In September of 2017, I was eagerly planning my travel itinerary for when we finished teaching in Thanh Hoa City.
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.
My skin consumed my thoughts
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… my spots.
You may have seen my last post, where I discussed finding a successful acne treatment, spironolactone. 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.
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.
I didn’t look like the girls in the #InstaTravel photos
For some reason, I think of traveller/backpacker girls as naturally beautiful, with clear skin, maybe a perfect splatter of freckles and not an under-eye bag in sight.
You know, the kind of girls who wake up in the morning, splash their face with water and just, go. And they look perfect. Well, I felt like I had to look like that too.
As you can see from the photo, blemish-free and radiant certainly wasn’t the situation I was in. I had a lovely 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 doesn’t mix well with 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 (haha, just for the record, I’ve totally done that)? Plus, 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.
I’d also become so obsessed with skincare, that 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 I knew that it wasn’t caused by external factors like makeup.
But my only other option was to chuck the cosmetics and go bare-faced. 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?
How I dealt with travelling with acne
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’. In my head, travelling with acne wasn’t an option.
But that dream didn’t come true as soon as I needed it to. My acne was still terrible on the first day of our travels. 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.
It’s hard to believe that when you’ve convinced yourself that you’re downright ugly. But deep down, I knew I’d ruin my trip if I spent the whole time obsessing over smudged concealer or a spot peeking through my foundation. So, I rustled up some courage and listened to them. I decided to let my acne roam free!
Makeup free… and feeling fine!
I remember going to Hanoi on the train, 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 at first — and I’m not going to lie, people did stare at my cheeks. But, as the days went on, I started to forget about my acne. I just got used to having bare skin. It became normal.
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.
I was having such an amazing time with my family, that I didn’t even look in the mirror until the end of the day. I stopped stressing about covering it up. I felt so much better. I felt free. I could touch my face without worrying about wiping off my foundation.
It sounds silly… but I really had felt trapped in my makeup beforehand.
I’m glad I had acne for the start of my trip
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 it 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. Just be careful and don’t let it control your life like I did.
Never let your insecurities stop you
If you’re struggling with acne and you’re about to go travelling, don’t let it stop you. By all means, cover it up if you want to – after all, 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. You never know, it might just help you to develop a confidence you never thought you were capable of…