Things you shouldn’t say to someone with acne

I’ve struggled with cystic, hormonal acne since I was 14. I’m now 24 and taking spironolactone — an anti-androgen medication used, off-label, to treat acne and PCOS. I still get a few breakouts — but overall, my acne has improved significantly.

But when I was in school and university, I hated my face. As you can imagine, it’s pretty crap to hate your own face. I mean, it’s there, it’s not going anywhere — and you can’t exactly change it.

Throughout the battle I had with acne, there was one thing that always made it worse. Unsolicited and inaccurate advice was often pointed in my direction — and, to make it even worse, 99% of the time it was from people who’d had clear skin their entire life.

Okay, I know they were probably just trying to help. But when you’re experiencing something like acne and someone tells you to “wash your face” or “wear less makeup”, they’re basically insinuating that the cause of your condition is all down to your individual actions and choices. They’re also suggesting that it’s totally easy to cure. And, come on now, if it really was that simple, people wouldn’t go through debilitating cystic acne for years on end.

There’s a terrible stigma surrounding acne, so I thought I should debunk a few common and silly acne myths and misconceptions. Here are the things you shouldn’t say to someone with acne.

[Just a little heads up that this post is from my old blog and was written around 3 years ago. A lot has changed since then, and I’ve since successfully cleared my acne (and seriously improved my writing skills). It’s probably still worth a read if you’re experiencing acne, though!]

Close-up of forehead with cystic acne

“You should wash your face twice a day, you know?”

Gee, thanks Susan, I hadn’t tried that one yet. You’re totally right. I constantly just let my face gather grease, dirt and makeup… and guess what? I haven’t actually washed it in 5 years now. That must be causing my acne.

If you hadn’t guessed, that was sheer sarcasm. Someone I once knew genuinely used to suggest that I should wash my face and develop a good skincare routine… as if I hadn’t already. Not gonna lie, this might be the worst of the things you shouldn’t say to someone with acne.

The thing is, I can guarantee that anyone who suffers from acne or another skin condition looks after their skin meticulously. When my skin was at its worst, I was borderline obsessed with keeping my skin clean. I was scared of letting my face touch my phone or pillowcase, in the fear of bacteria. I spent a good half an hour, every single night, moving every possible trace of makeup on my skin.

Sure, it’s true – if you never wash your face, constantly leave makeup on overnight or touch your face continuously throughout the day, you’re probably gonna end up with some blocked pores and breakouts.

But that doesn’t mean that everyone who has acne is automatically dirty. Acne has an endless list of possible causes — whether that’s hormonal imbalances, the contraceptive pill, a thyroid disorder, an allergy, an underlying medical condition or simple genetics. It’s far more complicated than ‘not washing your face’ – which, yes, Susan, we all do. Regularly.

Brunette with acne scars

“You only have acne because you wear makeup”

Okay, so — firstly, if you had acne, would you want to cover it up? I’m guessing so. You see, these days, we’re surrounded by pictures of women with perfect, blemish-free complexions. Acne is seen as ugly. I don’t agree with that. But unfortunately, that’s how it is. And that took its toll on me. Badly.

Makeup was a shield for me. I could put it on at the start of the day (and I still do, now that I’m dealing with scars) and I could forget about my horrible red skin for a while. Can you blame me? At one point, I had 20 cysts on my face. Once, I went out without makeup and got stared at the entire time. I absolutely didn’t have the confidence to deal with that. Covering it up allowed me to just be normal.

Secondly, if makeup caused acne, why doesn’t every girl who wears makeup have acne? I have many girlfriends — all absolutely amazing and stunning, btw — who all wear makeup at least some of the time. None of them had acne to the degree I have experienced it. In fact, most have had consistently clear skin throughout their lives. So, if my makeup causes my acne, why didn’t/don’t my friends have the same problem? There’s no logic there.

Thirdly, because of my acne, I knew absolutely every ingredient in every makeup product I was putting on my face. I used comedogenic ratings to research which ingredients blocked pores and could potentially aggravate acne.

And lastly, if my makeup caused my acne, Spironolactone wouldn’t have cleared my skin, because I still wear makeup. So there we go.

Bottom line? Don’t shame girls for wearing makeup, whether they’ve got acne or not. Frankly, it’s their damn face… and they can do what they want with it.

Reflection of girl doing makeup in long mirror

“Drink more water/go gluten-free/go sugar-free/go vegan/avoid dairy…”

To me, blaming someone’s acne on their diet is just awful. Because let’s be honest — acne food shaming is both harmful and scientifically inaccurate.

For people who are already struggling with their outer appearance, unsolicited comments about their diet are not only rude but can actually have super negative effects in terms of mental health. Don’t get me wrong, diet can affect acne — for example, if someone is intolerant to a certain food or food group. However, ultimately, acne is a medical problem, most often caused by hormones or genetics – it is not a lifestyle one.

When I was around 22-24, food became a huge issue for me. I’d monitor everything I ate and try endless different diets in a bid to ease my skin troubles. This might not sound like a big deal, but when you feel guilty for eating a single chocolate bar, a slice of pizza or even a single piece of toast, and beat yourself up for it for days, it’s really not good for your mental health.

So, in my opinion, blaming and judging people with acne for dietary choices is unacceptable. Simple.

Pink table with vegan food and ray bans

Things you shouldn’t say to someone with acne

So, that’s the end of my kinda ranty (sometimes it’s necessary, right?!) blog about what you shouldn’t say to people with acne.

I hope I debunked some of those irritating myths once and for all! Acne is a sensitive subject and although I know most people who pass on unsolicited advice probably mean no harm, it still does damage to the people they say it to.

I simply want people to understand acne so those who suffer don’t have to feel embarrassed. Your acne is not your fault.

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