The first time I realized that I had an acne problem I was with my abuela. I had been heading off to jump the pool to join my friends when my abuela appeared before I could escape from her grasp that I allow her to slather sunscreen onto my body. “El sol no es elegible con cáncer,” she said, never speaking truer words. With a bottle of Banana Boat in one and a firm grasp on my shoulder, she lifted up the oversized shirt that covered my bathing suit to smear on a squirt of the lotion when she awed at my back. “Ay!” She muttered dramatically. “Espinillas!”
Now, I’ve always struggled with understanding certain Spanish words that I do not use on a regular basis, but her proclamation of what she was staring at has since been forever grained in my mind. It’s a word that in the years since that moment has caused me so much insecurity and pain and drawn so many tears that I feel at times it has become part of my identity.
“What???” I asked as I rushed to the bathroom and did my best to crain my eyes to see what she had been talking about. Espinillas. Pimples. Hundreds of them, it seemed at the time, had invaded the skin on my very back. Somehow overnight, I had become a 12-year-old girl that had acne.
Instead of heading to the pool, I jumped in the shower and scrubbed for hours too mortified to reveal what my abuela had discovered to anyone else, praying that the spots would go away. I poured rubbing alcohol on my stinging skin and went to bed praying that the next day this would all be put to rest. When I woke up the next morning, however, my acne was still there, just more inflamed and I preceded to follow the same regimen I had done before. It was a reaction that, in the years since my first break out, mirrors the similar panicked response that I have had for every single new pimple that has appeared on my body and face since.
Acne was something that took my feelings to a completely new level.
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Anxiety is something that I always remember having to deal with even as a child.
But, as I got older, acne fed into my issues with feeling self-conscious.
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Whether I had clear skin or was in the midst of a full-blown breakout, I was always suffering.
New pimples made me want to avoid hanging out with friends.
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And compelled me to spend hours in front of mirrors to “treat” (AKA squeeze out) the problem.
So, on the rare occasions, I was pimple-free, I would waste my time searching for signs of a breakout.
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And dealing with the aftermath that came with having severe acne. Scarring and pigmentation were often the worst of my problems.
And because so many serious treatments for acne scars did not cater to my Black skin…
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I’d spend hours trying to find a solution for the scarring.
Eventually, I found ways to hide my face and body.
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And even despite the fact that I grew up in one of the hottest states in the country, Florida, I started covering my body all year round. Sweaters became the clothing choice that kept me sheltered. Makeup I avoided like the plague, out of fear that it would cause further issues and clog my pores. Mostly because I was very aware of the stigma that comes with having acne.
And as my acne got worse and more people tried to “help” me find a solution my anxiety got worse.
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Trips to the mall were always awful because pushy salespeople would prey on my insecurity and tell me that their products would cure my pimples. Visits to the dermatologist were also just as bad because they would tell me I just needed to clean my skin more often. And because one of the greatest misunderstandings about acne is that it is related poor hygiene I spent hundreds of dollars on products that promised to help me keep my skin clean. Which was insane because even though I would spend hours scrubbing my skin, nothing helped. (Seriously, I washed my skin so often and thoroughly that shit could have squeaked.)
By the time I got to college, I became severely depressed over my acne and my anxiety brought out obsessive behavior.
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The moment someone suggested I clean up my diet, I started avoiding all types of foods like the plague, until all I started eating was salads. I drank whatever every hour on the hour (which meant tons of bathroom breaks). I cleaned my skin constantly and would haul my butt across campus to my apartment to apply medications between every class. I stopped exercising because, supposedly sweating was bad for acne, and I stopped spending too much time outside because in Florida that would cause sweating.
I struggled like this for years until my sister had an intervention and told me that I was being so harsh on myself that it was unhealthy.
I had become so depressed over my skin that I began to cancel plans with friends, never looked people in the eye, and constantly cried when I would allow myself to look in the mirror. Eventually, I found a dermatologist who listened to what I had to say about my skin and they helped me get to the real root of my acne woes: hormones. Something that they said could be helped with Isotretinoin, formerly known as Accutane or other hormonal suppliments. Resolute on fixing my problems once and for all, I picked the Accutane.
After a round of Accutane, I have been able to manage my acne with general ease.
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Occasionally a small zit will pop up on my cheek and will I veer close to the edge of a tailspin, but for the most part, finding a solution to my skin has helped.
It’s also taught me an important lesson that I have to always remind myself.
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Clear skin or not, I am damn beautiful.
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