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Harlen’s Story: How living with acne made me a better person

December 20, 2014 by Works with Water
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Acne affects not only your skin, but also your life. It can feel like you are the only person who has to deal with this problem, but we can assure you that is not the case. Sometimes knowing that other people have felt the same as you can make it easier to bear.

Here, Harlen from London shares her acne story and what it taught her about the world and herself, in the hope that it helps you feel better about your skin.

Harlen’s Story

“When I admit that I once had acne, most people assume that I only dealt with one or two hormonal breakouts as a teenager. I wish.

What I actually mean is that my face looked like a pizza (we all remember those jokes!) for an extended period of time. I first started to get spots when I hit puberty. I don’t recall when it became full blown acne, but I can tell you that a good portion of my early teen years were spent hiding behind my hair and explaining that ‘Yes, I do in fact wash my face’.

I was fortunate that by the time I was 16 the acne began to clear up and my skin could be recognised as ‘just’ having a persistent and excessive spot problem (in my mind this differs to acne because the blemishes aren’t as painful and only appear in certain areas on my face, such as my chin and forehead).

Up until the age of 21 I continued to struggle with excessive blemishes. The area around my chin was often red and covered in large and itchy spots. I tried a number of antibiotics, face washes and even spent a considerable amount of money on Light Therapy (the Light Therapy worked while I could afford to do it) and had ‘help: clear skin’ been around I undoubtedly would have tried that too.

The worst decision I have ever made

I couldn’t understand why I had such awful skin. I was a vegetarian (still am), I led a fairly healthy lifestyle (still try to), I kept my skin clean, got plenty of fresh air and didn’t smother my face in heavy makeup. Eventually the frustration with my skin forced me to go on Dianette, a contraceptive pill that is very effective at treating acne.

“If I had known that the side effects included mood swings, anxiety and weight gain…well honestly, I think I would have gladly chosen the spots.”

This was without a doubt the worst decision I have ever made. If I had known that the side effects included mood swings, anxiety and weight gain…well honestly, I think I would have gladly chosen the spots. I happily came off this and it was then that things actually began to change.

It was in the Spring of 2011 when I was suffering from a particularly bad breakout that my mother suggested that I stop consuming dairy. She had seen the tip in a magazine and thought that it may help me, and by this point I was willing to try anything. It was also around this time that I started using natural powder mineral foundation and within weeks my skin started to clear up. I should point out that prior to this I only wore a small amount of foundation and I had never used natural or mineral beauty products, and yet this small change made a huge difference.

Do I now have 100% clear skin? Nope. I am prone to lovely hormonal spots on my chin, but compared to how things used to be I am quite happy with these.

What I have learned

So what has my journey with acne and bad skin taught me?

I honestly think it has made me a better person. Growing up with problematic skin meant that I was often mocked, rejected and judged. This was not easy, but it did make me realise a few important things about the world and myself.

  1. Anyone who judges and rejects you based on your appearance will never be worth your time in the first place.
  2. Anyone who relies on ‘appearance’ based jokes for their observational comedy are not particularly original; nor are they funny. Personally, I love original and funny people, so why would I spend time with those who are the antithesis of that?
  3. Never judge or dismiss others in the same way that you have been judged and dismissed.
  4. Your talent and character say more about you than the way you look. Your appearance makes up such a small part of who you are, it is not all that matters.
  5. Don’t let your insecurities hold you back, whether you are worried about your skin, appearance, talent or fear of failure, you can do anything that you put your mind to…nothing ventured, nothing gained.

Writing an article about my experiences with bad skin and acne is one of the most enlightening pieces I have ever worked on. For research and inspiration I decided to look though all of my old teenage photographs (aka the spotty years), and I found myself laughing and smiling at the memories, as opposed to caring about whether or not my complexion looked clear.

“Looking through old pictures now, I don’t see the spots. I just see myself and my life.”

Looking through old pictures now, I don’t see the spots. I just see myself and my life. My happy moments, my sad moments and the moments that changed me. When you look at your life as one whole picture, you will see that acne makes up just one tiny part of your existence.

Step away from the painting and stop looking at the minor details. You will be okay. With or without acne. You will be okay.”

Image credit: Ashley Campbell

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