- Nicole Herbig is a 23-year-old from New Jersey who goes by The Blemish Queen on Instagram.
- She’s taking isotretinoin, the last-resort acne drug, and publicly documenting the process online.
- She’s the latest in a wave of young people to share their skincare journeys on social media.
- Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Nicole Herbig’s Instagram is full of cute pictures of her in sundresses, posing with her fiance, and trying out bold neon-pink swatches of eyeliner. But her 21,000 followers aren’t there to like photos of her posing in a cruise ship. They’re interested in photos of her un-retouched face as she undergoes the grueling Isotretinoin process, known as the last resort acne drug.
Herbig, who posts as The Blemish Queen, is part of a wave of Instagrammers using the visual-heavyplatform to document their Accutane journeys and take some of the stigma out of having acne.
She is following in the footsteps of Kali Kushner of My Face Story, Em Ford of My Pale Skin Blog, and the thousands of others who post photos of celebrities and models on the red carpet with acne, as well as photos of themselves bare-faced, often hashtagged #acnepositivity and #freethepimple. Photos of Kendall Jenner are regularly circulated in this corner of the internet, as are posts about normalizing real skin.
Acne is one of the most common skin problems, and it doesn’t just affect teenagers. Dermatologists say the number of affected by acne is increasing for reasons they do not yet know. And for social media-focused teens and young adults, who have embraced being transparent and open as part of their brands, having acne is a a chance to be seen as relatable.
Nicole Herbig wants her followers to know that having acne is normal
Herbig had the typical sprinkling of pimples most teenagers have, but in her early 20s her acne became swollen, cystic, and painful.
“You feel like your skin betrayed you,” she told Insider. “You look in the mirror and you don’t even connect with your image. It makes you feel like you’ve done something wrong.”
The research backs this up, showing that having acne can take a severe toll on a person’s future prospects and mental health.
One 2011 study found that job interviewers were less likely to pay attention to what candidates were saying if they had acne. Another 2011 study, paid for makeup conglomerate Proctor and Gamble, found that women who wore makeup to cover up their blemishes were seen as more competent. More recently, a 2020 study found that people with acne were at increased risk of having anxiety and depression.
People began offering Herbig their unsolicited advice, which ranged from drinking celery juice to drinking more water to change her pillowcase regularly. Herbig ignored most of it, focusing her energy on Instagram’s acne positivity community on Instagram instead.
She found comfort in their honesty as she researched the complicated world of acne medication.
Americans spend about 2 billion annually on acne medications, and Herbig was one of them, trying Rodan and Fields, Cureology, and countless other treatments. All roads seemed to lead to isotretinoin, an drug with difficult side effects that cures acne in about 85% of people who take it.
“I decided once I started Accutane I want[ed] to do this as well because I saw how much it helped other people,” she said. “I wanted to be that person for someone.”
Herbig’s photo editing process involves emphasizing her acne
Herbig’s posting process tends to run counter to typical Instagram photos. She’ll often increase the saturation on her pictures to accentuate her acne even more, in a sort of reverse edit. “I like to show that this is what my acne really looks like, this is what my face looks like,” she said. “Like, here are my pores, let me sharpen this a little bit.”
People often ask Herbig how she can be so confident in her skin. “I had no confidence when I first started out,” she said. “My mindset was fake it till you make it. I just put myself out there and embodied somebody who was confident in their skin, who didn’t really care what other people had to say about it, and it became who I was.”
Most people take istotretinoin for about six months. Some Instagrammers’ online acne journeys end when their isotretinoin treatment plan is concluded, but Herbig, who sees Instagram as a hobby and wants to become a psychologist, says she can’t imagine just forgetting about the time her acne was the first thing people noticed about her.
“I always like to say like healing is not linear,” she said. “Your skin is an organ and it’s always going to be something you have to take care of and cherish and nurture.”
Above all else, Herbig wants her followers to know that acne is normal.
“It’s okay to have acne because your acne does not define you,” she said. “It does not define what you’re capable of achieving, it does not define what kind of job you can have, it does not define who you can and cannot be with.”