How Famous People Control Their Acne

Illustrated by Mallory Heyer.
Not to be too melodramatic, but when you have acne, it can sometimes feel like you're all alone. Everyone else seems to have sparkling skin, and you're bombarded by smooth-as-glass complexions in magazines, on TV, and on Instagram. You live your life through Facetuned glasses.
But according to the American Academy of Dermatology, acne is THE most common skin condition in the U.S., affecting over 50 million Americans. And adult-onset acne disproportionately affects women — according to a 2001 study, 41% of women have acne and a significant amount of those cases are adult-onset. Another study, done in 2012, found that 45% of women aged 21 to 30, 26% aged 31 to 40, and 12% aged 41 to 50 suffered from some type of acne. So, yeah — there are a lot of us out there.
Now, if you've been educating yourself on acne, you've probably heard all of these stats before. But that likely doesn't make you feel any less like a skin outcast. Which, frankly, is just not acceptable. There's absolutely nothing defective or unusual about your skin — acne is caused by oil, hormones, and bacteria — things that every single one of us has, just some more than others. In an effort to prove just how common acne really is, we sought out some of the prettiest people on the planet — people who are expected to have "good" skin — to open up about their battles with blemishes and share their trials, triumphs, and wisdom about that all-too-common skin condition.
So keep reading to learn how an actress, a model, a makeup artist, and other members of the beauty glitterati have dealt with their skin issues. And we urge you to bond and share in the comments below — for every person who talks about their own complexion crisis, another finds comfort and support. Sharing truly is caring, guys.
The grown-up guide to dealing with acne. Read more from The Acne Diaries here.
1 of 7
Illustrated by Mallory Heyer.
The Actress
"I've had [acne] around the chin ever since I was a teenager. I remember high school was just being really self-conscious. I think that's the one thing that we all feel, and it's a funny thing because it's probably not as obvious to other people. It's just something we feel quite sensitive about and personal. I feel like we always associate acne with teenage years, but it never really leaves you. You'll have issues with your skin and your body, and you just have to find the things that will help you balance everything out.

"Going on auditions, those are interesting anyway because it feels like you're sitting there with someone picking you apart no matter what you look like. You're not this enough, you're not that enough, this is too much, this isn't enough.

"You know, from those experiences I think you either lose a sense of confidence, understandably, or you're forced to find an armor to know this is a temporary moment...and you know how you feel about yourself. So, just to keep that in mind and keep a healthy mindset about that is really important. It's tough, though, just because when you're passionate about something and you want something, and it feels like there's...a panel of people judging you, it's an intense experience. I still have it all the time.

"For me, less has been more. I think that when you're struggling with anything, you feel like you're quick to grab the quick fix; you're looking for the promise of what something will deliver. I think we live in a very impatient world — there are stimulants that are so instantaneous that we expect that type of instantaneous response. You have to hang in there with it and be patient.

"I also take evening-primrose capsules [every morning], and I truly believe that everyone, particularly women, should be on this because I've seen such a huge difference [in my skin]... Then in the evening, I'll cleanse, and that's when I'll apply Aczone, right after cleansing, right before moisturizer. I use something a little bit richer to feel like I'm really getting the hydration in, and night cream, and that's essentially it.

"I really love Epicuren's Herbal Cleanser — it's gentle, but effective. That's a cleanser you really should keep on for about two minutes. It has really beautiful herbs in it. And then, I use the Epicuren Acidophilus Probiotic Facial Cream, which is a really nice, neutral cream.

"I certainly have days where I feel darker than others. I'd call my dad and say I'm feeling really anxious or slightly down, and he would say, 'Go for a walk. Get out in the world, get out of your head.' I [would get] really annoyed with him because I was like, 'No, but I want to know what else to do.'

"But [now]...I believe getting out and doing a little bit of exercise, even if it's just taking a walk around the block, it really does help your mental state. It's just doing something that's a little bit outside of what you are obsessing about in that moment."

— Kate Bosworth
2 of 7
Illustrated by Mallory Heyer.
The Model-Turned-YouTube-Star
"When I first got acne — I remember my first pimple — it was in the third grade. And it popped up on my nose, and this girl looked at me and was like, 'What's that on your face? Is it contagious?' I started feeling really self-conscious — I went home and asked my mom and she was like, 'Oh, it's just a pimple, it'll go away.' Well, mom, it didn't exactly go away.

