Cover Photographed by Peter DeVito for Dermalogica

In celebration of Acne Awareness Month, we host an open and honest conversation about acne with Sarah Miller of Dermalogica

Those who have experienced acne, especially during their formative years, will understand that acne comes with its own set of emotional challenges. At best, people around them would offer unsolicited advice on how to clear their acne. At worst, they would be the target of bullies online and in real life. Either way, their confidence will take a hit that will take years to recover from. 

Fortunately, the skin acceptance movement is beginning to take hold around the world, bringing hope that the younger generations will understand that acne is completely normal, along with lines, creases, bumps and pores that they may encounter. One of the biggest supporters of this movement is Sarah Miller, who has experienced the emotional struggles of having acne first hand. 

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Tatler Asia
Sarah Morris, master instructor at Dermalogica
Above Sarah Miller, master instructor at Dermalogica

As early as 13, Miller began developing severe acne. "It was genetic. My parents, aunts and uncles all had acne," she explains. "I was bullied and called 'pizza face'.

"I always tried to cover it up with tonnes of make-up or bangs and layers of hair, which only worsened the problem. I tried so many medications and prescriptions. I did all the wrong things—harsh scrubs, no moisturiser, super astringent alcohol-based products, picking at everything!"

It was this arduous trial-and-error process which put her on the path of becoming a professional skin therapist. As a master instructor, she has been diligently sharing her knowledge on how to correctly care for acne-prone skin with Clear Start, a brand created by Dermalogica​.

In this interview with Tatler, she helps us understand the science behind the completely normal condition of acne and how to deal with it without ruining our skin and mental health. 

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Why do we get acne? 

Acne is caused by four main factors: excess sebum, excess skin cells, P. acnes bacteria, and inflammation. They can be triggered by so many things, such as genetics, stress, diet, and pore-clogging ingredients, just to name a few. What may be a major trigger for one person may not be a problem for another. 

The hormonal cycle can also affect the skin. Many experience a slight increase in oil production in their skin or experience a breakout in the jaw area and neck around their monthly cycle, or even when they are ovulating. Others may notice a little more heat in the skin, the appearance of large pores or heightened skin sensitivity at different stages of their hormonal cycle. 

How can we prevent acne? 

Unfortunately, acne is not avoidable for many people. But the right skincare routine can help balance and manage breakouts. Some of my clients can even get to a place of avoiding acne altogether.

But remember, you can be doing everything right and still get a breakout. You need to know that you are not alone and acne is normal.

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What is the first step to tackling acne?

For me personally, the cleansing routine is crucial. I notice that if I slack with my double cleanse, my blackheads come back with a vengeance.

Another thing that has helped me is really learning my personal triggers. My acne is genetic. Over the years, I learned how to balance it as well as my additional skin triggers, which include certain food groups, makeup products and stress.

What is the most common mistake that people get wrong when dealing with acne that can permanent damage the skin? 

The most common mistake is when people try to 'scrub away' their acne. Too much exfoliation followed by not even a drop of SPF really puts the skin at higher risk for burning, pigmentation and creating tears in the skin.

And using things found in the kitchen pantry and fridge on the skin is never a good idea. I have seen some really scary reactions and inflamed skin. Please don’t use straight apple cider vinegar on your skin!

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Do you think filters on social media are causing more anxiety among people with acne?

Yes! The filters and Photoshop apps are definitely causing more anxiety for my clients, especially among Gen Z. 

But the good news is that the skin acceptance movement has really caught on in the last year. Brands are using real people in their campaigns. Influencers and celebrities are not covering up their acne. Instead, they are showing it and talking about it. People are more comfortable skipping the filters or using filters that don't alter the face in any way. 

Dermalogica Clear Start actually launched a filter for Acne Awareness month that is all about acne acceptance. We even partnered up with NYC-based photographer Peter DeVito to share these beautiful pictures of real people. It's fantastic to see social media come together to support this movement. 

What self-care advice do you have for those struggling with their confidence as a result of acne?

First, surround yourself with supportive people that love you and your acne. And that extends to your social media and the brands you buy from. I like following influencers on social media who spread acne awareness and positivity.

The more I have learned about the science and triggers behind acne, the more it has helped me realise just how easy it is to get breakouts and how sometimes it is completely out of our control.

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