A Brief Essay on Seeing Eye to Eye With My Bare Skin

Published in: Guest Post, Just For Fun, Skin Care

Marcella Yakalis

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.

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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)

Marcella Yakalis

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.

My skin has come a long way in the short months since I started using prescription medication. Finding the right balance in skincare has also helped. Nowadays I stick with simple products and a typical lather, rinse, repeat mode of use. I cleanse with Neutrogena Ultra Gentle Cleanser, and my go to for daily moisturizer has been Biore’s KAO JAPAN AQUA RICH SPF50+/PA++++ Sunscreen. It’s a watery gel that sinks in and leaves my skin protected and moisturized without becoming flaky.

I try to remember to drink enough water (something I feel every person struggles with) and eat the right foods to make sure my skin can do the best with what it’s given. After all of the struggle, that’s all I can do, the best with what I have. 


Marcella Yakalis


Marcella Yakalis is a freelance writer living and working in Brooklyn, New York, with two cats, one snake, and one very patient boyfriend. She writes about family, relationships, and oppressive retail culture. She can also be found on Twitter and Instagram.

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  1. Jaclyn levy says:

    This was so good and heatfelt. Thank you for being so open and sharing your story. I can’t wait to read more of your pieces.

  2. LJ says:

    This really resonated with me strongly. Since I was around 12 I’ve hated the way I look (I’m now also 25) and since I was 17 I haven’t let anyone see me without makeup. It’s become a huge problem for me that’s actually dictated my life, but you’re so right that the issue isn’t just the bare face – it’s actually accepting your entire face, which is tough when ‘naturally beautiful’ is what we all desire, but what if you don’t have a small nose or big eyes or skin without redness? When you have such low self-esteem, it’s so much more of a struggle than people realise. I love makeup as I can be someone else, change my features and my skin tone, and be creative and feel so much better about myself, but I’m still a long way from loving my bare face. It was really helpful to read this and know that maybe it’ll be possible for me, one day.
    Take care, and thank you for this great post.
    P.s. Love your blog so much, Karen.

  3. Rachel says:

    Enjoyed your post and relate very much. Looking forward to your posts!
    Rachel recently posted … Nuxe Reve de Miel – EMPTY!

  4. Chris25 says:

    Thankyou so much for being vulnerable with us. <3 While the specifics and severity may vary, I feel like there are a lot of people reading this blog who would relate to your struggle.
    Chris25 recently posted … Ethnicity Tag!

  5. Savannah says:

    *sigh* Can I ever relate, yes, trying to love or even like your face with acne is a trying struggle. I’ve had issues with my skin since grade six. The pimples, blackheads, and white heads continued on all the way past high school graduation. I didn’t have cystic acne, but I still had large painful pimples regularly. Now, I have textured skin on my cheeks with whiteheads that refuse to go away no matter my diet. Blush, which is my favorite makeup on others, never looks smooth and glowy on me ( something I suspect that I’ll never get over). Yes, I only feel pretty when my skin is in decent condition. Not only is my face not smooth, but my entire back suffers the same fate. I don’t even think about cute, backless dresses lol. M husband says the scars add character, I say whatever, I’m glad he’s able to see past my skin.

  6. Sakura says:

    Ah, I feel your pain! Thanks for your post. You probably have done a lot of research. In case it’s helpful… I found the web-site “Paula’s Choice”, specifically the expert advice and ingredient dictionary, useful in learning about what ingredients are irritants for skin.

    I like your cat-eye!

  7. Kimmwc03 says:

    I’m also struggling with adult acne due to PCOS. The disease sucks and acne is only a small part of it. Acne is the part that everyone sees though. I hate the scars from the cystic acne; nothing has ever made them look any better. I applaud you for sharing your story.

  8. Ann B. says:

    So glad you’ve found the right balance in skin care. When I saw your photo, my thoughts were: nice complexion, fantastic eyebrows, pretty eyes, & lips that people pay money for. I see a lovely young lady, & I hope you see the same thing! Take care.

