my boss keeps commenting on my acne

A reader writes:

I (30F) got a new supervisor in the last six months, who is also part of the C-suite. She is very talented, knowledgeable, and friendly. She has done a lot in terms of supporting and mentoring me, and I am really appreciative of her efforts. However, one issue with her is that she can often be unpredictable, especially when it comes to pointing out things that others may be sensitive about.

I have adult acne partially due to some health issues. I am working with appropriate medical professionals to find solutions/diagnoses (and a lot of it takes time to fix). However, in the meantime, I often get break-outs. I cover them fairly well with makeup, but some days are worse than others. On those worse days, I just grit my teeth and try to get through it, but it really is doing a number on my self esteem, especially since I am not a teenager anymore and worry that it could hurt my professional image.

Enter unpredictable boss: on multiple occasions where I have had some rougher skin days, my boss has asked me directly, IN FRONT of other people, “What’s going on with your skin?” When I make a vague comment about having a bad skin day and she shouldn’t worry about it, she continues to press and badger me about it, with an audience. It is absolutely mortifying and distressing for me. Trust me, I know what is going on with my face and just want people to ignore it. It happened again today, and has left me unable to get work done because I am so upset.

I definitely need to address this with her as it is affecting me emotionally and professionally. I think that because she likes to have more of a friendly, collegial approach, she might just think she is just engaging in girl talk, when it reality, it has a much bigger impact. But really my question is in regards to how to address it — should I be doing more in the moment to shut it down, or should we discuss it in my next one-on-one? My supervisor does have the tendency to make insensitive comments about others’ appearances as well, and I think because she doesn’t take things personally, she forgets that not everything needs to be said. I do want to communicate directly that she is not to discuss my skin or physical appearance beyond what is needed to get my job done, but I worry she will think I am too sensitive.

What on earth is up with your manager?!

And what does she think you’re going to say? It’s not like your skin is suddenly turning green while you’re talking and she’s speaking up from alarm. It’s acne. It’s not a big deal. Is she looking for you to launch into a detailed account of your skin care journey?

And then she presses and badgers you about it in front of other people when you try to shut it down?!

I’m willing to believe she intends it as girl talk if that’s the vibe you’re getting — some people think everyone will be excited to talk skin care or makeup or hair problems, regardless of the setting or context — but when your response makes it clear you’re not receptive to that, it’s incredibly obnoxious that she keeps pushing it. It would be one thing if she’d brought it up once and then realized from your reaction that it wasn’t welcome and left it there. But she’s continuing to raise it!

It definitely makes sense to address it with her one-on-one. The next time you meet, you could say, “You’ve asked multiple times what’s going on with my skin. I have acne. What are you asking about when you ask me that?”

Then, depending on her response, you could say, “I would appreciate it if you didn’t keep asking about it. It’s just acne.”

Be prepared for her to try to express concern and/or make recommendations — have you seen a dermatologist, have you tried this product, etc. — which would be overstepping and none of her business. If that happens, you could say, “I do have a dermatologist but it’s not something I want to get into at work.” (You could drop the dermatologist mention if you want but — annoyingly — you might shut her down more easily if you say that part. Otherwise she might feel compelled to urge you to.)

Hopefully that will take care of it. Frankly, it would be over-the-top outrageous for her to continue bringing it up after you’ve told her to stop. But if she does again ask, “What’s going on with your skin?” you should feel free to say any of the following:

* “Nothing, what do you mean?”
* In as flat and bored a tone as you can produce: “Acne.”
* “This is my face.”
* “Wow, you’re still asking me that.”
* “It’s getting really weird that you keep asking that.” (This one is heavily dependent on the relationship. It would be a complete no-go with some managers, and it would be okay with others. It’s justified, but you’d need to judge if it’s safe to say or not.)

But hopefully the clear, direct, one-on-one “please stop” will put an end to this.

Read an update to this letter

{ 367 comments… read them below }

  1. Voldemort’s cousin*

    My jaw is on the floor. How can anyone think asking these questions is ok? Especially in front of other people!

    1. 3DogNight*

      Mine is still on the floor 2 hours later. This is NOT okay. OP–you have every right to be upset, ((((HUGS)))) to you. Please talk to your manager about this. If the f2f part is super uncomfortable for you, take the time to write it all out in a word document. Once you’re good with what you have, then e-mail it to her. Do it however it works best for you, but please let her know!

    2. Meep*

      From experience, she is insecure and likes pointing out other flaws to make her feel better. My former toxic coworker, who mind you is 60 years old, took great glee whenever us 22-year-olds got a pimple.

      1. Bicycle Belle*

        Or maybe she’s somebody who has not yet learned that just because a thought comes into your head, it shouldn’t necessarily come out of your mouth.

        Or worse, that just because something is true, it must be spoken out loud.

        I’ve found with people like this, absolute directness -even being blunt- is the only way to get your point across.

        Speak to her privately:

        “Boss, I have acne. Most people in the room know I have acne. You keep commenting on it in front of other people. This is very embarrassing for me. And it serves no purpose. It only calls it to everyone’s attention. [Please] Do not make any more comments or ask questions about my face. “

        The “please” in there is optional.

        If it happens again, and you can summon the nerve, ask her, in front of everybody, and in an icy tone, “And why are you bringing this up?”

        She’s a jerk. If you can get from “upset” to “really pissed off” it will help your delivery. And you’ll feel better about giving her a direct reply.

        If it happens again even after all of the above, I’d be inclined to say to her in front of everybody “The medical condition of my face is not your business, why do you keep bringing it up?”.

        But then I’ve always had a good Bullshit Meter and would be LIVID if my boss pulled this nonsense.

    3. RLC*

      Some people seem to have no filter no matter who they’re talking to, and they’re often the same people who are extraordinarily upset when a mildly critical remark is made to them. Used to work with one who openly commented on colleagues’ food choices, body proportions, clothes, etc. but would be deeply offended if anyone suggested she needed to tidy up her very messy workspace for safety reasons.

      1. Flash Packet*

        Sounds like my ex. We were at a fancy soiree and the face of one of the attendees flushed red after she took a big sip of a very strong cocktail. She had light hair and very fair skin, and it was very obvious she was experiencing alcohol flush. No big deal.

        My ex exclaimed, loud enough for literally everyone in attendance to hear, “WOW! YOU’RE FACE JUST GOT REALLY, REALLY RED!” When she replied, “Yes, I know,” he doubled-down, “No! You’re REALLY red! You look like you’ve got a really bad sunburn!! I mean, it’s RED-red!!”

        Ex doesn’t drink alcohol, so he couldn’t even use that as an excuse. He’s just got no filter whatsoever. If it crosses his brain, it comes out of his mouth.

        One of the many reasons he’s an ex.

        1. londonedit*

          Aaargh, I can never understand why people have the urge to say things like this! I’m quite sun-sensitive with pale skin and I often end up with a heat rash if I go out in the sun – I’ll be wearing my SPF 50 but if it’s the beginning of the summer and my skin hasn’t had much sun exposure, I can quite often end up with a prickly-heat sort of rash. And I hate it when people point it out and insist on making a whole ‘Whooooooo, you’ve caught the sun!! Have you been sunbathing???’ fuss about it. It’s so embarrassing. People just shouldn’t comment about other people’s skin (unless it’s to say that they look glowing and radiant).

          1. inko*

            Saaaame. I flush, I go splotchy, on a bad day I come out in hives, and I have no idea why people think I need to be told about it. I can tell, and even if I couldn’t, it’s not like there’s much I can do about it.

          2. JSPA*

            People who only go red if they have a bad sunburn don’t always feel it before they show it; I often don’t. Being told that I’m red has made the difference between, “guess I’ll be peeling” and “I’ll be blistered and running a fever.”

            Similarly, if I go red upon drinking wine, that means it’s a high-sulfite wine, and the next step is that I’ll suddenly be in significant need of my asthma inhaler. Yes, sometimes I feel prickly and odd in time…but if I don’t, again, knowing to stop drinking that wine, and to start scrabbling for my inhaler, makes the difference between “that was not great, but no worse than eating the fruit salad with the sulfated raisins” and “legitimately scary.”

            Yes, the exchange should end with “I know” (or “thanks for telling me,” or “I’d rather not have my skin commented on” or “yes, I’m older, it’s a hot flash,” as the case may be). And ideally, it’s said, not hooted to the whole table.

            But “something you may want to know about is happening, just making sure you know” is not intrinsically rude–or at least, not rude relative to the risk it prevents.

            Compare, asking someone “are you choking,” and it turns out they’re just trying to swallow a hated food item. Three times, I’ve been the person asking. I badly offended one person, but heimliched two others. I’m comfortable with having given offense in the one case, in the context of, “two friends didn’t die from choking.”

