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To All The (Acne) Scars That Shamed Me

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When “skincare first, makeup second” doesn’t cut it



I am one of the “lucky” few who didn’t have to deal with acne in their teenage years. A bar of soap or the occasional drugstore facial wash—which stripped my skin of its natural oils, leaving it as parched as the Sahara Desert—and the classic Pond’s Cold Cream (mother knows best!) were my idea of a routine. Actual, honest-to-goodness skincare would come later on as a 20-something corporate employee with a beauty blog as her passion project. This is where my obsession with “clear skin” began.


My foray to this endless black hole began with a quick search on the 10-Step Korean Skin Care Routine introduced by Soko Glam founder Charlotte Cho. I bought the K-Beauty cult classic, Banila Co. Clean It Zero, and bewitched I was; life was never the same. I became part of the Asian Beauty Community on Instagram where I regularly reviewed beauty products. Glossier’s catchy motto “Skincare first, makeup second” reverberated in the very core of my being until these same products which gave me an uplifted sense of self-confidence started becoming a source of shame.


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Much has changed since my last detailed routine run-through (October 2018), and I’ve been meaning to share some newfound favorites! 💎 〰 ✨Biorè Cleansing Oil: I've traded my favorite cleansing balm I’ve used for years for a drugstore staple that works just as well! One full pump is enough for day to day but when I have on heavy make-up (rarely) like foundation, I make sure to use two. Side note: My Garnier Micellar Cleansing Water is still a must to remove my eye and lip make-up. 〰 ✨CeraVe Hydrating Facial Cleanser: Shout out to my new holy grail (for Normal to Dry Skin) – love at first cleanse – my sister and I copped at a Walgreens in the suburbs of New York. This got me at "cleanses and hydrates without disrupting the protective skin barrier". With hyaluronic acid and ceramides, it leaves my skin full of moisture. Best of all, it’s non-comodogenic, which means that it’s formulated so it doesn’t block pores. I use this interchangeably with the CosRX Salicylic Acid Daily Gentle Cleanser at night, especially during breakout season. 〰 ✨Acwell Licorice pH Balancing Cleansing Toner: It took me a while to get into the Licorice Toner craze because I had a terrible first impression of it. I assumed my skin reacted to the product but I realized that I was just having a bad skin week. This claims to diminish the appearance of blemishes and discoloration with 10% licorice water and peony extract. I can attest to that because I’ve stopped using my holy grail Nacific Phyto Niacin Essence but I still see an evident lightening of my pesky acne scars. I use this as a “triple cleanse” to make sure that I remove any leftover debris from previous steps. Because I am a hydrating freak, I apply 2-3 layers of the SON&PARK Beauty Water after. 〰 ✨Neogen Real Ferment Micro Essence*: The Soko Glam Best of K-Beauty 2018 winner resurrected my skin from the dead after a month of chilly fall-almost-winter temperature. It’s life-changing! Overnight, it improved its rough texture; I don’t know how to survive without it. It contains 93% hydrating fermented ingredients to achieve that honey skin goodness. Unfortunately, this is only available in the US via Soko Glam! [cont. in comments]

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I realized that when something has so much hold on you—emotionally, mentally, spiritually—you (can) take away its power by bringing it to light. For half a year, my skin suffered from a relentless bout of acne. My face is now a distressing constellation of scars I’ve learned to embrace. It started with redness and bumps here and there until it became an onslaught of one breakout after the other. The cause was undetermined. I made my own assumptions: hormones, my mental health or a surplus of new products (I’ve ceased using) in my system.


Every day was such a battle. Simply looking at the mirror brought me to tears. Washing my face hurt because of all the wounds I acquired. I kept hearing callous comments about the state of my skin. “Gamit ka ng gamit ng skincare, hindi naman gumagana. (You keep using skincare when it doesn’t even work.”) “Anong nangyari diyan? (What happened?”) This took such a toll on my self-esteem that I wanted to remain hidden. I deactivated some of my social media accounts. I rejected invites from friends. Going out meant wearing a cap and a face mask or wearing the most full-coverage foundation I own. I stopped writing reviews because I didn’t think any of my products were working. Nobody would believe anything I said; my skin looked dreadful


At 26, I didn’t realize I could care about something so skin-deep (literally). Having these troubles as a young adult was so foreign to me. Getting to this point made me realize how much I’ve relied on this beauty construct—“glass skin” ring a bell?—to control how I viewed my being. I also acknowledged the possibility that I may have (unconsciously) alienated people because of my beauty reviews, which was (then) centered on achieving “perfection.” Having the occasional acne, redness and bumps is a reality; we need to take away the shame that we’ve associated with it. I’m slowly learning how to and I pray you do, too.


