natural and that my body is going through changes. Never thought those changes would be an absolute EXPLOSION of acne on my face (minor on the back & chest.) And I'm not talking minor zits but full blown red, pus-filled, painful, BIG pimples that to this date....20 years later, still haunt me on hard days. A boy in my 7th grade grabbed my face one day and straight up told me "God, you're so fucking ugly." Acne scars, soul scars...it was rough. I have no photos available from that time. Wish I did so I can gain more perspective. Alas, life goes on and his voice and words have faded from my memory, only to be brought up in examples of moments that helped (or hindered) me as a human.

When I moved to United States at the age 14, the only thing we had on our TV at the time was Jerry Springer (which my dad quickly forbade us to watch after it aired an episode of close family members fucking each other), Star Trek Voyager and Proactiv commercials. Damn those commercials. They made acne clearing look so fabulous. I was so sure that my acne days were over so I convinced mom to get me a Proactiv kit. I used it for a while until my face swelled up so badly, I looked like a busted red balloon. On top of the painful swelling, my face exploded even more in acne. Needless to say, my 14 year old fresh-into-puberty self was launched into a bodily adulthood from an "ugly" canon that would defy my mental state and existence for years to come. High school was hard but an opposite experience from my middle school days. In middle school, I was just ugly. In high school, I was invisible. Since I didn't speak English well, had eyebrows that would shame Groucho Marx, wore lesbian high-school coach style chinos, I was mostly ignored by other kids, so I quit obsessing over the acne. Well not as much as I used to. If no one is looking at your face or direction, why bother?

It wasn't all horrible, please don't feel sorry for me. I'm not detailing my sob story for sympathy or likes. I would hope my reader would come to understand me. Not everyone is meant to be a popular, "pretty" girl and that is OK. I found solace with few outcast girls, wore fairy t-shirts, had crushes on an unobtainable guys, did well with grades, planned for college, read lots of Stephen King, was perpetually sad...but f*ck it. Life went on. Fast forward to today: one major move, husband, 3 cats later....I'm 32, full time working, make up loving, politically heated feminist progressive and I still have acne. I still have enlarged pores, texture, hyper-pigmentation, scars from skin picking etc. Its nowhere near as bad as it used to be. And on some lucky days, my skin is actually clear. This is mostly due to my very skincare strict regimen, mild skin care products, peels and lots and lots and lots and LOOOOOOOOOOOTS of hydration. Half of you would faint if you knew just how much effort I put into my skin. Your makeup will only look as good as the skin underneath. And I love makeup so much, I want to make sure the base underneath it would make it pop!

I wanna share some skin tips and products that help me CONTROL my unbalanced skin. For reference, I have a natural tone, both pink & gold undertones, oily t-zone, dry chin and cheeks, combo sensitive, acne prone skin.


Disclaimer: I am not claiming that these tips and products work 100% nor that they will work for you. This is what has worked for ME (see skin reference above) and no, there are times where none of my familiar steps help. Acne will do whatever the fuck acne wants to do, and you can do everything perfect, spend $300 on LaMer (don't do that, algae broth is not that difficult to extract no matter how much they advertise it as such.)...sometimes nothing works and you just have to accept it. Since I've dealt with this issue for so long, I've learned and trained myself how to manage it and not feel shitty about myself.

On a GOOD day, my skin looks like this: 

