It’s a medical myth that blemishes and uneven skin are always caused by neglect

People are being unfairly stigmatized for skin conditions they can’t control

Perfectly clear skin isn’t a realistic or necessary standard. Illustration: Tiffany Chan/The Peak

By: Michelle Young, SFU Student

At an airport a few months ago, just as I got up to put away my trash during a four hour layover, one of the cleaning staff asked me, “Do you use soap on your face?” I was so surprised that it took a moment to process his question. As he walked away, he said, “You should.”

This baffled me. Of course, I wash my face. Not only that, but I had taken extra care that day in my skincare routine to keep my skin hydrated in preparation for my long flight. But it probably didn’t look like it. My skin has small bumps, an uneven skin tone, and is filled with post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation — areas that are darker than the skin around it

I’ve often had people comment on the state of my skin, usually loved ones who have good intentions but don’t realize that I already know how to take care of myself. Having chronic skin conditions doesn’t mean someone is unhygenic; some of those with the worst skin problems are often the most knowledgeable about their own skincare. It’s a common misconception that acne can be fixed by cleansing. The truth is, acne isn’t caused by unwashed skin. 

We are constantly bombarded with ads and social media content sharing skincare routines and images of airbrushed models with doll-perfect skin. However, this may not be attainable for everyone, and that should be perfectly fine. We should take care of our skin and strive to keep it healthy, but appearance is not a reliable indicator of overall health or hygiene. Body positivity is on the rise and that’s great — our skin deserves the same self-love. 

I’ve suffered from acne and rosacea since I was 12, and was diagnosed with eczema when I was 15. I went to a dermatologist, began a regular skincare routine, and, at first, my skin cleared up. But my blemishes eventually came back and I was prescribed the antibiotic doxycycline. This started a cycle wherein I would bounce back and forth between having blemishes and then not. 

I wanted clear skin. Currently, rosacea and eczema do not have a cure, but I wanted to at least treat my acne. I considered Accutane, but the potentially dangerous side effects and the possibility of interfering with the rest of my body’s health made me hesitate for months. I felt that in reality, I only had about three active pimples and the rest was scarring and blotchiness from my other skin conditions — certainly not enough of a problem to start a treatment meant for life-threatening skin conditions. But my doctor gave me the prescription anyway. I never filled it. 

Acne shouldn’t be stigmatized to the point that people feel pressured to take multiple medications to try to “fix” it. It shouldn’t lead to the assumption that those who suffer from it are unclean or unhealthy. While some people maintain clear skin with a simple skincare routine, it isn’t so easy for all of us. Everyone’s skin is different; flushed faces and uneven complexions aren’t an indication of neglected skin, but this association is an indication that perhaps our ideas about what health is need to change. 

My skin is far from perfect and I’m learning to accept that. I don’t want to tell anyone that acne is only temporary, or that it will go away fast with a new cleanser. Your skin is unique, just like mine is. What I want to tell you is that you don’t need to strive for clear skin as a destination.