Behind The Scars


Behind The Scars is a campaign by 25-year-old fashion and portrait photographer, Sophie Mayanne, featuring unedited photos of a range of subjects—women, men and children—highlighting their scars. This began in April 2017 and has accumulated over 450 stories. Her personal project features post-partum bodies, marks of self-harm, burns from domestic abuse, post-surgery scars that saved lives and more. Her creative interpretation through imagery is supported by (written) stories—mostly heartbreaking, others poignant, some funny. This allows the viewer to go deeper than a photograph might allow. In an AirBrush and filter-saturated space, she questions our capacity to accept beauty in every form.


In her recently concluded TEDx Talk, she shared, “It wasn’t until I photographed other people that I realized it was the human connection that I sought through my lens. I could see the raw, honest, unedited image of who we really are—the natural, flawed beauty of creation beyond the words left unsaid. Everyone has scars, in some shape or form. Skin is always flawed and that’s what I find so fascinating about it.


There are so many images designed to please or shock but there was something missing. They were pictures, yes, but not people. It was on this basis that I launched my personal photographic project, Behind the Scars, to not only celebrate scars visually but the people behind them and their stories. I wanted to create an array of different images of people from all walks of life that people could look at and find common ground within them.”


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Hi everyone! I’m Emeline and I’ll be taking over this weekend 🌻 #behindthescars “At the start of the year in February I had a seizure. I’d never had one before and I have no memory at all of the one I had other than being woken up by my friends & paramedics then taken to A&E for tests. A CT scan showed a sense spot on my brain and an emergency MRI was booked. After several complications and falling between cracks in the NHS, I was told that I had a brain tumour that had probably been around for 5-10 years. Soon after it was decided that I needed brain surgery to remove it in case it was cancerous and that I should take a year off uni to recover. So that is what I did. In July I had awake brain surgery to remove as much as possible whilst still leaving me with as much brain function as possible. The surgery went smoothly, the only remaining issue being a loss in sensation in my right hand. However the bad news was that the tumour was cancerous and required further treatment. I’ve finished 6 weeks of radiotherapy and now halfway through a year of chemotherapy. I don’t often think of my scar (I can’t really see it because of the angle!) but also because each new step seems bigger and scarier than the one before. Brain surgery was all consuming at first but now I genuinely forget it happened because I’m so worried about my chemo. I’m proud of my scar though and how my life has changed since. It’s been difficult, lonely and scary but I also managed to finish my year at uni knowing I’d have surgery and I’m managing to carry on my life as much as possible. I still feel weird thinking that I have cancer and thinking that it’s all happened in the space of about a year but if I was always thinking about that I wouldn’t be able to move forward.” @emeline98

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Behind The Scars has created a safe community online which bore fruit genuine fellowship. She added, “Self-acceptance is a journey and not always an easy one. During the healing process, we need to find a way to connect new memories to our scars, both mentally and physically. Many of the people I photograph find that their images allowed them to disconnect their scars from pain and trauma, allowing them to be seen in a new way. As a photographer, I have a social responsibility—be it visual or vocal.”


Straying Away From Perfection

My scars are starting to heal—and I am, too. These unattainable beauty standards I set on myself were so unrealistic, yet I found myself conforming to it. I yielded too much power over these material things; who knew that letting them go would be so liberating? Getting to this point made me realize how much I’ve relied on products to validate my self-worth—as with all good things I’ve made into God things.


Lately, I’ve become less concerned about “perfection” and I allow myself to fall in love with makeup and skincare again without this foolish end goal. After all, this is such a crippling standard I wouldn’t want to expect from myself or other people. My plea: Dear you, please don’t be a slave to your products.


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Art Alexandra Lara

About The Author

Visual Storyteller. Explored the entertainment industry in my early 20s, eventually found my voice by telling people’s stories. Finding joy in writing about empathy, beauty and literature. Always a photographer.

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