If acne affects as much as 90% of the population, why are so many of us still unsure how to talk about it? The answer may at least partially lie in the fact that our skin health is so entwined with our mental health. Having acne predisposes us for all kinds of psychological challenges, from anxiety and depression to social avoidance — so it’s no surprise it can be a touchy subject.
Research indicates that people who have acne often find it difficult to talk to friends and family about their skin condition, because they’re afraid of being judged or hurt. On the other side, people are frequently unsure about what they can and can’t say to a loved one with acne.
Here, we break down some of the do’s and don’ts of how to talk to friends and family about acne.
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If your friend/family member has acne
Don’t make comments about their skin.
Studies show that acne patients feel that their relationships suffer from people asking questions or making comments about their acne. Unless they ask you directly, pointing out the status of someone’s breakout is not helpful. This may seem obvious, but keeping tabs on a person's pimples is overstepping in all cases — even if you’re pointing out that their acne “isn’t so bad” that day.
However, if your friend or family member has been open about sharing their skin health journey with you, and they bring it up in conversation, it’s perfectly fine to offer words of encouragement.
Do listen if they open up about their acne.
Sometimes what we need most from a friend or loved one is simply to be heard. Talking through feelings is a common way for people to process stress — and lowering those cortisol levels can actually help encourage skin health.
If your friend or family member asks for your opinion about their acne, try one of these conversation techniques:
- Rephrase and repeat their words back to them. Using statements like “I hear you saying that…” will help emphasize that you’ve been listening.
- Practice empathy without judgment. Simply saying “I’m really sorry you have to deal with this” is often all a person needs to hear.
Don’t offer unsolicited advice.
It’s only natural to want to share tips about treatments and products — but what works for you isn’t necessarily what will work for others. Not to mention that it’s presumptuous to assume that your friend or family member is actively seeking skin solutions.
Everyone’s skin is different — and your friend may have underlying medical circumstances contributing to their skin condition. If you have additional medical concerns about your friend or family member, it’s OK to gently mention what you’ve observed in a non-critical way — i.e., “I noticed that you [fill in the blank]. Is everything OK?”
Do share your skin health journey — if they ask.
Delving into your own acne success story out of nowhere is pretty insensitive. But if your friend or loved one asks about it, go right ahead. Just don’t be overly insistent that they follow your exact protocol — or any protocol at all, for that matter. Taking control of skin health is a personal decision that your loved one cannot be coerced into. Encourage gently, but then back off.
Don’t complain about a pimple to someone with chronic acne.
While this instinct might come from a place of empathy — wanting to find common ground with your friend or family member — there’s just no comparing an occasional pimple popping up to the daily struggle with consistent acne.
Pointing out your minor breakout to indicate that you can now relate to what another person is going through is presumptuous and potentially alienating for your loved one — the opposite of what you’re trying to achieve.
Do take care of your own skin.
If you have experience managing your own acne — or even if you’ve never had a pimple — lead by example. Sticking to your own consistent skincare routine without preaching can send a powerful message to those around you, whether they consciously realize it or not.
If your child or teen has acne
Don’t say things like “It’s not that bad,” or “You’ll grow out of it.”
Your personal history with acne, or your interpretation of what they “must” be going through, is not an accurate reflection of their own experience. Besides, it’s a whole new world out there: the pressures of selfie culture and social media cannot be underestimated.
Do offer support and take your child’s request for treatment seriously.
Choosing not to treat your teen’s acne might not only have physical and psychological consequences for them — it can also damage your relationship. Keep in mind that it can be challenging for a child or teenager to open up in the first place, so listen intently and take action together. Trying an over-the-counter regimen like SLMD Acne System is a great place to start.
If you have acne
Don’t take no for an answer when seeking support for acne treatment.
When something is weighing on our minds, it can feel daunting to talk to people about it — even if your friends and family have always been supportive. But it’s so often true that once we bring up a touchy topic and get it out in the open, we wish we’d done it sooner.
But if you’ve felt dismissed or invalidated by your family or friends when trying to talk about acne, that can complicate matters. Remember: your experience and feelings are your own, and someone else's reaction to that is their responsibility. If you’re not getting the support (financial or otherwise) that you need, look elsewhere.
If you’re having trouble relating to a parent, be honest about how acne is affecting your daily life. Try reminding them frequently, and sending them links to acne education, until they help you navigate your treatment options.
Do practice empathy when sharing your acne experience.
Remember: communication is a two way street. If someone you care about is being less than supportive in your skin health journey, there’s probably an underlying reason that may not have anything to do with you and your skin. Keeping in mind that other people bring their own baggage to their relationships can help prevent you from taking their reactions too personally.
Dr. Lee’s last word
When it comes to talking about acne, my advice to people is to really listen to each other. Acne is the most common skin condition in the world — but we also know how much it can affect a person’s quality of life. It’s important that we manage it, to avoid potential scarring and to minimize the psychological impact it can have. So don’t be afraid to talk about it!
—Dr. Sandra Lee
Click here to learn more about our partnership with The Jed Foundation, a nonprofit providing mental health resources to anyone in need.