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Acne (young people)

Family life and acne

Most people turned to their parents to help them when they first noticed their acne. Parents or siblings were often the first to give advice and support. A few people said that their parents just saw acne as “normal” in teenagers and were not concerned about it. Molly remembers her parents saw it as “just a natural kind of puberty thing and I should just let it go”.

However, parents could also be the ones to draw their attention to the fact that the acne had become bad, or that it was beginning to affect other parts of their life.
 
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Nina’s mother was the first one to draw Nina’s attention to her acne. Her mother was aware of how having acne was affecting Nina even before she herself was.

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Age at interview: 20
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 12
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I think there’s a lot of pressure on appearance in my family there’s a lot of pressure for general perfection which means often I wouldn’t really, you know, I might, you know, mention how I wasn’t feeling great about my skin particularly when it was like everyone was going to a party I’d like, you know, when I was like younger I’d tell my mum that I was feeling bad. But she was actually the one I think, I know she didn’t mean it she was always trying to look out for me- at first made me aware that my skin was really bad because she, it was obvious to me that she was concerned about it and she was trying to take me to doctors to get resolved but I guess also that was because she could see the effect that it was having on me and like my you know just at school and, you know, social life and stuff like that and I think, so I guess she was probably even more aware than me how it was affecting me.
Family could be a huge support for young people with acne. In particular, knowing parents had had acne themselves, or having siblings with acne, could make it easier to deal with.
 
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Tom had advice from his older siblings, who had acne, as well as from his parents. His siblings told him what had worked for them. It made it easier for Tom to talk about his acne.

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Age at interview: 15
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 15
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How long after noticing that you were getting spots did you talk to somebody about it?

I don’t know. Probably quite quickly because it was kind of like I wasn’t really self-conscious in the way where I wouldn’t talk to my family about it, because I’d, I’d seen like my brothers get it. And some of them had it at that point because they were still like, when I was 12 they, one of them would have been like 16, 17, still having them. So it wasn’t like a subject where I was afraid to talk to people because I was embarrassed. So I was quite confident, I was just, not confident but I was just kind of like, “Oh, I’m starting to get it” And then like my siblings were kind of not teasing but like, you know, “Oh, Tom’s growing up” that sort of thing. So they, everyone sort of noticed it. So it was quite an easy thing to talk to people about. So probably quite quickly. I don’t know exactly.

I spoke to like most people in my family because all, most of my brothers and sisters have had it. And they would tell me what they thought that you should do. Friends would say what they’ve done. And then my mum and dad would tell me what they thought I should do as well. ‘Cos I think we saw the doctors as like not necessarily like the thing we should do first, because we figured we should try all the other stuff first. So yeah.

Did you find their advice helpful?

Yeah, it was all right, it was good, it was good. It was like, just stuff like make sure you use hot water when you wash, not hot, hot but like, you know, like slightly warm water. Put, make sure you don’t use certain types of moisturiser that aren’t actually gonna, like that are gonna include stuff that isn’t as helpful. Use like just simple moisturisers. Use like actual, don’t, like [sister’s name] kept telling me to avoid the sort of branded stuff. Because that tended to be a lot more like not as effective because they want you to keep buying it sort of thing. Kinda, I don’t know if that’s true but, yeah, that’s sort of the advice. So it was all helpful because it kind of made me decide what I wanted to do and how I wanted to go about getting rid of it.
 

Ollie thinks it’s useful to have someone in the family who has had acne.

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Age at interview: 16
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 13
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It's made me quite happy that they…that my sister…I mean I'm sure in many families, probably even going just to cousins, somebody will have had acne, and somebody will have had treatment for acne at some point in their life. So, it's a lot…it's really nice to have somebody that…and I mean even a friend or anyone, that you can talk to about it and that will give you advice, and that’s really, really useful. As or as, if you don’t have somebody then the internet is, you know just as good or, or may-maybe even better in some, some instances. So, you definitely do have support, and I haven’t found it negatively impacting any sort of relationship with my family because they know what I'm going through, and it's not, it is on…I mean it, it's not really something for people to have an argument about really. May-maybe on the sub, maybe teasing or some-something like that maybe between siblings or something, but definitely nothing deeper than that.
 
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Shu En says her mum was a key source of emotional and practical support when she had acne.

