Acne: The Good, the Bad & the Beautiful

Over the past few years, we’ve seen the love for dark-skinned women increase (mostly on social media). Whether or not this has actually translated offline is a completely different story – one for another post perhaps. In the cyber world where a lot of us (sadly) spend our lives; posting, liking, hashtagging, sharing and following have all become our social currencies. We’ve seen the rise of melanin-related hashtags such as #melaninpower, #melaningoals, #melinated and #melaninpoppingserverely to name a few; and I know I’ve added these (plus more) to my arsenal of comments for when I see my gorgeous black friend glowing in a popping dress colour that so beautifully complements their skin tone.

The increasing affirmation and celebration of black skin inside and outside of our community has been refreshing, to say the least. Instagram explore pages are filled with beautiful dark skinned black women, glistening in all of our regal complexions. The adoration of melanin-rich skin brings me nothing but joy 99.9% of the time. However, I must confess, I still have a little niggly feeling. The remaining 0.1%. That tiny fraction of the time where I’m not filled with joy comes down to the fact that there’s this notion that black skin, especially darker complexions, automatically equates to FLAWLESS skin. This means zero imperfections, an even skin tone, not one blemish, just a smooth layer of dark brown skin which most definitely does not include skin conditions such as acne or eczema.

So, what’s life like when you see these flawless images of dark-skinned black women on your phone screen and then look up at your mirror to find your dark-skinned face cluttered with what feels like a swarm of oversized facial boulders, unlike those girls you’ve just been gushing over?

What do you do when Wizkid’s “fine girl, no pimple…” comes on in the dance and you feel like the whole rave will turn and stare at you as if to say “blud you’re a li-li-li-li-liar” should you dare to sing the lyrics with as much vim as your mate? You know that friend. Miss, “I have one tiny spot, so I’m going to inconsiderately complain to you my acne suffering friend”. Yeah, that one.

Honestly, I have no idea what to recommend and all acne sufferers have different ways of dealing with the condition. People really underestimate the impact acne has on your day to day life, especially as a black woman who already has to deal with society constantly trying to make you feel like you’re less than. Having to deal with what feels like a disgusting skin condition and an eyesore to everyone that you encounter, is not easy at all.

But, for all my beautiful black queens that suffer from acne, here are a few things that you can do that may make you feel better (even if it’s just for the next hour):

1. Stop blaming yourself
Acne doesn’t happen because of something you did or didn’t do. Acne just is. Some people are prone to it, others aren’t. I know it’s hard to think this way when your friends, aunties, eyebrow lady, and even postman are sharing their wotless recommendations with you as if you don’t care about your own face, or have access to a doctor or the internet. Stop beating yourself up about it and keep seeking professional advice. Most importantly, if your mum offers you some of her ‘toning’ cream as a remedy, please run (unless you have aspirations of looking like Mr. Vybz Kartel).

2. Don’t buy into the myths about acne
A couple years back I saw a girl tweet ‘I mean, I don’t understand why people have bad skin, it’s not that hard to wash your face twice a day and drink loads of water’. Now, this girl was clearly a terrorist, so I reported her account. However, what I did realise is a lot of people do think this way.

Acne isn’t caused by dirt or touching your face, and it will most definitely not be cured by how frequently you wash it. When I made my initial visit to my dermatologist, the first thing I pleaded for was dietary recommendations. I was willing to give up all the food I loved (and I LOVE food) if it meant I’d have clear, smooth skin. My whole heart sank when she said ‘forget about diet, that doesn’t help anything’. The truth is, studies have still not proven a direct correlation between oily, fatty, dairy foods and acne. I mean, if you want to cut back on such foods for your general health that’s great, but don’t rely solely on that to help treat your acne.

Another massive myth is that acne is just something you have to wait out and outgrow eventually. Acne can be treated and your skin can improve. In the UK we’re blessed with free healthcare so it’s time to pull out the waterworks for your GP. You know the sorrowful tears you cry in your room when no one is around? When you’re staring at the mirror trying to squeeze spots or deflate their enormity using toothpaste? Yeah, at your next visit to the GP I’m going to need you to show up and show out with those tears. You’ll need to put on your best Oscar performance to get them to refer you the dermatologist and, when you pull out the waterworks make sure not to play down the destructive effect acne is having on your life. Explain to them how it’s affecting your mental wellbeing; how you avoid mirrors and reflective surfaces; how you avoid bright lights; how you wake up most mornings not wanting to face the world; how you struggle to maintain eye contact with people because you know they’re looking at the glossy pimple, perched in-between your eyebrows in disgust. Don’t hold back, tell it all.

3. Give yourself a pat on the back because it takes real mental strength to deal with acne
As humans, we are all, of course, severely flawed and imperfect. However, a lot of our ‘flaws’ are internal (e.g. character flaws). When you suffer from any kind of skin disease, one of your many ‘imperfections’ is laid bare for the world to see– you wear it on your skin every day. When you’ve been planning for that big night out over the weekend and on Thursday morning you wake up to a massive spot making you want to cancel, it takes real strength to put on your frock, lace up your shiny shoe and ignore the fact that you will get stares, and maybe even comments. You need thick skin and it also teaches you not to rely on your appearance for anything. Don’t let your acne make you hide in the corner and shy away in social settings. If people stare at the spots it’s fine, your personality will blow them away.

If you don’t remember anything else from what I’ve said, remember you’re beautiful despite having acne.

You’re stronger because you have acne, and hopefully there is a treatment out there that can help to improve your skin. I won’t lie, it may take years, but when you do find it you’ll be in awe because it’s hard to imagine a life with clearer (maybe not perfect) skin.

But whether your skin improves or not, don’t be scared to stare at yourself in the mirror for extra-long and take your makeup-less pictures with your skin with pride!