Feeling self-conscious about acne is not a matter of vanity – it's a matter of feeling comfortable in your own skin. This can be especially difficult when media and society constantly tell us that perfect skin is not just attainable, but expected. Acne, and anxiety about acne, can take a serious toll on a person's self esteem and emotional wellbeing. We know that firsthand.
We spoke to Azra Alic, LCSW, a psychotherapist who specializes in Social Anxiety Disorder and Body Focused Repetitive Behaviors (such as skin picking). She walked us through some of the steps that she takes with clients who are battling acne-induced social anxiety.
Have you ever been at a social gathering and felt like you couldn’t actually BE yourself because your acne was affecting your confidence? In this post, Azra gives us some tools to help us overcome those moments.
Q: how have you seen acne affect one’s emotional wellbeing?
A: Acne can really impact people’s self-esteem, and can even lead to depression. I’ve worked with people who feel so self-conscious that they don’t want to be around other people. They might avoid spending time with friends or dating.
They might also avoid certain outdoor activities so they don’t have to wear clothing that reveals body acne, or avoid exercise or other activities where they might sweat their makeup off. Basically, acne can keep people from fully enjoying their lives.
Q: why do we feel like people are staring at our acne? do other people notice our acne as much as we do?
A: No, they don't! People think way more about themselves than they do about other people. Sometimes, I'll have a client do a behavioral experiment to help them test out their theories. I’ll have them walk around a public area without wearing makeup and try to see how many people “stare” at them.
Sometimes I’ll even record them and we’ll watch the video together to see if anyone gave them a weird look. People are usually surprised to find that their worst fears didn’t come true. I’d recommend this experiment for anyone out there who deals with social anxiety and acne.
Q: what are some common tactics people use to try and hide their acne from their peers and social circles?
A: I’ve worked with people who spend an excessive amount of time getting ready and camouflaging their acne before going out in public. They won’t go out in public without extreme preparation. They can never be spontaneous. They spend an exorbitant amount of money on makeup and skincare products. Depending on the location of their acne, they might take great care to style their hair to conceal acne or acne scars. They might even avoid certain clothing or activities because they don’t want to expose their acne or acne scars.
Q: how do you help your clients overcome anxiety around acne in social settings?
A: I help people focus on the social experience, rather than focusing on their appearance. For example, I’ll encourage them to try really hard to focus on the conversation they’re having. Be present!
By practicing mindfulness in this way, people start to learn to be fully in the moment instead of focusing on negative thoughts about their skin.
Q: it's rare to see any mention of acne-caused anxiety in today's popular media. why do you think that is?
A: Hmm that is a good question. I would guess that it’s because most of the advertising and product development in our culture is still focused on prevention and elimination of skin imperfections, rather than acceptance.
Also, I think that there is still an overarching belief in popular media that if you look good, you’ll feel good, and that gets reinforced over and over again in so many ways, whether it’s related to weight, skin, hair type, etc. But trying to find confidence solely through “looking good” is a never-ending battle.
It's much more common now to see “plus-size" models, but I think we have yet to see an editorial spread in which a model has a pimple (not to mention a pore!).
Q: how do we get ourselves to see more than our skin flaws when we look in the mirror?
A: It can be helpful to step away from the mirror a bit and take in the whole body, rather than getting up close and focusing only on what we are most self-conscious about.
Also, it can be helpful to focus on what is going to happen that day and why it’s important, rather than focusing on how you're feeling about yourself or how you look. For example, the thought “I’m going out with my friends tonight because these friendships are important to me” can start to negate the negative thought of “I have a big pimple and everyone is going to see”.
Q: do you have a good mantra to pass along to help those struggling with anxiety about acne?
A: I don’t have a go-to mantra because I usually have clients come up with their own, but often it’s along the lines of, “my skin problem is probably not as noticeable as I think it is, and even if people notice, what is so bad about that? Can I handle whatever happens?”
Deep down, most people are afraid of being rejected for their perceived flaws but usually, that fear is unfounded.
Q: do you think that by sharing personal struggles about these topics with our peers online or via social media, we can begin to foster a more skin-accepting community and even society?
A: Yes! Talking about insecurities and being vulnerable with others plays a big role in reducing feelings of shame and isolation. So often, people think that they are the only ones who are struggling with negative self-image when statistics tell us otherwise.
I do think it’s important to caution people about the “misery loves company” mentality and make sure that people are not just complaining to one another, but rather that the messages being exchanged are empowering.
Thank you, Azra!
so what are our steps to feeling better about our “imperfections”?
1) Look people in the eye when you’re having a conversation with them.
2) Be present.
3) Remember that you are always your own worst critic.
4) And, finally, remind yourself that your breakouts do not impact your self worth.
we hope you found this helpful - if you have any questions, email firstname.lastname@example.org!