            (OP’s boss, though? Rude.)

            1. whingedrinking*

              I think “Are you all right?” is the missing piece here. “You’re very flushed, are you feeling okay?” is very different from “WOW are you ever red.”

              1. JSPA*

                Yes, completely agree. I’m only pushing back against, “never say anything, people know what’s up with their bodies” or “there is no risk to saying nothing unless and until people verbalize a request for feedback.”

        2. Bees Knees*

          My mother is the same, constantly makes comments about my appearance even after repeatedly being told to stop. I have no idea why people do this after being called out.

          1. Gato Blanco*

            Ugh, mine is the same. I have struggled with adult acne for 10 years and mine is almost gleeful when she points out my breakouts and tells me I need to “take better care of my skin”. Solidarity, my friend.

    4. DannyG*

      The smart aleck in me would want to say something along the lines of “I’m aging backwards and just hit puberty from the wrong direction!”

    5. T*

      Nope. As a manager I am not likely to notice that you have skin. (A numerous exaggeration)

      I have legit other things to worry about. And I assume people do not come into work desiring a commentary on their appearance so I don’t give them one.

      1. Mf*

        This is the right attitude. People who fixate on other people’s appearance need to get a life and worry about their own lives.

    6. goddessoftransitory*

      Just as the rule is “do not comment on a pregnancy unless she is in labor and delivering in front of you,” do not ask about skin conditions unless someone is actively bleeding and needs bandages!

      1. RLC*

        Absolutely, comments on skin conditions are only OK if said skin condition is a symptom of something which needs immediate medical attention. Years ago a very observant and outspoken colleague commented with a good outcome: another colleague had conspicuous red streaks radiating from an arm wound and observant person told him she thought he had septicemia and pointed out that it is LIFE THREATENING GO TO CLINIC !!! Scared him enough to go to clinic and he ended up in hospital with, yes, septicemia.

        1. JustaTech*

          Good grief, that would be terrifying. Red lines running up a limb to the torso are a deadly emergency. Do not mess with blood poisoning.

          I’ve resolved to not comment on any of my boss’ skin picking habits unless they’re bleeding, in which case I hand them a tissue (because this has come up when they were using shared equipment and hadn’t noticed). I don’t say anything, just hand them a tissue and make a mental note to clean the keyboard/mouse. Not just because they’re my bosses, but because I know that calling attention to it won’t make them stop, it will just make them self-conscious.

    7. Ms Frizzle*

      To be fair, I frequently get asked why there are bumps on my face at work. By preschoolers and kindergarteners. Normally kids grow out of it by second grade, but I guess the manager is a late bloomer.

    8. Erin*

      +1 to this. I can’t think of a person I know who has not experienced some sort of acne breakout at a point in their life, so it’s not like this manager has no idea what acne looks like.

      It breaks my heart that the manager is reminding this employee of something that they don’t love, and are actively trying to resolve. I’m sorry, LW. Also, your manager is a jerk.

    9. MCMonkeyBean*

      Yes, I would not say that to my best girl friends. And while I’m sure it’s not as uncomfortable as it is for OP, the other people there probably feel wildly uncomfortable when this happens too!

  2. Not A Manager*

    Alison’s advice is great if you feel comfortable and safe saying those things. If you don’t, though, I recommend picking one phrase and repeating it in the same tone no matter what she says or who she says it in front of.

    “What’s up with your skin interrobang!?” – “Nothing, I’m having a bad skin day.” “Yeah but SKIN!” – “Just a bad skin day.” – “No but really!” – “Yep, it’s my skin.” Same bored tone. I guarantee that whoever else hears this will know exactly what’s going on and you are not the one who looks bad in this situation.

    1. laowai_gaijin*

      Yep. Gray-rocking will hopefully get across the message that you’re really not interested in discussing it unless the manager is truly oblivious, which, let’s face it, is a real danger here.

      1. Not A Manager*

        Even if the manager is oblivious, though, I think this might help relieve the OP’s feeling of being cornered. Just because someone wants to talk about something doesn’t mean you have to engage with them about it. And it signals to other people what a weirdo the manager is being, even if she never gets it herself.

        1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

          Just like you don’t have to accept every invitation to an argument, you do not have to accept every invitation into office small talk.
          First of all, it’s not small talk. It’s a dig and then an interrogation.

    2. Sariel*

      I find a slight frown combined with a small head tilt to the side gives a “Excuse me? What the actual heck?” oomph to just being silent. This woman is an ASS — being silent, even if it’s a bit excruciating, may nudge people around you to jump in and say something…

      Sorry this is happening to you. Rosacea-sufferer here, who also tends to run warm (and then have dark red cheeks).

      1. Michelle*

        I’ve got Rosacea too, and I find it hard to deal with the comments because people always seem genuinely *concerned* about me. I was doing some manual labor at church and people kept stopping me to make sure I wasn’t about to pass out or something. A couple of people offered me sunscreen (which I was already wearing). I was fine, my face just gets red.

        1. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

          Uggghhh, yeah, that happened to me the other day when I was having a bad rosacea flare up. I try not to wear makeup during it because it makes things worse. But I was in the bathroom the other day and said hi to a colleague who is not in my department but it way farther up the chain of authority than I am and she asked me if I was ok. I had no idea why and was like, ummm, I’m fine, why? She told me my face was really really red.

          I could tell she was really genuinely concerned, but that seemed a bit much. Fortunately I am very open about most of my medical stuff (well, except clearly tmi stuff), so I just said “oh, yeah, I am having a really bad rosacea flareup, but I am fine!”

          I was only mildly annoyed (and then only because I think it was pretty clearly a skin condition issue and not me being suddenly flushed), but a LOT of people would feel really self conscious about it. Also, unlike with OP, she did not do it in front of others and she did not press about it again. I would be extremely annoyed if I were in OP’s position.

          Also, OP, remember that acne is a medical condition, not just the other conditions that contribute to it, so it is especially inappropriate for her to pester you about it, especially in front of other people in the workplace!

        2. Joanna*

          I had a coworker who would ask me if I was OK every afternoon when my Rosacea would lead to a nice rosy face. Every signal day. I finally just flatly said that I have rosacea and made it clear by my tone that she was being rude. She was generally an ass, but I guess that was awkward enough for her that she dropped it.

          I also have continued to deal with acne up through age 50, and even she wasn’t enough of an ass to say anything about it. LW, I really feel for you and I hope you can find a way to send the awkward back to the sender.

            1. allathian*

              Yup, acne’s one symptom of menopause as well as puberty.

              I’m fortunate enough to have very good skin, to the point that three pimples on my face at the same time when I was a teen made me want to stay in bed and skip school…

              But yeah, the boss is being awful. I hope the LW can get the comments to stop.

            1. That One Person*

              My grandpa jokes about still getting pimples at his age. That honestly helped me feel better about the fact that mine didn’t magically disappear post teen years. Still have a better routine than I did back then so they’re not as numerous or bad, but accepted they’re going to be an obnoxious part of life no matter the age.

          1. Phryne*

            41 here and still have acne on my chin. I have topical antibiotics but you are not supposed to use them continuously for obvious reasons, and anytime I stop using them I break out again.

        3. KatEnigma*

          I have experienced this EXACT thing. It’s tedious, but in my case, it’s always been people who were genuinely concerned. Nope, I swear I’m not about to pass out.

          The only time in my life I have passed out, incidentally, was from acute anemia and I was definitely not red for once.

      2. Jessica*

        Oh. No no no. How insensitive. I think my reaction would be to say, in a pretty sarcastic way, “Yeah it’s acne, thanks for pointing it out?” But then that’s easy to say when you’re not in the moment. Just please, please know that your reaction is understandable

    3. Keymaster of Gozer*

      I think it was Ms Manners (?) who suggested the flat ‘wow’ in response to inappropriate statements/questions. It’s a technique that combined with a ‘did you just say THAT?!’ look I’ve used a few times to great effect.

    4. KatEnigma*

      My one phrase to repeat might be “WTF?” but that’s usually inappropriate to say to your boss, no matter how justified.

    5. Meep*

      Asking them what they mean in the most sickeningly confused tone also works. Because then they can twist themselves into a knot trying not to look like an ass.

    6. tamarack and fireweed*

      This is *great* advice.

      (Me, I’d be sorely tempted to just stand up in the meeting and calmly say “I wonder how anyone can think it’s ok to make this kind of comment. I have adult acne that sometimes flares up. This is what it looks like. It’s not contagious or dangerous to anyone. Can this please be the end of the discussion.” And then I’d chicken out because boss, employment, risk etc. At least Not A Manager has a way forward.)