  9. Christine says:

    As our largest organ, and the outermost part of our “selves” seen by the world, our skin has the potential to be the source of pride or shame. Ultimately, makeup is for our minds. That you feel increasingly more comfortable in your skin, as we all should aspire to do, is a wonderful thing.

    I had cystic acne from puberty until my late 30s. We’re talking angry red foreheadne, cheekne, chestne, and backne. I would barely touch myself in those areas unless I was slathering Sea Breeze (or some other toxic product), much less show them (long-fringed goth modster I was so I could cover up in black and long bangs).

    Miraculously, and for reasons largely unknown, my skin completely cleared (though I can still see acne scars from decades ago). You might find yourself with a clear complexion later down the road, as well. How wonderfully mysterious our bodies are. The most important thing, though, is that you be kind to yourself and your skin. Thank you for sharing this, Marcella.

  10. Susan says:

    Thank you for sharing your story. I think we all struggle, on some level, to really love ourselves. So glad you were able to get the acne under control; welcome and looking forward to other posts!

  11. Cindy says:

    Thanks for sharing this. I was diagnosed with PCOS at age 22. I’m 44 now. It’s a condition that’s widely ignored, even by doctors. I never really had adult acne from it, but I’ve had quite a few other things that are caused by it, and not many people understand. This really should be treated as a real condition, not an “it’s all in your head” sort of thing.

  12. Rachel R. says:

    Welcome, Marcella! I think this is a post a lot of us can relate to. I had super-oily skin and acne breakouts from age 12 till my 40s. I still get hormonal zits and cystic acne from time to time.

    I look forward to seeing how your journey continues. Remember that you are beautiful, no matter what.

  13. Brandee says:

    I share in your chin acne, nose broken capillaries, I have dark circles with sunken eyes, chicken pox mark between my eyes . I think there’s tons of women who feel like us (and are in our club😀). I absolutely love your honesty and can’t wait to see more posts from you!!!! And your a cutie!

  14. Erin says:

    I had bad acne from 8 up into my 20’s despite everything that derms could throw at me. It turned out it was my thyroid and food allergies. Plus some product allergies. It’s never simple as skincare. Now I rarely get blemishes unless I’m not on top of my diet and medication.
    Erin recently posted … Unsung Hero 2014 Shiraz

  15. Marcella Yakalis says:

    THANK YOU ALL so much for your lovely comments! And the warm welcome 🙂

  16. Amy says:

    I adore your brows and wing liner! You look totally cute!

  17. Amy says:

    Oops hit publish too soon: what liner do you use and did you have to practice your wings a lot, or do you find one particular priduct easier than the rest? Thanks for your post!

    • Marcella Yakalis says:

      The eyeliner I had on in this photo was Sephora’s store brand, actually! It actually takes me a while to get my eyeliner done recently, I hadn’t worn makeup in such a long time that I was having a hard time mastering the wing again.

  18. Michelle says:

    I had to go on Accutane as a teen due to my horrible acne. I was on it for 9 long, horrible months. I remember crying myself to sleep at night because I was so depressed about my complexion. Thank goodness, the Accutane was an absolute miracle worker and completely cleared up my acne. But I was left with some small indented scars (that other people didn’t notice, but I noticed them every single day). I have always had issues with my skin — I have uneven skin tone and just rarely go bare faced. With foundation and concealer, it totally transforms my skin. I am working on just accepting myself, makeup or not. Hard thing to do!

  19. Maddie says:

    Marcella, your well-written post brought tears to my eyes. I also had an awful time with cystic acne for a year, about ten years ago. Mine was likely caused by extreme stress brought on by grieving the deaths of my fiancé and my parents. Until I finally went to see a dermatologist (the wait for a new-patient visit was three months!), I would spend well over an hour every day caking my face with makeup to try to hide my angry, red, painful bumps. I felt so ashamed of my appearance and avoided going anywhere I absolutely didn’t have to.

