Kadeeja Khan, British model & activist: I ‘represent the norm of having acne’

British model, makeup artist, and skin positivity activist Kadeeja Khan gained popularity when she started posting her flawless makeup looks on Instagram as ‘emeraldxbeauty’ in 2016. In 2017, she decided to do something unprecedented by pulling back the Photoshopped mask and letting her followers see her cystic acne.

In doing so, she opened herself to trolls and bullying reminiscent of her experience in secondary school. But on the flip side, her bold move also helped her obtain over 370k followers to date. In a new interview with Vogue UK, Kadeeja said she was tired of pretending to be perfect. She decided to spread awareness in hopes of ending the stigma around having acne.

On her insecurity about her acne
Growing up, I wished I looked like someone else. I first started getting acne in secondary school. Having people call you things such as ‘pizza face’, ‘nuts’, ‘chocolate’, ‘ugly’, ‘dirty’ or ‘bacteria face’ was really hard. Even thinking about it today hurts me. I used to buy the cheapest foundation — whatever I could afford with my pocket money — and I would put layers and layers of it on, trying my hardest to cover the spots. Of course, it didn’t look good. It actually drew more attention to my skin and the condition it was in. But at the time that’s all I knew. I would wear layers of make-up, powder, foundation, lashes and even coloured contact lenses. I was very insecure in myself.

Why she decided to start showing her skin
I was 21 when I first revealed my skin on the internet. I was a make-up artist at the time and I was heavily Photoshopping my images, using the best colours and lighting for the smooth-skin look. My photos literally looked perfect. You would never have guessed I had even one spot on my face. I would get lovely compliments telling me how flawless I was, how beautiful my skin was, how lucky I was to have perfect skin and questions about my secret to flawless skin. Seeing that hurt me. I knew my skin wasn’t like that — far from it. I was tired of being someone else. I wanted to be myself. I wanted to show the world you’re beautiful no matter what condition your skin is in. So I did a make-up tutorial with no filter [or] edit and three years later I’m helping so many people feel beautiful and confident.

What she wants to communicate
I want the world to know that acne still can be beautiful. It may not be the flawless glossy smooth skin that we’re used to seeing, but it’s still beautiful. If you have acne, you should embrace it and not hide it. Everyone deserves to be beautiful no matter what condition their skin is in.

Misconceptions about acne
That people who have it don’t clean their faces, or we don’t clean our pillows or our diets are unhealthy. We’ve all been brought up in a world where flawless skin, hair, and bodies should look a certain way to be ‘beautiful’, and when people see acne, they treat it like a disease!

[From Vogue UK]

Now, when scrolling through Kadeeja’s Instagram posts, you’ll find a lot of photos of her skincare products, short videos of her home-beauty treatments, and pictures showing what her face looks like in reality vs. with makeup and photoshop. Accepting herself and skin fully is giving others the confidence to do the same. I hope that her campaign to normalize acne is successful because my teenage acne-prone self is definitely cheering her on.

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32 Responses to “Kadeeja Khan, British model & activist: I ‘represent the norm of having acne’”

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  1. WilliamJoelene says:

    How awful for her to have to hide that. She must feel so much better showing herself. I wish for best quality of life for all those with a chronic condition. I think showing this must enhance Kadeeja’s QoL, and help others feel reassured.

  2. Joanna says:

    It’s nice to see someone being real and hopefully it will help others with self image issues

  3. manda says:

    Do some people just have acne that never goes away? Wow, I never considered that.

    I am super impressed by people who can do really good makeup, I was just talking to my friends about how I need to learn how to put it on better because I have such troubles (I’m 42). Also, the fact that she was so good with photoshop impresses me too, because I am so not computery. I have never heard of Kadeeka Khan but she is now on my list of people to watch

    • SamC says:

      Yes; I had acne into my 40′s. It migrated, younger years was more forehead and cheeks, as an adult was more an issue on my chin and neck. While I never had cystic acne to the point I took Accutane, I was on RetinA for it in 6th grade and did the whole gamut of treatments into adulthood. Finally, mid40′s it mostly stopped.

      • Carobell says:

        Yup, 8 months of Accutane in my teens cleared the worst of the cystic acne, but it never truly went away, just changed. A lot acne is linked to hormones and those cycle with your cycle. I’m in my 40s, maybe once I hit menopause it will finally stop?

      • truth fairy says:

        Mine started when I was eight, and nothing really helped until a course of Accutane in my late 20s. Only occasional breakouts after that, becoming les and less frequent through menopause (one every few months now).

    • BW says:

      I’m over 60. I still have cystic acne. My skin looks like hers. I was even a tester for Accutane back in the early 1980s.

      The ONLY thing that helped clear up my skin was giving up DAIRY and meat. Mostly the dairy, but the hormones they give cattle also affect me, so I gave up meat, too. Even a pat of butter or some whey as an ingredient will break me out. Completely giving up dairy and meat is the only thing that actually really worked for me. I’m not completely vegan, as I still eat eggs and honey.