"By middle school, acne had taken over my face, my chest, my back. By the time I gave up on dermatologists, I had seen 24 of them. It was just that constant thing where they throw medication at you, and they don't really help you through it. And kids at school are teasing you or picking on you, and you can't even see yourself in the mirror and feel okay.

"As I got to high school, it got really bad — I couldn't even go to the breakfast table in the morning without makeup. Obviously my family doesn't really care, but I felt like I am doing them a disservice by letting [them] see me like this. I'm so ugly, I don't deserve to be here. Let me not intrude on your time.

"It was such a self-esteem issue because all I could see myself for was my appearance. When I couldn't even go outside and have friends, how was I supposed to live when I was just like completely blocked off by these insecurity issues caused by acne? So, yeah, that really sucked.

"Once I started modeling, the only reason that I [felt I] was able to be beautiful was because I could wear makeup. [Agents] would say, come to a photo shoot without makeup — I would put makeup on and be like, 'Oh, just do the eyes...' because otherwise people would figure me out and it was terrifying. Makeup was a mask, makeup was a chore.

"But once I got into that and realized makeup doesn't make me beautiful — being a canvas for a photographer and creating something beautiful, along with a photographer and a makeup artist, [does] — it allowed me to take makeup off gradually, and realize this makeup isn't what makes me a valuable human being. It's the fact that I can use it creatively, but it's who I am on the inside that really matters.

"And unfortunately, until you get to know a person, people don't understand that, so there is this initial [negativity] that just happens, and it's really sad. People do this thing called acne-shaming. People don't realize, and are like, 'Oh, it's just acne,' [but] you get so much shame for being a person with acne.

"I did a speech for the EADV, an international dermatology conference, last year, about a study I did with one of the doctors on what the perception of acne was. People were handed a photo and a list of like 500 people. Two-hundred and fifty of those photos were duplicates photoshopped to have acne... People who had acne were rated less successful, less likely to be friendly, less likely to be an honest person, to have less education, more unhygienic. When in reality, if you have acne you probably wash your face better than anyone else on this planet.

"Honestly, even though I'm confident today without makeup, if I go out without it, people treat me much differently than they do when I wear a full face of glam — it's really interesting to see that there is some social, psychological root in our society, to cause people to treat us that way. But the more we talk about it, the more accepted it will be. Because if you haven't had it, you have no idea what it's like.

"When I say [my acne is] under control, [I mean] it's much more under control than it was — I'm wondering, if it was completely gone, would I still have those physical [and] emotional scars? I'm always going to wash my face like I have acne, I'm always going to apply my makeup in a full-coverage manner.

"After 24 dermatologists, I was over it. So I picked up products and googled every single one of the [ingredients] to find out what they do to my skin, or how they affect my pituitary gland. And [I'm] figuring out how to live a 21st-century lifestyle while trying to keep my body at its healthiest, and therefore my skin at its healthiest. Everyone's body is different. For me going vegan was a huge step. It was originally for compassion reasons, but then I noticed all of these changes; cutting out dairy was especially huge, which was amazing.

"I'm an adamant believer that no matter who you are, or where you are, you make your own opportunities. If there's not an opportunity for you, you go, you dig a hole, you build a wall, you build a door, and you make yourself an opportunity. Don't let your skin, or your issues, or your self-confidence, hold you back."

Cassandra Bankson
3 of 7
Illustrated by Mallory Heyer.
The Makeup Artist
"As a teenager, I developed spots in puberty — I was a late-bloomer, so, like 14, 15. They wouldn’t be dense, but they would be sporadic, in different areas of my face. I felt like I was oily all over, and I felt like I could get a pimple anywhere. And then they hurt, so I tended to be a picker. They would be red and inflamed, and then I would get breakouts in the surrounding areas from picking.

"I think that was also part of my entrée into the world of products, and trying to find products to cure my situation. I would use abrasive scrubs — that I didn’t know then, but maybe they exacerbated the problem... I would use the strongest toner because I believed that the strongest one would combat the oil and 'kill' the pimples. I just came to think of myself as being a sort of grease pit and an oil slick, and as a teenager I think that can really affect your confidence.

"In my late 20s, I developed serious adult acne — it was really cystic, and it was mostly on my forehead. And that was when I decided to do a course of Accutane. In my teenage years, I did lots of oral and topical antibiotics, and I did Retin-A, but I never really felt that they helped. I love Retin-A now, but as a young person with acne, it would inflame, or redden, the areas. I feel like much of what I did to try and help my situation only made it angrier.

