The great skin de-stressing of 2022: Meet the skinfluencer behind the #freethepimple movement
The vicious skin-stress loop: We stress when our skin is less than desirable, but stressing about skin inevitably worsens skin. London-based skin activist and acne influencer Lou Northcote knows that cycle all too well, but instead of succumbing to it, she bared her blemishes and invited others to show theirs, too.
After bouts with cystic acne shut down her modeling career in 2018, the 25-year-old turned to social media, where she boldly posted a makeup-free photo of herself along with #freethepimple—and a new movement was born. Today, the hashtag is attached to 35,000+ Instagram posts from people all over the world sharing photos, videos and stories about their acne experiences. Northcote manages the @freethepimple account, where she posts these stories, as well as her personal account, where she chronicles her own skin journey. We chatted with her via Zoom to find out how she copes with stress and how she maintains skin positivity.
2021 was a stressful year for a lot of people. What has the year been like for you in terms of stress?
Lou Northcote: Working from home, you spend more time on your computer than ever, which has been my problem when it comes to stress. I will sit there the whole day without taking a break. Also, my family is not in this country, so I haven’t seen them in more than two years. I have no idea when I’m going to see them next.
Stress can manifest in different ways. What does stress look like for you and particularly for your skin?
Northcote: For me, stress looks like ignoring myself. I will spend too much time doing something that I forget to drink water or eat. Or if I do eat, it’s not the best, most nutritious food. I’m quite an anxious person and over-thinker, which doesn’t help.
Because I’m acne-prone, as much as I’ve taken medication for my skin, it’s not all gone, and I still get breakouts here and there from being inside and wearing masks. It’s all about understanding what my triggers are, drinking more water and remembering to look after my body—otherwise it shows up on my skin.
How do you like to de-stress? Have you developed any new practices or habits to help relax?
Northcote: I’ve made it a practice to go for a walk every day. I don’t think about anything. I’m not on my phone. I just walk. I also like to take the time for myself to do skincare.
Tell us about your de-stressing skincare routine.
Northcote: I love doing a very long routine to de-stress. I start with running a bath using bath oils because I come out soft and it smells luxurious. When I’m in the bath, I put on a mask, usually something quite hydrating. Then I do a full routine, starting with an exfoliant, serum and eye cream. I love moisturizer—I usually use a gel moisturizer because you get that cooling aspect. I love facial massage using jade rollers or a vibrating T-bar. Your skin feels more flushed and alive. Then I’ll finish off with oils. I joke that I look like a glazed donut.
As a skin activist who regularly shares your experiences, as well those of others on @freethepimple, what are the challenges to embracing skin positivity?
Northcote: It’s a roller coaster. I think people believe that skin positivity means waking up every day and saying, “I’m happy with my skin.” It’s not always that because we are human. You have days when your mind is completely different. You’ll see an image that makes you feel bad. We all have ups and downs.
Not to oversimplify, but for me, it comes down to just looking after your skin. If you can hydrate and exfoliate your skin, you’d be surprised what you can actually overcome. And you’ll get to a point where you don’t care what people think and you can go makeup-free.
What’s the best advice you’ve received when it comes to loving the skin you’re in?
Northcote: I spent all my time when I was younger focusing on my skin. Because I had acne, I thought it meant I wasn’t worthy of having friends or a boyfriend or I wouldn’t get a job. I really thought all those things wouldn’t be attainable. People have always said: “You are more than your skin.” So I started focusing on that and being myself, and it changed how I lived my life. I realized it wasn’t about my skin. It sounds so obvious when I say it, but you always just have to remember that life is about so much more.
Read more Q&As in our series, “The great skin de-stressing of 2022”:
“Why cosmetic acupuncture should be on your self-care radar,” featuring licensed cosmetic acupuncturist and herbalist Daphne Lim
“Checking in on mental health before a cosmetic procedure? One of L.A.’s top RN’s mission to transform the industry,” featuring celeb-sought medical aesthetic provider and registered nurse Vanessa Lee
“A rising DermTok star shares how NOT to get skincare-scammed on social media,” featuring board-certified dermatologist Mark Strom