Whether it’s the newly coined ‘maskne’ that is the cause of your recent breakout, or a long history with hormonal spots originating from your teenage years, acne continues to be a prevalent discussion in our society.
The mental health side effects are also sobering. A 2019 study by E45 found 10 million people in the UK have suffered with mental health issues as a result.
However, the #acnepositivity movement is continuing to try to change the way we look at acne and has empowered those with the condition to no longer hide behind a mask of heavy makeup. I spoke with two influencers on their stories and why they’ve taken it upon themselves to say having acne is all okay.
Ella Gorton @_myskinstory, 26, skincare specialist, Salford
As someone who had the odd one or two spots as a teenager, a girls’ holiday at 21 was when Ella noticed her skin had got progressively worse. She put this down to using oil-based sun creams, but when she returned home, the acne didn’t disappear. “It was more my mum that pushed me to go and speak to a doctor because I was probably in a bit of denial,” says Ella. “I was like, ‘Oh, it’ll be fine, it’ll get better. I’m 21, it won’t get any worse’, but it did get progressively worse to a point where I took my mum’s advice and went to seek medical advice from the doctor.”
A two-year period of trial and error prescription and topical treatments lead to a course of Roaccutane (isotretinoin), the acne-fighting drug which has had some bad press due to its sometimes harsh side effects. “The first course I was on was for four-and-a-half months, then I ended up going privately through the private dermatologist because the NHS waiting list is weeks or even months.”
It was from here that Ella started posting about her acne and using Roaccutane on Instagram in October 2016, albeit she admits to initially doing so for personal gain than helping others. “This may sound really bad, but it was probably more selfishly that I started because I wanted to use it as a bit of a platform to keep me motivated when I went on Roaccutane,” says Ella. “But I started my Instagram more for selfish reasons, to keep me motivated knowing full well that, regardless of how I felt, regardless of how my skin went, if I posted a picture every day, I needed to post that picture every day and document that journey.”
Ella’s Salford roots are what she credits for her thick-skinned approach when she first started posting pictures of her acne. “I’ve never been the type of sensitive person that if someone would have said something bad about my skin it would have really affected me.
“If anything, once I posted, it empowered me a lot because you expect a lot of people to judge, that’s just kind of a natural instinct.”
Ella, a trained beautician and makeup artist, now runs My Skin Story Clinic, a treatment and consultation service which has now moved solely online due to the COVID-19 pandemic. She admits to having a lot more to learn about skin, but interest in the clinic has increased since lockdown measures were introduced with people having more time on their hands. Bridging the support gap from what the NHS provides for patients with acne has also been a significant factor for Ella. “It’s funny because it’s something that I’ve done for quite a long time,” says Ella. “We [influencers] can bridge that support gap between not being able to get to a dermatologist or doctor and being able to speak to somebody about it, and I think for us it’s good because we can really empathise with people. With my experience going to a doctor or a dermatologist, as amazing people as they are, they don’t really have that empathy side of things.”
Even through challenging times, Ella says she wouldn’t change a thing and is grateful for what acne has brought to her life. “If you would have asked me back in 2016 when I was at my lowest and didn’t want to even leave the house, it was a hindrance then and if I look back now, I am so grateful to have acne,” she says. “I know that sounds really, really crazy, but I am because it’s sent me on the path I’m on now, not just from a business perspective but from a lifestyle perspective.”
Kara Olivia Eden @karaoliviabeauty, 23, production coordinator, Manchester
Going through teenage life without acne, it was coming off the contraceptive pill due to feeling tired, and at the same time as some of her friends, that first triggered Kara’s condition. “We all felt great but, unfortunately, I was the only one where my skin broke out,” says Kara. “I didn’t really understand why because I didn’t have acne before and looking at other people who came off the pill and developed acne, they had acne before it. But I think for me, it was just a massive hormone imbalance that caused my acne.”
One particular moment that changed her way of thinking about acne was when Kara went to the shops without makeup on. “I saw so many people stare at me and it made me feel really uncomfortable,” she says. “But there was one person who had acne as well, who was looking at me and giving me a bit of a smile, and I was like, ‘Oh, hello!’. I thought about it, I was in my own head and was thinking the reason why it’s not normal and accepted is because we’re so conscious of it and we cover it up, so other people don’t really know that it’s there.”
It was around three-and-a-half years ago that Kara found the acne community on Instagram, and was influenced by the stories she saw to start posting about her own condition. However, it was a scary transition at first for someone who didn’t like to leave the house without makeup. “I archived it, even though I only had about five or six followers,” says Kara. “But the next day I woke up and thought I just need to put it out there. So my mindset kind of just shifted overnight. I went on loads of acne accounts and followed loads of other people because I literally went from the night before thinking, ‘I don’t want anyone to see this’ to ‘I want everyone to see this’.”
She was initially scared of receiving hurtful comments the people she followed at the time had, but recognises how far the acne community has come. “I would read the comments to try and find useful tips and there would be people commenting on there saying, ‘Oh, that’s ugly, that’s disgusting, go wash your face’, just really horrible comments,” says Kara. “I noticed that, from three and a half years ago and looking at it now, you don’t see any of those comments anymore. When I first followed the hashtag #acnecommunity, it had less than 1,000 followers on it. Now, it’s 64,400 likes on that hashtag. It just goes to show how many people have embraced it and are aware of it now.”
So what motivates Kara to continue posting about her acne? “Looking back at my prior self and thinking how alone I was, I don’t want anyone else to feel alone. You’re never alone with any condition you’ve got, there’s always someone that’s got something similar to you and that’s the same with acne,” she says, discussing a particular post before lockdown where she wore no makeup to the airport. “When you go to the airport and people are dressed up like they’re going on a night out sometimes, because they want to look nice going on holiday. But I made the conscious effort to not do that because what I hoped was someone would see me and think ‘if she can do it, I can do it’. That’s kind of the attitude I’ve got. If I can do it, you can definitely do it too.”