The Skin Series

Living with Acne

A huge number of adult men and women live with acne in Nigeria. Yet, in our society, having acne means having to deal with unsolicited advice, mean comments, snide looks and flat out embarrassing comments.

Beyond the external and societal response, dealing with acne takes a huge emotional toll on people suffering from it. They often times struggle with body dysmorphia, loss of confidence, low self esteem and social anxiety.

As a person with acne myself, this project was borne out of realising many people have similar struggles and even worse. I became a social recluse because I was tired of being constantly reminded of the condition of my skin and being looked at like I’m a monster just because I have acne. Coupled with the unrealistic standards of beauty perpetrated by the media, I often feel like I am not “normal”.

This project explores the struggles of people living with acne, their experiences and their stories. It challenges unrealistic beauty standards that demand that skin has to be perfect or look a certain type of way to be deemed worthy of respect, decency or niceness.

I documented a few people living with acne and they spoke to me about their struggles. They talked about their experience with having acne, how it makes them feel as well as some of the worst things they’ve had to deal with due to living with acne.

I wanted to capture them being comfortable as much as possible, all the images were shot with natural light and their skins are totally untampered with. The Muses in order of appearance are: Raheemah, Winifred, Binjo, Farouk, Toromo.

All the images were shot in 2019.

*Under no circumstances are these images allowed to be tampered with or edited in any form, All rights reserved.

RAHEEMAH

- How long have you had acne?

Like many other people, acne came with puberty. I remember being so obsessed with treating it then. Mostly steriods, *smh. All I ever wanted was a smooth face. This obsession went on till I was about 19. Then I got my big break, almost a year with clear skin! I was doing the barest minimum and my face was glowing. It didn’t last though, those annoying zits found their way back but I was ready, I had made so many natural skincare concoctions. I pretty much used all my mother’s food on my face.

Looking back now, It was actually just a little here and there. For more than a year now, I’ve been battling severe acne, the very worst kinds. The ones that never stop hurting, the ones that make people stare, the ones that chip bits off you.

- What are some of the worst things you’ve had to deal with living with acne?

Where do I start from? The discomfort, the pain, the headaches, the inability to sleep and these are just the internal issues. I have gotten all sorts of unsolicited advice. you have acne and suddenly everyone else feels like they are “clear skin gods”.

They always feel the need to prescribe one remedy or the other. From early morning urine to used or unused condoms (I really didn’t have the strength to clarify). Living with acne has brought filth to me o!

Comments like: “See as this one face be, you no dey look mirror?” – A Danfo conductor that I had no business with.

“Ye!! How is your boyfriend looking at your face? You’ll chase him away o” – An elderly Matron before she proceeded to prescribe funny drugs!

- How does living with acne make you feel?

I’m constantly stressed. 

There are days that I wake up with no new whiteheads and I’m so excited, full of life and confident! Before I know it, two new whiteheads pop out of nowhere. It’s pretty much a rollercoaster of emotions for me. 

Although I’m at a good place now. I go out without caring that people are staring. This wasn’t the case at the first half of the year. I made excuses to stay indoors every chance I got. The only pictures I took were “progress” pictures. I felt so ugly! I lost so much confidence. I should add that managing acne is mad expensive. I tell myself I won’t spend any more money on my face but guess who is constantly searching for the next miracle?

- What’s something you wish people would stop doing when they notice your acne?

I wish they would stop feeling the need to give me unsolicited advice and mind their goddamn business.

- Is there anything else you’ll like to mention?

After all I’ve been through this year, I have accepted that this journey with acne might be longer than I hoped. Everyone’s journey is different; because a remedy works for A doesn’t mean it will work for B. For some people, the underlying issues might just be deeper.

WINIFRED

- How long have you had acne?

I’ve had acne since I was 9/10 years old. Pretty much all my life, lol.

- What are some of the worst things you’ve had to deal with living with acne?

