You're trying to be sympathetic and helpful. Or maybe you're just making conversation and drop a simple remark.
Here's the thing – we're usually ultra-sensitive about our skin. Glib comments, innocuous as they may seem, can hurt us deeply even if you don't realize it.
Here are a few things that you should never say to someone who has acne.
1. Just wash your face more often.
This is hurtful, even if you don't mean it to be. You're suggesting that my personal hygiene is lacking. I feel like you're saying I'm "dirty."
What you don't understand is that I wash my face two or three times a day. I'm fastidious about keeping my skin clean. And I still break out.
Acne isn't caused by a dirty face. It's actually caused by hormones more than anything else. No amount of washing is going to change that.
2. What happened to your face?
Seriously, ouch! This remark cuts to the quick.
Acne is extremely distressing to me. Drawing attention to it in such a way is humiliating. Right up there with this one is, "You used to have such nice skin." Yes, I remember. I want to have that nice skin again, and I'm working on it. It's really not as easy as it seems.
3. Why don't you try Proactiv?
According to all the TV ads, all people have to do is use an OTC acne treatment product and their acne will quickly vanish. I really wish that were true. But it's not.
An off-the-cuff comment like this makes it seem like acne is easy to treat. Trust me, it's not.
4. You must be touching your face too much.
The assumption here is that I must be doing something to cause my skin to break out. I already feel badly. Comments like this make me feel like I'm somehow to blame for bad skin.
Touching my face, while not particularly helpful, isn't the cause of my acne. In reality, acne happens for reasons beyond my control. It has nothing to do with what I'm doing, or not doing.
5. (To a teen:) You'll grow out of it.
Objectively, you're probably right. But that doesn't make me feel any better right now. My skin is breaking out now, and it makes me feel embarrassed and self-conscious now. Saying that it's only temporary implies that my feelings aren't valid.
Besides, some people don't grow out of it. Many continue to struggle with adult acne.
With all the good teen acne treatments out there, there is really no reason to wait until acne decides to go away on its own. Starting treatment now will help me feel loads better about my skin and myself.
6. Stop eating junk food.
Again, comments like this make me feel like acne is my fault, that I'm doing something to cause it.
Eating junk food isn't good me, I get it. But it really doesn't have much (if anything) to do with my breakouts. There is no scientific proof that eating junk food causes acne.
Remarks like this do make me feel like I'm being judged, though. So please don't make me feel guilty and let me just enjoy my French fries.
7. Wow! That white head is huge!
Yes, I know. Thanks for noticing.
Kindly pointing out that I have something in my teeth, that you can "see London and France", or that my hair is doing a weird bird's wing thing – those are helpful observations that I welcome because I can remedy them.
There's not much of anything I can do for that big whitehead except wait for it to go away, so pointing it out just embarrasses me. And no, suggesting I pop the offending zit isn't a good idea either.
Acting like you don't see that big blemish earns you brownie points from me (FYI, I can see when your eyes zero in on it.) Pretend like it isn't there; that's what I'm trying to do anyway.
8. You should try X treatment. It worked really well for my friend.
I appreciate the fact that you're trying to be helpful. I really do.
But odds are, I've already tried dozens of treatments. It's important for you to understand that not every treatment works for everyone. The medication that worked really well for your friend may not be a good fit for me.
Support me in my current treatment plan my dermatologist and I have developed.
9. I've never had acne because I (fill in the blank).
It's great that you never had to worry about your skin! You don't know how incredibly lucky you are.
Because, when all is said and done, luck really has a lot to do with it. Some people are predisposed to acne, and some aren't. Genetics play a role. So do hormones.
Even if I followed your skin care routine (or diet, or vitamin supplementation, etc.) to a "T", I'd still have acne. And if you stopped your routine, you'd probably still have clear skin.
I acknowledge that you know how best to care for your skin. I'd like you to recognize that I know the best way to care for mine.
10. Have you ever thought about seeing a dermatologist?
I might actually welcome this suggestion, but it's completely dependent on how well I know you. My parents, my best friend, my siblings or my spouse can broach this subject with me. If you're a casual acquaintance, a classmate, or someone I just met in line at the grocery store – don't be surprised if your remark is met with an icy stare (or worse).
You don't know my situation. Maybe I'm already under a dermatologist's care. If you're not sure, then you're definitely not close enough to me to make this suggestion.
But if you know me well, and you approach me with love and caring and tact, this suggestion might be just the push I need to make that appointment to help get my acne under control. Because I really do want clear skin. I just may be so dejected and discouraged that I don't know what step to take next.
So by all means, bring up the subject in a sensitive and compassionate way. Then I'll know that you care about my well-being, that you're not judging me, and that you're supportive of me. And for that, I thank you.