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Age at interview: 19
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 9
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Mostly my mum, I think. She was quite encouraging and quite positive about it, yeah. And my friends did make positive comments about the fact that acne, for example, when my acne had gone down by a lot when I was a teenager, lots of people said, “Oh, your face is so much better now.” And that was actually really nice. Yeah.

Yeah. What kind of comments would your mum make to sort of be positive?

She would, she would just keep reminding me about the creams, cos I’m quite a forgetful person. And it’s really easy to forget taking something if you take it every day, like it’s quite ironic but like you kind of forget whether you’ve done it or not. So, yeah, that was really helpful.
Siblings and parents often offered practical support and advice, such as showing young people how to apply creams, suggesting which products and alternative therapies to try out, reminding them to take their tablets (e.g. antibiotics and isotretinoin), and paying for treatments. Quite a few talked about their parents researching acne on the internet and finding home remedies. 

Family support with medical appointments was especially important for some people. This could mean encouraging them to go, telling them what to say, or attending appointments with them. Molly didn’t feel she needed her mum with her when she went for check-ups, but when she went to ask for a referral she found it “useful” to have her mum there.
 
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Rachael thinks having family at the doctor’s appointments helped her keep track of things.

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Age at interview: 18
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 16
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So, when you first went to the GP did you go with anybody, like a family member or?

Yeah I think I went with my Mum. Like, I think I might have gone with my Mum and sister; my sister waited outside and I went in with my Mum yeah. Like I think she's come to all my doctor's appointments ever yeah.

So she's been quite involved?

Yeah, I think it's really good to have like family members involved with appointments because they can keep track of things and they can ask like questions to the doctor like, "She's been on this for ages; what's going to happen?" whereas I might not have felt the confidence to be able to do that so, yeah it was quite good support.

And, I often took my Dad to these and he'd like also like say, "Yes there's been an improvement," or, "No there's not," cos obviously he's been able to observe me for a longer time. It would just sort of like collect all our three views on the situation and then think of where to go from there yeh.
 
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Naomi was “a bit upset” that her mother didn’t come with her to follow-up appointments.

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Age at interview: 22
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 9
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Well I mean cos my mum was kind of the one sort of dealing with it as it were when I was younger but yeah we never really talked about it and I think, you know, maybe that’s just part of our relationship and the fact that, you know we, we don’t really talk about stuff like that and for her like it was just the kind of thing that every so often she’d be like, “It’s still not any better is it, let’s go again.” and yeah so I never felt like I really opened up to her about how much it was affecting me. 

Would you tend to go to appointments with the GP and the dermatologist just on your own or would you take a family member or friend?

Well when I think, yeah so initially I went with my mum when I was like really young and then and yeah she came with me to the dermatologist like the first time round and then the second time round, she came for the first appointment and then was like, “Oh, well you don’t need me,” and I was like a bit upset about that because I felt like I did, but never mind. and then this time in [university city], my boyfriend came with me and he’s a medical student so that was just kind of reassuring as well because you know, he was there but. 
Parents could also be involved with difficult decisions about taking medication such as the pill or isotretinoin. Sarah’s mum was against her taking isotretinoin and that influenced her decision not to take it.
 
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Chris was concerned about the potential side effects of depression if he took isotretinoin and found it helpful to discuss this with his mother.

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Age at interview: 20
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 17
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And what about family members? 

Yeah, I mean, like mum, I suppose my mum was the main person I spoke to about it. And she was like, “Yeah, it’s, it’s a good idea just to go on it. See how you find it, if you get depressed, or if like, if you need to talk to anyone, just give me a call and we can like, see how your feeling and then you can just come off it if you feel like you’re deteriorating or, or something like that”.

Do you think there was any sort of impact on your parents or other family members of sort of having acne in terms of…? 

No. Maybe, I mean, maybe my mum, obviously my mum had to see me go through it. And she might feel sort of a little bit bad for me when like it flared up and she’d be like, “Oh, it’s looking quite bad today”. Like she wouldn’t shy away from saying, it looks bad, like she’d tell me, “Yeah, it’s looking bad, what have you been doing to try and prevent it?” So, I mean, she felt sort of, maybe a little bit, sort of sad for me at some times, but, you know, she knew I was sort of I’m quite a like, I don’t know, an emotionally strong person. It’s not I’m going to sort of cry about it or anything like that, I just get on with it. 
Being at home with parents and siblings could be the one place where people were able to feel relaxed about their acne.
 

Harriet was quite conscious of her acne, particularly when she was out of the house, and felt much more comfortable being at home with her family.