Being negatively conscious of your looks. Basically, feeling insecure most days because I don’t feel my best, you know? Also, dealing with comments from friends, family, strangers. It’s tiring.

- How does living with acne make you feel?

It makes me feel emotionally exhausted. Some days, I feel great because I see progress and some days, it feels like I’m back to square one.

- What’s something you wish people would stop doing when they notice your acne?

Stop trying to touch my face! Stop making comments and asking obvious questions.

- Is there anything else you’ll like to mention?

Acne is a very difficult thing to deal with. However, you have the power to make yourself feel great and beautiful or not..

BINJO

- How long have you had acne?

I started having acne when I was 11/12 years old. So let’s say 15 years.

- What are some of the worst things you’ve had to deal with living with acne?

Some days you just want to baff up and something will just pop on your forehead. Also, it can really hurt sometimes. Third is all the Shawarma money you use to manage it.

- How does living with acne make you feel?

I’ve come to accept that it’s part of the biodiversity of the earth. Some of us have good skin, some of us don’t. Some of us have extra hormones, some of us don’t.

- What’s something you wish people would stop doing when they notice your acne?

I wish they would stop mentioning it. “Hey you have something on your cheek and it’s red.” If there was something I could do about it between morning and that time, I would.

- Is there anything else you’ll like to mention?

FAROUK

- How long have you had acne?

I started having acne when I was 11/12 years old. So let’s say 15 years.

- What are some of the worst things you’ve had to deal with living with acne?

A lot! Sometimes the physical pain was hectic, then the constant question of what is wrong with your face? What are you using? You should use filters blah blah. It stopped getting to me at some point, I started the process of visiting a dermatologist and healing started. It made me understand the reason for my acne.

- How does living with acne make you feel?

Living with acne for a while made me feel bad about myself. I felt I couldn’t go out because of my skin condition. Seeing people of my age with clear skin made me wish mine would be clear too.

- What’s something you wish people would stop doing when they notice your acne?

People should stop asking what is wrong with my face and all the stories about how bad it is, what I’m using or what I should do. I’m tired of the unsolicited advice.

- Is there anything else you’ll like to mention?

I will like to mention to people with acne to see a professional and avoid people’s opinions of using all sorts, most times they do more damage than good. Also, I’ll like to say that it will get better!

TOROMO

- How long have you had acne?

Since I was 12. It left when I was about 15 but I’ve had skin discolouration ever since. When I was 19, I had another “attack” and I’ve been living with it since then. It comes and goes though.Right now, I’m just trying to figure out what triggers it and stay away from it/them.

- What are some of the worst things you’ve had to deal with living with acne?

People say things like “why aren’t you taking care of yourself, don’t you know you’re a lady?”. Excuse me! I know I’m a lady and I’m really trying my best :(. Another thing I hear often is “Aunty you could have been fine but these pimples just spoilt your face”. Apparently, I’m a potential fine girl :(. People are really mean.

- How does living with acne make you feel?

Well, I think it has made me tough skinned, I really don’t bother about people’s comments anymore but sometimes if I’m being honest, I feel like less of a human :(. Why can’t the skin be like other people’s? Do they have two heads?

- What’s something you wish people would stop doing when they notice your acne?

Stop commenting!!! Focus on who I am and not my personal flaws please :(. I know I have a skin disorder, I have a mirror thank you. You don’t have to tell me, if you feel bad for me, give me money for corrective surgery.

- Is there anything else you’ll like to mention?

Nobody living with acne is oblivious to the fact that she/he has acne so before anyone comments, he/she should imagine the different things that this person has gone through just to clear the acne (and clearly none of these things have worked) and advise only if he/she has been or knows anyone that has been in a similar situation (there is acne and there’s the occasional pimple so please let’s be guided).

We people living with acne are open to helpful solutions, however we don’t think solutions from people that don’t even understand the problem but are recommending solutions are helpful. Also, be kind in your solutions proferring, thank you.