Things you shouldn’t say to someone with acne

Acne, oh acne. It’s right there on your face, for the whole world to see. And despite being a normal person with perfectly good personal hygiene and a fairly healthy diet, everyone seems to have unsolicited advice ready to fire at you at any opportunity. Here are 10 things you shouldn’t say to people with acne.

Drink more water—never heard that one before. Wash your face—are you insinuating I don’t? It must be your diet—didn’t see me coming at you for eating a chocolate bar, Susan. I use XYZ and I’ve never had a spot in my life—well, congratulations for your good genes. I could go on and on.

Throughout my time with good ol’ acne (read my acne story), unsolicited advice pointed in my direction, when I really didn’t want or need it. And to make it worse, 99% of the time it was from people who’d had clear skin their entire life. If you’ve had acne yourself, you’ll know just how damn irritating that feels.

Positives of hormonal acne

Sure, I know they were 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 essentially make you feel like your condition is down to your individual actions and choices. They’re also suggesting that it’s totally easy to cure. Come on now Karen, if it really was that simple, people wouldn’t go through debilitating cystic acne for years on end.

With all that said (forgive me for sounding a little bit ranty on this one), there’s still a stigma surrounding acne. I thought I’d debunk three assumptions that used to bug me the most, which should give you a good heads up on what you shouldn’t say to people with acne.

You should wash your face

Gee, thanks Susan, I hadn’t tried that one yet. You’re totally right. I’ve been letting my face gather grease, dirt and makeup for years. In fact, I haven’t actually washed it in 5 years now. That must be causing my acne. Genius.

Hold up a minute—if you hadn’t guessed, that was sarcasm. I definitely have washed my face in the last 5 years. In fact, like most people with acne, I’m literally meticulous when it comes to skincare.

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 case it gave me spots. And I spent a good half an hour, every single night, moving every possible trace of makeup on my skin and applying a complicated skincare regimen.

Girl looking in mirror

But you’d be surprised at just how many people have suggested I wash my face twice a day or ‘start a good skincare routine’ over the years, as if I’d literally never heard of face wash before. All too often, acne is seen as dirty—as if it’s a hygiene problem.

Sure, 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’s rarely the cause of chronic, cystic acne.

Acne has an endless list of possible causes, including hormonal imbalances, the contraceptive pill, a thyroid disorder, an allergy, an underlying medical condition or simple genetics. It’s not down to bad personal hygiene and it’s far more complicated than ‘not washing your face’—which, yes Susan, we all do. Regularly.

You should stop wearing so much makeup

I actually think this might be the worst thing you could say to someone with acne. It used to annoy me so goddamn much. Whenever someone made a make-up related comment to me, I just wanted to shout “if you had acne, would you want to cover it up? Yes, you would!” back at them. 

You see, these days, we’re surrounded by pictures of women with perfect, blemish-free complexions, on social media, in magazines, on the TV. Acne is seen as ugly. I don’t agree with that, but unfortunately, that’s how it is. It was hard, as an unconfident teenager with cystic acne, to walk around with my spots on full show.

Wearing makeup when you have acne

Makeup was a shield for me. I could put it on at the start of the day and I could forget about my inflamed, red skin for a while. At one point, I had 20 cysts on my face. It was really hard to cover up, so I decided to brave it and went out without makeup. I got stared at the entire time… and I absolutely didn’t have the confidence to deal with that. Covering it up allowed me to just be normal.

I do think it’s important for makeup to be an option, rather than a necessity. I’m getting there now. But to be honest, the simple fact of the matter is that it’s no one’s business what someone chooses to put on their face.

And anyway, if makeup caused chronic 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 pretty much every day. 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.

Plus, 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 stuck to simple, non pore-blocking products. Not that I ever should have felt the need to justify that to anyone anyway.

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.

You should eat healthier

All too often, people assume that those with acne eat a heavily unhealthy diet, packed with sugar, saturated fat and, well, grease. To me, blaming someone’s acne on their diet is just awful.

For people who are already struggling with their appearance, unsolicited comments about food are not only rude, but can actually have super negative effects in terms of mental health. As someone who’s experienced acne myself, I know that discovering all the possible food triggers and reading studies can cause a hell of a lot of anxiety.

I don’t deny that, sometimes, what we eat may influence our skin and trigger a few breakouts. If I spend a weekend eating pizza, drinking beer and ignoring fruit and veg in all its forms, my skin won’t be looking its best on Monday. But I personally think it’s rare for severe, cystic acne to be caused by diet alone. I’m sure you know someone who seemingly eats all the ‘bad’ foods and rarely experiences breakouts in their life. Likewise, I’m sure you know someone who’s super healthy, eats all the ‘good’ foods and, unfortunately, has struggled with their skin. It’s just not that black and white.

Diet and acne

When I was around 22-24, diet and acne 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 once your skin breaks out, it’s really not good for your mental health.

The truth is, some people seem to be affected by acne and others just don’t, regardless of how they live or what they do and don’t eat. Acne can be caused by hormones, stress, genetics, underlying medical problems and countless other factors (read about acne causes). In my opinion, blaming and judging people with acne for their dietary choices is unacceptable, just like it is in any other situation. Simple.

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 a few 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.

While you’re here, have a read of my other acne content…

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