By | March 12, 2013

It’s not uncommon to hear people whine about “getting older.” Chances are you rarely hear anything positive attached to that phrase, so allow me to rock your world with something I came up with all by myself:

One of the greatest privileges of aging is the acquisition of perspective.

Boom. Didn’t that sound like, totally Socratic? Hush, philosopher husband. Unless you agree, that is.

I realize I am not truly old so my apologies if I’ve already annoyed you by the third line of this post. Let me explain:

In the past two weeks I have shared some tender subjects with you. The first subject is firmly rooted in the past, and so I can use my  aged perspective to work through what was once an extremely hurtful experience. And then last week I shared something not-so-distant. I doubt, no matter how old I get, that body image will ever cease to be a struggle.

Today, I would like to continue along the same lines of thought by discussing an old nemesis.


Ugh. While I still deal with monthly bouts of hormonally-induced, mild acne, I am thankful to say that my experience with severe acne is securely located in my past. I say “securely”, but one firm yank of a Biore pore strip can show just how near and dear that angry fiend remains.

I have a feeling my kids will deal with acne one day. No, it’s not a feeling; I KNOW my kids will deal with acne some day. Their dad had it, their mom had it, their aunts and uncles on both sides had it.  While I don’t look forward to their battles with this miserable foe, I understand what valuable lessons acne can deliver.

You see, before experiencing acne first-hand, I harbored an unkind and misinformed opinion about my peers who struggled with the beast. I made it through most of junior high and high school with nothing more than a few angry pimples at a time. Which, I guess, was fortunate considering that I was “the homeliest girl” some guys had ever seen. Acne would of really done me in during that miserable awkward stage.

Acne decided to hit me my senior year of high school. And while it never arrives at a “good” time, I remember thinking how unfair it was that acne had to make its appearance right when I was feeling like an adult. It was NOT a fun time in my life, but I learned quite a bit and I’d like to share that with you today.


1. People with acne {usually} have the best personal hygiene.

That’s right–the best.

Never assume that someone who has acne doesn’t take care of their skin. Like most ignorant idiots, before my personal struggle I assumed that people with acne were lax in the hygiene department.

Here’s the thing: when you have acne, you are always. aware. of. your. skin. Always. Each day I would get up, go to the bathroom and look in the mirror to see the damage done in my sleep. What new treasures would await me? Beneath the multiple layers of benzoyl peroxide lay a dermatological minefield.

You can bet your grandpa’s dentures that I would wash my face. I washed the friggen’ heck out of it! Because you know something? When you have acne, you ALWAYS feel dirty. And it sucks. What sucks even more is when others assume you’re just not “clean.”

Why don’t you just wash your face?

If you have ever said that to someone I want you to stop reading this, call that person up, and apologize to them. Then I want you to take a pencil and firmly jab it in your eyeball.

Do it. Ok, skip the pencil part.

Chances are that you were not the only person to say that to them, but you provoked a hornet’s nest of shame and they could do nothing to ease the sting from that humiliation.

2. Be the kind of friend who will meet others in the middle.

Acne taught me a lot about kindness. Because high school is  such a graceless place, and acne is terribly awkward, the friends who showed kindness to me in my struggle were like angels along the way.

There were several days I missed school because my acne was so bad. It came on so suddenly in my senior year, and I had no previous experience with it. It was like I woke up one day and my face was covered with pepperoni.

On one particular day, my friend Melissa came to see me. She had actually driven to the school and spoke to my mom (who was a teacher) and learned that I was home “sick with acne.”

At first, I was embarrassed that Melissa would see me in my gnarly state. I got over that quick. Like the sweet friend that she is, she had me talking, laughing, and baking cookies in no time. And then came the moment where I remembered how hideous my face looked.

“Let’s take a picture!” she said.

Amazing how certain words can instantly elicit an emotional response. The idea of capturing my despised skin on camera aroused such fear and dread that Melissa must have clearly seen what was going through my mind.

Without blinking, she tapped her fingers in flour and powdered her face. She proceeded to dust my face with ridiculous patches of flour and we posed with our cookie sheets, flour faces, and cheesy grins.

She met me in the middle. She leveled the field and provided a way out for me, and for that I was deeply grateful. I am still grateful. Since then, I’ve wanted to be that kind of friend. The kind who will recognize someone’s need and act on it without drawing attention to themselves or the problem.

If I hadn’t personally dealt with acne I would never have learned this valuable truth.

3. Don’t judge a book by it’s cover.

Obviously this goes along with number one, but I’d like to reiterate in a slightly different way.

I’m the kind of person who is quite skilled in the art of making fun of people. Yes, it’s true. Before my trial with acne, I had a bad habit of critiquing and poking fun at the less fortunate. Now, I don’t remember making fun of physical handicaps or anything–but a tacky makeup job, weird hair, or bad teeth–yah, I am ashamed to say that I exploited people (usually strangers) for a few cheap laughs.

