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Unsolicited advice—not always helpful.

This is about life, not personal finance…

For the last 10 years or so, since I was about 12, I’ve battled on and off cystic acne. That’s basically the intense form. Anyway, it’s gotten a whole lot better now, but it goes through flare-ups depending on time of the month and factors I have no clue about.

I’m just getting over one of the flare-ups and I was flattering myself that my face was getting back to normal. Yay!

Well, I was checking out patrons on Sunday when one guy handed me a card on which he’d written “For bad acne, try using [particular kind of acid].” That popped my bubble.

Talk about your mood killers. All I could think of for the next half hour was how everyone was having to look at my horrible face. It felt awful. (and he’s not the first person who has done it.)

I went on break and regrouped. But I still wasn’t feeling good.

Ironically, the same thing that got me down got me back up again. A young man came through the line—probably 16 or 17 years old. And his face was exactly the same as mine at that age (before I started a more intense treatment). It was a nice face but looked kind of like it had been hit by poison ivy.

He was checking out a bunch of travel books and I asked him if he was going abroad. He said that he was visiting Europe this summer and planning everything. I’ve been twice, so we started to compare places and I was able to tell him a few of the things I loved best about the trip. He was friendly, happy, and I think he was flirting with me.

Somehow I started feeling a lot better. He was happy, he had the same problem I did (only worse) so I didn’t need to worry about it either. Then two young women came through the line and we had a great conversation about romance novel covers. They said I reminded them of a roommate from college (and it turned out we went to nearby colleges, though obviously I wasn’t their roommate). It ended up being a pretty fun day.

I went home, looked in the mirror, and discovered that my face is indeed healing as I thought. It’s much better than a few days ago. In fact, it doesn’t really look cystic (IMO) right now. But you can still tell I have problems. *sigh*

As I mentioned above, this isn’t really about anything. You could call it a study in human interaction, I suppose. The point is that unsolicited advice is not always a good idea.

And as someone who’s dealt with acne issues for 10 years, I can give you some pointers on talking to a person about their skin.

1) Yes, I know I have a problem. Gee, you think I haven’t noticed?

2) I’ve probably tried what you’re recommending. Especially if I’m 22. There are a lot of things I’ve tried. And just because it was a miracle cure for you/your friend/someone doesn’t mean it’ll work for me. Just read all the negative ProActiv reviews online.

3) How do you think it makes me feel to be reminded? Not good. Nope. Not good at all. It’s like being told “Hey, you’re ugly, but I know the name of a good plastic surgeon.”

4) You may give me unsolicited acne advice if we’re actually friends or family. Not coworkers. Not people who randomly bump into each other.

If you know who I am, you might actually know if it’ll be helpful. Or you might consider my feelings before reminding me that I’m not “perfect.”


CatherineL February 11, 2008 at 11:40 am

Mrs M – That is bad. I’m glad you met some nice people who cheered you up afterwards.

Even when they’re trying to be helpful, some people can just make you feel worse can’t they?

I once asked a friend what I could do to improve myself – meaning improve myself as a person in general. But, he misunderstood and told me I’d put a bit of weight on recently and could do with losing it.

He thought he was giving great advice but I felt v upset.

Caro February 11, 2008 at 11:41 am

Ugh! That sounds just awful. I have PCOS and while I don’t think my acne is cystic (not sure though), it’s persistent and I’m in my 30s. I’ve had people tell me all sorts of things, but (thank goodness) not when I’m working. I commend your ability to turn the day into something nice despite that sort of thing.

Oh, and I’ll add one more thing to that list…makeup. Whatever amazing makeup you might love is not how I want to cope with my face. (Sure, I wear makeup, but I don’t believe in *having* to wear it to cover up my acne…and if I wear it too much, my acne gets worse.)

cybele February 11, 2008 at 12:15 pm

mrs. m, I think you are beautiful!

RacerX February 11, 2008 at 12:17 pm

It is like how everyone one wants to give the heavy person advice on dieting!

That being said,try to remember that, for the most part, they are really trying to be helpful. They are just ignorant.

mrsmicah February 11, 2008 at 12:24 pm

Thanks, Aunt. πŸ™‚

Caro, I agree. I’ve actually been told not to wear makeup by a dermatologist. She says that it’s just not a good idea with my face’s problems. I do have makeup for special occasions. I’m thinking, though, I might wear some to work tonight, just to put on a good face and not worry about it. Plus, things are going down I think *crosses fingers*

Megan February 11, 2008 at 12:26 pm

What an awful situation! I can’t believe someone would say that to you. I’m very impressed that you dealt with it so well. I would have probably burst into tears.

I was treated for acne by a dermatologist all through my teens and into my very early 20’s. I finally gave up the treatments because the side effects weren’t worth it, and finally, near the end of my 20’s, it’s clearing up, but I still get some major flare ups from time to time. I’ve been sick and under stress at work, so you guessed it, giant flareup. And I’m very self-conscious about it.