"When I developed the adult acne, I was assisting Kevyn [Aucoin], and one day we were shooting a very big actress who said to me — we literally just met — and she said to me, 'You need to get some tea-tree oil for your pimples!' I was mortified to be called out on them — I was completely annihilated. And here it is at least 17 years later, and I still remember that experience and how horrible it made me feel to have that noticed and addressed; to have her offer what she thought would help, but [that] made me feel so diminished and really affected my sense of self for that day and beyond.

"I went to the dermatologist and he put me on Accutane. After the Accutane, people constantly compliment me on my skin and it’s a hard compliment to take, to this day. Because having known the other side of acne, when someone says, 'Your skin looks beautiful,' I still have the residual feeling of being an acne-ridden teenager...

"[When I have a breakout now], mostly people pretend not to notice, but that one day, America’s sweetheart said to me that I needed to get some tea-tree oil for my pimple, it always affected my confidence and I think that it was also part of my interest in makeup. I recognized the power of makeup to transform and to reinvent people, but I was also interested in its power to camouflage: to make my skin look normal or to hide a blemish.

"[When I created my Surreal Real Skin Foundation Wand], I did want to create a product that optimized the appearance of skin, and make your skin look beautiful, but not like you were wearing makeup. I wanted it to be a texture and a formula that, as a man, I could wear that would be virtually undetectable that would just optimize the appearance of skin and make it look like just healthy skin.

"Acne is a hard thing to go through, and people are sort of insensitive to it. I used to think that people thought that I didn’t know how to clean, or how to cleanse my skin, or that I wasn’t washing my face enough, or that I wasn’t bathing properly. Like people thought that my hygiene wasn’t good because I had pimples.

"For teenagers, their parents often think that it’s just a phase or that...they’ll grow out of it, and they don’t realize the psychological ramifications of it. For a middle-class family, like the one that I came from, it wasn’t a priority to get me to a dermatologist and to get it fixed. Between the braces and the...outgrown sneakers, it just seemed like less of a priority, and I think that parents need to understand that if they can afford it, to seek a dermatologist for help. It can be really, really helpful for the psyche of the young person that you love.

"Eventually, I saw a dermatologist and I paid for it myself, and I think I was uninsured, but I did the course of Accutane, which was really expensive then, but it was a monthly expense and it was three or four months. It was still extra hundreds of dollars a month because I was uninsured, but I just wanted so badly to get rid of [the acne] that I would do anything. The investment in yourself and your skin is worth it. You’re making an investment in literally becoming comfortable in your skin, and that’s really priceless."

Troy Surratt
4 of 7
Illustrated by Mallory Heyer.
The Beauty Editor
"I actually never really had acne as a teen — I just started experiencing adult acne this year, when I turned 29. Amber Katz, another beauty writer friend of mine recommended that I go see dermatologist, Dr. Debra Jaliman, because I hadn’t gone through that experience before, so I don’t think I properly knew how to deal with it. I was breaking out on my neck and along my whole chin, and the second I went to talk to Dr. Jaliman about it, she was like, 'Yeah, that’s adult acne. There’s no reason for it — it’s all hormones.'

"So she told me right away to go on spironolactone, and literally within the first week, I saw an improvement. She also prescribed me Aczone, which she said would help me for the smaller bumps, like the milia, and so I use that, too.

"I think at first what I was concerned [was causing it] — because I am a beauty editor — was switching skin products all the time. That’s always the first thing I think of because I’m testing new things and I have sensitive skin anyway. But typically, my sensitivity is more redness or dry patches. And [switching so much] wouldn’t really cause the breakouts like I was having.

"But I definitely switched to a more gentle cleanser right away. I [went] from whatever name-brand, high-end cleanser I was using to CeraVe because it was so gentle on my skin, so that helped for a little while, but it wasn't clearing up my appearance. So, I was just like, I can’t. I know there are things that you’re supposed to be doing, but a dermatologist is there to give you help for your personal skin issue, and I had to go talk to someone.

"When there’s any skin issue and you are a beauty editor, you’re self-conscious about it. You don’t want to go to as many events, you don’t want to be out in the world — you’re telling people what they should be doing for their skin, so you think your skin, of course, needs to be flawless...

