How Being Transparent Saved My Skin

For years, acne was something–no, not something–a disease,  I had fought with behind foundation bottles, pressed powders, and thick concealers.  It was a battle I didn’t want the world to know I was fighting.  It was a battle that I didn’t even want my foundation-stained pillows to see. I was in so much pain for so long that I had forgotten what I actually looked like–bare, bumpy, and blotchy.  It wasn’t until I became transparent with my struggle that real change started to ensue.

I remember this day perfectly, the day I decided it was time to post to my 3,000+ followers on Instagram what I actually look like.  Just moments before I took what I now credit as “the skin-saving selfie.”  I was crying, no–sobbing,  into my pillow, for probably the third day in a row, getting caught up yet again in the toxic thought that I was a liar for wearing makeup everyday.  That I was false advertising by hiding my sick skin under a layer of flesh colored paint.  I was so tired of hiding, of having set a standard for myself  so high that it wasn’t even real— I just couldn’t take it.   So I propped my acne lined jaw up against my finger tips and looked into the front camera with all the vulnerability I had  and for the first time ever I captured a real photo of me.

El corazón no tiene cara ❤️ real talk: I've avoided a "my biggest insecurity post" foreverrr. I've dealt with acne for most of my life. This is my face on a really really GOOD day to put it in perspective (yeah it's the same on the other side of my face too) Honestly, acne SUCKS, it makes you feel unattractive, it makes you feel like everyone is staring at you and either internally cringing or just pitying you, wondering how you got so unlucky. But yknow what, makeup has been such a blessing for me for so long. Of course I've had one too many existential crises where I've thought "I'm a liar for wearing makeup. I'm hiding. I'm false advertising. I've set an unrealistic standard for myself." Turning off those thoughts isn't easy but if I didn't try, I'd constantly drive myself to tears. You have to realize that there's nothing wrong with wanting to look your best. It doesn't make you fake. And the people who think that aren't the people you need to associate with. Makeup is my crutch. It gives me what I need to glow on the inside which is what actually matters. Because you can be the most naturally beautiful person in the world but if that "beauty"'doesn't run through you, then frankly it's a waste. I mean, physically we're all just reflections of light that can be shaped and altered as we please. But light can't reflect your spirit, what makes you a real person not just an image. You can't actually see the most important part of you. You have to feel it. And if there's anything at all, tangible or intangible, that can bring you closer to that feeling…then use it! #nomakeup #nomakeupmovement

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I thought I was going to feel a rush of anxiety once I hit “post.”  I thought I would take the selfie down within seconds.  But the reality was that I had never felt more free.  All of the sudden, I had nothing left to hide.  It was all out there.  People knew.   No one could call me a liar.

And I wasn’t just free; I was confident.  Like yeah, go ahead take me swimming on the first date.  See if I f***** care!  I was finally able to justify my makeup usage and convince myself that makeup was a positive thing in my life and it had no effect on the essence of who I am. Then suddenly, I had floods of instagrammers reaching out to me, coming clean with their own skin problems, and expressing how this was something they needed to see and read.  In other words, to know that they weren’t alone in their battle with adult acne.  The more messages like this I got, the more I started to love my skin and see it as almost a blessing, because as hideous as it made me feel, it was helping someone else cope.  My popping, throbbing, inflaming skin was bringing people together–it was doing someone somewhere some good.

When you can own yourself, there isn't anyone or anything else that can own you 💗sooo today I saw an infomercial for anti aging products and obvi it was targeted at a 40+ audience but it made an interesting point. One of the actors said "yknow when you're in your 20s you don't worry about your skin. Your skin is as beautiful as its going to be." I've also heard people say you are your most attractive self in your 20s. There are already so many societal pressures placed on women, so why the hell do we have to target an age group too? Skin standards are JUST as hurtful if not more hurtful than body standards. Sadly, for a lot of people skincare options lead to a lot of dead ends. I've personally tried tons and tons of remedies (prescription and natural) and recently I started birth control solely to help prevent breakouts. While it's still too soon to tell if it's going to work for me, right now I'm still faced with the reality that there's a good chance it's not going to work at all and it'll only leave me a little bit moodier and little more prone to crying over nothing. But hey I'll try anything once. Anyway, back to that infomercial. Im not gonna lie it kinda of destroyed me–that because im in my 20s i should have beautiful skin but since I don't…? What? I'm not good enough? Honestly, FUCK that. Fuck being "enough" for anyone or anything other than yourself. I'm going to keep being patient with my skin. Ill keep trying new remedies but also while accepting where I'm at right now. The more I hangout with my bare skin, the more I let it see the world with me, the more comfortable with it I'll become. As someone who used to sleep in makeup, me and my bare skin have become…well, strangers! Accepting myself and owning myself is the only beauty standard I ever want to live up to ✌🏼️#blogilatesbaremovement

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Before I started having some weird kind of fun with taking pictures of pimples, I used to only post pictures that were “my best.”  AKA perfect lighting, concealer, foundation, powder, flattering filter, you name it.  Those things created layers for me to hide behind and for a while I was content with that.  I mean, I was great at applying makeup, (especially having been a cosplayer for many years).  I knew the ins and outs of altering my appearance.  ***Side note: if you’re looking for some acne-safe makeup products, check out my article with dermatologist recommendations on Health.com.

