Worried about travelling with acne? Feeling insecure, unconfident and scared to bare your skin on the beach? I’ve been there and I’ve got some tales and handy tips to share with you.
In September of 2017, I was eagerly planning my travel itinerary for when we finished a year of teaching English in Vietnam.
I love planning trips; finding the best deals, planning routes, organising flights. I was super excited! We’d carefully saved our earnings and had managed to save more than enough to travel for two months. Dreamy.
But one thing was holding me back from looking forward to our trip. Just one.
Travelling with acne.
Travelling with acne
Isn’t it crazy, that you can have such exciting plans and prospects—something you’ve always dreamed of—and acne, of all things, can make you dread it?
I was literally about to jet off and spend weeks on an island in Cambodia, explore Bangkok and travel around India. And I was worried about… well, my spots.
You may have seen my last post, where I discussed finding a successful acne treatment, spironolactone for acne. But spiro only kicked in and cleared up my skin in November. The photograph below was taken in September, just as I was about to live my dream and travel around Asia with my boyfriend.
I searched all over the internet for advice. But one thing is for sure. Acne and travelling—together—just aren’t discussed all that much. Well, other than how to avoid acne whilst travelling. The problem was that I’d already well and truly got acne.
Unrealistic beauty standards
For some reason, I think of traveller/backpacker girls as naturally beautiful, with clear skin—maybe a perfect splatter of freckles here and there—and not an under-eye bag in sight. I reckon you can blame Instagram for that.
You know, those girls who wake up in the morning, splash their face with water and just… go? And somehow look perfectly flawless and insanely glowy? I wanted to be that. I realise now that most people simply don’t look like that and that Instagram filters have a huge part to play. But at the time I felt like I had to look like that too, to fit in with the traveller crowd.
As you can see from the photo, blemish-free, freckle-splattered and radiant certainly wasn’t the situation I was in. Sure, I had a bit of a tan having lived in Vietnam for several months. But, to me, that was irrelevant considering my face was covered in red bumps, cysts and hyper-pigmentation.
Makeup, night trains and tropical islands
I was worried about being able to cover up my skin on long train journeys, buses and hostels. I’d either have to stand in a dirty toilet and spend ages reapplying my makeup or leave it on all night. No thank-you.
And the beach… what about the beach? No one wears a full face of foundation and concealer to the beach, right? Uh, just for the record, I’ve totally done that. Everyone knows that wearing a heavy face of makeup in a hot, humid environment is likely to make breakouts worse anyway. Travelling with acne just seemed so damn complicated.
At this point, I was obsessed with doing everything I could to clear up my acne. The thought of leaving makeup on overnight literally made me freak out. I hated not thoroughly cleaning my face before bed or sleeping with anything on my skin. It made me feel guilty for having acne, even though, now, I know it wasn’t really caused by any of that external stuff.
My only other option was to chuck the cosmetics, go bare-faced and truly embrace travelling with acne. Me? Not wearing makeup? Showing people my acne? That idea seemed plain insane. People stared at me in Vietnam, even when I had my acne covered… so imagine the looks I’d get with a load of red, swollen cysts on my face?
Baring my real skin
I had a countdown until our trip started on my phone. I woke up, every single day, thinking ‘I’ve got 20 days to get clear skin!’ and ’10 days until my skin needs to be clear’. Looking back, it’s really sad that I let my acne ruin the excitement for the trip of a lifetime. But I was struggling with my mental health and, in my head, travelling with acne just wasn’t an option.
The clear-skin dream didn’t come true as soon as I needed it to. On the first day of our travels, my acne was still hell-bent on leaving marks across my bare skin. New spots here, scars there. No travel glow to be seen; just red and inflamed skin.
I’d been speaking to my family about it, who all said the same thing. Ditch the makeup. Let people stare. It doesn’t matter. You’re still beautiful. We love you.
They were (and have always have been) an amazing support, but it was so hard to believe what they’re saying. Regardless, deep down, I just knew I’d ruin my trip if I spent the whole time obsessing over smudged concealer or a spot peeking through my foundation.
I rustled up some courage and listened to them. I decided to travel with acne, bare it all and let my acne roam free.
Makeup free and feeling fine
I remember taking the train to Hanoi to meet my parents and sister, who were joining us for the beginning of our trip, with no makeup on. It was the first time I’d been out bare-faced in a long time. At first, I kept hiding behind Jack (my boyfriend) and avoiding eye contact with everybody.
My skin was bad and I did catch a glimpse of strangers looking at my cheeks. But as the days went on, I started to forget about my acne. I eventually got used to having bare skin. It became normal… and I loved not having to spend an hour applying makeup in the morning!
I just kept reminding myself, with the help of my boyfriend and family, that it didn’t matter if someone stared. So what if a stranger in the street, who I’ll never see again, thinks my skin looks bad? Does it really matter? Nah, no, never.
I was having such an amazing time with my family that I barely even looked in the mirror until the end of each day. I stopped stressing about covering my acne. I felt so much better. I felt free. I could touch my face without worrying about wiping off my foundation. It made me realise just how trapped I felt in my makeup beforehand!
Learning to accept my skin
Thanks to the spironolactone I was using to treat my acne, my skin cleared up a few weeks into travelling. But looking back, I’m actually thankful that my acne hadn’t cleared up when I first started my adventure.
Going bare-faced with acne made me realise that I should have loved my skin all along, no matter how bad my acne was. It helped my confidence and made me realise it didn’t matter if people stared at me or thought I was ugly. My family still loved me, irrelevant of what my skin looked like… and surely that’s the most important thing?
Don’t get me wrong, covering up your acne is fine. In fact, I love makeup! I’m so thankful for it. It gave me a confidence I didn’t otherwise have. But I realise now that makeup should be an option, not a necessity. I realise now that having acne isn’t something to be ashamed of; and that I’m free to show my real skin whenever I want to.
Don’t let acne stop you travelling
If you’re struggling with acne and you’re about to go travelling, don’t let your skin stop you and please don’t let it hold you back from enjoying every minute.
By all means, cover up your spots if you want to. I know that it’s not easy to get over your insecurities, so do whatever you need to feel comfortable. It’s your face and your rules. If anyone asks you why you’ve got makeup on at the beach, just tell them it’s none of their god damn business.
But don’t let makeup dictate what you do… and don’t let it take over your thoughts. Enjoy your time travelling and take everything in, even if you are struggling with your skin. Take the makeup off when you can and realise that you’re still absolutely beautiful.
You never know, travelling with acne might just help you to develop a confidence you never thought you were capable of! It certainly did for me.
Read more of my acne content…