Adult Acne Is More Common than You Think. Why Don’t We Choose to Celebrate Our Blemishes?

Hate uneven skin? Here’s how you can learn to love your acne.

Cat Baklarz


Photo by Tsunami Green on Unsplash

Redness, breaking the skin — not just a zit or two but vast, uneven patches changing day by day.

For the greater half of the last decade, my face has been a scattered constellation of angry painful bumps. Creams, pills, cosmetics and injections promise to ‘fix’ this bothersome adult acne, but one way or another, those pesky pimples return.

Please refrain from telling me or anyone else with adult acne to drink water, exercise, restrict sugar intake or try your favorite charcoal-gold-dust face wash. Chances are, we tried that. Yet those inevitable bumps show up every day, little troopers.

This year, I’ve been to three different dermatologists. I’ve tried everything short of chemical peels and high-risk injections to keep my acne at bay. I’ve learned which foundations best cover dermal swelling, which lotions best protect what’s left of my speckled face, and which chemical combinations spell danger for my already sensitive skin.

While discouraging, adult acne is a very common struggle, an internal battle that encompasses the topics of class and body acceptance. Uneven skin is a problem that many individuals face well into adulthood, but it is never a struggle that individuals should tackle alone.

Acne can be treated, but it’s not as easy as skincare commercials and social media banners would like you to believe.

You can limit your acne risk with over-the-counter creams containing benzoyl peroxide. You can use products with salicylic acid and the more expensive retinoid adapalene. Dermatology patients can also request antibacterial wipes, low-dose antibiotics, or harsher treatments such as Accutane injections, which require careful observation and may come with severe side effects. Female patients may ask their doctor to change their birth control to a more acne-sensitive option, or their doctor might prescribe blood pressure medications to limit break-outs during their regular menstrual cycle.

Whichever path you choose, taking care of your skin takes work. Skincare products and medications may not keep you skin clear, either.

Another option to battle acne is to visit an esthetician for inflammation issues. This may mean starting a monthly skincare regimen costing hundreds of dollars a month in addition to chemical peels costing between $100 to $5,000 per visit. For most Americans, this out-of-pocket cost for clear skin is too high. No one should feel that they have to put up with acne because they cannot purchase the materials they need to feel their best.

Image by Bob Dmyt from Pixabay

Must we get rid of acne to feel our best? Having acne as an adult takes a lot of tough love and patience in a world that applauds clear skin. But with education and a proper attitude, both those with and without sensitive skin can learn to love and treat their skin well while dealing with this condition.

A little acne education goes a long way. Some people are surprised to learn that acne is not contagious. Others don’t realize that some of the most intensive medications like Accutane can cause disastrous birth defects and liver damage if left unmonitored. The decision to treat, cover or flaunt acne includes many complex choices that should not be taken lightly.

Both at home and in the workplace, those who suffer from advanced breakouts should feel comfortable bringing their best skin forward in a way that best suits them, regardless of class or gender. For some, this means tackling the day bare-faced, while for others, this means turning to makeup or medicine in their daily routine. Even stellar dudes who want acne relief should also be able to use the full arsenal of tools at their disposal, including those located in the makeup department.

Using acne patches, sporting fresh skin or using one’s profile as a cosmetic canvas are all valid means of self-expression, even in the face of modern Photoshop and unrealistic beauty standards.

Acne positivity means making acne visible online and in our daily lives.

One way that you can help promote acne positivity is by bringing up tough conversations about skincare expectations.

Artists and creatives improve acne awareness when they include more photos of uneven skin in their work. Writing this article, I found it dizzying how few stock photos on Unsplash and Pixabay capture individuals with blemishes. Even more frightening, most of these photos came from the same photographers and skincare company profiles. The smiling photos that show up in searches for ‘acne’ stock photos show clear, unbroken skin. In many of these stock images, product placement suggests that the subject has used skincare products to magically wish their acne goodbye.

Photo by Erik Lucatero on Unsplash

Most beauty magazines opt for a safer alternative. Instead of featuring individuals with acne for skincare articles, these lifestyle guides hint at the idea of acne. They create graphics featuring hearts or star-shaped patches instead of, well, zits. Independent creators and larger name brands can do better by including more pictures of real, imperfect skin in their media.

Acne supporters might bring these concerns up at work. They can ask why women at their workplace wear makeup when dealing with customers in-person, or they can suggest less-airbrushed marketing materials when asked how their company image might improve.

Family members can stop their well-meaning relatives from commenting on other family members’ skincare regimens. (No, aunt Gertrude. Your niece does not need to eat more grapefruit to get brighter, healthier skin. Please mind your own business.) Alternatively, they might also offer to help pay for better skincare alternatives if someone in your immediate circle is looking for helpful advice.

Learning about acne helps us explain how those pesky bumps occur and why more Americans suffer from inflammation today. Showing up to a party red-faced does not mean that an individual isn’t taking care of themselves. Adults with acne have some of the most intense skincare routines because they know that a healthy diet and sensitive acne products can help prevent but not eliminate advanced breakouts.

This article does a good job explaining how difficult hormones cause long-lasting acne, and how little we still understand about why the condition affects so many adults today.

Your relationship with your skin is an incredibly personal decision.

You can support others’ decisions by engaging in open communication about acne struggles and celebrating individuals’ personalities, not their packaging.

Photo by Alesia Kazantceva on Unsplash

This article is an updated & expanded version of a previous work by Cat Baklarz.



Cat Baklarz

|Los Angeles| Environmentalist, Writer, Historian of the Weird.