    My acne cleared up over the next few months, and now I just get an occasional zit, thankfully. However it’s only been in the past year that I’ve felt comfortable going outside my house with a completely bare face. I actually love the feeling of a makeup-free face now, even though I might not look that pretty without my war paint.

    This may be a cliche, but it’s true: We’re our own harshest critic. I want you (and everyone reading this) to know that others are not focusing on your self-perceived flaws. The truth is that others are mostly focusing on themselves! In your picture, I see the confidence and strength that can only come from being comfortable and vulnerable enough to show your true self. I look forward to reading more of your posts.

    • Marcella Yakalis says:

      Maddy, thank you for your words. I definitely believe I’m my own harshest critic, which is something I’m trying to get better at. I’m glad you were able to get through that difficult time and now have a better relationship with your bare face!

  20. Marjo says:

    Thank you so much for sharing your story! I’m 59 years old but I can really relate to your post. I ‘ve had acne since I was 14 years old. Now it’s mainly rosacea and broken capillaries. The only products I can use without risking major break out are from Paula’s Choice. I used to get so depressed and never wanted any photographs taken. Looking back, I can see that it wasn’t all that bad. I looked much better then than I look now😄 . Thank you for being so honest and I agree with Maddy: we’re our own worst enemy. Please, enjoy your youth. It’s over before you know it. You’re a beautiful lady, inside and out. Love from Belgium.

    P.S. Can you tell me if there is a foundation you can use? Foundation is my nemesis😅

    • Marcella Yakalis says:

      When I want real coverage, I usually use the Clinique Even Better Makeup that I linked in this essay. Clinique is designed by dermatologists so it doesn’t clog my pores and it tends to not react to my OTC medications. Other than that I use concealer for spot coverage, typically the Maybelline Fit Me Concealer. 🙂

  21. Lauren says:

    Welcome! What I see in these pics is a beautiful face. Perfect winged liner, beautiful eyes and lips I’d pay to have! I know the struggle of acne. Stay positive, you’re beautiful!

  22. I suffer(ed) from acne throughout my teens and then from adult acne myself, and after finding a skincare regime that really helped I went pregnant and the hormones made me flare up once again. Now, at the end of my second pregnancy and aged 37, I have come to peace with my skin, my scars and my aging, but it was a long struggle.
    Thank you for sharing your story and the way it affected you, both when the acne was there and afterwards.
    LindaLibraLoca recently posted … Oskia Renaissance 360 anti-ageing & brightening supreme cream

  23. Kim says:

    Hi Marcella – I’m so sorry you’ve had these challenges but it’s good to hear that things are improving. I think you have a great attitude and it’s true for everyone. We all have to do the best with what we’re given. And, as others have said, your winged liner rocks! 🙂

  24. Fran says:

    Marcella, as someone who’s been living with rosacea for a couple of decades I can relate about the skin issues (and I hope that doctors have been helpful with other aspects of the PCOS, as well). I even know that, a lot of the time, it looks much worse to us than it does to most other people, but, that just doesn’t seem to matter. Feeling like you look yucky is just demoralizing. Somehow we get the idea in adolescence that acne means ‘dirty’, and we just can’t shake that off. For a long time I also just treated my skin gently and left the makeup off, since makeup only seemed to emphasize the situation. In the last few years I’ve found makeup my skin actually likes (in my case, with the rosacea, tinted zinc oxide preparations actually help to keep my rosacea under some degree of control) and have started to be able to disguise the broken blood vessels and have fun with eye and lip colors again. A really interesting book is ‘Survival of the Prettiest: The Science of Beauty’ by Nancy Etcoff. It helped me understand why it was perfectly natural for me to feel extremely self-conscious about red, shiny, blotchy, bumpy, zitty skin. I wasn’t shallow for caring about my appearance (try adding the burden of feeling that you’re ‘shallow’ for caring about your looks to the burden of looking yucky in the first place) — the desire for clear skin is hard-wired into our brains.

