During puberty, I never struggled with my skin, possibly because my brother and I preemptively started using ProActiv almost immediately after it entered the infomercial scene. In my pubescent mind, acne was exclusively related to adolescence and meant possibly waking up to a singular pimple one day, refusing to go to school or be seen and then it’d go away for good.
Nobody mentions in the puberty lesson that acne has a real penchant for persistence, something I realized watching many friends fight skin troubles well into their early twenties. And in the fall of my senior year of college, I started breaking out with my very own painful pimples, scattered across my forehead. Already feeling defeated after months of depression, my self-esteem tanked as I tried to wipe away new aggravated spots. New face washes, exfoliants, masks, and moisturizers didn’t help. I tried sweating out the toxins or drinking more water or drinking less green tea. I tried wishing and nothing, which often left me crying, staring into the mirror, hating and hardly recognizing the face looking back at me.
I didn’t want to talk about my skin, but I didn’t want to pretend it looked perfect either.
I only felt comfortable with a small circle of friends, and took every chance to opt out of social settings. I didn’t want to talk about my skin, but I didn’t want to pretend it looked perfect either. Between my constant negative self-talk and limited social interactions, my self-worth sunk lower than I thought it could. By the time winter break came, my mother took action to solve my first hopeless skin-struggle. A chat with a consultant at Sephora made her think that my current line of cleansers were too abrasive, and a few extra serums and a do-it-all moisturizer later, I found a new routine. Shortly after acquiring the new goo, I left for a study abroad trip in the Dominican Republic with only a few familiar faces. I was a wreck.
During that time, I frequently recalled the chemotherapy treatments of a close family member, when the chemicals caused sores on her forehead. I identified with that image. I didn’t know how to function, let alone make friends, in a setting where my despair felt so consuming, it percolated through my pores.
I stuck with the skin regimen, and for the first time in months, I tried more than beauty products. I felt engaged with the program, with my passion for the work, and with the pure excitement of knowing new ideas and people. The weather was hot and we were busy, and I almost fainted one morning by the border of Haiti. I felt weak and scared and didn’t understand what was happening to my body. A Dominican woman from the nearby market approached me and a few friends and started talking to the one of us fluent in Spanish. Immediately recognizing my dehydration, she pulled up a chair for me, grabbed a frozen bottle, fanned me and iced my neck. Through my friend, she instructed me to drink. I tried to slowly sip as tears soaked my face, struck by the kindness of a complete stranger toward someone like me – someone who felt ugly and broken in more ways than one.
While everyone else smiled and giggled, something shifted inside me. For the first time since my skin and mind turned against me, I let a friend take a picture, purely for the sake of remembering when a complete stranger, despite our many differences, decided that I was worthy of love and care, just because I looked like I needed it. That moment, and many others in those weeks, made me feel like I deserved it, too.
Now, when I see other people post about breakouts or the endless endurance needed to find the next successful skin regimen, I know, and hope they do too, that pimples are temporary…
When I returned home from Hispañiola, my skin was nearly clear, but my soul felt clearer. In the nearly-four-years since that trip, I’ve dealt with acne for one other stretch, and adjusted my skincare and self care accordingly. It still takes its toll on my self-esteem when sebum-production and hormones go awry, but not like before. Now, when I see other people post about breakouts or the endless endurance needed to find the next successful skin regimen, I know, and hope they do too, that pimples are temporary – that youth, and perceived perfection are temporary – and as cliché as it sounds, everyone holds staggering beauty somewhere in who they are – not just how they look.
And I recognize that there’s a very real relationship between mental and physical health. I know that I feel my best inside when I feel my best outside, and vice versa, which is why I talk about skin issues with friends, and happily recommend the one company that paved the way for complete pleasure in caring for my skin. Soko Glam offers a wide range of services from skin-type quizzes to skin consultations, and carry exclusively Korean skincare. They also have a blog, The Klog, which I highly recommend for people trying to learn more about all things skin-related including general concerns, new treatments, or how to pick a moisturizer. Learning through them helped me gain the best skin I’ve ever had. But learning through experience helped me gain the most strength I’ve ever had – strength to accept that I will never actualize perfection, that it doesn’t exist in the way I used to want it to, and that’s perfectly okay.