The Acne-Positive Movement Is the Latest Gen Z Trend That Adults Can Benefit From

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Thanks to the acne positive moment, the hashtag #acne hits different these days compared to a few years ago. The movement that’s been spearheaded by Generation Z is all embracing blemished skin and working to destigmatize pimples. Bloggers like Hailey Wait and and Kadeeja Khan, as well as celebrities like Kendall Jenner and Justin Bieber, are heralding “zits are in!” For so many teens and adults who experience acne, much like body positivity, the acne positivity movement can be seen as a step in the right direction when it comes to self-acceptance and self-love.

“Everyone’s skin and body is different — that includes acne. Teens especially need to know they are amazing the way they are,” Gen Z entrepreneur Fiona Frills, who turned her acne struggle into a skincare acne-prone makeup brand, Frilliance, tells SheKnows. “Social media seems to make things look too ‘good.’ I absolutely love that people are embracing authentic skin like acne positivity.”

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Mina-Jacqueline Au, a Dermal Specialist and co-founder and Director of Lueur MD Aesthetics and CEO of Vivre SkinLabs, agrees and thinks it’s a movement that even her adult clients can learn from.

“My adult patients are always on a quest for that flawless skin as well and I’m always reminding them that that is not real. Skin care is important. Anti-aging is important. But they have to understand that our skin, no matter what age, will never look like we are walking around with a filter. It doesn’t matter what kind of treatment you get and what amount of money you pay. With medical advancements, there are plenty of effective treatment options for [acne], but it’s going back to just acceptance and loving their skin and understanding that blemishes are okay.”

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If you suffer from acne, here’s what we can all learn from the acne-positive movement.

The physical and emotional impacts of acne

First thing’s first: what is acne?

“All acne starts with a clogged pore, which is often caused by excess sebum (oil) production from the sebaceous (oil) glands,” says Dr. Kenneth Mark, Cosmetic Dermatology Expert. “It can manifest as clogged pores (open/closed comedones) a.k.a. whiteheads and blackheads, red bumps (pimples/zits), pustules, and cysts. Virtually all acne is either caused by or aggravated by stress and hormones – hence why adolescents are prone to it.”

No matter the age, the physical impact on the skin is the same for both adults and teens, potentially causing lifelong acne scars depending on severity of acne and if proper treatment was received.

“The most devastating physical effects of acne are the lesions themselves at the time of the outbreak and long term scarring,” says Dr. Mark. “Mentally, both can be devastating for a patient’s self esteem, confidence, and social and occupational productivity.”

Au says she has adult acne patients that refuse to leave the house without putting on a ton of makeup in effort to hide their acne and scars on their face.

“They feel like caking on that makeup, if anything, is still only getting them to baseline beauty. It’s sad and these are genuinely beautiful faces.”

Frills can relate. “Emotionally (and mentally) was my main struggle. Looking in the mirror and not understanding why my complexion was changing,” she says. “The red bumps and soreness was even confusing at the time. I didn’t really understand acne and overall what was going on.”

That’s because acne, in general, is difficult to treat, says Au.

“When combined with hormones, it can take months before seeing some sort of results. It doesn’t mean the treatment isn’t working, it’s just the nature of this disease. However, many teens become growingly frustrated with time at what they think are failing treatments when pimples reoccur over and over again on their faces leaving behind a trail of scars.”

For teens, this frustration can sometimes turn into depression. According to a study published by the British Journal of Dermatology, teens with acne are at 63 percent higher risk for depression.

Why the acne positive movement is a good thing for everyone

Both Au and Frills believe the acne positivity movement is setting a new and more realistic standard for teens about what real skin is and should be in part because there’s no such thing as flawless skin.

“I always say, when I look at a patient’s skin, it tells their story, their lifestyle, what they were exposed to. It’s very much part of who we are, so are bumps, pores and scars,” says Au. “So, yes the movement is amazing, especially for teenagers that are looking at media because they are at a time in their lives where they are building their own standards of what they are and who they want to become.”

Frills thinks the acne positive movement encompasses what it means to love your skin as it is no matter what phase it’s in.

“I think your skin at any age should be looked at in a positive way. I see so much on how to make aging skin look young when I go to cosmetics stores. I think we should all embrace who we are at any age and empower ourselves with knowledge. Aging skin is kinda inevitable, sort of like acne.”

Dr. Mark believes the movement is a great way to help highlight the mental risks of acne as well as to help motivate patients to feel comfortable discussing their condition and seeking treatment options faster.

“I think your skin at any age should be looked at in a positive way. I see so much on how to make aging skin look young when I go to cosmetics stores. I think we should all embrace who we are at any age and empower ourselves with knowledge. Aging skin is kinda inevitable, sort of like acne.”

For better or worse, in general, society places value with ‘influencers,’ and celebrities. In this situation, a teen can identify with someone else who has spoken out about the same condition and use that as motivation.”

For adults with acne, he says they too “can realize they are not alone and should not just try to conceal their acne with makeup, but go out and get it treated.”

Dr. Mark also sees acne positivity as an important reminder for parents not to be overly critical of their children with acne and to be as supportive as possible.

“It seems like common sense, but you would be surprised at some of the parent-teen interactions I see, especially regarding acne.”

The one drawback of the acne positivity movement might be that it’s a little too positive when it comes to embracing your pimples au natural.

“Love your skin. However, my fear is that some may mistake the message as, if you have severe acne, you can love your skin and not treat it or treat it improperly,” says Au. “Treating a skin condition, like any conditions of an organ, is an individual’s choice. However there needs to be education of what happens if acne is left untreated. As a clinical provider, we know the long term effect of untreated acne, can too, be detrimental mentally and physically.”

For example, Au cites that hyperpigmentation or lifelong skin textural scarring are very difficult to reverse, and severe lesions, if left untreated will create permanent skin damage.

“I see it all the time, adult patients would spend any sort of money on treatments that may or may not help because they feel insecure when they are at work, out with friends, at business meetings, or now, during zoom when their faces are enlarged on a screen. I always say that proper education needs to come hand in hand with this movement.”

With studies showing that people with acne have a risk for depression three times higher than people without acne and that 15 percent of people with acne will be left with lifelong scars, the acne positivity movement might be a great way to say, “Loving your skin also means seeking the best treatment for it without shame.”

Before you go, check out our favorite skincare brands for tweens and teens:

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