KANSAS CITY, Mo. — You’ve probably heard the old myths that acne is a rite of passage, or that a little sun will soak it right up. But dermatologists say that’s all wrong, and these small bumps can have a big impact on physical and mental health.
Eczema, warts, psoriasis – the list of skin conditions is quite lengthy. But the most common is acne, affecting up to 50 million people every year. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, 85% of people between the ages of 12 and 24 will experience acne. But you’d never know how common it is by watching TV, reading magazines, or shopping online.
“I think it’s putting out that image that everyone has clear skin, and if you’re going to be anyone, you have clear skin,” Dr. John Rupp, a board-certified dermatologist, said.
“And you’re in the minority if you don’t have clear skin. I think that’s the message that they send. And that is not true.”
Cell phones make it all too easy to cover up what society implies are “imperfections.” As Dr. Rupp with The Dermatology Specialists of Kansas City says, the effects of acne aren’t just skin-deep.
“I think that’s the message that’s sent when everyone uses filters and has the makeup. It’s, ‘wow, I must be the only one out there having acne.’ ‘I feel bad,’ ‘What am I doing wrong?’ And their self-esteem obviously takes a dive,” he said.
Nicole Herbig is in her early 20s and has had acne since she was a teen. But it wasn’t until a few years ago that she started to get what she calls ‘’huge cystic breakouts.”
“Painful to the point where it even hurt to sleep at night. I couldn’t even lay my head on the pillow. I was at risk of rupturing these cysts and sometimes I would wake up with my pillowcase totally covered in blood,” Herbig recalled.
It’s an experience that left her with scars, and not just on her skin.
“I think, emotionally, is probably where I took the most significant toll. Because when you’re living with acne, you are sort of consumed by this severe depression, intense sadness about feeling so discouraged regarding your appearance and then this super severe anxiety that you’re really upset about how you look and everybody else is watching you,” she explained.
The good news is that help is available. While there’s not a “cure-all,” there are different medications to treat different types of acne. For mild acne, there are topicals and creams. For more severe acne, dermatologists may take a more aggressive approach.
“If someone is really severe with nodules, cysts, and a lot of pimples or pustules, sometimes we’ll go to isotretinoin, which is the big daddy of the acne treatments,” Dr. Rupp said.
“It takes some work to do, but it usually does a good job. A person needs to come in monthly for that. It takes some time but 85-to 90% of people who go on that pill improve and clear.”
Herbig is one of those patients who sought treatment with that pill, more commonly known as Accutane.
“I would not be who I am today, and I would not be as confident as I am today if it weren’t for Accutane,” she said.
Jennifer Davisson is a physician’s assistant for Dr. Rupp’s practice. She says the right treatment can be life changing.
“I’ve had individuals, sometimes males more than females, cause females can cover it up heavily with makeup, but I’ve had individuals who come to me who won’t even look me in the eye,” she described.
“As you get them on a regimen, you start to see them back, standing up straighter, they’re looking at you in the eye. They’re talking they’re joking conversing, and I think it’s for the first time they’re not having to have that weighing on their minds.”
Herbig documented her skin journey on Instagram as “The Blemish Queen.” She wants to provide hope and let anyone with acne know they’re not alone.
“There’s a lot of stigma around what it means to be someone with acne. And frankly I don’t know anyone with acne that isn’t trying to do something to heal their skin,” she said.
And never let it stop you from reaching your potential.
“You’re allowed to have fun, you can be a boss, you can be a mother, you can be a father, you can be empowered no matter how your skin looks. That should not control who you are and how you present yourself,” Herbig said.