      My skin is clear now, as long as I don’t eat anything that comes from a mammal. BUT, I have all the scars from having cystic acne for decades. If I had a time machine, I would go back to my preteen self and tell me to give up dairy and meat. Doctors told me, “Give up French Fries. Give up chocolate.” That never worked. Dermatologist have no clue. I wasted money on them for years of bad advice.

      • manda says:

        No, you’re right about derms having no clue! It seems like such a guessing game in dermatology, let’s see if this works, let’s see if that works, try that cream, here’s a steroid! I don’t have acne but I have folliculitis (which causes boils sometimes that fill me with shame, but at least they aren’t in exposed locations, they’re just gross) and rosacea, and nothing really seems to help long-term. I recently read an article about how there is still sooooooo much to learn about the skin and the microorganisms that live on it, and that we will be seeing topical probiotics soon, which excites me!

      • BW says:

        P.S. I want to learn her photoshop skills.

      • The Hench says:

        Similar story – also on Accutane but cystic acne came back a few years later so then it was Dianette (contraceptive deigned to help acne) for years. Had to stop that due to liver concerns from doctors over long term use so then it was antibiotics. 20 years of struggling with cysts and what finally cleared up my skin (and massively helped my IBS too) was getting rid of sugar. I’d had no idea how much I was inadvertently eating in flavoured soy yoghurts (also had been off dairy and wheat for 15 years) and pre-prepared chilled soups, for eg.

        Now I can eat everything – as long as I stay off the white stuff.

      • Sienna says:

        It’s not that derms don’t ‘know’, it’s that (like you said) since acne can be tied to hormones or food intolerances, etc., it is very much tied to treating the symptom of breakouts rather than identifying and treating the cause. So it is a trial and error process unfortunately.

        She is such a hero for putting her self out there on social media like that.

        The emotional toll acne can take on ones self esteem, at any age, but especially teens is horrible. At least there has been huge advancements in treating acne scarring.

      • Sammy says:

        Oh, boy, I can so relate to this.
        I had the most painful cystic acne that covered most of my face for many years.
        I also had to deal with blackheads, enlarged pores, because of my combination skin and
        of course as if I didn’t have enough to deal with, I also have the most super hyper sensitive skin of anyone I know mixed in with the heavy dose of rosacea.
        My skin went crazy with acne after I turned 20, I never had acne when I was a teenager, neither did my older brother and sister or any of my cousins.
        I cried myself to sleep many, many times, I used to take every night and every morning a warm shower, washed my hair every might and popped every pimple and used witch hazel without alcohol all over my face to appear less hideous.
        Only make-up I applied in the morning was a light dusting of a face powder to hide the redness and shine. (also mascara)
        I went from doctor to doctor to doctor, even took ACCUTANE, but nothing helped.
        One time a very good friend recommended a herbalist that helped her with a health problem, so I visited her VERY, VERY reluctantly.
        She told me that I have something called ” DANCING HORMONES ” and told me to try a VEGAN DIET FOR 90 DAYS with lots of water, no alcohol, no smoking, no caffeine, no greasy or fried food and only a very tiny, tiny amount of sugar, if I must.
        As I was walking out I was thinking, sure a vegan diet will fix what ACCUTANE couldn’t…I don’t think so…QUACK!!!
        A few years later out of desperation I did go on ALL VEGAN DIET and never went back, it’s been over 16 years now.
        I DO NOT HAVE ANY ACNE, BLACKHEADS OR ROSACEA, but I wish I would have tried it as soon as the herbalist suggested it to me, but I’m a STUBBORN MORON sometimes.
        Now I have to deal with the damaged skin, which took long time to figure out, but I love Dr. Bronner’s liquid baby soap for cleansing and removing make up, but no dryness, Juice Beauty Peel Spray for exfoliation without the dryness and redness and Juice Beauty Green Apple Peel Mask.
        Youth to the people super food moisturizer and Drunk Elephant b-hydra serum improved the damage acne has done to my face.

    • LadyMTL says:

      I’m in my early 40′s and I have had acne, enlarged pores, blackheads, and so on since I hit puberty. Ironically enough, my skin is dry so I have to try and balance hydration with adult acne, yay?

      My acne isn’t horrible, thankfully, but it’s rare for more than a week to pass without something popping up. I have a bunch of products in my medicine cabinet: my current go-to’s are Thayer’s witch hazel toner to try and keep my pores clear, as well as The Ordinary’s salicylic acid gel to treat breakouts, and I use a clay mask about once a week (I also cut way back on dairy and that has helped a lot.) I doubt I’ll ever be truly acne-free, but I’ve learned to live with it.

      I applaud Kadeeja for being upfront about her skin, because I know that it really can’t be easy.

    • Alexandria says:

      Yes of course. Especially for women when they go off birth control or have had hormonal changes.

      I have some suggestions for her but I used to be her and will only offer advice if requested.

