Here's Why I'm Embracing My Hormonal Acne This Year.
Featured Image by Angela Zhong

I got a confession to make: I’m an imposter. It almost feels wrong to think that, as a Beauty Editor, I’d know what I’m doing to achieve clear skin. My role, after all, involves trying out the latest product drops and researching everything about skincare. But here I am, overwhelmed by my seemingly never-ending hormonal acne and lack of cabinet-space real estate for all the new product launches and PR packages I take home. My face is at its worst, and I swear my breakouts last almost all month long – leaving me with acne scars, marks, active pimples, or a combination of all three in one go! But instead of complaining about my situation and internalizing self-blame, I’m using this year to start over and embrace my hormonal acne. Here’s my story.

Early Experiences with Acne (Context)

Looking back, I was fortunate to survive my adolescent years relatively acne-free. But that didn’t mean I was free from how I started to view myself and my skin.

My relationship with my skin wasn’t exactly the greatest. Before seeing my first signs of acne (the pustules and the bumps), I spent my early childhood years scratching at the eczema patches on my elbows. This is TMI, but the patches wept so much that if I didn’t cover them with bandaids to keep myself from scratching, they would seep through the fabric of my long-sleeved shirts. No amount of dermatologist visits and prescribed topical creams ever helped.

When Adulting Leads to Hormonal Acne

I didn’t think my skin would change by the time I reached my mid-twenties. But I was wrong; my adult acne kicked full force in ways I didn’t imagine. The acne started as a small rash, spread into uncontrollable and itchy clusters of pustules on both sides of my cheeks. What made it even worse is that this rash didn’t go away no matter how many products I used for my face! It was so bad that my Beauty Within teammates showed concern after seeing my red, inflamed, and bumpy skin. Even my parents noticed!

Author goes through a bad case of hormonal acne breakout

“I know you’re a Beauty Editor and all,” my mom starts. Her eyes scan to and fro, silently mapping out all the bumps on my chin while her lips pursed in a frown. “But you have to stop using all these products! Your skin is breaking out because of them!” 

“But I’m trying to fix them!” I countered. “I did my research – I know what I’m doing!” 

As it turned out, I didn’t know what I was doing, because no matter what I did to help my skin barrier heal, my acne wasn’t getting any better.

That was, until a colleague introduced me to Curology. 

Finding a Solution that Worked (Until It Didn’t!)

Wait! I swear this isn’t me spending the rest of the article raving about the wonders of Curology! Don’t get me wrong – Curology can be an excellent treatment for many users. I admit my skin significantly improved throughout the seven months of diligent and consistent use.

Author shows her hormonal acne before and after photos while using the Curology treatment (Left: January 2020; Right: June 2020)

My skin cleared up so nicely afterward that I was in constant awe. I didn’t need to put on a seven-step skincare routine, and I didn’t need to worry about covering up my acne marks and pimples with CC cream! For the first time in over a decade, I felt I could breathe; I felt free. 

Author shows her clearest hormonal acne free skin after using the Curology treatment

But as much as I thought I had it all, the period of happiness didn’t last long. 

A year into using Curology, my skin broke out again, and this time, applying my usual three-step routine did nothing to help the painful bumps creeping up my chin, cheeks, and nose. 

Eventually, I grew tired of not seeing results after a few months and canceled my subscription, instead opting for Benzoyl Peroxide as a potential treatment for hormonal acne. 

Let me tell you, my skin didn’t enjoy using this ingredient at all.

I experienced every possible visible side effect you can potentially experience with Benzoyl Peroxide. Flushed red face, flaking, tight, irritated, and itchy skin – you name it! I destroyed my skin barrier

Author’s face after a terrible experience with benzoyl peroxide (front)
Author’s experience after a terrible experience with benzoyl peroxide (side)

Realizing My Mental Hurdles

As a Beauty Editor, you’d think I know all the ingredient combinations or skincare products to implement to achieve smooth and clear skin. It’s true that my work involves spending hours researching and compiling information needed to create the content you see and love. So while I appreciate anyone who found success with their skin, my skin was another story. In an ideal world, of course, salicylic acid, benzoyl peroxide, and tretinoin are golden ingredients for blemish-free skin. But in my experience, I found these ingredients did little to help my skin. 

Eventually, there came a time when it dawned on me: throughout the years of desperately trying out product after product and spending hundreds of dollars, I realized I treated these products as if they were bandaids – external solutions to an internal problem.

“Got hyperpigmentation? Apply this serum and watch them fade away.” 

“How about those blemishes? This spot treatment will poof them away in the morning!” 

One by one, I’d slather on my products diligently as if my life depended on them. In my eyes, all my blemishes, rough bumps, uneven texture, and hyperpigmentation were unsightly flaws I needed to make disappear. 

But eventually I realized that acne wasn’t there to punish my self-esteem. The red marks and uneven texture weren’t there to remind me of my insecurities. They were signs to show me how much my body was working hard to protect me, and I needed to give it a helping hand to bring it to a balanced state. 

It was a simple thought, but the moment I viewed my skin as an extension of my body, I felt the weighted burden lift from my shoulders. 

Reaching Breakthroughs

Since realizing this five months ago, the mindful approach has helped strengthen my relationship with my skin. This doesn’t mean I found a cure-all for my skin – I still go through hormonal acne and breakouts every month. On the surface, it doesn’t seem like much has changed. But the way I treat my skin is much different.

For every breakout I see on my face, I’m no longer discouraged whenever they pop up. Instead, I take them as signs to focus on my overall health and well-being. I’m taking more time to address other aspects of my lifestyle: diet, exercise, sleep, hormones, and stress levels – all of which I’d previously neglected in favor of slathering salicylic acid serums all over my face.

And speaking of skincare, I found that incorporating gentle products helps calm my angry skin. And if the products themselves don’t help, I don’t have to worry about looking for the “next quick fix”; I can choose not to apply my routine to help my skin reset itself. More often than not, I found that this approach enabled my skin to work its magic and helped me understand that most of my skin conditions were signs of stressed and overwhelmed skin.

Current go-to products for hormonal acne
Current go-to products for calming hormonal acne & inflamed skin

Finding Peace & Embracing My Hormonal Acne

Although my skin remains its same splotchy and breakout-prone self, embracing my hormonal acne is one of the best decisions I made this year. Coming to this point was a long and challenging process, but now I feel more confident in myself and my skin.

Author shows her hormonal acne skin front view (taken February 2023)
Author shows her hormonal acne skin side view (taken February 2023)

Since making an active effort to be mindful of my well-being, I no longer worry about going out in public and being conscious about my acne. Instead of letting my acne overtake my decisions, I choose to become present in my life at every moment.

That means I can freely go to my workout classes barefaced (or covered in pimple patches) without worrying about whether people will judge me. I can occasionally indulge in cheese, sweets, or fried foods with the mindset that I can enjoy life without restricting and compromising my skin. Or I can have days to eat healthy because that’s what my body craves now.

Author treats herself to fried cauliflower from a Tapas Bar
Author treats herself to Japanese dessert

Best of all, I can enjoy quality time with family and friends without bringing attention to or apologizing for having blemished skin. I know my body’s doing its best to support me, so the least I can do is nourish it with love and care it needs.

For anyone struggling with teen or adult acne, know you’re not alone in this journey. I hope you realize how valued and loved you are – with and without blemishes. And as difficult as it is to actively silence the insecurities and negative thoughts, know that only you can turn your thoughts around.

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