"I definitely talked to people: I would bring it up first and be like, 'My skin is a mess right now! What should I do? Who did you go to?' It’s fortunate I never had someone come up to me and be like, 'Your skin looks terrible. You should do this,' but it’s that kind of industry...everyone likes to share advice, so I brought it up first and that helped...

"In this day and age, we are a generation that talks about everything. We talk about all our problems, we talk about everything on social media; so hiding something that you’re stressing so much about, so self-conscious about — it’s not helping anyone, it’s just hurting you, especially if you can get advice from someone.

"I specialize in beauty and I like to think I know a whole lot about it, but you can always find more help from other people. So when it comes to something that you’re struggling with, you might as well reach out for help — you can go to somebody that you trust and reach out to them first. And if they don’t know anything, maybe they can reach out to somebody.

"As much as it's disheartening to say, your acne does really affect how you feel and your appearance. And it is one of those things that is fixable, but it boggles my mind that I tried different things myself for months and then, in the snap of my fingers, I went to a specialist and got it fixed in a matter of days. Of course, I kicked myself in the butt [for waiting so long]. But it’s one of those things that can bring up so many [issues], like cyber-bullying, so many terrible things that people dwell on and get upset over.

"But you need to be aware that [almost] everybody has acne. The amount of celebrities that [have acne] — like half of the celebrities that are on Instagram — you just can’t tell because they’re Facetuning themselves. But once we find out the truth, it [teaches us] that, yes, they’ve actually been struggling with acne all their life, they’re just like us. That comes back around to me being a beauty editor. As an expert, there's this pressure on yourself to have great skin, but we’re all people, too, and hormones are hormones and we get breakouts also. Acne doesn’t care who you are; everybody gets it."

Rachel Adler
5 of 7
Illustrated by Mallory Heyer.
The Aesthetician
"In my teenage years, I would get some breakouts on my face — it wasn’t a ton, but I also had really bad acne on my back, so that was my really big issue. It was really more in my 20s that I started getting more kind of cystic, hormonal breakouts — chin and jawline.

"I became an aesthetician at 18, but aesthetic school was so basic back then. We covered acne, but just from a very high-level standpoint and extractions, but there was no education on when to squeeze, when not to squeeze.

"When you feel something under the skin, it hurts, it’s painful, it’s sore, you have this thing like, I need to get it out of there. I had an obsession with my own skin — taking care of it — I was a total skin-picker.

"I took it upon myself to do what my instinct told me, again because I didn’t learn much about...squeezing in school... Then, I had access to my favorite tool on the planet, which is a lancet. In my teenage years it was more like safety pins, but in my adult years, my plan of attack was always 'pierce it with a lancet.' Whatever is painful under there, I want to get out.

"Later, diving into learning about cystic acne and educating myself, I learned a lot about cysts...they don’t want to come out because they’re not meant to come out. Your body will reabsorb the infection and it goes back down under; if you never touch it, a true cyst won’t form a whitehead.

"I was completely disregarding what my own body’s healing process was, and I was just thinking, I’m a professional, I know what I’m doing... I had completely destroyed my skin, but it was the satisfaction of getting it out and thinking it was going to go away so much faster now. But it was more like, hello scab, hello bleeding, hello oozing, hello post-breakout dark mark for three months...

"The issue that nobody talks about is that the shelf life of a blemish is five to seven days, depending on what kind of blemish it is. It will go away, it’s fairly short, but the scab, the discoloration — that lasts for months.

"My boyfriend at the time was like, 'What are you doing?' and [my attitude was], 'I’m a professional. These hands are licensed. I know what I’m doing.' But gradually, I just realized I was making it worse, so I gave it up as a New Year’s resolution. It was like people quit smoking, people start dieting, whatever, [and] I stopped picking. I had had enough because of the scarring... That's what led me to create my Anti-Cyst Treatment.

"I had moments of weakness for sure, but by and large, I basically said, Renée, let your body do what it wants to do, and get out of the way and don’t interfere. But that didn’t mean I wouldn’t break out again; it just meant that they were so much less eventful. Clients like the fact that I get some breakouts, like I’m human and I understand what they go through. So many aestheticians get into the business because they have problems with their own skin...and want to figure out a cure.

