The acne-empowerment campaign that’s baring it all on Instagram
By Eimear McCourt
Illustration by Eimear McCourt
Yet this isn’t reflected in research and God forbid it be shown in mainstream media. It is a highly debilitating condition, which is often more psychologically scarring than physically so. Yet, society would have us think it is no more than a superficial concern, a cosmetic non-issue - but one we should conceal. Acne is surrounded by an immense social stigmatisation and one of the leading reasons for this is its lack of representation.
Step-up, your champion of spots and unashamed self-love, Lou Northcote - the inspiring creator of acne-positive movement #freethepimple. We caught up with the model-turned-activist who enlightened us on acne behind closed doors and the potentially positive side of social media…
What compelled you to start #freethepimple?
I had suffered in 'silence' for years with my acne and I was so good at hiding it people didn't even know I had acne. When I decided to take part in a TV program that was all about modelling, the first 'challenge' was being completely stripped back - hair tied up, nude bodysuit and no makeup (how ironic). This meant I had to show my biggest insecurity to not just a room full of strangers but hundreds of people watching on TV.
Just before the episode was about to air, I was so scared what people would say about me, press, social media etc. So I decided to post my first ever makeup free selfie with my all of my acne showing - I got to write my story in my words before anyone could misconstrue anything! From that post #freethepimple was born; I wanted to create a hashtag that other people could use so we could create a community and I could find people like me.
Why do you think there remains such a stigma around acne, when so many of us experience it?
The media definitely has a big part to play unfortunately; we are constantly bombarded with adverts on how to cover our spots, how to get rid of our acne and images that are extremely photoshopped. As humans we are always trying to search for 'perfection' yet perfection doesn't exist. We are told acne is a flaw as are things like scars and stretch marks and because of that we believe we have to hide them to be beautiful. Society needs to change the image that we are told is what we should aspire to. We need to show more 'realness' in magazines, Instagram, billboards etc.
Illustration by Eimear McCourt
How did you come to terms with your skin? Do you have any advice for those struggling?
Social media. When a lot of people think of social media they either think of face-tuned faces and photshopped bodies or bullies and trolls but social media doesn’t have to be a dark and fake place. By posting images of my acne and honest words about my experience on social media it helped me to not feel alone and I got the elephant out of the room - no more hiding. I seriously advise anyone struggling with skin probelms to get on Instagram and search #freethepimple - you will find people just like you who are so inspirational, open and honest. I love my internet friends, we help each other so much and there is so much respect and love.
Do you think there is a lack of education or general ignorance towards acne?
This is something I personally would love to know the answer to. It still shocks me that people are so ignorant towards acne and so vicious to people who have it. We have established that you can’t catch it, it is very common and even though not everyone gets acne, we all get spots! I feel like we could begin to combat the stigma by covering it in science when growing up in school - learning about what actually happens under the skin, inflammation, hormones amongst many other things that cause acne. If this was done then maybe there wouldn’t be such a stigma. In addition to the press, brands, magazines etc covering it more and not photoshopping it out!
Through #freethepimple and hearing people’s stories, have you noticed a difference between the male and female experience of acne?
Yes and no. Both have been affected mentally by acne in a bad way and both genders have felt alone and ugly. I personally believe girls speak about it more than boys. In addition, women cover it with makeup and most boys don’t use that outlet so they can’t hide it like females. Acne affects most people in the same way - no matter what gender - self hatred, low self esteem, feeling ugly, alone, upset etc. It is a HUGE cause for depression, I know.
The contraceptive pill is something which is almost synonymous with acne, likewise Roacctuane and readily prescribed antibiotics. Do you think there needs to be a change in the treatment of acne? Perhaps a more holistic approach?
100%. I have now cleared my active acne and just get one or two spots a month now and I didn’t do it from any of those. I personally can’t go on the birth control pill due to my mother’s history of breast cancer and Roaccutane was something I personally didn’t want to go on. Yet I was prescribed antibiotics 3 times, so in total I was on them for around 2 years and after trying everything else I decided at the end of last year to go to a nutritionist and she has changed my life! I found out the antibiotics had completely ruined my gut health so my body wasn’t absorbing the good nutrients I was eating. She told me to take probiotics, COD liver oil and zinc each day and now my acne is gone! In addition I went to SK:N clinic and had chemical peels, laser and kleresca.
Lastly, where do you hope to see #freethepimple going and what do you think is the future of acne?
#freethepimple has already completely exceeded my expectations. I never thought anyone would take notice, let alone people using the hashtag daily. I've also been asked to partake in a documentary about acne for iD magazine! The next step for me is to continue spreading awareness and teaching people what I have learnt about products, ingredients, nutrition etc. The dream would definitely be to write a book and I am looking to bring out merch! The sky’s the limit.
To join the brave and bare-faced community or just be amazed by their fearless beauty, make sure to follow #freethepimple or @freethepimple_ on Instagram!
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