    7. That_guy*

      I’d be very tempted to just put on a blank face and say “My face is not a topic for discussion” right in the moment. Return the inappropriate to sender.

    8. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

      Yeah, this is probably the best strategy, given how out of touch she is with social norms here. “Yes, I have acne” is one option as the phrase to repeat. I don’t know if “bad skin day” gives an air of there being a mystery to be solved (what’s causing the bad skin?! how can OP fix it?!).
      “I have acne / get acne sometimes” has no mystery. I wonder if saying acne or pimple or zit might also make it more obvious that this is a weird conversation. Like, it feels ruder somehow to be talking about someone’s acne than generically about their skin. Someone with good interpersonal skills wouldn’t be pushing this regardless, though.

  3. Another Ashley*

    “Are you going to ask me this question every time my skin breaks out? The answer will also be the same, I have acne.”

    1. Bee*

      Ahaha, right, I think by the third or fourth time she asked me this in front of other people (!) I would just be like, “I have acne, Barbara.” (Also in my 30s, have also been breaking out horribly this year, also pretty upset and insecure about it, but have gotten to a place where I would assume everyone else in the room is mortified that she said anything and I’d be willing to lean on that a little bit with the extremely obvious answer delivered very matter-of-factly.)

    2. Chief Petty Officer Tabby*

      Literally! I get it as a harbinger that The Red Scourge Is Coming, 2-3 days before it starts: one, on my chin, very annoying. I’m 46, and it’s been happening since I got periods (yeah, I’m pretty sure it’s probably PCOS, because I suddenly got fat when I hit puberty.) I can’t imagine how anyone would think they should needle someone about something so common as adult acne, though. It’s weird.

  4. Rebecca1*

    I’m going to put in my usual scripted response, paraphrased from a Miss Manners column I read long ago:

    “When do you need to know?”

    The WHEN, vs why, is what tends to make it work.

    1. Michelle Smith*

      At the risk of embarrassing myself, can you explain why this is effective? I literally don’t understand the question. It feels like a non sequitur and I can’t tell if that’s the intent or if I’m just clueless.

      1. Rebecca1*

        I don’t really know why it’s effective! I read about it and tried it, and it keeps working.

      2. Morning Flowers*

        My guess is because if you ask “*why* do you need to know?” it’s too easy for them to say, “Oh I’m just curious!” But if you ask “*when* do you need to know?” you’re asking them to eludcidate a need — i.e. “when do you need to know by, for some actual reason that isn’t you being a nosy jerk?” And because there *is* no such need, the “when” could short-circuit the whole “this isn’t a big deal!” reaction by making them realize well it *isn’t* a big deal … which is exactly why they have no actual reason to ask it (and are being a nosy ass).

        1. Anon for this comment*

          THIS. This is why it works. The question word disrupts the “oh, I’m just being HELPFUL” response, converts it to the recognition that there is never going to be a time when they need to know. Because they don’t need to know.

        2. Michelle Smith*

          Thank you so much for the thorough explanation and for not making me feel dumb for asking!

        3. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

          Thanks for this! I also wasn’t sure what the rationale was and this explanation was super helpful.

      3. Ellis Bell*

        I think it’s also a clever way for the responder to say “I don’t have any urgent needs that need to be discussed here?”

      4. Thursday Next*

        A slightly illogical question disrupts the flow enough to trip people up and (possibly) leave room for the rude person to realize they’ve messed up.

    2. Waiting on the bus*

      That is absolutely beautiful. I have to remember that the next time my nosy aunt asks me an inappropriate question.

    1. PollyQ*

      She would’ve jumped in with it long ago if she were. MLM sellers are not known for their subtlty or patience.

      1. Argyle pirate*

        Ironically, I knew someone who would ask rude questions like this in a knitting group. She later ended up selling MLM vitamins and each member disappeared one by one. I don’t think she ever figured it out.

      2. Librarian of SHIELD*

        The one good thing about being a melanoma survivor is that I can shut down the skincare and makeup MLMs pretty effectively with “now that I’ve finished my cancer treatments, my doctor and I agree that I should stick with the skin care products she’s already approved.” A couple of people have tried to push past that, but most don’t.

        OP, if your boss does start to move into this territory, selling MLMs or even just the *but have you tried* litany that I’m sure you’ve heard from six thousand other people, feel free to use a modified version of my script. “I’m working with a doctor on this, and she and I agree that I should stick to her approved/prescribed products.”

        1. Joanna*

          Agreed. I’ve had success in the past with people commenting on what I eat. “I’ve discussed this with my endocrinologist, and I trust her judgement on the matter.” Shuts them down almost every time.

        2. Vanellope*

          Amazing! I had a similar situation where I leaned into my T1 diabetes to ward off a beach body shake spiel but unfortunately my answer that I had already worked out an eating plan with my doctor that was working well did not slow her down.

      1. Kelly L.*

        I don’t know why you say that. MLMs are very common and often involve negging their potential customers.

        1. Keeley Jones, The Independent Woman*

          Yep and being C -suite doesn’t exclude the possibility either. My former neighbor is deep into one and she’s a VP and is otherwise is a very intelligent and kind person. How she fell into this, I’ll never understand.

        2. AngelS.*

          What about those people who hand out fliers or cards for weight loss products?? Actually they target specific individuals.

    2. KC*

      Several years ago I made an offhanded comment to a (former) boss about how I was breaking out a lot recently. I struggled with very visible acne at the time, so it was definitely obvious that it was an ongoing issue.

      For my birthday a few weeks later, she bought me one of those MLM skincare sets for acne. (Rhymes with Shmodan and Shmields.)

      The gift was rude enough, but the kicker was that when I used it, I had a VERY visible allergic reaction to it that made my eyes puff up and my skin dry out completely. I looked like I had bruises all over my face for like a month after. My roommate at the time took one look at my face and actually shouted in horror!

      When I told my boss what happened, instead of apologizing, she asked for the gift back so she could return it “because it was pretty expensive.” Mind you, this woman was making seven figures. She did not try to make it up to me by getting another gift or anything like that.

      Lesson learned for me–no talk about appearance in the office, because people with no tact will take it as an invitation to be a-holes about it.

    3. RG*

      When I worked in retail, I had a woman try to sell me skincare by pointing out my acne (thanks, ma’am) and then leaving her business card on the register, which I ignored. As we wrapped up the transaction, she was like “Aren’t you going to take my card?” Some people just cannot take a hint–and people should know better than to broach topics like that with people who are working and are limited in how they can respond. OP, I feel your pain!

      1. 3DogNight*

        Thank you for reminding me, I really do need to keep the register clean. Followed by very visibly throwing it in the trash.

    4. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

      I dunno, those types usually launch straight on into it before you can even respond!

  5. Beancat*

    Holy truffle mac and cheese, your boss is MASSIVELY overstepping. The power dynamic I’m sure makes it feel even harder to address with her; I know I’d have a hard time saying it. Also seconding Alison’s comment about her expressing concern and asking if you’ve tried X, Y, Z, and back through the whole alphabet again. I used to get a looooooooottttttt of that.

    Man, I’m sorry, OP. From one adult acne sufferer to another, you have my utmost sympathy. I wish people would just leave it well enough alone!

  6. Amber*

    This doesn’t surprise me. I have rosacea and have lost count of the fully grown adults who comment on it. I had a manager ask me in a horrified tone what was wrong with my face.

    1. pugsnbourbon*

      The way some people comment on other folks’ appearances is truly mind-boggling. If you’re in a customer-facing role – forget it.
      The world would be so much better if those people learned how to shut tf up.

      1. Software Engineer*

        Let’s all just not comment on other people’s bodies unless it’s ‘wow you’re bleeding a lot can I get you some help’

        I used to wear an eye patch for a lazy eye as a child and I would have GROWN ADULTS asking little six year old me “What happened to your eye”

        NONE OF YOUR BUSINESS it did not get removed in the last five minutes so I don’t need you to call me an ambulance so back off. Like what are you going to do with this information?!

        I also wonder about the ways people look different and am sometimes curious. One coworker is pale and wearing a lot of hats, does he have cancer or just look terrible for some other reason? IDK but I bet if he wanted to tell me he would, I can mind my own business. Does that coworker look pregnant? IDK but I guess I’ll figure it out eventually, there’s no need to ask. If it’s relevant somebody will tell me.

