Acne Files: A Skin-Care Entrepreneur, Derm & Beauty Influencer Get Honest About Their Breakouts

Deanna Pai

Finding a skin-care routine that helps clear acne can leave anyone feeling helpless — especially when stubborn breakouts just keep coming back. And if you’re still dealing with it long after high school, you’re not alone. The rate of adult acne is rising and treating flare-ups can be pricey at best and painful at worst.

And yet, for a skin-care concern so common (it affects 50 million Americans annually), there’s still a stigma attached to it — for many, it continues to be a source of shame and embarrassment. To fight that mindset, we asked three people with acne-prone skin to share their unique stories, from dealing with judgment to searching for their most effective routine. Ahead, read the honest accounts of the founder of Peace Out Skincare (whose own personal experience inspires his products), a dermatologist with a genetic history of acne and scarring, and a beauty influencer who has learned to accept her skin as it is.

Nazhaya Barcelona, Beauty Influencer

During her sophomore year of college, Nazhaya Barcelona, now a beauty influencer with an Instagram account dedicated to embracing acne, started experiencing breakouts unlike anything she had ever seen.

“I’ve always had flare-ups in my life — I’ve never had acne acne, but I had little pimples here and there — but I noticed that my face was doing something it never did,” she says. “When people get acne they think you just need to use the right skin-care products and it’ll go away, but I learned, since it’s been three years now, that that’s not the case.”

Barcelona did find some success with tretinoin, a prescription-strength retinoid that kickstarts cellular turnover. “It removes layers of my skin from the surface, because I have a lot of pigmentation and hardened layers of dead skin that I feel like my acne is under,” she says. “I was using that continuously because I was really excited [about the results], and my skin was doing well.” 

After finally getting to a place where her skin was clear, she stopped using it — and then, like clockwork, her acne came back. This time, she began to look at her health and diet. She reduced her dairy intake, cut out certain foods, upped her hydration, and even sought out different types of birth control — but nothing helped.

Then, during her junior year of college, she decided to shift her mindset about her acne-prone skin. “Nothing’s working, so I have to accept it,” she says. “I just have to love it and live with it.” 

Since that turning point, she’s become vocal within the skin-positivity movement, using The Acne Aesthetic to share and celebrate her unfiltered acne journey. “I value the impact I’m having on young women, who see me living confidently with imperfect skin,” she says. “The more urgently I try to clear my skin, the less influence I have on girls who are dealing with insecurities and imperfections.”

Reaching this point of peace with her acne has allowed her a sense of gratitude that extends beyond just her skin, as well. “When you’re desperate to get rid of it, it becomes obsessive and you don’t learn to love yourself — you’re too busy trying to fix yourself,” she explains. “ [This new perspective] allows me to be happy with myself right now.” 

Enrico Frezza, Founder of Peace Out Skincare

When Enrico Frezza first began experiencing breakouts in his early teens, it did a number on his self-esteem. “It got so bad that a couple people called me ‘pizza face’,” he says. “You rely on your peers’ acceptance, so being called names and seeing my skin just breaking out all over…I didn’t want anybody to see me.” 

Frezza would stay home if he was dealing with a particularly bad breakout, and only felt comfortable around his family. “They were like, ‘It’s fine, you’re in your teens, it’ll clear up’,” he recounts. 

Eventually, he started using prescription acne medication which, for a while, did the trick. But then the acne returned.

After that, Frezza went on the hunt for something new. A second round of medication wasn’t an option — even though it cleared up his acne, he says the side effects were rough. He endured nosebleeds and cracked lips, and would wake up feeling like his dry, irritated skin was on fire. So he tried everything else — red light, blue light, chemical peels, expensive creams and spot treatments, the works — in hopes that it would improve his acne.

Even though Frezza’s breakouts got relatively better with age, they still weighed on his mental health. “Even two or three pimples made me insecure,” he says. “I would do anything to get rid of the bumps.”

Ultimately, he was looking for a holy grail: something that could shrink a pimple fast. While in a drugstore one day, searching for just that, he wandered over to the wound-healing section. “I found hydrocolloid dressing, which is used for wound care, and the package said it absorbs fluids, reduces bumpiness, and speeds wound-healing with special material,” he says. He decided to try it on top of a salicylic acid peel — and it worked. He found that it was the fastest way to treat a breakout, and at 25, Frezza started Peace Out Skincare and launched the brand’s very first product, salicylic acid-infused acne dots.

These days, Frezza says his relationship with his skin is a “rollercoaster.” But there’s a silver lining: Every new concern, be it a blackhead or a dark spot, serves as inspiration. “All of our products are connected to something I struggled with, or something that bothered me,” he says. “That’s what helps develop all of our products.” 