Slightly pissed off face is best face

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But eventually I grew so tired of it.  Acne became this unbearably heavy secret that I just couldn’t hold on to by myself anymore.  I needed help; I needed to tell someone, anyone…a  stranger even, and I was never going to get that support through fancy acne products, antibiotics, countless dermatologist visits, topical gels, and face masks.  If products and medicine couldn’t help me, then acceptance and transparency could.  And here’s the best part: it did.

Once I stopped hating my skin, it stopped hating me.  It was just like the movie Penelope, when she’s told from a young age that she won’t be able to lift the curse of having a pig’s nose unless she marries someone who is “one of her own kind.”  So she spends her entire life as a prisoner in her own home, waiting for her mother to find someone who will accept her as she is, pig nosed and all.     But (spoiler alert) , it’s not until the very end when she runs away  from her wedding ceremony,  just before she takes her final vow, that she says, “I like myself the way I am” and her curse is finally lifted.

First of all: ok, she is goals AF.  Penelope will always be one of my favorite movies for that reason, because at times I’ve felt like Penelope–that because I had an abnormality I needed to hide it from the world. Acceptance was it’s only “cure.”

Just because I had accepted myself though, didn’t mean I had given up on myself.  I still tried remedy after remedy, but the magic was when I stopped getting upset when things didn’t work on me.  Acceptance was the start; it gave me patience and if not for my Penelope moment I honestly don’t think I would have ever fixed my skin.  My perspective shifted from “I’m ugly; I need to fix this” to ” my body is trying to tell me something isn’t right” and I was determined to put myself through anything to find out what was wrong, what was hurting my body.

So I went back to the same dermatologist who, a few months back,  had prescribed to me a few different topical gels and had strongly suggested I start Accutane.    This time, I told her I would consider Accutane but first I wanted to see what birth control alone would do to my skin, because if you’re a female and agree to taking Accutane, legally you have to be on birth control.  For so long I was terrified of taking birth control.  I was scared of the mood swings, the crying, the weight gain, and the potential for worse acne–it was a risk, but I knew that something huge needed to change…, so why not change my body chemistry?  I just went for it.  And not surprisingly, my first two months were hellish.  I’d find myself literally crying over spilt milk.  My pants were snug.  My boobs hurt .  My acne got just a teeny bit worse. Not to mention, I had breakthrough bleeding for an entire 30 days–all characteristically normal side effects of birth control by the way.  (Sorry if that was all a lot of TMI at once but hey if you’ve made it this far into the article–then you’re probably here for the duration!)

Around the same time I started birth control, I also committed to Cassey Ho’s 28 Day Reset, which meant I would be eliminating gluten, dairy, processed sugar, and alcohol from my diet to discover food allergies.  If you want the full scoop on what that journey was like check out my last post here!

Between the hormonal and dietary changes, slowly, my skin stopped producing new acne.  This was a process.  I didn’t wake up one morning with clear skin.  But I noticed each step of the way and for the first time I learned what it’s really like to feel grateful for something.  What I considered “progress” would probably still be considered repulsive to the average person with naturally good skin.  And I think that’s the foundation of how to be thankful for something.  It’s genuinely appreciating small victories.

Day 28 of the 28 Day Reset!! Just omg there's a lot to say here. I went in with the hopes of clearing my skin but I got SO much more than that. I feel happier, more confident, more energized (literally just taught a POP Pilates class and an Insanity class back to back and feel great not run down at all). But back to my skin! When I think about how I felt on the left compared to how I feel now on the right…I honestly never thought I could feel ok with my skin. I know It's not perfect still, of course, but for me it's a huge deal. For me, this is like having crystal clear skin. The me on the left would cry almost every single day about my skin. I would go on dates and worry that someday this guy might see my real skin and go running for the hills. I had nightmares about this ALL the time. I've even had dreams about being married and never having shown my husband my real skin and just living in terror of that. I know I've said this before but when you're in your 20s, about to finish college you feel more pressured to look your absolute best. And for so long I was terrified by the fact that "my best" was easily washed away with soap and water. That somehow that made me deceitful. Well, I was wrong. I'm not ashamed of my skin anymore. In fact I like it a lot 💗 I'm so grateful to have found @blogilates and to have committed to this challenge. It's changed me in more ways than I can ever write. I'm gonna write a blog post on everything I learned about myself and nutrition from the reset, so stay tuned for that! If anyone is thinking about starting the reset please reach out !! I'm here for you! It's 100% doable. And it's worth it. You're worth it 💗 #28dayreset #blogilates #poppilates #popster #blogifam

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I was seriously excited when I would go a week without a new pimple.  And then slowly one week would become two weeks, and then three, and so on.  Before and after the reset I decided that I wasn’t going to take a classic before and after mirror selife.  You know how it goes, stripping down to a sports bra and booty shorts, standing in front of a mirror in the worst lighting possible, and waiting till the end of the day when your stomach is its bloatiest (yes I made up that word) and snapping that oh-so unflattering pic where you’re hoping you look bad.  Then on the final day of the program, waking up bright and early, soaking up the good lighting, wearing shorts with a more flattering cut, maybe pushing your boobs up to reveal that center line, and snapping the “after” pic all before the first meal of the day.

