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Don't Believe Big Beauty — There's No Such Thing as “Bad” Skin

As a writer, I spend a lot of my time sharing stories of resilience and preaching the importance of self-care. But I didn’t always treat my own body with the same acceptance. I have memories of sitting in my living room and watching TV as a teen, wishing that I had the same plight as the sitcom teenagers. Right before a big date, they would inevitably be plagued by a single pimple. One blemish, and all hell would break loose. I daydreamed about what my life would be like without my twice-a-day Proactiv regimen to treat consistent inflammatory acne, imagining what opportunities would arise for me if I had only been blessed with “good” skin.

As a society, we love labels. “Oily, “acne-prone,” “dry” — even our skin isn’t safe from this negative and limiting treatment. My teenage acne revolved primarily around my t-zone, so I begrudgingly searched for skin products and makeup marketed as good for oily skin, only to be frustrated when these alcohol-based products caused severe dryness. I couldn’t understand how I was facing acne as well as dry skin and eczema patches all at the same time. This struggle to find the right products for the “oily skin” label I had accepted continued for years.

Ignore Skin “Types” – Change Is Inevitable

Major beauty companies have invested heavily in marketing that insists you choose and stick with a single skin type. But this categorization is actually a myth. Celebrity aesthetician Joshua Ross of SkinLab says it is wrong “because various factors can affect the skin’s reaction. Your skin can be all skin types at different times and seasons and can vary based on climate, travel, stress, and hormonal issues.”  

External elements as fickle as the weather can dictate skin changes, not to mention the slew of internal factors that can lead to any combination of oily and dry skin on different areas of your face. I was relieved when I discovered that you aren’t bound to a singular “type” like the beauty industry would have you believe. I finally felt like I had room to work on the health of my specific skin, and I developed a positive outlook on my skincare regimen for the first time in my life.

Beyond genetics, hormones are one of the main biological functions that can cause alterations in your skin. Shifts in hormone levels can happen at any time due to lifestyle issues like stress, but they can also occur during specific life changes like pregnancy or perimenopause. Many of us have heard of the “pregnancy mask,” which is officially called melasma. It’s a form of hyperpigmentation, usually appearing on the cheeks, forehead, and upper lip, caused by increased estrogen levels. Conversely, perimenopause can result in skin becoming thinner and more fragile due to the decrease in estrogen. These conditions can be frustrating, but they also have the ability to be managed.

Recurring changes throughout a person’s life are natural. “On average, every 7 years women go into another phase of life with hormones, which leads to some breakouts or a change in the skin,” Ross says. “It’s important to always be assessing your skin’s needs day by day, week by week, month by month as it’s constantly changing.”

As Ross says, “Don’t just fall back on old skin habits—they need to evolve with your skin.”

Mental Wellness Is Skin Wellness

Beyond hormonal changes, mental health also has an impact on skin health. Dry winter air was always a rough time for my skin, but I realized that periods of stress triggered eczema flare-ups as well. “Stress can severely affect our adrenal system which regulates the majority of the body systems including the skin which can lead to irritation, acne, and cause the skin to not function properly.” says Ross. I’ve always led a busy lifestyle, and for me, these acute flare-ups now serve as a signal for me to slow down and reassess what I have on my plate. 

It is definitely easier said than done, as there are tangible links between mental health issues and skin disorders. “Interestingly, psychiatric disturbances have been reported in at least 30% of patients with dermatologic disorders,” says Dr. Harry Dao.

Because of this, advice for general wellness is similar to advice for skin wellness: whatever makes you feel your best on the inside will ultimately impact how you look on the outside. Just like with general wellness, there is no one size fits all resolution. Don’t get caught up in the newest trendy self-care craze if you’re not into it — it’s about what works best for you, your body, and your individual lifestyle. For me, drinking plenty of water, cutting out fried food, and getting enough sleep consistently decreases my breakouts.

“Look at skincare as a basic holistic and overall approach to health in general,” Ross says. “Take the time to meditate, exercise, and drink plenty of water. Be sure you’re taking care of your body as all best practices for staying healthy will show up in your skin.”

The Bottom Line: There Is No Such Thing as Bad Skin

Our bodies are ever-changing entities, and we should learn to appreciate them regardless of what cycle or phase we’re currently in. There are certain things about our bodies that we can’t control (thanks, genes!), but there is also a lot that we can. If you are struggling with your skin, look at your everyday routine and figure out if there are some lifestyle changes you can make. How much water are you drinking? Do your breakouts correlate with your sugar or dairy intake? Are you taking on too much at work? Do you live in an area with high air pollution? Make sure you approach this investigation with curiosity rather than blame.

Fast-forward to present day — I’m in my late twenties, and I still have a twice daily skin routine, but now with products better tailored to my skin’s unique needs. While I’m not dealing with breakouts of the same intensity or frequency, I do have to be mindful that how I navigate my days and how I treat my body will ultimately impact my skin. What has changed though, is that I will no longer let a temporary breakout impact how I feel about myself overall.

My skin self-love journey isn’t quite over. My partner has silky skin with essentially no effort, and sometimes I still find myself wishing I had the same naturally gorgeous and seemingly poreless cheekbones that they do. However, I take those times to pause and remember that, even if I’m in the middle of a breakout, I know how to handle it and it will pass. 

I am in a much healthier place with my skin than I was years ago. While this can partly be attributed to no longer being at the mercy of teenage hormonal changes, it is largely because I have taken the time to understand my skin better. We’re all human — sometimes we don’t drink as much water as we should, or we skip our night routines a couple of days in a row. When that happens, remember to give yourself some grace.

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