        Not all the questions that come into your brain need to be asked, valuable life lesson

        1. Anonny*

          General rules for commenting on someone’s appearance:
          1. Is it something that might be concerning (e.g. bleeding, potential symptom of secptecemia, arm dangling at a weird angle)
          2. If it’s not something that might be concerning, can it be fixed within five minutes (e.g. spinich in the teeth, lop-sided jewellery, stain on cuffs)
          3. Don’t make a scene about it either way

    2. Sauron*

      Sounds nice to go through life having unblemished, perfect skin and no concept of what might cause redness or zits or dryness or (insert any infinite number of skin concerns here). I’m sorry that manager was so thoughtless.

    3. WonderWoman*

      Agreed – I’ve experienced that too. (I flush all the time, at random times.) At best, it is an expression of concern, but still – in a work environment, best to mind your business. No comment is best. Argh.

    4. learnedthehardway*

      My own father asked me if I was drinking too much one day when I was visiting and hadn’t put on any makeup – so there’s the stereotype that people associate rosacea with alcoholism.

      For the record, I have maybe a glass of wine every 12 months or so.

      1. Smithy*

        As another rosacea haver, the main assumption I hate is that I hate it.

        Not only do I not mind mine, but I prefer it to any variety of covering it up and then adding blush back on. While skin conditions like eczema and acne can also be uncomfortable or painful, it bothers me so much how the “bad skin” tropes are about how they’re undesired or so unsightly that they need to be covered. Not to tell anyone who does want to use make-up not to, but just that I don’t think make-up to cover “unsightly blemishes” is remotely mandatory or necessary to be professional.

        1. KoiFeeder*

          Me about my scars. Yes. They’re on my face. Big whoop. Unlike my acne, they’re not painful, so I don’t care.

        2. Rose*

          I went to the derm for the first time in YEARS recently…and was told I have rosacea. Literally had NO idea, I just thought I had rosy cheeks and a red nose! He gave me cream AND an oral prescription. I have been using the cream, and I will say that it has helped the nose redness. But not going to bother taking an oral prescription for something that doesn’t bother me that much. It is nice to not have to put blush on!

        3. whingedrinking*

          In my brief time working for a cosmetics company, employees were always told that when consulting on products, we should ask things like, “What does a good hair/skin day look and feel like to you?” and absolutely never talk about “fixing” something. Partly that’s a CYA move, because you don’t want to be promising that something will cure acne when there’s no guarantee – but it also aligned better with my general attitude to life, which is that no one’s face is unacceptable. (It probably helps that the company doesn’t do a lot of colour cosmetics so I never had to be like, “This foundation will cover your acne scars.”)

        4. Amber*

          The only reason why I don’t like my rosacea is because people ask about it. If people treated it like no big deal then I wouldn’t care at all.

    5. Industrial Tea Machine*

      Agreed. I also am sadly unsurprised by the manager’s comments. I had substantial acne in my teens and was constantly flabbergasted by the comments I received. A woman once called me over urgently in an airport to inform me that in order to cure my acne I needed to COLLECT MY FIRST URINE OF THE MORNING on a washcloth and dab it on my face. I just turned around and walked away as she yelled after me how crucial her advice was.

      (I may have shared this story here before. I’m sharing it again because it’s 25 years later and I still cannot.)

      1. CL Zama*

        I would be tempted to respond “how about I collect my first urine of the morning and dab it on YOUR FACE”

        1. No Longer Gig-less Data Analyst*

          This is the only correct response to the suggestion. Also, thank you for the LOL

        2. Industrial Tea Machine*

          About ten minutes after the incident I wished I said, “Yes, thank you so much! The bullying at school I get about the acne will be so much better once I’m known as Pissface instead!”
          Sadly, the best comebacks always occur after the fact.

      2. Emmy Noether*

        I also had bad acne as a teen (still have it, but not as bad). My – favorite- was the schoolteacher who, on a class trip, exclaimed “what happened to your face? are you allergic?”. In front of classmates. I just mumbled no and slunk away, but in my head I was like: I’m a teenager. I have acne, which, as a teacher of teenagers, I’m sure you must have seen before. Please shut up.

      3. JSPA*

        bizarre as it sounds, and strange as it is to share the information with a stranger in the airport, I have to wonder if morning pee is nature’s free topical estrogen, and this is de-facto a mild topical estrogen treatment?

        (Morning urine is as reliable as plasma for monitoring estrogen levels; some cycstic and pustular acnes respond very effectively to topical estrogens. Putting those factoids together, and allowing some space for folk remedies to be evidence-based and real, I suppose it’s not impossible that it would work. And the risks of a bad allergic reaction to one’s own urine are basically nil.)

    6. Avril Ludgateaux*

      I had acne well into my 20s – went on accutane THREE TIMES – and my skin made me feel like absolute garbage about myself. I still hate my skin thanks to scars and pores from it. If I get one minor blemish, it is often accompanied by actual nightmares of my skin breaking out like it used to. In a lot of ways, I didn’t really start “living” socially until I got my skin under control. I missed so many events because I was “feeling sick” when the truth is my skin was out of control and I didn’t want to face the world. And I definitely worried that people judged me, professionally, for my skin.

      The only good that came out of it, is I learned not to comment on people’s skin. Unless they are coming to me and explicitly asking for help – importantly, not just venting about their struggles -, they’ve heard it all before, they’ve probably TRIED it all before, and skin issues are never “here is a quick fix/miracle cure!” (Outside of accutane, which is the nuclear option and not suitable for everybody, most derm meds have, like, 25% rate of clinical efficacy in trials, and that’s considered an effective drug!)

      1. goddessoftransitory*

        Ooof, Accutane is brutal. I used it back in high school (in combination with Retin-A) and man, I looked like I washed my face with a mix of ditch water and napalm.

      2. Francie Foxglove*

        “In a lot of ways, I didn’t really start “living” socially until I got my skin under control.”

        You’ve reminded me of one of Judy Blume’s lesser books, Here’s to You, Rachel Robinson. Rachel’s sister has cystic acne. It’s hereditary: mom had it too. Sis has been begging the parents to let her take Accutane, and they’ve refused, in part because of concerns about Accutane specifically, but mostly because of Mom’s hangup. She’s said it so many times that both daughters can recite it: “I am where I am today [attorney] because of my acne. It caused me to have no social life in high school, which enabled me to apply myself to my studies.” Except, that’s not what Sis wants for herself. For one thing, she has a social life, including a boyfriend, but she’d like the BF to be less self-conscious when they’re out somewhere together. And she’d like to look good in photos from this time, and basically, she’d like to have fun while she’s young, and doesn’t think she’ll fail at life if she goes to a school dance when she’s 17. So she gets the Accutane, the acne doesn’t go away entirely but it’s a lot less noticeable, and the parents just roll with it.

        (Again, it’s not one of Blume’s better books. I don’t recommend it for anyone’s daughter, especially since the older brother is mentally disturbed and scenes with him could be triggering.)

    7. RIP Pillow Fort*

      My sister has bad rosacea so I get it.

      I have some minor rosacea and hormonal acne. I have had people asking why I wasn’t washing my face enough or using makeup to cover it up when I had bad breakouts in my 20’s. I finally got fed up and said “they’re from my period. It looks worse with makeup on. stop asking about it.” Which wasn’t the most professional answer but stopped all the questions.

    8. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

      Yeah, during a flareup mine can look really bad! And I have ocular rosacea too that affects my eyes. That said, very few people I work with would ever comment! (one recently, but she seemed to think I was flushed and might not be well and it wasn’t in front of others. To me, it is pretty clearly different than being flushed, at least during a bad flareup, but I will give her the benefit of the doubt. She dropped it immediately when I said it was rosacea!)

    9. Meep*

      I had mumps a few years back that caused my face to swell twice my size. Hurt like a b*tch but I assumed it was TMJ which I also have. When I noticed it, my now-husband frowned and admitted he had noticed it, but thought it would’ve been rude to mention my “big head”. None of my fellow students said a peep either.

    10. hesdeadjim*

      This hits me right in the feels. Will never forget the time long ago before my Derm got my symptoms better control, an older female coworker in the restroom with me just kept exclaiming it’s just so red! It looks like you got stung by a bee!!

    11. goddessoftransitory*

      What gets me is how many full grown adults who regularly interact with the world at large have apparently NEVER seen a person with zits or rosacea before?? There are commercials on TV about these conditions! They are not unusual!

    12. fine tipped pen aficionado*

      Me too!!!! It was really bad for a long time when I was in a job without healthcare and couldn’t afford treatment. It was the most upsetting shit in the world constantly having people gape at my face or ask what was wrong with it.

      Nothing of substance to add just wanted to say I hear you.

