Soothing the scars of a lifetime

Published date19 July 2021
Date19 July 2021
Pimples, spots, plukes, pustules, boils, eruptions, carbuncles, zits ... If there are dozens of different words for snow, there must be at least as many in the school bully's armoury for spots, or to give the condition its mercilessly judgemental medical name, acne vulgaris.

I was a gloriously acnified teenager - we aren't talking about the odd sprinkling of spots here and there, more a deeply crusted carapace. I can still feel the heat rising under my throbbing adolescent skin as I traced the ugly bulge of each new ravagement, moving my fingers from one drying scab to the next like a never-ending game of join the dots.

Looking back, I was lucky enough to come through those challenging acne years with only a few physical scars, and most of those are on the back of my neck, out of sight, leaving my face relatively blemish-free. But only now, more than 30 years later, am I also considering the deeper, emotional scars that the condition left. And these scars are so much slower to heal.

The lifelong impact of acne is something the medical profession is finally taking seriously.

At the end of June, England's National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice) recommended mental health support for those who have been affected by their acne, stating that acne vulgaris and the scarring it leaves can have a strong psychological effect, potentially causing anxiety or depression.

Dr Tanya Bleiker, president of the British Association of Dermatologists, said: ''Acne has a particular effect on appearance, so in addition to depression and anxiety it can be damaging to self-image, leading to isolation and sometimes to severe mental health disorders. This is often at a time in life when people may feel vulnerable.''

I remember my first pimple so well. I was 13 and in the first foothills of puberty.

The zit was a fairly innocuous bee sting of a lump on my top lip. I almost welcomed it. I figured with it would come broad shoulders, a hairy chest and more than just bum fluff on my chin. In fact, it heralded 15 years of inflamed skin, livid welts and a relentless assault on my fledgling sense of self.

You'd think I'd be over it by now, but I'm thinking about my spots more and more - and the acute cruelty of being dealt such a blow just when it feels you can cope with it the least.

I'm not saying my acne was a life-changing event. People have had to deal with so many things much worse. But for me, having acne was awful and it has left a lasting legacy.

Back then, I was...

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