Once in a blue moon, I experience very supple, clear skin...but you can still see hyperpigmentation and scars
  • Tip #1 - acne washes, acne creams, acne scrubs - QUIT using these. These are harsh irritants that will only aggravate your skin, make it angrier and you'll break out more. If it has those little beads in it...throw it away now. Its bad for your skin AND environment.
  • Tip #2 - Work with your acne...not against it. Physically, acne will pop to the surface if your pores are clogged & dirty. Your skin is also producing too much oil. Stripping it from natural oil will cause your pores to...create more oil, therefore more acne. The skin is under stress since you're stripping it.
  • Tip #3 - Use mild washes. If its foaming too much, its probably too harsh. Stick with gel cleansers. Avoid ANYTHING with alcohol and fragrance. Use only alcohol free toners. Thayer's Witch Hazel is basic as fuck, but its a classic. Its an extra cleansing step that won't irritate your acne. And its cheap on Amazon. I'm also a huge fan of Drunk Elephant's face soap bars. They are mild, non-irritating but leave skin very clean feeling.
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  • Tip #4 - if it smells nice...its probably shit. Skin care should smell like NOTHING or kinda herb-ish. Things that smell nice are usually enhanced with unnatural fragrance and it can wreck your sensitive skin
  • Tip #5 - hydrate, hydrate and hydrate some more. Even if your skin is oily. Your skin can be oily and dehydrated at the same time. Water is essential in every aspect. Look for ingredients that are emollient - meaning - they retain water to your face when exposed to natural elements and pollution. Look for hyaluronic acid, lanolin, glycerin, ceramides, sorbitol, sodium hyaluronate, urea, propylene glycol, alpha hydroxy acids, sugars, etc. Just because it has a "chemically" name, it doesnt mean its bad. Quit being anti-science sheep. Water is a chemical compound. Literally everything in nature is a chemical. There are good chemicals and there are bad chemicals. Obviously, look for good ones. I'm a huge fan of BELIF and Laneige brands. Both Korean, non irritating and very moisturizing.
  • Tip #6 - accept the fact that there is no one (1) cause of acne. Acne is caused by various factors (diet, clogged pores, sugar, dirty sheets, skin picking, hormones, genetics, etc.) You can make many life changes and that still wont guarantee clear skin. I personally experience major breakouts during my period or if I have more sugar than usual. Other than that, I do try to make SOME changes in life. I have cut my meat intake by a LOT. I even got SILK pillow case and second set of towels so my I'm not sharing it with my husband. Sometimes none of it matters.
  • Tip #7- Incorporate facial oils into your routine for added moisture. But beware of some. Not all facial oils are created the same. A lot of oils WILL clog your pores and you will break out, such as coconut oil. Everyone is promoting it like its second coming of Christ, but in reality, coconut oil should never touch your face. Its highly comedogenic and you will break out. In terms of oils, I've only used ONE that I love and that never wrecks havoc on my skin and that is Drunk Elephant's Marula Oil. Its so fucking expensive so I try to use it sparingly.
  • Tip#8 - if you are using acne clearing solutions, stick to spot treatments. Grab a cotton swab, coat the tip with salicylic (or sulfuric) acid solution and dab the pimple ONLY. If you spread that shit all over your skin, it will burn, get irritated and you will break out more. Back to tip #2 - work WITH your acne. I'm a fan of Murad's spot treatment product. Use a cotton swab to apply, never fingers.
  • Tip #9 - always wash your face thoroughly before bed. If you see me going to bed with makeup on, I'm either threatened with my life, been abducted by aliens, DEAD drunk or just plain dead. It takes a severe circumstance that will keep me away from my sink before bed time. I don't care how tired I am, I am triple cleansing my face: oil cleanser, face wash, toner. Face wash will simply not do since I use a gentle one. Clean skin is essential for all your other expensive shit to work. I'm not applying $80 marula oil on filthy skin.
  • Tip #10 - clean your brushes and sponges well and often. If you are not doing that, you're just pressing bacteria against your face. Its that simple...and gross.
  • Tip #11 - play with masks. They can be VERY abrasive but for me, they REALLY get into congested pores when face washing simply won't do. I feel like they clear up any smaller pimples that start forming. Im a huge fan of Aztec Indian healing clay powder that I mix with organic apple cider. This shit is STRONG and your veins and skin will pulsate. Its the strangest feeling. But for me, it works.

That's all I got - fairly basic, common sense tips. Acne doesnt have to be or feel like the end of the world. Do the best you can to treat your face with good ingredients, invest in good skin care & make up foundation, clean your sponge often, drink water, eat well and never ever let those red, gross pimply diminish you. Its just red spots.

Yes, I wish life was this simple and I wish I can offer and do more here but i'm just a human too. Acne ridden human doing the best she can.

Everyone's experience is different. We all have different skin type, genetics and what may work for me is not going to necessarily work for you. That's why I didn't post my ENTIRE routine here. You have to invest time...and some money. Experiment and try until you find something that works. There is no magical cure. I may never experience life with clear, perfect, smooth, pore-less skin, but I'm not gonna let that ruin my existence. I'm perfectly aware that everything I see online and in magazines in filtered, facetuned, photoshopped (no shade, I fucking LOVE filters)...but I also know that's not "real" and that acknowledgment lets me move on with my life...acne and all.

I'm just wearing SPF CC cream with some highlighter. It helps when outdoors & when I don't wanna cake on ton of makeup.