    13. Don't Call Me Shirley*

      It amazes me the number of people who won’t accept that my acne isn’t the result of me neglecting my skin in a way they do not… I’ve tried it, it didn’t work, or marginally worked, and after literal decades, I have made peace with acne being a lifelong issue for me. No, what worked for your teenager or teenage self won’t work, even Accutane was a temporary improvement.

    14. TG*

      I had a man commenting on how I needed to get healthy – his way of saying lose weight,
      I said really I do? Interesting you’d comment on my appearance. Do you comment on any of the men’s appearance? He shut up after that.

    1. PsychNurse*

      Except I would hope a doctor wouldn’t open with “What on earth is wrong with your face?”

      1. never mind who I am*

        Almost on-topic, since it’s about a doctor’s opening: I work in a teaching hospital. When I went to a dermatologist, he greeted me, face wreathed in smiles, saying “Great to see you again! I remember you from my intern year!” Not quite comparable to a grown man saying to a teacher “I remember you–you were my kindergarten teacher,” but it did make me realize I’ve been there a long time.

      2. Empress Matilda*

        I did have a pharmacist say that to me once! I changed soaps, and the new one made me break out in absolute hives. And of course I didn’t connect the dots right away – it took several rounds of “my face feels weird, better go wash it…” before I figured out that washing it was the problem.

        So I went off to the drugstore to ask for help. When I told the pharmacist what I had been using, he said “And it made your face look like THAT???”

        Thanks, thanks. That’s extremely reassuring, you know. :/

      3. Bee*

        Hahaha, I once walked into an urgent care clinic because half my face was inexplicably swollen, and the receptionist looked me straight in the eye and was like, “So what brings you here today?” Points for tact!!

        1. Librarian of SHIELD*

          Ha! I went to urgent care once with a really bad case of conjunctivitis, and the doctor opened the door, took one look at me and went “WOAH. Step one, let’s get you the good eye drops. Anything else you need today?”

          1. April*

            Pfft that’s not far off from the one time I had pink-eye. They definitely did not need to ask why I was there!

      4. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

        Well, if they did, I would respond with “well, that’s what I was here to ask you, so this really isn’t a great start, is it?”

      5. londonedit*

        Not quite ‘what on earth is wrong with your face’ but I once went to the GP about something completely unrelated, and halfway through the appointment he started talking about how I needed to stop eating sweets because that’s what was making my skin bad. I was in my twenties and still suffering from the odd hormonal breakout here and there (still do, in my early forties!) and I just sat there completely mortified. I think I said something like ‘Well, you know…it’s not really that bad…’ and I vividly remember the doctor responding with ‘Oh, well I can definitely see it…’. Thanks? I think I ended up walking out of there with a prescription for topical antibiotics that I’d never asked for. Bizarre. Thankfully I’ve never encountered a doctor like that since, but he was an odd one!

    2. Siege*

      Yeah, I feel like this is a place for really sarcastic, absurdist answers, because this is ludicrous. Obviously address it one on one, but in public this might be a deflecting tactic.

      “I’m allergic to velociraptor saliva.”
      “The new moon makes my skin break out. I’m part werewolf.”
      “Misfire at the coven duel last night.”
      “Yeah, I know, I overplucked my eyebrows again.”
      “The good news is, my doctor says we caught it in time and there’s no need to alert the CDC.”

      1. Industrial Tea Machine*

        “Oh shoot, did I do it wrong? (muttered as if to self) Eyebrows ABOVE eyes, eyebrows ABOVE eyes…”

      2. OP here*

        These are amazing—my office vibe is actually perfect for some of these responses. I can definitely promise to let everyone know when we need to alert the CDC.

        1. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

          I like the pretending that it is something else she is saying option (similar to the overplucking eyebrows option), like something absurd!

          “Oh no, did it turn lime green again! I hate when that happens!”

          “oh, you mean that thing on my forehead! Nothing serious! Just the Mark of Cain!”

          “Skin? What skin? I don’t have skin!”

          the CDC one is the best, but these are fun to play with too!

      3. Petty Betty*

        “I’m allergic to insensitive questions in semi-public, supposedly professional settings, thanks for asking”. Make sure to say it in a bright tone for best results.

      4. Salamander*

        Whenever I have an injury – which is fairly frequent for me, since I’m a klutz and do a lot of work with my hands – I just invoke the first rule of Fight Club: “You do not talk about Fight Club.” It gives everyone a chuckle and gets people to back off.

      5. whingedrinking*

        “My ancestors were Scottish.” (I have actually used that one, although it was a bit less of a non sequitur – it was in response to “WOW YOU’RE PALE”.)

  7. Box of Kittens*

    “This is just what I look like.” Is what I want to say to the (thankfully few) people who comment on my bad skin. Like, sorry I’m ugly today? Look away lol.

    I’ve had acne my entire adult life and at this point I’ve accepted it’s just what my skin looks like. I’ve come a long way with self-acceptance with this but it’s not hard for comments like this manager’s to make you backslide. Solidarity, OP, and best of luck in getting this cleared up (the skin and the situation).

    1. Aggretsuko*

      I’d be tempted to say something like “I can’t make my skin stop being zitty, no matter what I am trying here. What do you expect me to do? Let me work from home with the camera off?”


    2. GingerNP*

      “Sorry I’m ugly today, look away.” – YES.

      I don’t deal with a lot of acne – but working in the ER through the pandemic has been *etched* on my face and “you look tired” is frequent feedback. Sorry I’m not bothering to put on makeup to make myself look enough like I’m performing cheer and youthfulness in order to make everybody else more comfortable? Sorry I’m ugly today, look away!

    3. Troublemaker*

      Yes! Employers are so bad at understanding chronic illness. My usual approach is to pick a tired, grouchy tone, as if I’ve explained this multiple times. I want managers to regret asking me about medical conditions.

  8. Purple Cat*

    Definitely in your 1:1 state “I want to bring up what happened in the meeting the other day. I find it very inappropriate and it makes me feel very uncomfortable when you comment on my skin. Can you please stop doing that?”

    That will give you carte blanche if she brings it up again in front of other people to say, “Warbelina, I asked you to stop bringing this up.”

    I’m sorry she’s so obnoxious.

    1. Lauren*

      But say it as ‘my medical condition’. Also, why not a ‘do you think you can stop commenting or do I need to go to HR with a medical accommodation? If she can’t stop, can you WFH to stop her?

  9. Lcsa99*

    Has this woman never seen acne? Seriously?! This is so over the line. I could maybe, almost understand if she was expressing sympathy or tried to suggest ways to heal it (that would be inappropriate but people do it all the time) but this is so crazypants it crosses over into Mean Girls/High School territory. I have no suggestions so just take Alison’s advice and my deep sympathy as a life-long acne sufferer.

    1. Relentlessly Socratic*

      I don’t usually wish the chaos of perimenopausal skin on anyone, but I might be willing to make an exception in this case.

      1. Keymaster of Gozer*

        Actually I wish her all the symptoms of it. The zits, the brain fog, the ‘what is a predictable cycle anymore?’, the ‘who opened an oven door’ feeling, the overly sensitive sense of smell….

        1. higheredadmin*

          Nothing like being flushed from a hot flash or scurrying to the bathroom to deal with flooding to stop you from commenting on other people. How hard is it to leave people to their privacy.

        2. goddessoftransitory*

          Oh, God, the hot flashes. Out of nowhere I’m doing a full Wicked Witch of the West–“melting, melllltinnngg…”

        3. April*

          Is THAT why I hate the smell of so many things??

          There’s a ton of things where previously I didn’t *like* the smell but it wasn’t a big deal, and now it’s like GET ME AWAYYYY.

          (Scented laundry products! Why do they all smell like nauseating chemical soup??)

          1. 1LFTW*

            Because they kind of *are* nauseating chemical soup. Fabric softener especially, since it often contains formaldehyde.

            I learned that a few years ago when I moved into a place where the previous tenants used a lot of highly-scented liquid fabric softener, and had to furiously google various methods to remove the residue from my washing machine. I have asthma and fragrance sensitivities, so I’ve had to use “free and clear” products forever, and I was *pissed* when random loads of laundry would trigger my asthma and burn my sinuses.

      2. emmelemm*

        Yeah, I’ve suddenly got more acne than I have in a long time (at 50) and I’m feeling like it must be a hormone extinction burst of some kind.

  10. CharlieBrown*

    “It’s not polite to comment about other people’s bodies” is what I would say, but I’m older and my jar of effs to give is completely empty and has been for some time.

    You have my sympathies, OP. If you ever have a skip-level meeting, this is definitely something to bring up, because while she may stop with you, who knows if she’s treating other employees in some other miserably inappropriate way. I hope this works out for you.

