I catch my reflection in the window of the downtown D train. In my bathroom mirror, as I pass by a shop. While I still struggle everyday to live comfortably in my body (I am a size 22, 5 foot 6), I often find it even harder to live in my skin.
Around six months short of 25, I noticed the blemishes forming on my chin and forehead were not just the occasional stress related zit. They were cyclical, they scarred even when I didn’t pick them, they were incredibly painful. Through my late teens and early twenties, I never had more than the occasional flareup, and never ones that gave me so much shame. I went off my hormonal birth control, thinking that was the issue, but it still persisted. I stopped wearing makeup entirely, afraid to agitate my skin.
Like so many other women, I was struck with sudden adult acne as a result of PCOS (Polycystic Ovary Syndrome) and didn’t know it. It wasn’t until I actually went to a dermatologist, who suggested, from my acne patterns, that I might have the condition. I made a mental note to check on it and asked what could be done about my skin. I was prescribed Aczone Gel, 5%, as well as a retinoid (Adapalene) and a tretinoin (Atralin)
These medications greatly improved my skin over a short period of time. The combination of all three settled the horrifying red bumps that littered my chin, cheeks, and my forehead. As my face cleared up, I became excited at the prospect of being able to wear makeup without feeling like I was just covering up a disaster. I didn’t realize at the time how badly the marks had scarred me, in more than just a physical sense.
When I looked in the mirror, this is what I saw: sunken eyes and horrible skin, broken capillaries around my nose, bags under my eyes that I’ve had since I was four, that weird chicken pox scar above my right brow. When my skin began to clear up, I saw my face, my bare face, and I didn’t like what I was seeing. When I was wrapped up in the acne covering my face, I didn’t have to deal with the fact that I didn’t particularly like my face.
Despite the myriad of treatments I now use, I am still reluctant to wear makeup and try new products. I’m afraid that my skin will react poorly or that it will burn. This fear, however, has made me more comfortable in showing my bare face. When I used to go out with a bare face (and I mean bare, not even concealer) I was ashamed to look in the mirror. I still had the allergy eyes and the scars, but as I learned to deal with my bare face as it was, I realized that while I had been ashamed of the acne, I had often used it as a blanket for my insecurities when it came to my natural looks. Now that my skin was on the road to recovery, I had nothing to hide behind.
Living with my acne, and learning to actually like my own face again, is one of the hardest things I’ve had to do. I always used to think scars were really cool until I started seeing them on my face…and feeling them far deeper.