    • Desdemona says:

      I have miomas and the hormonal imbalance causes acne in my chin and neck.. Plus, I can’t take the pill and I also have atopic skin and rosácea. With this pandemia, the masks increased my acne around the chin line… It’s a nightmare…

    • manda says:

      whoops. typo on her name! kadeeja not kadeeka :)

    • Ange says:

      My husband is 35 and has had goodness knows how many courses of Accutane. He’s on a super heavy dose as every time he’s stopped in the past it’s come right back. Some people are just very unlucky in that regard. We’re hoping this time it’ll clear it up for good but the odds aren’t great.

  4. Lisa says:

    Her photoshop skills are A plus. I am glad she feels comfortable being herself and not hiding her flaws.

  5. Franklymydear... says:

    My daughter started getting a few pimples in 5th grade and it soon upgraded to full blown acne. She was too young for any prescription meds and struggled with it for years, especially in middle school when kids are so mean. She is a freshman now and finally has a cream that helps keep it toned down but she’ll still get some flare ups. Seeing this will help her so much…just knowing there are other people who also struggle with acne. It seems everyone she knows has clear skin and she has felt like the only kid with acne for years. Hurray for this brave woman!!!!

  6. Holly says:

    I’m in my 30’s and still get cystic acne when I get my period. My acne is way better than when I was a teenager (on accutane) but I never thought I’d be at the age I am now still dealing with skin issues. It’s not active acne as much as it is scarring and general redness. I’m still trying to find the right products for my skin to deal with these issues. I admire her for what’s she’s doing, I don’t have the courage to leave my house without makeup.

  7. Tris says:

    A. Maz. Ing.
    Seeing this would have changed my young life.

  8. lucy2 says:

    I never had that level of acne, but constantly had breakouts on my chin. I still do to this day, usually with hormonal fluctuations, but it’s not as bad as it used to be. However, yesterday I just made plans to see a friend (socially distanced outside of course) and as soon as we finalized plans, bam, big chin zit started. Of course when I venture out into public! At least the mask will cover it most of the time.

    I admire her for being honest and showing her true skin. I hope it helps others struggling with this as well.

  9. PineNut says:

    I’m in my 60s (gasp) and had teen acne, adult acne, and now I have roseacea. I control it with medicine, but still get an occasional outbreak. There is good medicine now for acne.

  10. ooshpick says:

    Major kudos. Representation is so helpful.

  11. Bella says:

    Lasers will help will scarring and there is a somewhat controversial treatment which is utilizing a “blue light” on the skin and it helps with the bacteria.

  12. tarynfox says:

    I’ve done five courses of Accutane. It’s miserable, but for me, it was a miracle drug — even if the acne returned eventually.

  13. Mireille says:

    I had moderate acne issues throughout my 20s and 30s and I tried everything the dermatologist told me to do from minocycline to Retin-A. Never took accutane. Retin-A tended to work and then came birth control and for the most part, acne went away. Fast forward to my late 30s-early 40s and I had to change my diet and reduce the amount of fast food, eating out at restaurants that I was doing because of my thyroid. I started eating more fresh fruits and vegetables in my daily diet and wouldn’t you know it, I started getting compliments on my skin, from friends, to grocery store workers, to even my primary care doctor. My skin became clear, no acne, smooth, and glow-y. Mind you, I didn’t really notice a difference other than I had no acne and didn’t need the birth control to control that, but people kept commenting on my skin. The only thing I changed in my skin regiment was my diet. And for the most part, antioxidants from food is what keeps the skin healthy along with drinking plenty of water. And I also don’t smoke, drink alcohol, or sunbathe too much. And twice a week, I steam, scrub, and mask my face.

    Lesson learned from me: No one solution works for everyone, as everyone’s body chemistry is different.

  14. BAILIE says:

    I’ve tried so many things, I really can’t recall most of them and I’m very lucky to have a great memory.

    I visited a number of doctors, from family to endocrinologists and of course dermatologists.

    Not even Accutane worked for me.

    In the end only one thing got rid of my acne, a very strict, clean, vegan diet with lost of water, no alcohol, no spices and sugar very, very rarely.

    But it doesn’t feel like a sacrifice, because my skins is now great, it is worth it to me.

  15. Cate says:

    I don’t have acne but about five years ago I started getting redness (with itching) on my face. I tried switching moisturizers multiple times, tried eliminating various foods, but it never really went away until I got a new job. A few months later I had to go back to my old office building and within minutes my whole face had started to itch again and I realized–there’s got to be something about this building (the air??) that was the problem. So yeah, skin problems can have all sorts of triggers and it’s not necessarily anything to do with the hygiene or diet habits of the individual.

  16. Barcelona says:

    Acne was debilitating to me and made me depressed for a long periods of time.
    It took me a long time to figure it out, but after I switched to 98% vegan diet, it worked for me like no other.
    I also don’t drink caffeine or alcohol and of course no smoking either, just lots of clean water.

  17. Pulcheitudinousest says:

    I had acne for twenty years tried everything, multiple dermatologists . Finally got one who prescribed spironolactone. It has completely cleared my acne and changed my life. My doctor says it should be first line treatment for women with hormonal acne , before accutane. I can’t say enough about it