Not surprisingly, his new product, Peace Out Acne Serum (which just launched at Sephora today), is also rooted in his own experience: a lightweight treatment serum that targets acne and prevents future breakouts with 2% salicylic acid (and a mix of powerful active ingredients) that, for once, doesn’t dry skin out.

Salicylic Acid Acne Treatment Serum

Dr. Liza Moore, Dermatologist

While stress and diet are often linked to acne, genetics are a lesser-known factor. For Liza Moore, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in McLean, VA, her mother’s history of acne and subsequent scarring guided her to seek treatment early. “She was very active about taking me to the dermatologist early,” says Dr. Moore. “I ended up, just like most people, trying topicals and antibiotics which kind of helped, but [my skin still] wasn’t very clear.” 

She did a course of acne medication derived from vitamin A when she was 13, which helped — but as is common with young people, fluctuating hormones eventually brought the acne back. After that, Dr. Moore did a second round when she was 17, which did the trick. Now, she only gets the occasional pimple.

Still, having acne was a challenge in her teens. “I was quieter and more socially awkward, because my acne was the first thing that people saw,” she says. “For me, the worst thing is the stigma that comes with acne for a lot of people, which is people think you’re dirty — like you’re not washing your face.” 

Various people, including her mom’s friends, would suggest she use certain face washes — when really, that wasn’t the issue. “In reality, I was probably over-washing because I had acne,” she says. If anything, it did more harm than good.

After spending years in and out of dermatology offices, it’s not exactly surprising that Dr. Moore would eventually become a dermatologist herself. It puts her in a position where she can advocate on behalf of her patients, so she can offer others similarly clear skin. “I could identify with acne patients because I’ve been there,” she says.  “I saw three dermatologists before someone would give me [prescription medication] — now, I work hard at making sure people see results.”

Like what you see? How about some more R29 goodness, right here?

More From

  • Found: The Most Comfortable (& Stylish) Sandals To Hoof Around In

    Despite the fact that we’re traveling much less this summer, it's still managed to feel like we’re walking more than ever. And, all of this bipedalism means that we are in dire need of some serious workhorse sandals to follow suit. No more strapping on those questionably supportive gladiators or flimsy flip-flops and Ubering our ways around town. Now that we're using our own two feet to hoof it to a host of local destinations, our footwear will need to support us (literally) every step of the way. We learned long ago that just because a shoe falls under the umbrella of “comfort” doesn’t mean it can’t be fashionable, too. With utility and style overlapping now more than ever, there are a plethora of choices this season that will enhance your walkabout without subtracting a single style point. Whether it's an unexpectedly cool cork slide, a recycled-rubber sandal adorned with dancing bears, or a leopard-print clog cousin, we’ve got you covered with summer-ready sandals that are both chic and sublimely comfy ahead. At Refinery29, we’re here to help you navigate this overwhelming world of stuff. All of our market picks are independently selected and curated by the editorial team. All product details reflect the price and availability at the time of publication. If you buy something we link to on our site, Refinery29 may earn commission.Like what you see? How about some more R29 goodness, right here?Comfort Footwear Shoes That Are Actually CuteAll The Sales On Summer Sandals Happening NowBye Birkenstocks: Meet The New "Ugly" Sandal

  • Demi Lovato Just Revealed The Name Of Her New Song — With A Manicure

    Just a few short weeks after Demi Lovato announced her engagement to Max Ehrich, the star has more big news: She’s about to drop new music. According to Lovato’s most recent Instagram Story, the “Anyone” singer is working on a brand-new song — the title of which she announced via manicure, showing off a squared deep French shape studded with multi-colored butterfly nail art.“Guys, I’m writing a new song called butterfly rn,” Lovato captioned a closeup shot of her butterfly nail art shared to her Instagram Story. Following the low-key announcement, fans were quick to track down more details, only to discover that this isn’t the first time Lovato has used the winged insects to inspire song lyrics.“The first song @ddlovato wrote as a child was about butterflies,” one fan account posted. Lovato herself cosigned the report, reposting the fan account and adding, “And today I’m writing a new one about just one.” If you can’t recall a past Demi Lovato single about butterflies, that’s because it was written when the singer was just seven years old, and was never actually produced. In a 2013 TV interview on Katie Couric, Lovato revealed that the first song she ever wrote as a child was about a crush and that quintessential butterflies-in-your-stomach feeling — she even sang a few cords for the audience.As of now, all we know about the new track is that its subject is a single butterfly — and that Lovato is wearing symbolic nail art to match. We’re keeping a lookout for more breadcrumb clues ahead of the release. Like what you see? How about some more R29 goodness, right here?The Mismatched Manicure Trend Just Got An UpgradeMeghan Markle's Bridal Mani-Pedi Broke TraditionCharli & Dixie D'Amelio Launch Nail Polish Collab

  • Vanessa Guillén Was One Of Many Soldiers To Be Brutalized & Killed At Fort Hood