    1. JustAnotherKate*

      Yes, right on! I sat through 2+ years of weird, diametrially opposed insults, which started with stuff about my personality (“don’t be so quiet, everyone thinks you’re a sad little mouse”/”people on the other side of the building are complaining about your loud voice”), and progressed to comments on my body/looks (“don’t you know how many calories are in that?”/”eat a cookie, you’re skin and bones”). After a she interrupted me in a meeting to comment about how my dress didn’t flatter my figure, I said “stop talking about my body” and went right back to the work I was presenting. Not sure what gave me the courage — maybe that was the day the last of my f*cks ran out — but it was satisfying to see her with her mouth hanging open.

      1. CharlieBrown*

        There are a lot of things I hate about getting older, but one of the things I love is that I can pretty much say “what the f@ck is wrong with you?” to people who pretty much need to have it said to them, and just see the relief on the faces of the people around us who wished they could say it, but can’t, or don’t want to risk it.

        If people are effing rude, I have no problem any more about calling them on it. Doesn’t matter if it’s someone in line at the grocery store or someone at work. I don’t suffer fools and I can’t abide rudeness. Heaven forbid if you’re both.

  11. too many dogs*

    I’m happy to share my late aunt’s answer to this, and other questions that are invasive/in bad taste: “It’s just my skin. Why do you ask?” Change the response as needed — It’s just my hair/ yes, this baby was planned/No, we still don’t have any children/ I haven’t noticed any change in my weight…. But ALWAYS end with: “Why do you ask?” Because, really, why IS she asking?

    1. Waiting on the bus*

      I wouldn’t go with “why do you ask”, actually. It invites concern trolling and unwanted health advice.

      1. allathian*

        Yeah, a gray rock reply like “This is what my face looks like,” followed by a redirect back to work stuff should help. Unless she has a habit of approaching the LW for no other reason than to comment on her face… I hope not. I really hope not.

  12. Ash*

    Ugh. Fellow sufferer of adult acne here, and you have my sympathy. What if you treated it like one would any other chronic, visible medical condition? “What’s up with my skin is between me and my doctor, please stop commenting on it.” Because that’s pretty much what acne is. Some days are better than others, but it’s pretty much always there.

    The fact that this manager comments on others’ physical appearance is just as alarming. The petty pirate in me wants her to try it with someone with far less decorum and patience than you’ve shown.

    1. Rainy*

      My sister worked retail through grad school, and the number of people who said really awful things about her skin while she was standing right there was astonishing to me. She told me that she pretty routinely cried in the break room after customer interactions because people were so rude and hateful about her acne.

      Like, if someone has a giant bug on their face or something, tell them same as you would spinach in their teeth or whatever, but if it’s just their face, you should shut yours.

      1. Dust Bunny*

        People are horrible about acne. It’s one of those things that far too many people think you can just fix if only you’d wash your face, not eat so much sugar/fat/etc. It invites an incredible amount of uninformed judgment.

        1. Box of Kittens*

          One of my friends in high school thought I caused my own because I used moisturizer. She didn’t have any kind of skincare routine and of course had perfect skin. A couple years later she learned about skin care and told me all about how good moisturizing was for you.

          1. Rainy*

            Skincare especially is *so* dependent on so many variables. What works for one person will probably give their friends a rash. My husband has eczema and has started to get into skin care, and the number of sample (and full size, sigh) products we’ve been through trying to get his eczema under control is huge, because while I know what works for me, it turns out he is a different person with different skin so it’s been trial and error figuring out what his skin likes and what he can tolerate. (Like a lot of eczema-havers, he HATES anything that sits on his skin, or is thick or greasy, or doesn’t absorb immediately. So that’s been exciting to navigate!)

            1. April*

              I officially have acne AND eczema. The acne I’ve had for decades, the eczema is new. And it’s frustrating as hell because many/most of the products for eczema assume you have dry skin (I don’t, not really) and flare up my acne.

              1. Rainy*

                Oof, sympathy. I hope you can get it figured out quickly–we live in a very very dry area and basically moving to elevation from sea level appears to have been the trigger for him. He’d probably always had eczema but the dry air and elevation seems to have really made it flare. He has a prescription cortisone cream that helps end flares, and we changed EVERYTHING about his skincare products: unscented beard oils, special scalp serums, extra-gentle shampoo and face wash, a ceramide cream for his skin, everything. It’s been a lot of trial and error.

                Oh, in case this helps at all–I can’t use body wash for other reasons, but I suggested he try a bar soap instead of body wash as well, and the bar soap seems to have been the deciding factor in staving off the big eczema spots he used to get at his underarms and waist. My experience researching and trialing products on him indicates that there’s not really a magic bullet, but a lot of little things that move the needle a tiny bit each, but taken together make a big improvement. Don’t give up! You can do it!

        2. Anon and Angry for This One*

          Exactly, the Elderly Spouse’s Tales about acne have stuck around, even though they have as much merit as “You’ll catch a cold by being too chilly.”

          1. Moira Rose's Closet*

            Yeah, this is definitely one area where the old tropes stubbornly persist. It’s so frustrating!

        3. Software Engineer*

          Even if you could fix it… I assume my coworkers also have google and can figure that out

          I love love love telling people my opinion and my advice and I love forums where people ask questions and I can pretend like I know everything. But still I know that with peoples bodies and peoples medical stuff, if they want advice they’ll ask for it. They have Google too and if they want to share stories and tips and tricks that’s what Reddit communities or FB groups or forums or whatever are for. People with an urge to tell people what to do, go find somebody who is ASKING for it because some people are and the person in front of you isn’t

        4. Rainy*

          My dad used to say “I can always tell when you’ve been eating chocolate because you get pimples” and it was like, dad, I had 3 m&ms last week, what you are seeing is ME BEING A TEENAGER ON HER PERIOD.

      2. Important Moi*

        A lot of useless and stupid advice is offered about acne by folks who’ve never had it.

        Been there. Done that.


      3. NotRealAnonforThis*

        Sadly that it happened isn’t astonishing to me at all.

        Things that were complained about to our store manager, and this is all about teenagers, by the way:
        1. There’s a girl in the ladies department that obviously has leprosy, you should fire her. (Eczema folks, eczema)
        2. The young lady working in dresses shouldn’t be dressed like that, she looks like she’s pregnant. (90s. Babydoll style dresses weren’t always flattering)
        3. The girl in dresses has something wrong with her hands and needs to be working in a department where she’s not touching anything, gross. (Another eczema sufferer)
        4. Why do you hire teenagers who dye their hair? Its immoral!
        5. The girls in the ladies department are wearing dresses that are too short/too long/too tight/too baggy
        6. The girl working in the juniors department needs to be sent to the stockroom til she learns to wash her face properly, the pimples are gross.

        For the record, there were at least six doddering fools who were told off by our store manager in no uncertain terms, and invited to leave the premises until they could stop talking and judging underaged female bodies that were not there for their entertainment.

        1. April*

          There are *still* people out there who clearly think it’s immoral for people to dye their hair, and I don’t understand it at ALL.

          (Mine is purple, but like; some people think it’s not okay to even do a theoretically-natural color!)

    1. Fluffy Fish*

      Highly unlikely. OP’s acne isn’t something that needs accommodations – it’s cosmetic, not disabling.

    2. ecnaseener*

      Yeah, unfortunately not. ADA applies to disabilities that limit a major life activity, not just to all medical conditions.

      1. Nightengale*

        The ADA does apply to people who are “perceived” to have a disability (even if they don’t) but that would be more like if the boss made discriminatory hiring decisions assuming a person had a disability due to an aspect of their appearance. It doesn’t cover just awful comments made about a non-disabling condition.

  13. Essentially Cheesy*

    Commenting on anyone’s appearance is just wrong, period. (I have a hard time with even complimenting outfits these days.) I would think this is a HR level issue, it’s so inappropriate.

    1. Siege*

      The difference I keep in mind is that an outfit is something someone chose, while their hair, eyes, skin, etc is something (we assume) they were born with, and should not be commented on. Unnatural hair color is more on the side of a choice; a certain style is right on the line (as in maybe that’s the only style their hair will take? People with fine hair don’t usually style it elaborately), and the quality of their natural hair is completely out.

      A haircut is a choice, too – I think “you got your hair cut! It looks great!” is likely okay.

      1. Rainy*

        As someone with blue hair, I compliment other people’s vivid hair colours all the time–but I agree that it hits different when you’re a member of the in-group commenting to another member of the in-group.

        1. April*

          I have purple hair and work in a retirement community, and the residents really struggle with how unnatural hair colors work–which is understandable!

