“If hating my skin could clear acne, I’d have glowing skin by now so please love yourself through it if you can.” I found myself reiterating this message over and over again to my little cousins with acne in hopes that their path to self-compassion towards their skin would be shorter than mine. But when my own acne took a turn for the worse in grad school, I found myself struggling to live out my own advice.
After writing a paper about the power of self-compassion for women with eating disorders, I realized that I could use self-compassion as an antidote for the shame that I felt for having acne. The three components of self-compassion as defined by Kristin Neff (2003) include: 1.) self-kindness (understanding towards oneself when experience suffering like acne) 2.) mindfulness (nonjudgmental awareness of emotions like frustration that you might experience with acne) and 3.) common humanity (viewing your own life as part of a larger whole and recognizing that many people suffer from acne). I started to find things that I loved about my physical appearance and made sure to take extra care of myself through doctor’s appointments, diet, lifestyle changes, and skin care routines (self-kindness). I had patience with myself as I navigated painful emotions like feeling vulnerable when people saw me without makeup (mindfulness). I also joined an acne support group where I found many others who could relate to my situation and we were able to mutually help one another (common humanity).
The self-compassion didn’t make my acne go away faster, but it made the experience much less painful and less isolating than it had ever been before. Finally after 16 years of on-again off-again acne, I learned the value of self-compassion. After all, my skin was doing exactly what skin should do in the presence of inflammation, too much bacteria, clogged pores, and too much oil (see Acne Basics) — acne was a logical biological response that needed my kindness and care more than my disgust. I even had some fun trying different face masks! (Check out other blog posts or follow us on social media for great face mask ideas)
In her book Self-Compassion: the proven power of being kind to yourself (2011), Dr. Kristin Neff (a self-compassion researcher) shared a study about the importance of self-compassion in acne patients. Acne participants were instructed to write compassionate phrases on cue cards to read to themselves throughout the course of a few weeks and to write themselves a compassionate letter. The intervention significantly lessened people’s feelings of depression and shame due to acne and the degree to which their acne bothered them physically (e.g., reduced sensations of burning and stinging).
If you experience shame or self-judgment due to acne, I recommend joining a support group like The Clear Skin Project’s Speak Skin forum, checking out Kristin Neff’s self-compassion resources on her website, or making a date with a dermatologist to discuss your concerns. Eventually, my acne lessened again and I walked away from the experience with a better more compassionate relationship to myself. I hope you find peace with your acne and that you feel worthy of love for the beautiful human being that you are!