Skin Positivity: A(very) honest discussion about acne

Theresa Vanslambrouck and Vlad Predescu share their acne journey with Isatou Ndure.

Acne can be a cruel curse for people of all ages, myself included, who have dealt with bullying —on and offline. It is a  confusing and complicated beast shaped by a range of influences such as genetics, food, a dirty phone or pillowcase, hormonal imbalances and many other totally random things that will affect how and when it erupts on your face.

But the most challenging aspect of coping with acne is not physical, but mental. There is a daily torment that comes with a condition that is related to significant mental health disorders such as depression and anxiety.

Steroid shots and spot creams can help remove blemishes in a couple of hours, but confidence isn’t that easy to heal. In our conversation below four youngsters speak on the effects acne has had on their lives – from remedies they have considered to be beneficial to tackling recurrent insecurities. 

Theresa VanSlambrouck from Berkley, Michigan- Esthetician, makeup artist and content creator

“I got the occasional pimple around puberty which was expected, but it started getting noticeably bad and cystic around 15. Having cystic acne has definitely affected my mental health especially since I had to go through high school with it.”

High school is a time where everyone is focused on the way they look which made Theresa feel “different” as not many others had acne as bad as she did.

“My mum luckily worked at a dermatologist office during the time my acne started to get really bad, so I was blessed enough to get free office visits. All the treatments my doctor gave me were all temporary.”

“No matter how many oral medications and prescription topicals I tried, my acne ALWAYS came back and it came back with a vengeance.”

This was the main reason why Theresa decided to become an Esthetician as she wanted to understand her skin more and help others who are struggling with acne. 

“That’s really the reason why I started dabbling in makeup. I used the makeup to hide the painful blemishes I was dealing with.”

Now, Theresa’s skin has improved massively but still affects her in different ways.

“There’s good days and bad days, from doing my own research, my skin is doing better than ever now, but I try to remember that I’m not alone in this journey and I’m more than my skin.”

Social media can have a negative impact on acne sufferers with users typing mean and hurtful comments. 

“I get a ton of unsolicited advice on what I should try on my skin to “cure” my acne, I also have been called ugly, gross and have been shamed for wanting to normalize real skin. I’d be lying if I said they never get to me because sometimes they do. There will always be haters and it’s just something you have to try and ignore but the love and support I’ve gotten has totally made it worth it.”

Twenty-two-year-old, Vlad Predescu from Romania, started noticing acne on his face around high school but didn’t get diagnosed with cystic ane until 2017 when he began college. 

“I forced myself to go to meetings, university, or a job. I just wanted for the moment to get back home and be alone. I believe, at some point I just got used to it, accepting that I’ll look like this for the rest of my life.”

Accutane is a popular way of treating Cystic Acne and Vlad tried it for 2 months but had to stop because of some of the troubling side effects. 

“ I saw it work quite well for me and I plan to get back on it, but in a lower dosage to avoid the side effects, my first dosage was 30 mg/day.”

At the moment, Vlad’s acne has not completely gone but he has been using products that have made some amazing changes,

“I think the ones who helped me the most are Effaclar Duo from La Roche Posay, CeraVe PM Cream, different SPFs. The one that I use the most is Anthelios Shaka from LRP.

“I don’t know if I can sound unbiased because I am a Brand Ambassador for this company, but the Pumpkin Enzyme Mask from Banish Acne Scars and their Vitamin C Spray Elixir.  I believe all these products helped me A LOT.”

When you have acne, before seeking medical help many will try at home remedies to treat their skin. Whilst this is not recommended by dermatologist it is something many have tried. 

“I didn’t have a skincare routine or consult a dermatologist. Which I believe, it’s one of my biggest mistakes. STAY AWAY from applying olive oil/coconut oil on your face and baking soda. Yes, I did those mistakes and I regret it.”

It has become a regular thing for social media users to use photoshop, Facetune and makeup to cover any acne or blemishes they don’t want others to see. Like others, Vlad does post bare skin photos but tends to do it from an angle and distance where you cant tell he has serious acne or acne scars. 

“But I completely understand those who do it, I’ve received messages from people saying that they feel bad for not having the same confidence as I do, and my opinion is don’t sabotage yourself like this. You are doing your best, maybe you’ll get to a point where you won’t care anymore and you’ll post your skin the way it is. Until then, do what you feel it helps you mentally.”

“In my case, since I am a man, I don’t feel the same pressure as women do. So I can’t speak about this that much but yes, I do feel bad sometimes that I have scars & acne and other men don’t.”

Just like Theresa VanSlambrouck, social media has been both a good and bad thing in Vlad’s life.

“Before opening my page, I felt bad because I kept seeing other people enjoying life and sharing good moments of their life and I am there, waiting for my face to be clear. The good phase started when I opened my page, because I met kind and friendly people who relate to what I speak about, also I love when I receive messages from people saying that through my posts, they feel better.”

“Surprisingly I did not receive as much trolling as I expected. Mostly, it was just people telling me my skin isn’t that bad or that I fake my scars for attention. Which I find very weird.”

Through their journey with acne, Theresa and Vlad have learned so much about themselves and the world around them. People can sometimes be cruel when taunting those who don’t measure up to their own standards of physical normality. Many need to accept that Acne is not something that will magically disappear and sometimes you will be left with scars but this not make you any less human. 

Kintsugi, a Japanese art and practice that translates to “gold scars,” teaches us that broken things can not be hidden, but should rather be shown with pride. Repairing cracked ceramics breathes new life into pottery, allowing it to become much more polished and original as a result of its “scars.”

Kintsugi implies that we must seek to mend artefacts, by extension of ourselves, as doing so will result in the discovery of much more precious things. That was my decision. To pass from the darkness and into the light,  whilst being whole and stronger with the broken pieces.

Theresa and Vlad are still on their Acne journey’s and leave sharing some pieces of advice,

Theresa says,

“Do not wait to have clear skin to start living! The last thing you should want to do is miss out on opportunities just because of a few red spots on your skin. With all the knowledge I have now, I know that there’s so many factors that can cause acne and it’s not my fault that I have it. You’re capable, worthy, and beautiful, no matter what.” 

Vlad says, “My advice is to prioritize controlling your acne because it will lower the chances of having acne scars. Stop stressing that much, find a hobby and do activities that help you detach from your issues and it will make the journey sweeter and your life easier.”

You can follow both their journey’s on instagram:

Theresa: @tv.skinjournal Vlad: @scarryacne_with_v