          But there are days I feel like a broken record: No, I didn’t dye it a different color; I washed it. It fades a little every time I shampoo. No, it’s not a different color today, I just put it up; the hair on top always fades faster than the hair underneath. I only actually (bleach and) re-dye my hair every six to eight weeks! Any color change past that is just fading!

          (I also have a few that consistently like to ask if I’m going to do a different color next time. Not likely. I’ve only ever wanted purple/lavender hair. If I could genetically modify myself so it came out of my head that way, I would!)

          All that said: I’m really grateful to be able to have purple hair at work, and most of the residents and visitors really like it.

    2. Purple Cat*

      Complimenting the “outfit” – as in “cute sweater” is generally fine. Definitely avoid loaded/sexual adjectives like “Sexy sweater” and absolutely, positively, do not comment about how someone’s body LOOKS in the outfit. No “You look smoking hot in that sweater!” To a coworker.

      1. Kit*

        I’d also recommend avoiding “That sweater makes your boobs look big!” Yes, I heard this from an actual coworker…

        For the record, my response was “No, my boobs do that all on their own. The sweater just doesn’t hide it.”

        1. Rainy*

          When my friend says “you could produce Romeo and Juliet on that balcony” it makes me laugh. If a coworker said it, I’d talk to their manager.

  14. MiddleMgmtMyself*

    Addressing it directly is great, esp if it works, but this, “My supervisor does have the tendency to make insensitive comments about others’ appearances as well,” makes me think it could also be something to address futher up. If you have mechanisms for upward performance feedback, or for submitting concerns through HR, those could be something to pursue alone or with colleagues. It’s a performance issue on your manager’s part, and -their- management may need to address it.

    1. Middle of HR*

      This please! She has a problem.
      Definitely do what Alison suggested, but if it happens even once more after that conversation you may as well submit feedback to her manager or HR.

  15. Nunna*

    Alison’s suggested replies are perfectly polite and reasonable anywhere or with anyone. However, there’s no need to fret about being polite with someone being so rude to you. Grilling a person on their appearance (with an audience, wtf!) is 100% Mean Girls territory and requires an equally harsh correction they’ll remember. No one on the planet has the right to treat you like that, no matter how “high up” they may be. Expect and demand better from your leaders.

    1. PollyQ*

      That may not play out well when it’s going from an employee to a boss, though. Presumably, LW still wants to keep her job and a decent relationship with her boss.

      1. OP here*

        I didn’t mention this in my letter, but I do generally feel that I can address this without damaging the relationship (although whether my supervisor has done that herself remains to be seen). I can likely even address this with some level of sass, but overall my concern is just shutting it down, rather than being vindictive.

    2. ecnaseener*

      There *is* a need to fret about angering someone who has the power to take away your livelihood. (Particularly when that person is “unpredictable!”)

  16. TheraputicSarcasm*

    Yes to asking her to stop in a face to face one on one. Then the next time she comments on your skin in front of other people, email her reminding her that you’ve asked her not to make remarks about your appearance. Do that 2 or 3 times, then go to HR.

  17. Joanne’s Daughter*

    I am an esthetics instructor and I would never comment on a students or other instructors (or a total stranger at the grocery store) acne or any other issue. If they want my advice, they will ask me at which point I will help them if I can. This woman is so over the line.

  18. Avocadoughnut*

    This might be veering off topic–and Allison, feel free to delete–but I actually think it might be helpful to discuss adult acne here. I have it, and I always feel very self-conscious about it–it’s kind of comforting to be reminded that it’s not just me. I know OP is working with professionals to find a personalized solution, but would it be worth starting a chain of things that have helped others?

    For me:
    -sulfur soap (you can buy it pretty cheaply on Amazon–use maybe three times a week?)
    -a separate towel for my face so that I’m not transferring oils from my body/hair to my face
    -vitamin D
    -wearing a mask to work on bad breakout days and saying you were around someone with a cough and are just “playing it safe”

    1. TheraputicSarcasm*

      I think maybe we should save that for the weekend thread tomorrow. OP did say she’s working with a doctor, and several commenters mentioned being annoyed at having possible fixes thrown at them.

      1. Phryne*

        I get your point, but I would love to have possible fixes thrown at me from someone who has the same experience and found things that work. I don’t think having this in a separate thread, not as an answer to someone else, is a problem. You can just collapse this tread if you don’t want to read it?

        1. Cake or Death*

          As someone who’s acne was also extremely helped by using a sulfur product, i think it’s great to share this. Most information available on acne only focuses on certain ingredients like benzol peroxide and salicylic acid, neither of which helped me, but it was when I found out about sulfur that I had a breakthrough with my skin. It is not widely known for acne but it worked for me! I use the phisoderm clinical, which is a Canadian product, but you can buy off of amazon. I also use de la cruz sulfur ointment for spot treatment; clears up the pimples without drying your skin out.

          1. Phryne*

            I will try this. I use both benzol peroxide and salicylic acid and although the first seems to help a little, it is only a little and I dislike the product because it contains peroxide and has stained several towels and pillowcases already. The salicylic acid doesn’t seem to to much for me.
            The only sure thing that works for me so far is topical antibiotics, but the longer you use them, the higher the chance of resistance so I would like to find a way to keep the usage of that for when it gets really bad.

            1. Phryne*

              (Not in the US or Canada, but will see if I can get this brand on an European Amazon, or else try some other brand)

    2. April*

      I’ve gone to dermatologists and done everything that isn’t accutane (no doctor’s been willing since my acne isn’t cystic? I guess??), I’ve had acne since I was 10 (years before I started puberty!) and I’m nearly 43 now, and the ONLY THING that ever really worked for me is 10% benzoyl peroxide *cleanser*.

      I can’t tolerate BP lotions, even in low percentages, they make my skin *hurt*. But the cleanser doesn’t bother me at all even in 10%! *And* I can use it on my whole body easily–I’ve always had acne on my back/chest/butt as well.

      That said: it will make you a night-showers-only person, because you can bleach whatever you wear next. Also your towels. And the bathmat. And your bedsheets. It’s super unpredictable–some black cottons got bleached to shit and some still show zero bleach spots. In the exact same synthetic undies, the black was fine and the blue was destroyed–not just lightened but the fabric was damaged! But to be honest, showering only at night and sacrificing some clothing etc., has been 100% worth it. I don’t even feel oily in the morning, which was the reason I couldn’t be a night shower person before.

      Hilariously, one side effect of the BP cleanser is that it’s a very effective deodorant as well. If I’m using the BP cleanser daily I don’t have BO or stinky feet, like, ever.

  19. Maris Crane*

    Oh my goodness…
    I would say “What do you mean? What is wrong with my face/skin?”
    If the answer is “Your acne!” I would reply with something along the lines of “Ok, that doesn’t seem relevant to my work, thanks. Next on the agenda…”
    Is the answer is uncomfortable silence, perfect, same reply. Return the awkward to sender.

  20. Dust Bunny*

    This was the kind of thing that kids used to use to bully me. But in, like, fifth grade.

    One, it’s not a good idea to comment on appearance (most of the time, but especially) at work, period. Two . . . what the actual F? Is your supervisor eleven years old?

  21. LastChanceLibrarian*

    I’m 34F and had a coworker recently ask me, mid-breakout, if it’s worse when I eat fried foods, because that’s what causes hers. It made me super self-conscious, as I already don’t wear make up. So, no advice, just solidarity

  22. Professional Lurker*

    I thought having my dad point out every pimple I got as a teenager was bad enough. Do people like this not realize mirrors exist and think no one is actually aware of what’s going on with their own skin?

    1. OP*

      Right?! You don’t need to tell me my skin isn’t looking so hot, I am fully aware. I just want to have bad skin in peace!

        1. Pants*

          I love Dr. Jart’s Cicapair for when my face decides that the colour of the day is bing cherry. The pot is tiny and I think it will take me years to use all of it.

    2. Saraquill*

      My mom was like this. From as far as I could remember (nursery school onward,) my skin was full of flaws that either needed to be pried out with her sharp nails, or slathered in product. According to her behavior, my skin was morally offputting.

      I credit her for my developing dermotillomania as a high schooler. She still complains about my skin, but less often. When I point out what I do to myself isn’t far from what she did to me, she firmly denies wrongdoing.

      1. AGD*

        I’m so sorry! The same thing happened to me – my mother used to sit me down in the bathroom and drain my pimples one by one with a needle, and by the time she stopped doing this and I realised it was both unnecessary and overstepping a boundary, I had runaway dermatillomania and my skin was an extra major disaster area.

