Acne Positivity: Should We Really Be Bragging About Our Breakouts?

Acne Positivity: Should We Really Be Bragging About Our Breakouts?

Usually, I try to keep my controversial opinions out of what I write. Unless I think that my hot takes can genuinely add something helpful to the conversation around a topic, I tend to only share them with friends. After all, how many times has someone had a sudden epiphany thanks to a long-winded Facebook post, right?

Today, I’m making an exception to the “no serious hot takes” rule because I think that I do have something useful to add to a conversation that seems pretty one-sided.

That conversation is about acne positivity. I have been appalled by this movement since I first heard of it a couple of years ago, and it has only grown more irritating to me over time.

I hate acne positivity, and here’s why.

I have been appalled by acne positivity since I first heard of it a couple of years ago, and it has only grown more irritating to me over time.


The Basics of Acne Positivity

On the surface, the acne positivity movement seems fine. It’s touted as something that’s all about loving yourself and your skin rather than hiding behind a mask of makeup and shame. For the record, I’m on board with these concepts. It’s not easy to love yourself when you’ve been raised to only pay attention to your flaws, and it takes a lot of unlearning to focus on the positive aspects of your appearance.

Acne positivity started as an Instagram hashtag where a small group of “activists” began trying to build support for showing barefaced, unretouched photos of themselves with the hopes of lessening the stigma around acne. It picked up steam, and celebrities and models started jumping onto the movement. Naturally, this led to an explosion of media attention and an influx of “pimple positive” products.

acne positivity
Starface’s Hydro Stars pimple patches

Now some people are actively highlighting their pimples with things like stick-on jewels, eyeliner-drawn designs, and intentionally bare breakout patches amidst an otherwise full face of makeup. I’ve even seen some people using makeup to give the appearance of acne or rough texture to otherwise clear skin.

And this is where the trouble starts for me.

I haven’t had truly clear skin since I was 10 years old. I can vividly remember having red skin, chin zits, and a shiny forehead at a time when my peers were still clear-skinned, pretty, and growing the boobs that I wanted so badly. I wasn’t allowed to wear makeup until I was 15 or so, and I had extremely limited access to makeup until I was about 18. I also lived with parents who would shame me for picking at or trying to get rid of the noticeable zits I would get. All of this created a soup of misery and shame for a tween and teenage girl who just wanted to be liked and feel pretty.

I can vividly remember having red skin, chin zits, and a shiny forehead at a time when my peers were still clear-skinned and pretty.

I used to longingly watch Proactiv commercials and dream of the day that I could afford it for myself. I even had well-meaning moms from my church gift me with Mary Kay and Avon skincare “to help me out.” It was mortifying, especially since nothing I did improved my skin. As I got older, even caking on concealer, foundation, and powder only somewhat masked the problem, and I hated looking at myself.

With that kind of background, you’d think I would be an avid supporter of something like acne positivity. However, I think it’s because of my background that I’m just not.


Hot Take Time: I Hate Acne Positivity

See, I do think it’s important to destigmatize acne. So many things can cause it, and very few of them are within our control. I’m all for helping people understand that most acne doesn’t come from being “gross” or “dirty” or not taking care of yourself. That’s harmful misinformation, and I think that doctors, parents, and derms have dropped the ball on teaching this to adults and kids. (This might be changing now, but it was certainly true in the past.)


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What I hate is the way this movement is all but glorifying having acne. We’re accessorizing it with cutesy stickers and plastic gems. We’re intentionally highlighting it with makeup. We’re saying things like “pimples are in” and “acne is cool.” Excuse me, but what the hell.

Right now, my skin is probably the healthiest it has ever been. I still get breakouts and have texture issues, but I can feel comfortable leaving the house with bare skin. Sometimes my acne is visible, and though I do make an effort to minimize the redness of particularly bad spots, overall I just let it be. I guess you could call me acne-neutral.

When I see someone, male or female, with visible acne, I don’t think “ew that’s gross.” I also don’t think, “wow they’re so brave for showing their acne.” I think, “I wish I could help that person learn ways to take care of their skin so that it’s healthier.”

Because to me, that’s the real danger of acne positivity. If we aren’t careful, this type of movement can be taken to an extreme where people are shamed or criticized for wanting to have clear skin or feeling concerned because they have acne.

That’s the real danger of acne positivity. It can be taken to an extreme where people are shamed for wanting to have clear skin.


Acne Positivity Is a Slippery Slope

Acne isn’t something that we should just embrace and live with. If you don’t have an inclination to treat your breakouts, then that’s your prerogative. But for most of us, consistent acne struggles are usually indicative of other problems.

Sometimes the issue is as simple as changing up your skincare routine. If I had known then half of what I know about skincare now, my skin would have been so much healthier. Other times, there are hormonal issues that can be addressed with medication. In some cases, there are even more serious skin conditions like malassezia or rosacea that can cause acne, and there are internal medical conditions that can trigger severe acne as well. Those issues can cause other cascading health problems, so it’s not just an exercise in vanity to seek medical advice.

The biggest reason that I can’t stand acne positivity is the fact that it’s teaching kids that acne isn’t something to worry about. I don’t think we should obsess over it, but I don’t think we should just look at it as a normal part of life that doesn’t need special treatment.


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Let’s Meet in the Middle

I’ve tried to rein in my feelings on acne positivity enough to present a reasonable argument for not supporting this ridiculous movement.

Do I think acne needs less stigma? Yes, absolutely.

Do I think that educating teens about skincare should be a part of their health education? Definitely! If parents don’t know or care to teach their kids about the subject, then I think that doctors and health teachers should do what they can to help.

But do I think that drawing attention to your acne via social media, stick-on gems, and acne-highlighting makeup tutorials is going to accomplish anything positive? Absolutely not. If anything, it’s creating a harmful culture where it’s cool to have acne.

So, despite my lifelong struggles with zits, I will never be a pro-acne kinda girl.


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