Acids, scrubs, peels — when it comes to acne, there’s nothing many of us won’t do to get rid of a new breakout, whether that’s a cluster of red, inflamed bumps or painful, under-the-skin zit. And that’s totally understandable, as we’ve been influenced by years of clear-skinned people crediting drying benzoyl peroxide- and salicylic acid-spiked skincare products, not to mention commercials featuring celebrities talking about how their so-called “bad” skin impacted their self-esteem. (Repeat after us: We do not tie morality to our skin!) And while everyone is entitled to their own feelings, we think there’s a better way than beating yourself — or, more specifically, your skin — up over acne.
Acne neutrality (the next phase of acne positivity) takes a neutral approach to acne. Rather than embracing or even celebrating it, as with skin positivity — which can be an incredibly hard sell for people who’ve brought concealer on a date, canceled plans over a zit, or endured teasing as a teen — it’s a level, straightforward acknowledgment of the state of your skin, acne and all. The mindset is similar to body neutrality, which espouses neither hating nor loving your body, but simply living with it.
It’s a more reasonable approach to acne — and a far kinder one than blasting it with all sorts of harsh actives (which, we should add, can always backfire by causing serious skin barrier damage). Acne is a complicated condition; if a foolproof cure existed, no one would have it. Acne neutrality is essentially saying: It doesn’t need to be fixed, unless that’s something you want. And if so, you can take good care of your skin without hurting or resenting it.
To give a voice to the movement, we asked three acne-neutrality pioneers to share their own experiences accepting acne neutrality — and their best advice.
Editor’s note: Responses have been lightly edited for clarity.
“I know that acne is normal and nothing to be ashamed of”
“At first, I was extremely insecure 24/7 because of my acne; it made me really self-conscious and uncomfortable when being in front of people. However, with time, that changed. I started to know more people with acne that struggled with the same insecurities and that gave me a sense of community, which helped me build my confidence from the ground up. Nowadays I know that acne is normal and nothing to be ashamed of – thanks to that, I not only accept but embrace my skin the way it is.
Finding the acne positivity community on social media was definitely a breakthrough. It made me realize that I’m not alone and that everything eventually will get better. I’m very diligent with my skincare routine yet I still struggle with occasional breakouts every now and then, but I just have to remind myself that it’s okay and that even if I follow my skincare routine perfectly, my skin is not perfect. No one’s skin is. My advice? Be patient and don’t give up. You will find what works for you eventually, in the meantime just live and enjoy life in the skin you’re in.” —Anthony Vargas, @ihaveacneandwhat
“I don’t associate my self-worth with the state of my skin”
“Over the 10 or more years I’ve had acne, my relationship with my skin and myself has evolved drastically. As an insecure teen, I hated my skin and felt resentful towards my acne. I would do anything to cover it, edit it, and treat it until my face had burns on it. No matter how ‘clear’ my skin was, it wasn’t good enough and I was never happy with the way I looked. But now, as a woman entering my mid-20s, my relationship with my skin couldn’t be more opposite. I spent the majority of my late teen years and early 20s dedicated to improving my relationship with myself and my mental health. I am now in a place where I don’t associate my self-worth with the state of my skin. I believe I am beautiful, worthy, capable, creative, intelligent and so many other things, and my skin is such an insignificant part of these things!
Seeing people with skin like mine on social media, specifically in the Instagram acne community, live their lives, not let their skin get in the way of their goals, normalize their experiences, and actively choose not to cover their acne [gave me a more accepting attitude]. I owe so much to the acne positivity and neutrality movements; they are what inspired me to learn how to be myself and provide that representation for others.
I still struggle with [treating my acne] sometimes, because actively treating acne for a lot of people is connected with those feelings of self-hatred. I’ve found that it’s important to view acne treatments as an act of kindness and care towards your skin. A way to support its function in order to be the strongest it can be — not perfect it. Viewing it as a functional self-care step rather than a way to ‘fix it’ or change it has helped me a lot.
