Welcome to Acne Week, a five-day stretch where we get real about pimples, zits, cysts, and every bump or blemish in between. From skin-soothing products R29 editors swear by to exclusive deals on the most breakout-friendly beauty brands, we’re kissing the concept of “bad skin” goodbye and exploring why acne is so much more than skin deep.
If you told teenage me that one day in the not-too-distant future that I’d be making a living and writing and reporting about the beauty industry, I’d probably call you a freaking liar. At 14, I was only discovering my love of all things beauty — mostly by way of YouTube “gurus” and glossy magazine pages — and would save up every dollar from a tutoring job to buy one shade of Urban Decay eyeliner. (My signature hue at the time was a sparkly kelly green — I was truly ahead of my time.) It was also around 14 that my skin began to erupt in all-over, aggravated breakouts. I’m 28 now, but still get chronic flare-ups concentrated on my jawline and chin — typical hormonal stuff, but growing up, I truthfully never thought that beauty editors, with their glamorous jobs, would even worry about zits. After all, the word “beauty” was quite literally in their job title.
I’m going to break the fourth wall for a second; in my current role at the website you’re currently reading, I write a lot of beauty reviews. The way those come together usually involves a brand sending me a product before its release in order to test it out. It’s a massive privilege that I don’t take for granted, but all of that’s to say that it’s also created an environment where I’m constantly examining the state of my own (very imperfect) skin as a byproduct of testing a new launch. Growing up, I slowly worked my way through every acne brand from the drugstore to Sephora in an effort to quell my severe acne. Now, I had unfettered access to virtually any beauty product that money can buy – not to mention the opportunity to interview the industry’s top-tier experts — and I still had a chin full of breakouts. It wasn’t long before I started to seriously question whether or not I belonged in the beauty industry: If I couldn’t even figure out what was going on with my own acne, how could a reader possibly trust me to write about skin care?
“I had unfettered access to virtually any beauty product, not to mention industry experts — and I had a chin full of breakouts.”
Let me take you back to the first fancy facial that I went to as a member of the beauty press, which is to say that it was complimentary on behalf of the brand or spa in order to get editors to try the service and/or products used for consideration. Now, I’d seen dermatologists since I was a teen when I was on prescription topicals like Differin (back when you needed an Rx for it!) and later when I went on Accutane, but had never actually gotten a real-deal spa facial before. I remember leaving that facial in tears because I walked in with a smattering of breakouts on my cheeks, and left with my face looking red and swollen from the extractions. What I thought was going to be a soothing, treat-yo’self moment ended up making me hate my reflection in the mirror. Those radiant, “post-facial glow!” selfies I saw my peers posting? Yeah, couldn’t exactly relate.
However, over a decade has passed since I first started experiencing acne, and my relationship with my skin has changed — a lot. I’m lucky that my job involves constant trial and error when it comes to testing out products, and I’ve been able to have the luxury of testing out endless brands to suss out what works for my skin. I often wonder that were it not for my dream job, would I have discovered that my oily face simply adores niacinamide, and that a mild exfoliating cleanser (as opposed to an intense peel) helps me stay in the clear? Maybe, maybe not.
When I think about my career thus far — I began writing full-time in 2015 — I can’t help but now reflect on how an early love and personal relationship with skin care continues to influence the work I do today. Even though most of what I use nowadays is gifted, I know what it’s like to spend a lot on products that don’t end up doing much. It sucks, it’s hella frustrating, and it’s expensive. Everyone’s skin is different, but all that’s to say is that when I talk up a product — it’s because I genuinely think it’s the shit. And I hope that if you try something based on my recommendation, you do too.
There was a time in my life when I’d have given anything in the world to have “perfect skin.” But now that I’ve experienced acne first-hand for most of the years I’ve been alive, I have to say — it’s empowered me with a lot of knowledge and empathy that I draw from when talking about acne as part of my job. And that, I think, is a beautiful thing.
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