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Age at interview: 21
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 12
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Cos it just, like it occupies so much space in your mind all the time, it’s just the last thing you want to talk to other people about. Cos it ends up, it sort of becomes almost one of these like personal demons that you’re gonna battle alone, you’re gonna conquer it. And you don’t wanna, sort of you don’t feel like you want any help from anyone else, because it’s sort of your personal battle almost.

Yeah, that does make sense. And with it sort of taking up so much sort of brain space and energy -

Yeah.

-when you were doing other things like whether you were spending time with friends, did you still feel you were holding back something cos you were processing or feeling self-conscious about it?

Yeah, it was, yeah, even with friends. It was less so when I was sort of at their house and it was just a sleepover or something, but it was definitely still always there, that I was always quite conscious of. The only place I wasn’t conscious about it was I think when I was at home with my family. Cos they kind of knew what I was going through and would talk about it more, I felt like I could talk about it more openly. So I could complain, be like, “Oh, my skin is so dry today. I hate this medication.” And they’d be, they’d sort of, they’d be like, “Oh, okay, yeah.” And it’s just like, you don’t expect a reaction like, “Oh, Harriet, I feel so bad for you.” But it’s nice to just feel, to, to voice it and have someone just like accept it and listen. So at home was where I felt most comfortable.
Families were often quite accommodating about the fact they might take longer in the bathroom to do their skincare routine. Tom shared a bathroom with his parents, which wasn’t a problem as he went to bed at different times to them. Harriet and her brothers “got into a little routine” so that they each had time in the bathroom in the mornings. But Marga and Emma mentioned that their parents or siblings sometimes complained if they were in the bathroom for a long time and Marga sometimes made “a bit of a mess around the sink” and had to clean up afterwards.

However, it could be awkward or upsetting having parents comment on the acne either at home or to relatives and friends. Although Rachael said her parents were “quite good to talk to”, she found it hard when they “would like point out” or say “it looks really painful”. Naomi “burst into tears” when a family member gave her unwanted advice about acne. She explained, “I just thought like ‘what kind of right do you have to tell me what is and isn’t going to fix my skin?’”
 

For Ish, being told bluntly about his acne and trying many home remedies was not good for his self-esteem.

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Age at interview: 22
Sex: Male
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I feel like sometimes parents tend to make it worse because the parents are like, well they are your parents. They try to help you with everything. But they tend to come across a little bit harder, “Oh, you have that pimple right there. You can put this on it and it will go away.” You know, trying those home remedies all the time and stuff like that. So they’re not really helping. They’re making it worse. I mean, they’re destroying your self-esteem a little bit. So it’s just like, back off a little bit. Don’t be that harsh and that blunt. There’s a level of like, since it’s a taboo in like every day social life, just ‘cos you’re my parent doesn’t really give you the right to be attacking about it. So, yeah.

Did you sort of feel able to voice that to your parents at all, if they did make comments like that?

I wouldn’t really say anything to them, for example, it’s just like, ‘Oh, God, why did you have to mention it.’ You know, what I mean, but it’s like they’re your parents. So they’re trying to help you and they’re trying to do the best for you, no matter what. But it’s like, ‘Yeah, don’t talk to me. I know it’s there.’ 
Harriet said it was not helpful when her mum told her that when her granny had had bad skin, her sisters had pinned her down and scrubbed her face. Nina explains that her mother and sister used to “like point out that I had like scarring and my mum has definitely been very worried about my scarring which makes me feel like ‘Oh no it’s really horrible, it’s really bad.’”
 

Alexandra explains how she thinks parents can give support to their children with acne.

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Age at interview: 22
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 13
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I think if you see your child that they have acne or they’re beginning to get acne, just try and see if you can open up to them about that and be very supportive. So ask if they are in pain or ask if they really wanna do something about it and also maybe that parents do their own research online, because my mum found this little clinic, clinic in [city in the Netherlands] so she was really like, “Maybe you should go to that instead of going to the doctor’s all the time who’s just not giving you any good advice at the moment”. There are more people who know really what they’re doing in this kind of field.

So, she kind of looked it up for me. So I think if parents wanna be supportive of their children that they give them also like, “OK, we could try this”. Or “Have you ever considered looking into for instance this skin treatment, or maybe using a bit more of this cream? Or, are you sure that I can’t do a bandage on that for you, for instance, if you feel pain there?”
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