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Skin Deep: Living With Bad Skin

by Naomi Chadderton

One of my most prominent memories of being a 15-year-old girl is crying in the bathroom while my mum tried to help me cover up a momentous spot that had so kindly appeared on my forehead the day before a friend’s party. Probably trying to impress a boy (who ironically I imagine would have been equally as spotty), the arrival of said spot sparked my life’s second biggest meltdown – the first spot goes to when Gareth Gates lost to Will Young on Pop Idol in 2002.

I had started the pill when I was about 14 as a means to keep my skin under control with varying degrees of success. After much deliberation I came off it when I was 27 - much longer than your doctor would ever recommend – at which point I didn’t have a period for 18 months. Healthy, I know. Low and behold as soon as I did my spots were back with a vengeance and back on the pill I went.

Despite everyone telling me that I’ll grow out of it, at age 35 I still suffer from bad skin, and whilst being described as a ‘spotty teenager’ at age 15 might seem like the end of the world, in your ‘20s and ‘30s the feeling of embarrassment that it can bring is even more devastating. And it seems I’m not alone. A study commissioned in 2019 by E45 – the most recent of its kind that I can find – discovered that a massive 81% of us have experienced a skin problem, with a just over a quarter (26%) saying it makes them feel depressed. Just to put things in perspective, that equates to around 10 million people, the population of Azerbaijan or the number of followers that Maisie Williams has on Instagram.

The thing with having adult acne is just the unfairness of it all. I eat the same foods as my friends and I live the same life, so why am I cursed with this skin whilst they get away flaw free? Then there’s all the unsolicited advice you are bound to receive. Yes I’ve seen multiple dermatologists. Yes I have tried giving up dairy. No, I don’t eat spicy foods. Fair enough I haven’t tried acupuncture yet, but the financial investment I’ve made in my skin to date is enough to bankrupt a small country. Then there’s my poor mum who, whenever she still tries to help and send me articles of products or treatments I could try, in the end just receives backlash. “I’m destined to have bad skin until I die so why are you even bothering?” would be my go-to response.

When you’ve got bad skin, you tend to worry about things that just don’t cross other people’s minds. When I was a teenager, that might have been the fear of going to a sleepover with friends because what if I didn’t wake up early enough to reapply my Maybelline cover-up and everyone sees them? As an adult it might be going to a job interview and trying to cover your face, talk and look professional at the same time. Spoiler alert: it’s not possible.

To add fuel to the fire, I also developed rosacea around 10 years ago. Not a better game than acne, not a worse game, just a different one. A chronic skin condition which impacts around 5% of the world’s population (yet more common in women than men, as if we didn’t have enough to worry about), experts say it’s essentially pre-determined by genetics (although as far as I know, no-one in my family has suffered from it before), yet it has certain triggers that affect most sufferers. That includes the aforementioned spicy foods, red wine, stress, caffeine, cheese and strenuous aerobic exercises like sweaty HIIT classes. Then there’s the sun which, while often thought of as a magic cure for banishing spots, is a nightmare for rosacea, with just a few minutes of sunshine leading to uncontrollable flushing and redness. That’s why, for me, holidays are the perfect storm – sunshine, sangria and all the cheese does not a happy skin make.

Reading back on this article, I’ve done a lot of complaining. And to anyone who doesn’t suffer – and I mean suffer – with bad skin, it probably seems overdramatic. The good thing about age though is that with it comes wisdom, and there’s also the knowledge that you’re not alone. Even Kate Winslet famously once said that since she turned 30, she’s had an acne problem on her chin. “I’m like everybody else – I just know how to cover it,” she added. And as I’ve grown up, I’ve slowly started to change the way I feel about my blemishes. Take last week when I had a hormonal outbreak on my cheeks and forehead right before my engagement party. Yes I felt frustrated, but my response wasn’t to cancel.

Maybe my mum is right and I will grow out of it one day, or maybe I’m doomed to live with the issue my entire life. I know I may never learn to love my spots, but I’m most certainly learning to live

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