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How a Lifetime of Skin Issues Inspired Me to Empower Other Women

Cate Luzio is the CEO and founder of Luminary, a global, inclusive collaboration hub for women, headquartered in New York City.

In every single purse and makeup bag, I carry a stash of Clearasil. Since I hit puberty at a very early age, I have always had major breakouts. Of course, you assume as you get older that it will go away. But I have gone to dermatologists, talked to doctors, used every kind of cream imaginable, and nothing seems to keep it at bay. When I know a breakout is coming, I can do everything possible to my face to try and prevent it, but it never really quiets the acne.

In my 20s, my acne kept getting worse. When I went to see doctors, there was always a reason or rationale, and it was always my fault. Doctors focused on everything I might not be doing right, like “It’s from when you hold the phone up to your face.” When I went through five rounds of IVF in my 30s and the acne got dramatically worse, the explanation changed to, “Oh it’s stress. It has to do with your period.” My doctors then jumped to, “Are you eating more greasy foods than normal? Are you exercising and not washing your face afterwards?”

I have tried every acne medication known to man: retinol, Strident, natural cures. Clearasil seems to be the only thing that maybe helps a little bit. I'm very careful with what I use on my face.

It has been so frustrating that no medical professional has ever been able to say, “This is what we should do. This is what the problem is.” At 45, I wonder how am I still getting these breakouts? I think three months is probably the longest I’ve ever gone without them, and I didn’t do anything differently to cause these calm times. For the last 25 years, the acne just shows up whenever it wants. It drives me crazy and is really stressful.

Since I was younger, I’ve also had a form of eczema or dermatitis, particularly on my thighs. It’s embarrassing when you're growing up and have bumps on your legs. Now I also have them on the backs of my arms as well as bad eczema on my scalp that flares up when I'm stressed. I’m constantly trying to troubleshoot what's wrong. The crazy thing is, I don’t even know if it’s eczema. No doctors have ever said that’s exactly what it is – they just hand me a cream to use and send me on my way. There’s no concrete diagnosis or attempt to figure out the underlying cause of these skin issues to see if they can make it better.

Whether you’re struggling with your appearance, attempting to get the next big job, or asking for a raise, women have got to get rid of this imposter syndrome we often have by collectively supporting each other.

At a young age, I was often made fun of because of my skin. It really impacted my self-confidence. You become less present because you're worried that everyone's looking at this part of you. I have faced the same feelings as an adult.

Before I started Luminary, I was a senior executive in banking, and I felt very embarrassed going into meetings because of my skin. You’re trying to be professional and present your work, and you've got this breakout all over your chin. As a female banking executive in a male-driven industry, problems like this particularly stick out. My skin issues have had a real impact on how I present myself – I sort of shrink down a little bit – and my confidence has definitely suffered.

In early 2018, I left my banking job where I was working with mainly men and pivoted to building a company that promotes and advances women. I want to help other women feel confident and reach their own definition of success.

I think so much of what we need to continue to teach and instill in women, especially from a young age, is confidence – being sure of yourself and being okay with your flaws because we all have them. Whether you’re struggling with your appearance, with getting the next big job, or with asking for a raise, women have got to get rid of this imposter syndrome we often have by collectively supporting each other. We all experience similar challenges, and sharing best practices and lessons learned can help us advance together.

I had Covid last year and was put on lots of different medications, including prednisone for inflammation. One of the biggest side effects is acne, and wearing a mask has not helped my skin, either. I’ve had continual breakouts of maskne, and I also had to go back on the prednisone for the last couple of months for lingering Covid effects, as I’m what they call a long hauler. 

While the past year has been hard, there's no way I could have made it through the pandemic, the ups and downs of rebuilding my business, and adapting to the environment that we were thrown into without the community at Luminary. I watched as members sent emails and texts of hope, resilience, and support literally every day. The also saw women constantly raising each other up, whether it was a small business owner or someone in corporate America, a working mom or a caregiver of some sort. And that, for me, really delivered on the whole reason why Luminary exists as a community to uplift and upskill women and male allies.

Having to worry about acne all the time is terrible, but it has also impacted for the better how I advocate for women. I feel less afraid to be myself. I feel like, even when I have a breakout or something's happening with my skin, I can show up. In my former life, I was embarrassed by my skin issues. But having this supportive community of women around me now underscores the fact that it doesn't matter what you look like, it doesn't matter how you dress, it doesn't matter who you are. I feel like I can bring my whole self to work every single day, no matter what is going on with my skin.

As women, we are overly self-critical, and a lot of women lack confidence in different ways. If I can help even one woman gain more confidence, whether it's with her physical appearance, her intellect, or going after her next promotion, I want to be able to do that. I don't ever want to see someone shrinking away from achieving what she wants in life.

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