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Acne be gone: the amazing artistry of YouTube make-up tutorials for bad skin

In 2010, a model and video blogger named Cassandra Bankson posted a video of her daily acne-covering makeup routine, which quickly went viral due to her impressive artistry with foundation and her unabashed vulnerability.

As a model, Bankson had been hiding the cystic acne that covered her entire face and a significant portion of her neck for years. In the video, her voice breaks as she explains how rarely she appears without her makeup. Today, the video has over 26 million views and comments from viewers about what an inspiration she’s been to them.

Acne is closely related to adolescence, but to blame breakouts on hormones is shortsighted. Many adults experience breakouts well into their 20s, 30s and beyond, and YouTube’s makeup tutorials offer guidance for acne sufferers of all kinds: if you need to diffuse redness or conceal raised bumps, you can find a video for any shade of skin that will teach you to do exactly that. The video bloggers tend to be young – late teens to early 20s – and they range from accomplished amateurs to professional experts.

Alexandra Garza’s full coverage tutorial.

The hundreds of makeup tutorials on YouTube vary, but most follow a basic formula: a pretty young girl introduces herself with a full face of makeup before the shot cuts to her bare face, and she takes the viewer through the steps and products needed to get to that final look. Some stay silent and add voiceover or text to explain their routines; others narrate as they go.

Alexandra Garza, for example, starts off with slow-motion video and the dramatic, emotional melody from an Ariana Grande song. Elaine Mokk’s severe acne makes for one of the most impressive tutorials, although the disclaimers Garza published beneath the video indicate the backlash that happens when young women try to take their appearance into their own hands online: “DON’T TELL ME TO STOP WEARING MAKEUP,” she writes in all caps, “HOW ABOUT YOU TRY TO GO OUT IN PUBLIC WITH MY SKIN. YOU’LL RUN HOME CRYING.”

Acne is a recurring condition with no real guaranteed cure, and treating it is a multimillion dollar industry. In 2014, Neutrogena Oil-Free Acne Wash alone accounted for $75.2m in sales, which is just over 15m units sold in the US. But these products are, for the most part, placebo panaceas. They can clear up existing breakouts, but they are superficial treatments and can’t correct the root causes long enough to prevent future breakouts.

Makeup, at least briefly, can offer a respite; tricks of color and light can temporarily make it all go away. For those looking to conceal their acne, YouTube is a bottomless resource of women telling the truth about their skin.

In my early 20s, I went to beauty school and found that having makeup professionally applied is one of the most soothing activities involving another person’s hands: there’s something hypnotic about the feeling of clean, precise fingers practicing a skill on your skin.

I felt that kind of hypnosis fall over me as I watched video after video of acne disappearing under the quick motions of a brush dipped in flesh-toned liquids and creams. Even without their physical presence, their controlled excellence provokes the same relaxed ritualistic response. Watching people excel is comforting. Watching people take control over their appearance is why I wanted to be a makeup artist; it’s why I still enjoy the play and practice of experimenting with how I can make myself look.

There is very little anyone can do to control the epidermal layer we’re born with; genetics or hormones have a way of doing what they want without any regard for your feelings. But I like the idea that our faces are simply starting points for the face we want to show to the world. With enough practice and paint, you can take the control back into your own hands.

In a Mokk update video, From Severe Acne to Clear Skin, hopeful music swells as photos display a timeline of her face with and without acne. Her official one-year update from the first video I watched features her speaking in the emotional language I know well: “I’m headed to the road of clear skin every day, and I’m just so happy.”

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