Kali Kushner’s face is everywhere. Or, at least, everywhere on your Instagram. It’s scattered throughout your Explore page, it’s tiled across the millions of results for #acne, and it pops up on your feed with captions like, “WOW!” and “This is seriously insane.”
But it’s not because Kushner, 22, underwent some weird, botched surgery, or created an insanely crazy eyebrow trend. No, Kushner’s claim to social media fame is her acne—or, rather, her truly shocking before-and-after photos throughout her Accutane journey, which she’s been documenting on her Instagram account @myfacestory for almost two years, now, amassing more than 22,000 followers in the process.
“I honestly didn’t start the account with any idea or goal of getting noticed,” says Kushner. “I was just trying to keep track of my progress as I went through my six-month prescription of Accutane.” Which, she adds, was not her first line of defense in treating her sudden outbreak of cystic acne.
“I had always had some minor acne in high school, but one month in 2014, it went full-force crazy, covering my entire face,” she says. “I tried literally everything: the oil cleansing method, which is where you wash your face with oil, the caveman method, which is where you don’t put anything on your face at all, plus every cream, potion, and antibiotic that my dermatologist prescribed me, but nothing worked.”So, after a year of feeling “constantly embarrassed and upset,” Kushner worked with her dermatologist to get on Accutane, which began clearing her skin within the first few weeks. “It was honestly like magic,” she says. “The only downside was the side effects, which, for me, made me dry literally everywhere, and made me feel achey all over, all day long, every single day. It’d take me ten minutes just to get out of bed in the morning, because my back was so sore.”
And as Kushner began posting unfiltered photos (labeled, of course, with a ton of acne and skin hashtags) of her acne with updates on these side effects, the followers began rolling in, along with tons of emotional messages and comments. “It’s been crazy to see so much support from complete strangers,” says Kushner, who receives up to 50 messages a day from people asking her for advice, or just remarking on her journey.
“I used to think it was odd, because I really didn’t do anything magical—I just took Accutane and a bunch of selfies, but now I realize that the reason people are so dedicated to following my story is because nobody actually posts stuff like this,” she says. “Acne is so hush-hush and shamed in society, and having clear skin is the epitome of beauty, so if you dare have a zit or a breakout—and if you dare to take a picture of it—it’s almost like something’s wrong with you, which is so false.”
In Kushner’s eyes, acne is just a really misunderstood disease. “People think you have acne because you’re dirty, or you don’t wash your face, or you’re just generally unkempt,” she says, “but it’s about hormones, blood sugar, and genetics, more than anything else, and yet people look down upon it as if it’s something you’re not trying hard enough to fix, which is what I try to dispel in my Instagram.”Though Kushner has been off of Accutane for more than a year, she still posts regular selfies to track the progress in her skin, which was left with mottled scars from the severity of her acne. (Fun fact: Even her scar progression has been shocking to watch—by using a combination of vitamin C and a dermaroller for a year, she’s been able to drastically reduce the majority of deep scarring on her cheeks).
“I’m genetically predisposed to acne, so I’ve come to learn that my skin will have its ups and downs, and it might get better or worse some months, and that’s nothing to be ashamed of,” says Kushner. “I know it sounds cheesy, but you are so much more than your acne, and if you want to go on Accutane to make yourself feel more confident, then do it, but do it because of you, and not because you’re trying to look like this perfect image that matches our perfect standards of beauty.”
Of course, although isotretinoin (the pharmaceutical name for Accutane, which isn't actually on the market anymore—people just refer to all isotretinoin as Accutane, though the most-commonly prescribed brand is Absorica) really is touted as a miracle drug by derms, it's not without side effects. Though most disappear after you finish the medication, there's still a risk for chronic, longterm effects, which is why it's imperative that you chat with your dermatologist very thoroughly before starting. But if you do, maybe start an Instagram account to track your journey—we need more real, unfiltered faces in the world.