PAINFUL spots which are constantly appearing, battles with self-confidence, cruel comments from school bullies and online trolls and a struggle to leave the house without any makeup.
That was the reality for this young woman who has suffered from extreme cystic acne and regular breakouts for over 12 years.
After her first spot appeared in the middle of her cheek at 11-years-old in primary school, Kadeeja Sal Khan had no idea what mental and physical struggles would follow.
The beauty influencer, 24, from Birmingham, has battled cystic acne since her childhood and still regularly has painful spots covering her face, back and chest.
Her spots – which, at first, she thought were simple teenage blemishes arising due to puberty and starting her periods – began to get worse and worse every day.
She said: "I thought it was a normal teenage spot at first and that it’ll be gone within a few weeks.
"But I started to notice my spots weren’t going and in fact, they were getting more and more everyday and more pigmented.
"It happened on a weekend – so I left school on Friday feeling beautiful and then coming in Monday morning to what I felt was a totally different experience."
As Kadeeja’s skin continued to flare up throughout her school and teen years – she was met with nasty remarks from school bullies.
Doctors told her she had a ‘hormonal imbalance’ as Kadeeja questioned why she was getting angry red spots, pustules and severe scarring all over her skin.
She frustratingly picked at her pimples – desperate for them to disappear – but they continued to get worse as angry red bubbles fiercely appeared on her face.
"I was treated awful by school members; they called me 'pizza face, ugly, disgusting'," says Kadeeja.
"It became like I was in another body and the Kadeeja I knew was nowhere to be found.
"Ever since I’ve had acne at school, my confidence has been broken. I didn’t feel good. I didn’t feel beautiful. I just felt ugly. It was really terrible."
Bullies taunted Kadeeja with nicknames such as ‘ugly’, ‘disgusting’, ‘ashamed of your face’ and ‘pizza face’.
The influencer said her cystic acne made her feel so bad that it shattered her confidence, affected her mental health and led her to become extremely paranoid about her appearance.
She still thinks about the nasty remarks and nicknames and said they still haunt her to this day – even 12 years later.
"I was so self-conscious and always thinking that people were looking at me because of my skin," says Kadeeja.
"I was thinking that people were secretly judging me all the time. I became paranoid about my appearance and I started to think it was my fault for my skin being the way that it is.
"It really affected me in a bad way. Even thinking about it now gets me upset. I just want to hug the 11-year-old Kadeeja and let her know that she’s beautiful no matter what."
It got to the point where Kadeeja refused to leave her home without heavy makeup on and she wore so much foundation and concealer that she was barely recognisable.
The social media star also admits that she has spent thousands on different products and skincare treatments – until she eventually gave up on her skin.
She previously wrote in a social media post to her 379,000 followers that she doesnt think ‘half the population understands how depressing it can get’ after taking medications and going to numerous skin appointments.
She said: "NEVER would I ever have gone out without makeup. I never had the courage or confidence to do that. I would wear so much makeup to the point of losing my own identity.
"I would also heavily photoshop images before uploading them. I did everything I knew to cover up my acne and pretend it wasn’t there. I just didn’t want anyone knowing I had it."
Kadeeja spent years hiding her identity under makeup as she wanted to hide her scarring and acne – she would even wear contact lenses 24/7 as she hated who she was.
She spent hours heavily photoshopping her images to make her skin look clear and her makeup look flawless as she felt it was the only way to be accepted on social media.
"I’ve lost count of how much money I’ve spent on skincare growing up,’ admits Kadeeja.
"I thought it would help me and I was so desperate to help my skin improve, I even used products that were bad and that even made my skin worse.
"I eventually gave up on my skin. I used to heavily photoshop my images to the point you couldn’t even recognise it was me.
"I put so much time and effort into hiding my skin that I was hiding who I was. It came to a point where I was just tired. I was tired of pretending to be someone else."
The first time Kadeeja shared a real candid photo of her acne-prone skin online on her Instagram page @emeraldxbeauty – she was met with harsh comments from trolls.
She went on to be "named and shamed" by online trolls due to the way she looked and was called ‘bacteria face’ as well as ‘unhygienic face’.
She felt "embarrassed" and "hurt" as trolls' messages came flooding in.
"It was overwhelming", says Kadeeja.
"This was the first time I experienced cyber bullying online. I had trolls writing to me on my page, for the world to see. I felt embarrassed and hurt."
She recently told her followers that she used to get ‘panicky, anxiety and emotional’ when anyone mentioned her skin and she wanted to stay home and not talk to anyone when it was particularly bad.
Then Kadeeja started to look into what ingredients were in the skincare products she was using and she educated herself on what made her skin react in a bad way.
She then invested in products that worked for her.
She said: "I noticed an improvement after months of trying new skincare products with good ingredients. I started to see my skin colour without the redness.
"I never even knew I had beauty spots on my face until my skin cleared. I was shocked to say the least! It was like removing dust from an object to see what’s actually beneath it.
"I wanted to be myself. I wanted to show the world who I really was. This is going to sound weird but although clearing my skin looked great and was exactly what I wanted it to be.
"It upset me when I understood that this is what I have to look like in order to feel beautiful. I almost felt hurt and sorry for the Kadeeja that grew up with cystic acne.
"Knowing she never had confidence because of her skin. So now, I know my skin will always be on this up and down roller coaster. I accept it and I feel beautiful with or without clear skin."
CYSTIC ACNE: THE FACTS
Acne is a common skin condition which affects almost everyone at some point.
Cysts are the most severe type of spot caused by acne.
They're large, pus-filled lumps that look similar to boils and carry the greatest risk of permanent scarring.
You should see your GP if you develop nodules or cysts, as they need to be treated properly to avoid scarring.
If your acne is severe, it can take several months of treatment for the symptoms to improve.
‘Skinfluencers’, like Kadeeja, are now empowering their online community to feel comfortable in the skin that they are in, sharing self-care escapism with their unique skincare routines.
They challenge the unrealistic representations of flawless skin and celebrate their imperfections – encouraging conversation around ‘acne positivity’ and ‘skin positivity’.
Kadeeja now embraces her skin – when it’s covered in cystic acne and when it’s clear – and says she sees her spots as a part of her identity.
She adds: "I love having fun with makeup, the more creative the better! I never allow makeup to define or hide my identity. People really show so much love and uplift me online.
"I still get trolls that spread hate but it doesn’t bother me like it did when I first shared a no-filter selfie as the positive always outweighs the negative.
"I do have my off days where I’m like 'oh another spot' but it never affects me in the way it used to growing up. I wouldn’t be Kadeeja without a spot or two!"
KADEEJA’S TOP SKINCARE PRODUCTS
- Murad Invisiscars
- Murad Probetic 4 in 1 Cleanser
- Murad Retional Youth Creme
- FOREO UFO2
- FOREO Luna 3
- Shishedo Complete Cleansing foam
- Elemist SuperFood Facial Wash
- Murad Clarifying water gel
- Nip&Fab Mandelic + Charcoal Fix Cleansing bar
- Nip&Fab MANDELIC + CHARCOAL FIX MUD SHEET MASK
- Nip&Fab Mandelic Cleansing pads
Previously, a woman whose acne covered ‘every inch’ of her face in ‘red cysts’ clears skin in FOUR weeks using £12.95 silver serum.
Meanwhile, a blogger who suffered painful cystic acne reveals the five-step process that cleared her skin in SIX weeks.
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