I like to pretend that it just makes me younger. After all, acne is a teenager’s plight, right? πŸ˜‰

ChristianPF February 11, 2008 at 1:31 pm

sorry that you have had to go through that, It helps me to realize that everyone has things that they deal with – even the ones who seem like they have it all together and everything is perfect for them. Since we are laying everything out in the open, I (26 as you know) am almost completely bald!! My dad has way more hair than me!! Where did that come from?! Anyway, maybe we all can share our “imperfections” and make each other feel better πŸ˜‰

Mrs. Nathan February 11, 2008 at 2:00 pm

GRRRRRR! Not cool. You should tell him “to treat overwhelming offensiveness and pride, try meditating on your own sinful nature.”

That One Caveman February 11, 2008 at 2:08 pm

Wow, no matter how discreet the individual tried to make his suggestion, it certainly was not tactful or appropriate. I used to have really bad acne and I still have flare-ups today. Sometimes it’s hard not to be self-conscious on Sundays when I’m in front of the whole church congregation.

I was treated with Retin-A and Accutane (before all of the depression and suicide warnings came out – made living a huge struggle for me at that time) and they did work to get rid of the worst of my symptoms, but not all, obviously. Unfortunately, it appears that chronic acne is just something that sufferers have to learn to deal with until we find a way to reorganize our DNA to remove the “acne gene.”

SavingDiva February 11, 2008 at 2:16 pm

How frustrating! I took accutane when I was in high school to get rid of my acne. I used to have people point out that I had a zit here or there…I wanted to shout that I clearly knew it was there and I do own a mirror. Don’t let it get to you! People are jerks!

Kacie February 11, 2008 at 2:22 pm

Holy SMOKES that’s rude of that guy.

If he has the gall to do that…then maybe you can start handing cards to people that say, “Want your identity stolen? Then keep on carrying your social security card in your wallet.”


But seriously though. What the heck is the matter with people?

Laura February 11, 2008 at 4:35 pm

I’m sorry that someone got you down. It’s hard because they mean well, but it still stings. Just remember the good in the day and it’ll make the day a bit better.

Lily February 11, 2008 at 4:45 pm

Stay strong! You have a wonderful blog and a lovely personality … and a problem that many people deal with. Don’t let the last thing (or specifically rude comments from others) detract from the first two.

Or you could always daydream about the day he comes back to you with a stack of books on how to get out of credit card debt, and you hand him a snarky card that says, “For bad debt problems, try spending less than you earn.”

Looby February 11, 2008 at 5:19 pm

Ack, that’s pretty awful, I’m sorry people really have no idea about what is their concern anymore.

Julie February 11, 2008 at 5:25 pm

I was actually thinking the same thing as Kacie, but when I read her comment, it gave me an idea for the social security card problem! I know it’s totally off topic, but maybe your library could sponsor some sort of identity theft awareness month (or week or day or forever…). Then you could hang up posters to remind people and also give out little pamphlets telling them bad things to have in their wallets – and all the good information you know about other preventative measures.

deepali February 11, 2008 at 7:09 pm

you know, the road to hell is paved with good intentions…. i don’t think it’s nice at all to insert yourself into someone else’s business. particularly a stranger.

i had some bad acne growing up and even took accutane in high school, but it didn’t do much. eventually, it started to get better when i was in college and now i only get the occasional issue. but people were quite ridiculous for most of that time, so i try to remember that the next time i want to offer unsolicited advice about something that isn’t my business.

frugal zeitgeist February 11, 2008 at 7:21 pm

I am prone to adult acne, both cystic and non-cystic. It’s gnarly. Having a cystic acne flare-up is one of the most demoralizing things that can happen. My self-confidence disappears entirely, largely because of graceless comments like the one you described.

There are a few things that do an excellent job of controlling my acne. They are:

–Lots and lots and lots of water and herbal tea (80 ounces a day or more)
–Excellent prescription meds: Cleocin in the mornings and Retin-A micro in the evenings for regular maintenance, and Duac for breakouts.
–Pressed powder (to keep my face from getting shiny)
–No moisturizer or makeup with oil in it, ever. (Neutrogena oil-free moisturizer for sensitive skin is affordable and really works well for me.)
–Keeping my hands away from my face.

What works for me may not work for you, of course, but breakouts are few and far between these days and I actually get quite a lot of compliments on my “glowing” skin.

Ashley February 11, 2008 at 8:51 pm

When I was dealing with mine (which I didn’t think was that bad – but they gave me that acutane stuff right away and I think that just made my body hate me, but anyway) I learned it’s partly genetic too. So that sucks. And I still have to deal with it, plus the fact that my skin hates everything so when it’s cold it breaks out more because my skin is dry and I can’t put lotion on it.

I just wonder why, whoever created humans (depending on your beliefs), they would have made this happen to people in the first place.