If you really struggle with insecurity and negativity towards your skin… learn to change this ASAP. If I can do it, you can too — trust me! Follow people online who promote a positive/neutral attitude towards their skin, try saying affirmations to yourself out loud in the mirror, take photos of yourself when you feel happy, try wearing a little less concealer or foundation tomorrow — literally anything! Regardless of what you may be doing to treat your breakouts currently, your skin won’t magically clear overnight. Stop putting off being happy and confident until your skin is ‘better’. You deserve to be happy now, so don’t let acne steal years of life experiences away from you!” —Alex Peters, @alexppeters
“My acne scars remind me of how strong I am”
“My relationship with acne, at first, was confusing. I was the first person in my 5th grade class to break out; it was so embarrassing. I had a boy come up to me and ask what was on my face and to be honest, I had no clue. Eventually, I was able to get past the shame, and now I understand that our skin is a mirror into our soul and tells us what’s going on internally. It’s a condition and everyone deals with it — it’s normal! The turning point was discovering the then-niche acne community online back in 2017; I’m forever grateful for those who came before me and paved the way. Although I take a neutral stance with acne, it is something that’s always in the back of my mind; in a way it has physically and mentally scarred me, but I’ve accepted it. I make sure to use a vitamin C serum to help my skin appear brighter and even out my skin tone, and love giving my skin extra TLC with masks! For anyone struggling with breakouts, I know it may seem like everyone is looking at your breakouts, but they’re not! Acne is a condition and although it comes with its baggage, my skin journey made me so much stronger and in-touch with my body that my acne scars remind me of how strong I am and that I am able to accomplish anything.” —Christina, @barefacedfemme
“You can be a work in process and simultaneously a masterpiece”
“From a very young age, I hated my skin because it was riddled with acne, hyperpigmentation, and scars. My skin was so inflamed that not only did it hurt emotionally but also physically — swelling to the point I looked like I had an allergic reaction. I allowed my negative perception of myself to get in the way of experiencing the joys the world had to offer. I let it dictate my day to day life, where I would cancel events and shut out my friends and family. I was too scared to even walk outside my room without makeup on.
After realizing all the lost opportunities and feeling so isolated, I began to educate myself on why I had acne. I took it upon myself to rediscover myself and while healing my skin, I was able to find confidence again. The people who judged my skin didn’t deserve to be in my life and it really helped me filter out superficial connections. Acne also then simply became a visible sign that my body needed more attention. It was just trying to signal to me that I needed to slow down and take better care of my physical and mental well-being. It wasn’t an enemy. It actually became my strength because acne taught me to be kind, to see myself beyond my outward appearance, and to appreciate all the little things that are wonderful in my life. It taught me resilience and so, so much more.
I write in my journal and when I spill my thoughts onto the paper, it helps me understand that some of my damaging beliefs about myself aren’t true at all. It’s society that made me feel inadequate, the Photoshopped images of unattainable beauty standards, and the tendency to compare myself to others. I write this down and when I read back, it helps me reflect on the reality of my situation. It reminds me that sometimes what we see in the media are lies. Pores exist and not every single model has porcelain skin. After such reflection, I say loud affirmations because honestly our brains don’t hear it enough. Saying it out loud really does boost our self esteem. I had to really push myself to practice self love in so many different ways that fueled my soul.
After biting the bullet of creating a public instagram account of my bare face, I realized that was the first step in overcoming my fears. The more I talked about it, the more normalized it became, helping me reach a point where acne doesn’t bother me as much anymore. You can be a work in process and simultaneously a masterpiece. The balance lies in your ability to still be yourself and love life before and during your skin treatments. I don’t wait until my skin is clear to go to social events. I don’t wait until my skin clears to make new connections with others. I still make the most of my time without letting acne control me, but that doesn’t mean we can’t seek for improvements.
The biggest advice to love your skin is to never give up. There will be days where you feel beautiful and other days where you won’t but that’s okay, the next day will be a new day and you can start all over again, just don’t give up. Self love takes practice and you will get there eventually.” —Liz Claire, @prettyprogress23
Learn more about keeping skin clear: