As an esthetician, I’m not a fan of the acne positivity movement, and you shouldn't be either.
Acne positivity is a movement that started with the hashtag #freethepimple and has led many people, including celebrities, to post makeup-free selfies and show their imperfect skin to their fans and followers.
However, as an esthetician and as someone who has been personally dealing with acne for a long time, I have rather strong opinions on this entire thing.
Quite frankly, I think that the acne positivity movement can be incredibly toxic, and here are five reasons why:
Acne Is a Skin Disease
Acne is a bacterial skin condition that can occur on the skin for several different reasons.
The main cause of a single pimple or a full-blown acne condition is a clogged pore. The pore gets clogged from the fatty substance secreted by our sebaceous glands, known as sebum, or our skin's natural lubricant.
When the pore gets clogged with sebum, the sebum can't push through to the surface where it should stay to lubricate our skin and protect it from dryness and external pathogens. A clogged pore is by default an airless environment, and this is just the type of environment the acne-causing bacteria known as C. acnes live in.
By living there, the C. acnes bacteria use the sebum, cellular debris (such as dead skin cells), and other metabolic byproducts from the surrounding skin tissue as their primary source of energy and nutrients needed to grow and multiply.
What you shouldn't do is accept acne as a part of you because it shouldn't be there.
Now, since our immune system is designed to catch these types of irregularities (such as overgrowth of bacteria), it immediately kicks in and starts to fight against it. By fighting the bacteria, our immune response turns a simple blockage into a painful pimple, telling you right away that there is something wrong there. Basically, inflammation on the skin is your immune system's way of communicating with you and telling you, "I’m dealing with something here."
So, to treat acne, you need to use products or ingredients that have been backed by research and evidence to work on soothing inflammation and clearing out the pores so that they don't get clogged.
What you shouldn't do is accept acne — a bacterial condition — as a part of you because it shouldn't be there. Accepting acne as something you have to live with is like accepting that you have to live with a broken finger or a blister. You know it's not supposed to be there, and desperately trying to get used to it will actually cause more harm than good.
Skincare Brands Capitalize on "Acne Positivity"
The worst thing a brand that's selling skincare products can say is "acne is normal" because by saying this, they’re basically trying to tell you that even if you buy their products and continue to have acne, it's not their fault because "acne is normal."
This leaves a lot of space for crappy brands to exploit the consumer's belief that "acne is normal" by selling them crappy products that will only continue to cause more inflammation.
No matter how bad the formula is, the customer will continue to think that acne is normal.
Basically, no matter how bad the formula is and no matter how many inflammatory ingredients their products contain, the customer will continue to think that acne is normal, and they will never realize it's actually the crappy products that are perpetuating the ongoing inflammation.
Therefore, even if brands are trying to spread a positive message by making you feel good about having acne, try to think critically and question why the brand needs to be loud with this message while simultaneously selling you products that are supposed to help you get rid of acne.
Acne Positivity Prompts Gaslighting and Triggers Depression
We humans are very quick to pick up when there’s any change in our appearance, no matter how small it may be.
I immediately noticed that my hair started thinning in my mid-twenties even though my mother, boyfriend, and even my hairdresser tried to convince me that it looked just the same. But I knew it didn't look just the same, and this was only a slight change that was clearly invisible to others.
However, full-blown cystic acne isn't impossible to notice, and you can always see it when you look at yourself in the mirror, even without leaning in closer to see better.
You’re required to gaslight yourself and pretend you're not bothered by your acne when you look in the mirror.
Well, for the "acne positivity movement" to be effective, you, as an individual who can clearly see there's something terribly wrong with your skin, are required to gaslight yourself and pretend you're not bothered by it every time you take a look in the mirror.
Needless to say, this isn't a healthy practice to exercise with your mind and can, unfortunately, lead to feeling anxious and depressed because you can clearly see there's something wrong but are desperately trying to convince yourself that there isn't. By ignoring a persisting problem, you won't make it disappear; you will continue to sink mentally and eventually start feeling powerless against it.
Acne Positivity Turns You into a Victim
Notice how people who are dealing with acne tend to use the words "I suffer from acne" or "I'm plagued with acne"?
It's because these people are unfortunately convinced that they’re the victims of a bacterial condition that occurred on their skin because of a single clog. Read that again and think about how silly it sounds.
The C. acnes bacteria isn't a complex organism that shows up on your skin to destroy your romantic dates and your life and "plague" you or make you "suffer." It's bacteria; the only thing it wants to do is feed and multiply. It has absolutely no intention to make you hate your appearance because it doesn't have a brain to think maliciously. So why would you want to turn yourself into a victim of something that can be gone with the right treatment?
C. acnes bacteria isn't a malicious organism that shows up on your skin to ruin your life.
Finding the right acne treatment can be tricky and complicated, which is why you need professional help instead of trying to figure it out by yourself or by connecting with other "sufferers" on social media.
You need to understand that this self-destructive mindset will have you seek out other people who are dealing with the same issue and also use victim-like terms to describe themselves and their situation and you get close to them just to have a sense of belonging when, in reality, all you have to do is seek professional help.
Identifying yourself as an acne victim will only help you attract other "victims" and have you sinking into the world of false positivity rather than searching for solutions.
Acne Positivity Prevents You from Taking Early Action
Gaslighting yourself and pretending there's nothing wrong with your skin can prevent you from taking the necessary early action because you’re convinced that "it's normal" and that acne is something you need to learn how to live with.
You're not going to want to “waste” your time visiting a dermatologist or an esthetician, nor will you want to spend money on medication or treatments that will help you because you'd think acne is a part of you, and it will just come back no matter what you do.
Granted, sometimes the wrong kind of medication or the wrong kind of facial treatment won't help right off the bat, but that doesn't mean you should drop everything and torture yourself into learning how to live with it. It simply means that you need to try something different, or if you are not sure about the credibility of your provider, you should see someone else and get a second opinion.
Severe lesions can permanently damage certain areas of the skin and cause pitted scarring.
But back to my point about how this kind of mindset can be detrimental to your mental health. I have to mention a girl I saw on TikTok who had a severe case of acne conglobata (don't Google it if you’re squeamish) and was so convinced this was something she had to live with that she refused to go see a dermatologist.
In her videos, she talked about how she deals with the frequent occurrences of someone saying something negative about her face, but she eventually did the right thing and went to see a dermatologist.
A couple of months later, her skin was looking so much better, and in one of her newer videos, she admits that the whole time she was refusing to see a dermatologist she felt incredibly depressed and even suicidal.
Acne can be an incredibly annoying condition that can remain on your skin for years if not treated. Not only that, but severe lesions can also permanently damage certain areas of the skin and cause pitted scarring that's very difficult to get rid of. This is just one more reason to seek early treatment as soon as possible; however, don't get discouraged if something doesn't work right away.
The C. acnes bacteria can be quite resilient; therefore, you may need a combination of facial treatments, oral medication, and above all, a good skincare routine consisting of products that won't clog your pores and cause more breakouts.
But don't ever make the mistake of thinking that acne belongs on your skin and that it’s something you should be promoting as healthy.
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