Becky@FamilyandFinances February 11, 2008 at 10:01 pm

Very rude. I think you are beautiful, too!

ms. m&p February 11, 2008 at 10:04 pm

I’m sorry that happened. It is like someone referring another person to a plastic surgeon. Not cool. I think it’s great that you’ve found something that works for your skin and a way to bounce back from other people’s thoughtless comments.

fathersez February 11, 2008 at 10:37 pm

I am so sorry he damaged your day. Though probably he meant well, he did not put enough thought in how best to convey what he wanted to.

It is great that your day was almost immediately brightened up by the intended traveller and the 2 girls.

Meg from All About Appearances February 11, 2008 at 11:14 pm

I was in high school with horrible cystic acne when the rest of the band class (and the substitute teacher) decided to have an intervention and tell me how gross my skin was and how I shouldn’t pick at it and I should just go see a dermatologist.

I wanted to crawl under a rock and die.

I was scratching because the prescriptions I was taking from my dermatologist made it itch horribly. Nothing seemed to actually help and I got to the point where I hated looking at myself in a mirror. Even just catching my reflection in the car side mirrors was hurtful.

I can still hardly look at our wedding photos.

Fortunately, I finally found a dermatologist that helped. And despite having acne for so long, my skin is remarkably better now.

You can see me without makeup here:

I don’t know if you’ve tried what I have, and I don’t know if it would work for you, but my acne was hormonal, too, so I hope you don’t mind me mentioning that I take spironolactone (normally used for blood pressure, but it has a hormonal side effect). That’s it for the acne. And for the scars, just time and OTC products.

Your Sister February 12, 2008 at 1:19 am

Grrrrrrrr. Let me at ‘im. I can take him!

But, yay, nice people making your day better!

m February 12, 2008 at 11:54 am

Totally agree. I do not accept unsolicited advice. I think it’s totally inappropriate. Maybe I’ve been guilty of offering it at one time or another, but if so, it’s been by accident, not deliberate. I think if someone wants advice, they will ask.

And I totally agree with you on your numbered list. I have a chronic illness and it seems I can’t mention it (in your case, you didn’t even say anything!) without people giving me all sorts of unwanted advice about how to deal with it. As if I haven’t thought of all the same things they suggest (and more) considering I’m the one who has the illness and has had it for ages. Besides, as you said, if I wanted help with dealing with it I’d ask.

Too many people take bringing up a topic as a signal for wanting their opinion on what you should do about that topic. Anyhow that guy was totally inappropriate, so I hope you’ve gotten to feeling better about it all now.

And by the way, I’m not villainizing (sp?) people who do that, I think it’s a natural human desire, to want to be able to be of help to others. I just don’t like that behavior, but I understand it’s almost always motivated by a desire to be helpful and out of concern for the other person. I usually just tell people thanks for your concern, but I’m not looking for advice right now.

amy February 13, 2008 at 2:42 pm

I can completely relate to this post. Having acne is terrible, and having people point it out to you is even worse. I finally decided to take drastic measures and took Accutane this past year, but Ashley is right, my body totally hated me for it. I feel better now and my face has been pretty clear, but I still look in the mirror every day and see years of scarring. My only suggestion is that if you do wear makeup, wear mineral makeup. I actually found it soothing rather than irritating.

Bonnie February 13, 2008 at 2:59 pm

I am so sorry about what that guy did. I have struggled with acne my whole life as well (I’m 31). I’ve tried every cream and medicine, both OTC and prescription, and like many others on here, nothing has “cured” me. Even when my skin is looking good, I still picture myself with tons of zits in my head. I did a course of Accutane a couple of years ago and I have to say that my skin looked *perfect* while I was on it. My cholesterol shot up to disastrous levels, though. Also, as soon as I went off it, my skin went haywire for months and looked horrible. My derm doesn’t want to give me a second round because I am of child-bearing age. I had to beg her to put me on it the first time. ProActiv practically burned my skin off. Duac works OK. I have found that using tea-tree oil pads several times a day seems to help, too. Don’t let awful people like that guy get you down.

Brip Blap February 13, 2008 at 10:30 pm

I do think people are just trying to be helpful sometimes – stupid, but helpful. Don’t assume there is any attempt to be hateful.

I have no advice to give. I have chronically dry skin, which means I barely ever (maybe a half-dozen times in my life) had acne. On the flip side, in wintertime my skin cracks and peels and flakes and feels like it’s stretched over a drum, so that’s no picnic either.

Skin sucks for about 90% of us, I think.

Amphritrite February 21, 2008 at 12:12 am

I deal with cystic acne, too, and it’s worse when someone you actually CARE about says something…

Random strangers just make me roll my eyes; there’s nothing I can really do about my cystic acne, so am I really going to give into the temptation to be short with them? They don’t get it; they probably never will.

But those closest to us should definitely learn to keep their mouths shut πŸ˜‰

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