I’d never go so far as to say something cruel to their face, but the point is I laughed at their expense. I remember one day at lunch, someone told me I “had something right there” and needed to wipe it off with a napkin.

I of course didn’t know what it was I was wiping off my face, so I kept rubbing at it with the napkin. Finally, those around me burst into laughter. I was scrubbing away at a zit that would move for no man.

I was able to laugh alongside everyone else–get in front of the joke, if you will.

But I still remember thinking how horrifically unfair it was that they were laughing at something I couldn’t help. It was a hard lesson to find that usually what I poked fun at in others was something they couldn’t help. How cruel and ugly for me to exploit them. Yes, this was another lesson learned the hard way.

4. Hiding isn’t the answer.

So, I played hooky a couple times. But besides the one fun hangout with Melissa, I pretty much sat around feeling sorry for myself and putting life on hold. If I could have crawled into a cave and burnt my acne off with lava cakes, I would have. Unfortunately, I had to go about it the slow route–meds.

Nothing happens overnight, unless you’re a celebrity and have access to magical witch doctors with buckets of youthful flesh waiting to be slathered upon you. I have this theory that those buckets are dragged out after every Hollywood birth–perhaps it’s charged with umbilical cord blood–I don’t know.

I’m really digressing here.

Back to the point. You cannot hide from your problems, especially when they happen to be your face. Burn! and Amen.

5. The people who really matter only see the beautiful.

I dated my husband in high school, but it was a long-distance relationship. And by long-distance I mean about an hour’s drive. I was very private about the struggles in my life–and I didn’t include him in the acne ordeal. I didn’t want to draw extra attention to it. I also didn’t want to appear ugly in front of him.

The long-distance was convenient in hiding my acne. He only saw me a few times a month and I would butter my face with every concealer known to mankind. This season happened to be before daylight savings, so it still got dark really early. Gobs of makeup, dim lighting, and a 17 year-old-boy in love really worked to my advantage.

However, there were certainly days where I would “appear” in my natural state, and I worried that my boyfriend would dash his eyes out and run as far away from me as he could. But he never seemed to notice, and while I was with him–I forgot. Even more curious, I felt pretty around him.

Months after my acne finally cleared up, I nervously broached the subject with him and asked what he thought of me during my ugly duckling phase.

“You had acne?” he asked in disbelief.

“Um, yah. It was on my face–how could you not see it?”

“I never noticed it. I swear. You always look beautiful–I never saw any acne.”

“Matt, that’s sweet, but be honest. There’s no way you could miss it. It was the ugliest thing ever! Everyone at school noticed.”

“The only ugly thing I ever saw was that terrible uniform you had to wear. Now THAT was ugly, but YOU were always beautiful. I had acne when I was a freshman, so it wouldn’t have scared me away anyways.”

To this day he swears he doesn’t remember the acne.


Dealing with acne is a humbling experience. I don’t wish it on anyone, but I cannot say that I regret having it in my life. In fact, I’m thankful for it. I learned some extremely valuable lessons–all at the age of 18, thanks to acne. If you or someone you love is dealing with acne, I urge you to find encouragement in the fact that acne is 100% exterior.

While it might dull your beauty for a time, acne does not extinguish it. In fact, acne refines beauty. Acne allows you to develop beauty in other ways and learn to see it in people who are often overlooked.

Ok, stepping off my soapbox now. I would love to hear from you! Did you deal with acne or some other type of miserable physical stage? Please answer in the comments! Also, feel free to connect on Facebook by liking the page--we’ve been having some fun discussions over there and would love to have you.


20 thoughts on “Zits

  1. Kate

    It is just hitting me now at twenty.

    My first response was – Not fair! Until I realized everyone went through it in high school or junior high…

    It was humbling to have to go to job and internship interviews with Mount Doom poking out of my forehead.

    High school kids can be so vicious.

    Thank you for dealing with the tough stuff comically and honestly.

    1. hillary

      Yeah, it can hit even in your 40s! Acne is definitely humbling–we can all use some extra humility I suppose ????

      1. Chris Carter

        I am 45 and have a big fat ZIT on my cheek and on my chin right this very minute!! Sigh… it really never ends for some.

        It’s agonizing for teens to have to endure even more blows to their self esteem when they are already so fragile in their identity. Ugh. I know. I have been there long, long ago.

  2. Melissa Davis

    Oh. my. goodness. it’s so good to remember this day. I forgot about my crackhead suggestions to photograph you in your despair, but that sounds like me… At least the cookies and flour dusting part. I miss you. Yes, acne sucked, but we showed it a thing or two! Cookies! Survivor’s tip: for years now, every time I hop out of the shower or just wash my face, I use rose water (like from the “Ethnic food” section) in a spray bottle and jojoba oil from Trader Joes. Cheap, smells nice, happy face (pun intended).