    • Marcella Yakalis says:

      Hi Fran, thank you so much for your comments and for your book recommendation! I’m adding it to my list of must reads right now! I know I definitely always had that feeling as a kid that acne meant “dirty”, even when I didn’t have that many breakouts.

  25. Kirstin says:

    Marcella – thank your sincere & beautifully written piece. As a 43-year-old woman who has always struggled with confidence & appearance & now has all sorts of new aged-related issues to address, the first thing I thought when I saw your picture was “what a hip & beautiful young woman.” The second was “how can I achieve that winged liner look with those beautiful brows???” Your skin looks luminous & healthy & you have a great style/vibe. As others have mentioned, we are all our own worst critics & so hard on ourselves, but I do believe that if we stay positive & be as healthy as we can inside & out, it does get better. Truly, no one cares about those imperfections but us! Take good care

  26. I think we all should do the best with what we have.
    I’ve never really suffered from acne, but I often have hormonal spots. I do hide them with concealer, but always try not to be too heavy-handed with it. I’d rather have a few blemishes peeking through than look like I’m wearing a mask.
    Carolina Braina recently posted … February 2016: Current Crushes and BIG NEWS

  27. Jules says:

    Thank you for this post. I’ve struggled with acne and weight issues, but more than anything I struggle with confidence. It’s easy to believe we’re along in these struggles, but the truth is we aren’t, and your post reminded me of that. Thank you!

  28. Efrain says:

    Marcella: bravo!

    It’s really difficult to embrace our bodies but the first step is to recognize ourselves and it’s really hard. I think you’re brave for saying in the Internet your story.

    I’ve suffered from acne since being 13 (I’m 21) but I think that until changing many things my skin has become better. In my case I learnt that wearing makeup doesn’t affect directly with having more pimples, but I should cleanse really wel no matter I’m wearing only sunscreen or a full face.

    Does the Biore sunscreen make your skin tight? I know they have alcohol and the Perfect face one makes my skin look awesome but due to the alcohol it dehydrates my skin.

    Welcome to the blog!
    Efrain recently posted … Review: Clinique Mild Clarifying Lotion

  29. Ana says:

    Thank you for sharing this!. I am really insecure about my skin, I have red spots on my forehead and under my nose that I was born with. They get stronger when its hot outside. Also I have a broken capilary and 3 chicken pox scars on my forehead. I had chicken pox when I ws 15 and didn’t know any better, so i toutched them 🙁 Also my skin is really really pale, it seems transparent at times hahah
    I feel sad that I have to use products with more coverage and I envy my friends that can go out with care skin. But its a process of loving my skin and specially taking care of it so it gets better.

  30. Feather says:

    I can say, I never had acne when I was a teen. When I turned 27 I had acne like I was going through puberty. I never had to worry about my skin so I was very down and lost my confidence.

    I went to doctors and they would just slap me with antibiotics, hormones, or a cream. The hormones worked but gave me aura headaches so I stopped using them. The cream was good but it still didn’t stop my hormonal acne.

    I went on many acne blogs to see how people were handling their acne. I enjoyed trying natural remedies. Organic Manuka Honey masks, organic clay mask, and vinegar all worked well. The remedies were better than the chemicals but the acne did not go away.

    I was determined to have great skin again. I completely changed my life habits. I have a super green diet. I always have a pear in my pocket and a bottle water in my hand. No MEATS. Doing this has EXTREMELY cleared my acne.

    Since the doctors kept telling me my acne was hormonal I tried activities to keep my stress down. I go for a 20 minutes run 3 times a week. I also do spiritual yoga.. not the watered down yoga you see on TV. Meditation is a must as well.

    I can now say I have clear skin and I am not taking any chemicals. Of course I will still use some salicylic acid if I have a breakout but I barely have to use anything. Now, I’m trying to even out my tone. I find that a great face oil with lots of minerals in it helps. Nothing a little bronzer or highlight won’t fix though. :p

    I absolutely love this blog. I am a makeup junkie and you give great advice for natural looks. I’m in love with NARs Velvet Matte. It’s amazing and so even. Thanks for all of your great advice.

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