    Vanessa Guillén, a Fort Hood soldier who originally went missing in April and whose body was finally found in July, still hasn’t gotten justice. Despite detailed reports, including a confession from her alleged killer, Spc. Aaron Robinson, Guillén’s family has lost faith in the system that was supposed to protest their daughter. “From the start, we lost trust with them (the Army) from the very beginning,” said Mayra Guillén, Vanessa’s mother. “The story they gave us is completely… I don’t even know what the right word for it is, but no one believes that story.” But as it turns out, Vanessa Guillén was only the latest fatality to come out of Fort Hood. Fort Hood has one of the highest rates of murder, sexual assault and harassment in the Army, according to Secretary Ryan McCarthy, who visited the base this week and said that the army base is known for having a violent past. United States Army post in Killeen, Texas has a troubling history of shooting rampages between 2009-2014. But as early as this past year, violence has continued across the base, with at least 7 soldiers who were stationed at Fort Hood having been found dead since March of 2020 alone. This includes Robinson, who took his own life after confessing to killing Guillén. Even in this past week, Francisco Gilberto Hernandezvargas, a 24-year-old soldier based at Fort Hood, was found after drowning near the Texas base. An investigation is still being conducted.In March, 20-year-old Shelby Tyler Jones’ died after suffering a gunshot wound in south Killeen near Fort Hood. Brandon Scott Rosecrans, a 27-year-old who joined the Army in 2018, was also found with a gunshot wound near Fort Hood in May, his car found burned nearby. Then, in June, another soldier, Gregory Scott Morales, was found dead in a field in Killeen, Texas, nearly 10 months after vanishing. Fort Hood released a statement that foul play is suspected. Morales was only 24 years old. Of the eight deaths this year, five so far have been publicly linked to foul play, according to the Army Times. When McCarthy visited this week, he said it’s clear that the Army should be taking better care of its soldiers. “We are getting an outside look to help us to get to those root causes and understand them so we can make those changes. We are going to put every resource and all of the energy we can in this entire institution behind fixing these problems,” McCarthy stated during a press conference. McCarthy also referenced Guillén’s death as a catalyst for the Army to focus on sexual harassment and assault in the military. Prior to her death, a survey given to 225 Fort Hood soldiers in June found that one-third of the women who responded had been sexually harassed. According to Guillén’s family, she had also shared allegations of sexual harassment with them prior to being murdered, but never reported out of fear. Fort Hood is now under a review, according to McCarthy, where officials will examine historical data of discrimination, harassment, and assault, and investigate the climate and culture that’s allowed for violence to take place. McCarthy himself has also already had conversations with soldiers based in Fort Hood to understand their experiences and the culture of the post, and conducted listening sessions to determine what the Army needs to change. With this kind of history, it’s unclear why this is just coming out now, and why serious action wasn’t taken as a preventable measure. Many cases of missing and killed soldiers had begun popping up long before Guillén, but they weren’t publicized or investigated in quite the same way. Still, McCarthy is determined to correct these injustices, despite a lack of faith in the current system — specifically the system governing Fort Hood.“Ultimately the results, findings, recommendations will fuel an implementation team chaired by the Undersecretary of the Army and the Vice Chief of Staff for the Army,” McCarthy said. Like what you see? How about some more R29 goodness, right here?150 FBI Agents To Investigate Crystal Rogers CasePolice Continue To Be Accused Of Sexual ViolenceAaron Glee Confesses To Killing Toyin Salau

  • 19 Matching Sweatsuits For Living Your Best Stay-At-Home Life

    While many of 2020’s most-popular fashion trends don't feel quite right for a life of time spent at home and social distancing (I definitely won't be wearing a tailored vest anytime soon...), there is one in particular that I'm currently very grateful for: the matching sweatsuit. As a freelance fashion writer, I’m already a big fan of sporting my pajamas while conducting phone interviews and writing stories from the comfort of my own abode. And, now that all my previously in-person meetings to events and coffee dates have been replaced by virtual Zoom calls, I’ve found myself reconsidering this sleepwear-only WFH wardrobe entirely. Luckily, the sweatsuit happens to be a comfy PJ-adjacent look that's appropriately conducive for wearing during a day full of important Zoom meetings — aka it's still just as comfy but more elevated than the aforementioned "I literally just rolled out of bed" attire. Ahead, find 19 stylish sweatsuit sets that are so comfy you won’t want to (or really need to) take them off. At Refinery29, we’re here to help you navigate this overwhelming world of stuff. All of our market picks are independently selected and curated by the editorial team, but if you buy something we link to on our site, Refinery29 may earn commission.Like what you see? How about some more R29 goodness, right here?There's No Such Thing As Work-From-Home StyleShop Every Piece From R29's New Loungewear LineAmp Up The Joy Of Loungewear With Tie Dye Print