    1. hillary

      Melissa! I’m so delighted you read this. You were such a sweet friend to me during that time. I wish we could see each other more than twice a decade now. Sigh.

  3. Jenna

    I had terrible acne in high school, I went on birth control and it disappeared!

    1. hillary

      Yah, that is what I ended up going on at first–then just a high dose of antibiotic got it under control.

  4. Danielle

    First of all I just want to say that I LOVE your blog! I just found you through Pinterest & have been reading your posts for the past hour. I absolutey love your take on life & your sarcasm!

    I struggled with acne from the time I was 14 until I had my son, 10 years later. Pregnancy was the best thing for my face! I still have the occasional outbreak, but for the most part it is under control. Unfortunately, I still have the scars though.

    1. hillary

      Aww thank you! So glad you found me ???? You are so lucky that pregnancy has been good to you. It ruined my skin!

  5. Jennifer

    I have always had people in my life with severe acne…my mom my son and many friends….It seems that those that don’t appear perfect in everyone eyes are simply more humble lovable people ????

    1. hillary

      Absolutely. I think it just gives you an extra dose of understanding.

  6. nicolette @ momnivore's dilemma

    OCM works for me. ???? I’m revealing what I use on the blog soon…

  7. Amanda Nelson

    Goodness yes! I did too! It hit me Junior year, and I still struggle with it a bit today, almost 10 years later! But you’re right, I really learned a lot from that experience.

  8. Aleta

    Junior year for me and then a friend introduced me to all sorts of acne medicines and eventually I found the right combination for my skin. But…. When pregnant, nothing stops acne! Found that out just recently. Lol

  9. Nikki

    I can’t even bring myself to blog about my own acne experience. 75 partial day absences my senior year. I cringe to think of all I missed because of it, and I find myself worrying about my two young daughters inheriting the gene. Ugh! And even now that it’s gone, I can’t tell you how pissed off I get when someone from high school says, “You look so much better, now!”

    Eff. You. Unfriend, unfriend, unfriend.

    Thanks for the post. Glad I found your blog.

    1. hillary

      Oh my! I am so sorry! Acne is haunting, I know. And its amazing how people still don’t have the tact to deal with it nicely. I worry about the same thing with my kids–hoping that I can spare them the grief, but also I know its a big part of growing up.

  10. HitonH

    I struggled with adult acne, which is different than teenage acne. My skin is very sensitive and prone to dryness and the Citrus Clear Sensitive Wash & Moisturizer are the only products that dont irritate my skin. I also use the Citrus Clear Spot Treatment – but i use it all over my face – not just in specific areas. This works the best all over the face. Its the only thing that managed to control my adult acne, without irritating my sensitive skin. . .and my skin is sensitive!

  11. Autumn

    Ohhh I have suffered with acne off and on since my teen years. My oldest daughter has too. In a word it SUCKS! For her we tried it all, antibiotics, all the stuff on the shelf, the tv crap…nothing worked! Mine isn’t terrible at this point but any is bad enough in my world. About a year ago I started doing the OCM (oil cleansing method). It works for me. My daughter FINALLY gave in and gave it a 30 day trial…now, 6 months later, she calls me up to make her more oil when she’s running out. For her (she’s 21) we use grapeseed oil (moisturizing), castor oil (drying)(half and half) and then tea tree oil, a few drops mixed in. HOT HOT HOT washcloth 2 or 3 times and then wipe off and rinse. Then I use just a little as a moisturizer. People think I’m crazy…trust me it works! Google it…I found it on Crunchy Betty. If I don’t wear make up I only do it about every other day. It was tremendously hard not to put soap on my face for the first few weeks but now it’s great…not to mention way cheaper!

    1. hillary

      I tried olive oil for a while but I didn’t like it. I never tried the combo that you’re talking about. So was there a difficult transitional period? Did your skin freak out for a bit? I’m totally going to be looking this up! Thanks for the tip!

      1. Autumn

        Not really, no. I had a few blackheads raise to the surface and still do from time to time. About every other week I use a honey/baking soda scrub and it helps a lot with the blackheads. I do have breakouts once in awhile now but not nearly like it used to be. It (and I know this is hard to believe) actually dried my skin out. For myself I use avacado oil and tea tree, then I dab the tea tree on problem areas and put the avacado on as a moisturizer. My skin is older and sun damaged and tends to be really dry. The science behind it makes sense…your face is supposed to produce oil and when you use a soap it removes all of that natural oil, by using oil, you aren’t stripping the natural oils and your skin won’t then OVER produce causing breakouts. The Crunchy Betty website really explains it and tells you the different blends/oils to use for your skin type.


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