"So, there’s hope. A lot of people refer skin-pickers to me, because they know I can relate and I’m not going to judge them. When people come in and they’re chronic pickers, you can just tell the shame they have. They also come in assuming that somebody is just going to give them a lecture and nag them about it. That’s the worst thing to do; they know they shouldn’t. I knew I shouldn’t pick at my skin either; we’re not dumb, but we can’t help it."

Renée Rouleau
6 of 7
Illustrated by Mallory Heyer.
The PR Rep
"I have hormonal, cystic, pesky acne and I had it a little bit as a teen, but it really came on full-fledged in my early 20s and has persisted over the last decade. It cleared up around 28 — I thought I had it under control... I was on spironolactone, I was getting regular facials, and I thought it had cleared, and then I went off [the spironolactone] and it came back. Now it’s been a whole battle trying to tame it once again.

"No matter what age [you are], it is obviously something that makes you feel insecure or can make you...feel prettier, or less attractive, depending on how many zits there are and how noticeable they are. Because I’m in the industry, I probably have a greater knowledge of what goes on, especially when it’s hormonal and cystic, and I know that it’s really not a reflection of how clean you are, or how diligent you are.

"The hardest thing for me is I have a very type-A personality, and I feel out of control with my acne because no matter how diligent I am with my skin-care regimen, no matter how many facials I get, like the greatest treatments out there I can try, and going to amazing still persists. That sense that you can’t get it under control is incredibly frustrating.

"I have some weeks when I meet editors or VIPs for facials over at the [Kate Somerville] clinic, on the days when I’m really clear, everyone always comments, 'You have great skin!' So, I know they’re looking at my skin, which they should be. You would want your dentist to have great teeth. On the days when it’s really bad, nobody makes any comments about my skin, so one can just assume they’re thinking, Her skin is not so great.

"[Because of that], I have felt, in certain cases, [the need] to almost overcompensate for that and make a comment — let’s call out the elephant in the room — that I have very acne-prone skin and it’s so hard to keep under control. What I’ve learned, and what I try to make clear, is there is that sense of, I represent this brand — how great can this brand be if my skin is not clear? I don’t want people to think that. When you’re in a room with people with clear skin and you have acne, I don’t think there’s anything in that moment that is really going to necessarily make you feel better.

"The reality is it actually has nothing to do with the products — the products are amazing, the treatments at the clinic are amazing — and if I didn’t have access to that, my acne would be much worse. I try to play that up, so it doesn’t reflect poorly on the brand, because it shouldn’t. But, of course, that’s always the fear.

"Adult acne is so unbelievably common. Seeing so many celebrities come in and out of our clinic with no makeup on; it is insanely common among celebrities. Some of the most beautiful faces in the world, you have no idea what their skin really looks like when they’re not airbrushed and they don’t have the top makeup artist fixing their skin. I think there’s this perception that everyone in Hollywood has flawless complexions, and that’s definitely far from the truth, so I would say find comfort in knowing it’s incredibly common.

"For hormonal acne, I tried everything under the sun. I’ve tried prescription topicals, I’ve tried prescription antibiotics, spironolactone, LED lights — which I do think are fantastic. For me, it’s more of the being committed to doing it as frequently as I need to. Aestheticians, and getting regular facials, are so key...but it’s also really important to meet with a dermatologist or a doctor and try to figure out what’s going on. For me, I have PCOS — polycystic ovary syndrome — so I know why I have that imbalance; it’s basically a side effect...

"Kate’s products, obviously I work for her, but her acne products really are amazing... The treatment side is more expensive, and not everyone has the means to do a series of blue light, but if you do, the lights are great at killing the bacteria...and then the topicals are really good for keeping your skin clean. The EradiKate Mask, I’m obsessed with it — I do it twice a week and it’s great for keeping my pores clean.

"[A lot of people say] it's just a diet thing. But I’ve tried [changing my] diet, and that was not the culprit. I used to think if I ate sugar, the zit I had that week was like the Sour Patch Kid zit, but it’s definitely not, because I’ve cut it out, I’ve cut out dairy, I’ve cut out gluten, and I didn’t see a noticeable difference. And these are the things that bring joy into my life, so if that is not the reason, I am putting them back in my diet, sparingly of course.

"You can hit that point where you’re like, Alright, I’ve tried every single thing, what else can I do? Just remember that your body changes, and your skin changes every few years, so it’s like, what worked for me when I was 25 might not work for me right now... It’s figuring out what’s the new formula, and I definitely won’t stop. I’m not giving up."

— Meg Young
7 of 7
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