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acne girl’s guide to skincare [A&C]

and the toxic self-help agenda

Glass skin.

Upon reading this term for the first time, I was a little puzzled: is it referring to a condition that makes skin transparent? Would it shatter into tiny pieces? 

In reality, “glass skin” refers to skin that is bright, poreless, and completely smooth—a trend that emerged from Korea and made its way to the West in recent years. According to the endless TikTok videos that I’ve watched, one achieves “glass skin” when they appear to glow from within; in the process of laying products on top of other products, skin somehow achieves a divine, transcendent quality.

They become an ethereal, luminescent goddess.

And you can be one, too!

Introducing the all-inclusive package “Acne Girl’s Guide to Skincare!” Have you ever felt lost in the complicated and beginner-unfriendly process of developing a lasting skincare routine? Are you terrified of pimples? Of aging faster than your classmates? Of the ten year reunion when you will look significantly more shriveled than everyone else and spiral into a pit of existential dread, then wonder when your youth escaped you? Allow me to take you on my own journey and show you just how attainable flawlessness can be… 

Step One: Cleanser — 

The first and most important component of self-improvement is self-reflection. So get up close and personal with a mirror. No, closer. Hm, yeah. It’s quite evident that you don’t wash your face enough. We can make a checklist of issues to tackle, but let’s start with acne because it’s the most obvious.

In middle school, you are introduced to your new best friend, who will stay with you for seven years: a 10% benzoyl peroxide acne cleanser. It is a toxic relationship, though; you cling on to her every drop, using her as a means of salvation. After splashing your face with scalding hot water (to open up the pores, of course), you squeeze out a dollop of cleanser and aggressively rub it into your face. Really, really work it in. Your hands move desperately across your face, concentrating especially on your oily T-zone. Somehow, you’ve begun to believe that if you attack your face with rough chemicals as quickly and vigorously as possible, your pimples will react with the same urgency and disappear. 

Unbeknownst to you, however, your friend is working against you. The high chemical concentration vacuums away the oil in your pores and strips your moisture barrier. Your face is a completely barren, uninhabitable desert.

You smear your fingers onto the bumpy, irritated surface and clench your teeth, and you wonder why you can’t scrape it all off.

Step Two: Exfoliation — 

You washed your face. Instagram says that you don’t do it enough; you promise that you do. You’re not dirty. Chemicals have been sucking the life out of your skin, and you wonder why acne girls must slowly give themselves away—always removing, but never gaining parts of their skin. 

Your face is taut from a lack of moisture and red from inflammation. How nice it would be to peel off this layer of skin. Start over, maybe?

Exfoliators remove the outer layers of dead skin, unveiling the soft, smooth skin underneath. So, what is dead to you?

Apply a chemical exfoliant once a week and uncover the ruins. Rid yourself of the parts, ideas, and mentalities that no longer suit you; learn that skin is not a medium through which you can enact aggression and expect a beautiful thing to rise from the ashes. Inevitably, you shed more of yourself, one layer at a time, and it’s a slow process—you are learning to be gentle to yourself.

Tentatively, you glance at the mirror. 

Everything is red, raw, raging. The pursuit of self-perfection, rooted in hatred.

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You haven’t been very kind to yourself, have you?

Step Three: Serum — 

Healing, for you at least, begins with a small bottle of CVS niacinamide.

While extremely overpriced, it caught your eye with its promise to fade away your dark spots. You’ve spent a large part of your childhood picking away at your face, so it is now littered with small concaves and pockets of red pigment—craters and lava pools. 

The serum is cool as you squeeze a pump onto your fingers. You glance at your reflection in your college desk mirror and glide the product across your cheek. Gently, you work it into your skin, which eagerly absorbs it. Medically, niacinamide functions to soothe acne-induced inflammation, improve discoloration, and restore one’s skin barrier, but as you continue to move your fingers over hills and valleys, fine lines and hyperpigmentation, there occurs another kind of restoration. 

For the first time, you are forced to sit down and encounter yourself. Feel your face; in touching it nonjudgmentally, skincare, despite its typical association with perfection, becomes an ironic tool for the acceptance of flaws. 

You move your face around in the light, and your cheeks emit a subtle, glassy shine. You laugh.

Step Four: Moisturizer — 

I still do not have glass skin. Or milky skin. Or any gimmicky term for perfect skin that the Internet has invented. In fact, it is likely that I never will. For almost a decade, acne has ravaged all parts of my face, from forehead to chin, leaving irreparable reminders of its presence. There is a particularly large scar near my upper lip. However, after a year of exploring the products that suit my specific skincare needs, I no longer feel like I’m battling an enemy. The way my skin looks and feels isn’t inherently empowering or degrading: My face simply exists. A flawless complexion won’t make me a goddess, and neither does my acne.

Rather than an expression of vanity or a self-improvement project, skincare should be framed as a vehicle for self-comfortability. Not exactly self-acceptance, but the capacity to sit contently within one’s body. Now, as I sit in silence at my desk twice a day and lightly dab toner on my skin, I am forced to confront my past and my present as I feel the scars on my face and listen to the thoughts in my head. In these moments, I forgive myself for the past transgressions against myself.

Skincare is not just cosmetic; it’s cathartic. 

As one does on their eighteenth birthday, I sat in my childhood bedroom confronting the end of an era. Gently, quietly, I saw my adolescence passing me by and fading into history. I pulled out my phone camera and examined my face. I liked how I looked.

Sometimes, I go back into my camera roll and look at the selfies I took in my room at that moment. I’m smiling, laughing, and jumping in those pictures, and multiple splotches of hyperpigmentation are scattered across my cheeks. I sigh and realize that I just love her so much, and she deserves a world of compassion.

Every night, as I apply moisturizer, I glide my knuckles around my cheekbones and jawline, feeling the planes of my face. Giving special attention to my acne scars. I’m approaching my twenties now, and the tiny holes on my face are remnants of my childhood. Glass skin is seen as a sign of youth and beauty, but to me, it is my imperfect markings that tie me to my girlhood. Nothing can make my skin shatter into tiny pieces of glass because it is nourished, resilient, and built for survival.

Step Five: Sunscreen — Obviously.



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