Nope, I didn’t want to play that game with myself because yes, realistically, I did get leaner after the reset.  I mean it was a no brainer; I wasn’t drinking alcohol, I wasn’t eating bread, pasta, desserts, ketchup, syrup–all of my food “vices” were out.  As a fitness enthusiast this feels strange to say, but I didn’t care about leaning out.  What I cared about was finding the source of my skin problem. And of course people still accused me of dieting, of trying to lose weight.  I just had no patience for that.  Those were people who didn’t have the same struggle I had with my skin and frankly could never understand why I was doing what I was doing, why I was willing to any length to fix this. I had to keep moving forward and not take their accusations to heart, even if I was leaning out as a byproduct.

After the reset, it was hard for me to pinpoint exactly what was causing my breakouts, all I know is that the cleaner my diet was the clearer my skin was.  And yes amidst all of this I was taking the pill (which after 3 months I finally adjusted to and stopped crying every time a  pencil rolled off my desk).  In retrospect, I probably shouldn’t have tried these both at the same time seeing as it makes it very difficult to know what causes my acne.  But again, I was just so grateful that it was gone that I almost didn’t care.  Suddenly, I could slide my hand across my jaw and feel smooth skin. It’s kind of like when you get your braces off and you glide your tongue across your teeth for the first time.  Your teeth feel so slimy and strange because you’re so used to a mouth full of metal.  I can say the same for my skin. I constantly find myself touching it now (OK, yes I know that’s bad and I shouldn’t do that but shhhhhh) because to me I’m still not used to the softness of healthy skin.  I was so accustomed to the bumps, scabs, and pain that covered my sick skin. In a way, this new, smooth skin  feels alien to me.  What’s even more strange is every once in a while my jaw will throb just a little bit, the way it used to when I was breaking out cystically and in the same places where I’d have the largest clusters of acne.

It’s almost as if my body still thinks there’s still acne after all this time.

Just because I don’t have much new acne forming, does NOT mean my skin is perfect by any means.  Just like my derm said, since my skin is so light, naturally it’s going to scar more and leave hyperpigmentation in its tracks. So yes, adult acne has left its mark on me.  Will I wear these scars forever?  Realistically probably not, seeing as my skin has already begun healing quit nicely but I understand and am okay with the fact that this is going to take time, years even.

But that’s the reality of extreme skin transformations.  You don’t walk away glowing in the same way the girl who’s never had a bad breakout does.  And this is what those fancy acne products won’t tell you.  My acne didn’t disappear overnight and neither will my scars. It’s kind of like when you lose a lot of weight but always have stretch marks (which I have plenty of!). You’re gonna have proof that you went through something and there’s nothing wrong with that!  Frankly, it doesn’t bother me.  I’m just so grateful to have come this far.  I take pride in my skin because I fought for it and learned to love it. And the same goes for my body, I fought for that too.  These challenges were put into my life for a reason.

It’s crazy to think that four months ago, I thought laser removal was going to be my only option.  And of course I did the thing you should never do and watched videos of people getting their acne scars removed that way and omggg just NOO don’t do that!! Don’t!  Close your laptop right now and walk away before you hit play on something like that.  But for a while, I thought that was going to have to be me.  I’m so thankful to say that I didn’t have to undergo any surgical procedure.  I didn’t have to take Accutane.  I attacked my acne at the source, which was a combination of hormonal imbalance and diet.

The huge take away is that there is no “one size fits all method” with skincare and  I think that’s a huge problem with the acne products on the market today.  They give acne patients false hope that another bottle of Benzyoyl Peroxide is going to be the answer to their prayers.  One thing I really respected about my derm is the fact that she was brutally honest with me at all times.  I remember going into her office at my absolute worst, face full of tears, and her straight up telling me that yes, she can prescribe topical gels to me but they will NOT cure my acne at the source.  They’re not a long-term solution.  She was pushing accutane on me because it can technically be a cure; it is a long term solution.

before after skin

There’s more than half of a year in between my  before and after.  The photo on the left was taken October 2016 and the one on the left is June 2017.   Again, this was a long process and it’s still not even over.  But to anyone going through the same thing, the number one most important thing you can do for yourself  is to own yourself, and accept where you’re at right now.  No, you don’t have to put your acne on display the way I did (I’m a bit extreme).  But I honestly believe that if I had never learned to accept that this was me, I would have never developed the courage to try new treatments with the risk of more disappointment.  Because once you can own yourself, there isn’t anyone or anything that can own you.  There’s nothing left to fear and nowhere left to hide.

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