Finding a skin-care routine that helps clear acne can leave anyone feeling helpless — especially when stubborn breakouts just keep coming back. And if you’re still dealing with it long after high school, you’re not alone. The rate of adult acne is rising and treating flare-ups can be pricey at best and painful at worst.
And yet, for a skin-care concern so common (it affects 50 million Americans annually), there's still a stigma attached to it — for many, it continues to be a source of shame and embarrassment. To fight that mindset, we asked three people with acne-prone skin to share their unique stories, from dealing with judgment to searching for their most effective routine. Ahead, read the honest accounts of the founder of Peace Out Skincare (whose own personal experience inspires his products), a dermatologist with a genetic history of acne and scarring, and a beauty influencer who has learned to accept her skin as it is.
Nazhaya Barcelona, Beauty Influencer
“I’ve always had flare-ups in my life — I’ve never had acne acne, but I had little pimples here and there — but I noticed that my face was doing something it never did,” she says. “When people get acne they think you just need to use the right skin-care products and it’ll go away, but I learned, since it’s been three years now, that that’s not the case.”
Barcelona did find some success with tretinoin, a prescription-strength retinoid that kickstarts cellular turnover. “It removes layers of my skin from the surface, because I have a lot of pigmentation and hardened layers of dead skin that I feel like my acne is under,” she says. “I was using that continuously because I was really excited [about the results], and my skin was doing well.”
After finally getting to a place where her skin was clear, she stopped using it — and then, like clockwork, her acne came back. This time, she began to look at her health and diet. She reduced her dairy intake, cut out certain foods, upped her hydration, and even sought out different types of birth control — but nothing helped.
Then, during her junior year of college, she decided to shift her mindset about her acne-prone skin. “Nothing’s working, so I have to accept it,” she says. “I just have to love it and live with it.”
Since that turning point, she’s become vocal within the skin-positivity movement, using The Acne Aesthetic to share and celebrate her unfiltered acne journey. “I value the impact I’m having on young women, who see me living confidently with imperfect skin,” she says. “The more urgently I try to clear my skin, the less influence I have on girls who are dealing with insecurities and imperfections.”
Reaching this point of peace with her acne has allowed her a sense of gratitude that extends beyond just her skin, as well. “When you’re desperate to get rid of it, it becomes obsessive and you don’t learn to love yourself — you’re too busy trying to fix yourself,” she explains. “ [This new perspective] allows me to be happy with myself right now.”
Enrico Frezza, Founder of Peace Out Skincare
When Enrico Frezza first began experiencing breakouts in his early teens, it did a number on his self-esteem. “It got so bad that a couple people called me 'pizza face',” he says. “You rely on your peers’ acceptance, so being called names and seeing my skin just breaking out all over…I didn’t want anybody to see me.”
Frezza would stay home if he was dealing with a particularly bad breakout, and only felt comfortable around his family. “They were like, ‘It’s fine, you’re in your teens, it’ll clear up’,” he recounts.
Eventually, he started using prescription acne medication which, for a while, did the trick. But then the acne returned.
After that, Frezza went on the hunt for something new. A second round of medication wasn’t an option — even though it cleared up his acne, he says the side effects were rough. He endured nosebleeds and cracked lips, and would wake up feeling like his dry, irritated skin was on fire. So he tried everything else — red light, blue light, chemical peels, expensive creams and spot treatments, the works — in hopes that it would improve his acne.
Even though Frezza’s breakouts got relatively better with age, they still weighed on his mental health. “Even two or three pimples made me insecure,” he says. “I would do anything to get rid of the bumps.”
Ultimately, he was looking for a holy grail: something that could shrink a pimple fast. While in a drugstore one day, searching for just that, he wandered over to the wound-healing section. “I found hydrocolloid dressing, which is used for wound care, and the package said it absorbs fluids, reduces bumpiness, and speeds wound-healing with special material,” he says. He decided to try it on top of a salicylic acid peel — and it worked. He found that it was the fastest way to treat a breakout, and at 25, Frezza started Peace Out Skincare and launched the brand's very first product, salicylic acid-infused acne dots.
These days, Frezza says his relationship with his skin is a “rollercoaster.” But there’s a silver lining: Every new concern, be it a blackhead or a dark spot, serves as inspiration. “All of our products are connected to something I struggled with, or something that bothered me,” he says. “That’s what helps develop all of our products.”
Not surprisingly, his new product, Peace Out Acne Serum (which just launched at Sephora today), is also rooted in his own experience: a lightweight treatment serum that targets acne and prevents future breakouts with 2% salicylic acid (and a mix of powerful active ingredients) that, for once, doesn’t dry skin out.
Dr. Liza Moore, Dermatologist
While stress and diet are often linked to acne, genetics are a lesser-known factor. For Liza Moore, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in McLean, VA, her mother’s history of acne and subsequent scarring guided her to seek treatment early. “She was very active about taking me to the dermatologist early,” says Dr. Moore. “I ended up, just like most people, trying topicals and antibiotics which kind of helped, but [my skin still] wasn’t very clear.”
She did a course of acne medication derived from vitamin A when she was 13, which helped — but as is common with young people, fluctuating hormones eventually brought the acne back. After that, Dr. Moore did a second round when she was 17, which did the trick. Now, she only gets the occasional pimple.
Still, having acne was a challenge in her teens. “I was quieter and more socially awkward, because my acne was the first thing that people saw,” she says. “For me, the worst thing is the stigma that comes with acne for a lot of people, which is people think you’re dirty — like you’re not washing your face.”
Various people, including her mom’s friends, would suggest she use certain face washes — when really, that wasn’t the issue. “In reality, I was probably over-washing because I had acne,” she says. If anything, it did more harm than good.
After spending years in and out of dermatology offices, it’s not exactly surprising that Dr. Moore would eventually become a dermatologist herself. It puts her in a position where she can advocate on behalf of her patients, so she can offer others similarly clear skin. “I could identify with acne patients because I’ve been there,” she says. “I saw three dermatologists before someone would give me [prescription medication] — now, I work hard at making sure people see results.”