I never noticed how carefree and confident I was until I wasn’t. Until my face broke out with painful cystic acne and I suddenly felt the weight of everyone’s glances. Gone were the days I threw on a sundress and bounced out the door. Or felt sexy, pretty, even attractive around my then boyfriend. Instead, I was filled with anger and distrust in my body. Needless to say, I spent a lot of time in my childhood room the year after college graduation when my skin was at its worst. I’d draw, conduct solo-dance parties, and have long conversations with my cat instead of moving to NYC and interviewing for dream jobs like my peers. Maybe you can relate?
When my skin first started breaking out, I wish one of my dermatologists would have clued me into the connection between acne and mental health. How acne is recognized by The American Academy of Dermatology for leading to depression and a decreased quality of life. At least then I’d know I wasn’t just being dramatic or shallow. But there’s something a little special about getting to that raw, vulnerable part of the soul. It gave me the room to explore alternative medicine, like Reiki and yoga, for tools to rebuild a stronger sense of self. These practices helped me unpack the negative emotions around acne and put them to rest. They helped me nurture parts of myself I loved—creativity, spunk, determination despite my appearance. So, dear friend, I feel you. You are NOT alone. With all my love, here are my favorite tricks for boosting confidence despite having irregular skin.
Journal in communication with your skin
It’s really easy to be very NOT thankful that acne is happening. I felt disjointed from my body and often wondered, why the hell are you doing this to me? “Skin is a reflection of internal health, so sometimes the communication it's having with you is vital towards discovering a greater issue,” explains Licensed Esthetician Hayley Wood of Therapeutic Skin Coach. Whenever I felt deeply unhappy with my appearance I’d open my journal and write it a letter. I asked things like: How could you be clear one year and not the next? Is it something I did? Can you help me understand?
After asking, though, came the hard part. Listening. “Once you start to see that communication, it's easier to appreciate the journey your skin is on for you because it's working really hard,” says Wood. Through these journal sessions with my body, I developed empathy and started to realize the blessings in the breakouts. Journaling became more team-oriented. Like we (my body and I) were working to right this wrong together. Because weren’t we? After a while, I’d write things like: Okay, we do NOT like dairy this month! And, warm lemon water feels great in the morning.
Anger and stress are common states of being when our skin is running out of control. Any glance in a mirror or reflective window can cause a belly drop. That means our mind could be working against us instead of with us. “The clients I have who engage in negative self-talk or choose to care for their skin out of fear instead of from the intention of self-love, are the ones who have the hardest (and longest) time in recovery,” Wood says of her practice.
That’s why I held a few healing mantras in my metaphorical back pocket. “Once you decide that you are deserving of the skin you've always dreamt of, you will choose actionable steps that are based in self-care,” explains Wood. At the time, I was working at a florist, so as I’d create with my hands I would flood any idle mind-time with healing self-love mantras to lower my stress and signal safety to my body. Even out in public when I didn't feel so hot, I’d crowd out my insecurities with a loud mind-mantra.
Takeaway: Positive self-talk may help heal your skin faster. Here’s a favorite I still keep in rotation from a book called Heal Your Body by Louise L. Hay. "I am a Divine expression of life. I love and accept myself where I am right now."
Build a cozy community
My acne was at its worst right after college, you know, all the beer, pizza and late night Friends binging with girlfriends. But back home, I was no longer a quick walk away from my close friends who knew and loved me. I felt alone. “It's important to build a community to help support you. You don't have to know how to heal everything on your own so go and connect with a skin therapist, acupuncturist, yoga teacher, naturopath, or even a therapist who will keep you accountable on your health journey,” says Wood. It was around this time I decided to pursue my yoga teacher training course. Four strangers, one teacher, 200 hours.
Off I went every Saturday and Sunday morning to a local yoga studio with my mat and lunch box. At the beginning of class, we would circle up and talk about our week. I wasn’t so alone anymore. As I started opening up about my skin, they started openly supporting my journey. Logically, I just wanted to learn more about yoga. And the last thing on my to-do was put myself out there socially. But looking back I knew I would be safe in this group of people. That they were there to do internal work too and support like-minded friends along the way.
Takeaway: Consider joining a mindful group or yoga studio that meets once a week.
Lean into solo hobbies
I did a lot more writing, walking, running, and art during flare-ups. True, these were mostly solo activities, but then again I was repairing a relationship with myself. Plus, I had my yoga group for a safe social outlet. For me, this alone-time turned into a daily art project. After journaling, I’d look in the mirror and draw a self-portrait but instead of pimples, I’d design flowers, balloons, Christmas ornaments, even planets in their place. “The skin is in constant evolution but when you are the one going through it, it can be hard to not nitpick every single thing,” Wood says. For me, this art project was a way to express love to my acne instead of criticism. I even created an Instagram page where I’d post my drawings, sell some t-shirts, and connect with other artists.
My other favorite solo activity: hosting dance parties. Population one (two if you count my cat who’d silently exit my room in the first five minutes). Feeling so closed off all day at work or in public, sometimes I just needed to jam. And is there anything more freeing than turning on your favorite guilty pleasure (cough, cough Miley Cyrus See You Again) and letting loose? I found these evenings filled me with so much joy and happiness. I felt carefree, sexy, and even got in a little workout. TBD if my parents had an opinion about the house shaking at 8 pm every night.
Takeaway: Lean into the alone-ness. Dig into solo hobbies. Be with yourself and have some damn fun! You may just discover a new business venture or skill.