        1. eggplant*

          Solidarity fist bump for dermatillomania as a result of mom’s hyperactive criticism of my acne. My mom used to take me to the derm on a monthly basis to get all of my zits extracted. And of course she’s the one to always shout at me – no matter who else is near us – to “stop picking at [my] beautiful face!”

  23. Pants*

    I’m so sorry, OP.

    I started breaking out at age 9. I’m 47. Still waiting for puberty to be over. My skin is probably my biggest insecurity. I still break out. I have acne scars. I have rosacea. I’m still affected by the cruelty of grade/middle/high school peers. My sixth grade teacher once told me that now that I’d lost weight (after a summer of starving myself), all I needed to do was work on my skin.

    If my boss ever publicly commented on my skin, I’m not really sure what my immediate reaction would be. Just reading about it threw me right back to the worst of the humiliation. I hope I’d be able to throw that humiliation back at her. “High school was bad enough. Please don’t ever comment on my skin again.” Bonus points for me if I could get through it without crying.

    What a complete lack of empathy. I hope she gets a chronic yeast infection.

    1. Ann Ominous*

      Your teacher. Omg. I want to cry just reading that. SIXTH GRADE. You poor thing. I want to go back in time, tell off that teacher, and take that little girl to play hooky from school and do whatever she wants to do.

    2. Anon and Angry for This One*

      Solidarity with everything you said! The cruelty of kids in 4th grade when no one else was CLOSE to breaking out yet was so bad that I feel like if someone saw it in a movie no one would believe it was realistic.

      1. Pants*

        Yeah, I was the movie-trailer for puberty. I got it all at age 9. Five years later, some of my friends were still excitedly waiting to get their periods. I got a hysterectomy at 36 so I was also the trailer for menopause for my friends but they’re good people so it was okay. I’m just one of the lucky minuscule percentage of women who continue to get hot flashes and night sweats after menopause. It’s awesome. I’m pretty sure I’m a cosmic science experiment.

        1. allathian*

          Well, unless you had your ovaries removed as well, a hysterectomy doesn’t cause hormonal menopause even if you stop bleeding because you don’t have a uterus anymore. So hot flashes in your 40s, 50s, or even 60s are perfectly normal.

          I feel rather sorry for girls who hit puberty as early as you did, especially if the environment around you doesn’t acknowledge it in any way, or you get bullied for it. It’s not much easier being a late bloomer, though. My pediatrician was thinking about sending me for lab tests because I didn’t have my period at 14. I did get my first period two days after the appointment, though.

          1. April*

            I got my period literally two days before turning 15. My mom was just about to get me a doctor’s appointment specifically to see if there was something actually wrong.

            (Nope. Just very low body weight because I mostly didn’t like the kind of food we kept in the house, lol.)

            Ironically, I got acne years before that, at age 10. When I was 11 it was bad enough my teacher sent me to the nurse’s office because she thought I might have chicken pox. My parents didn’t buy my school pictures that year, it was so bad.

          2. Pants*

            Radiation did in my ovaries. It was a pretty quick transition from “not menopause” to “menopause.”

    3. OP here*

      Oh my goodness, how horrible. I am so sorry that happened to you. That is absolutely horrendous.

      Honestly, I’m sure not how I made it through the day. I like to think I am tough and not much bothers me, but this one really hurt.

      1. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

        I admit that I am not all that self conscious about my appearance (not because I look so good or anything. I have really bad rosacea! I just don’t get bothered about my appearance much anymore), so these things don’t tend to upset me so much as make me roll my eyes. But it took me a long time to get to that point! And honestly, your boss is being far more aggressive than anything I have had to deal with!

        1. Pants*

          Should you ever feel like it, Dr. Jart has a tiny pot of fantastic goop called Cicapair. A teeny bit tapped into a red spot (or giant area if you’re me) and magic! With or without makeup. I use it when my zoom filter doesn’t quite mute a fresh eruption.

      2. Pants*

        That you got it through the day at work is tantamount to superpowers, as far as I’m concerned. Just reading your letter threw me right back to the lunchroom in grade school while tables of kids around me chanted “pizza.” * Let’s just say it’s a good thing I work from home. I really, really hope your boss pulls her head out of that dark place.

        As for that teacher…. Well, it was the 1980s. Tact or empathy hadn’t been invented yet. (And the way to survive a Soviet nuclear attack was to duck and cover under a school desk. We should build everything out of school desks.) I was the kid who got her period, sizeable boobs, puberty weight, and acne (which is genetic in my fam) at the ripe old age of 9 years old. To complete the perfect storm, I was also in the “gifted” program. The teacher was in her mid to late 70s and untouchable. Mrs. Kennedy. Her daughter was my first grade teacher and well on her way to following in her mother’s footsteps. The 80s were a therapist’s dream.

        * It’s probably not especially PC to admit, but the main kid who instigated it for years was murdered in his/our early 20s. Considering what a demon he was, it wasn’t surprising to me. I felt vindicated.

        1. Not Your Admin Ass(t)*

          Re: your last paragraph: whenever someone was cruel to me, even if it was very minor, I can’t find it in me to be sad upon hearing they’ve died–I only feel relief. My thinking is, now I’m free from worrying they’ll find a way to hurt me again, and so is everyone else who was hurt by them. Because if they did it to me, they did it to someone else, and there’s a good chance at least one of the others was far more mistreated than I was.

          1. whingedrinking*

            When I was in junior high, a schoolmate passed away suddenly of an illness. I didn’t know her, but she bullied a couple of my friends. One of these friends was annoyed that various teachers were trying to get everyone to go to the “optional” memorial in the gym at lunch “because it’s so sad”, and finally snapped, “Okay, but *I’m* not sad. I feel bad for her family, but I’m not going to spend my lunch hour hearing people talk about how they’ll miss her because I won’t miss her at all.” The teacher finally backed off.

    4. n.m.*

      Wow get that person away from children! I too was led to believe acne would go away after puberty…still waiting on that one

      1. Phryne*

        Yep, I literally had a moment when I was in front of the mirror in my late 30-ies and saw the first real wrinkle in the corner of my eye before I realised that moment would not happen…

    5. Chickaletta*

      So sorry, Pants. Similar story here – got my first zit in 4th grade and don’t think I’ve had a day in my life with completely blemish-free skin. 45 now. Went through all the drying prescription topical treatments through high school and college, and it basically just weathered my skin and made it worse, so I quit that and have been trying to manage on my own since. It’s awful to spend your life going through it – spending hundreds of dollars on different products, always adjusting them, then the weather changes or you get a couple of years older and you have to start all over again. Just this month I started getting large breakouts again in the middle of my cheeks, the kind I haven’t seen in 20 years, and apparently, it’s possibly a symptom of perimenopause so yay, just no freakin’ end in sight.

      I’m fortunate that no one at work has said anything to me. It’s one of my biggest fears, so my heart goes out to OP. I would stress break out if someone commented on my skin and make it even worse!

  24. Anon and Angry for This One*

    I have had continuous acne from age 8 onward, even now at age 35, without end, although the severity dropped off quite a bit at about age 22. (Yes, I’ve tried whatever anyone thinks to suggest, it’s hormonal.)

    People LOVE to point it out as though you’re doing something childish or awkward by having the face you do. Especially some older people love to say , “Oh, you’re (age)? I could have sworn you were… sixteen…” (While eyeing the breakout).

    It’s been a severe a mental health burden at times. I could always tell when people preferred to avoid looking at my face. I’m really happy for Gen Z that they’re normalizing not wearing coverup, since that a) never fully works and b) worsens the problem a lot. I wish better for the younger generations than I got.

    All of which is to say, f**** off about people’s faces people! There is ZERO chance that you’ve noticed or studied possible solutions more than I have.

    1. Anon and Angry for This One*

      (I think people feel more free to be monsters about acne because they assume it’s a teen-years-only problem. Well it’s not for everyone.)

    2. Dust Bunny*

      Another early-bloomer here. Ironically, my skin is SO MUCH BETTER in middle age than it was when I was younger. I tried everything. The topicals left me with chemical burns (and acne). Acutane helped a lot and I was extremely fortunate not to have had any significant side effects, but not everyone can take it.

      I swear the peeling from the heavy-duty salicylic acid and benzoyle peroxide applications is why I don’t have more scarring than I do. I basically had second-degree burns for like two years.

    3. Here's looking at you*

      Anon, I’m really sorry you’ve had to deal with so many jerks, but I do want to say about people not looking at your face, that I find it aversive to look at people’s faces and I avoid doing it. So please don’t assume those who don’t look at you are looking away in horror. They could be like me, always looking somewhere other than at the person’s face because it’s so uncomfortable.

      (Although after I learned that people think they can evaluate my character by whether I look them in the eyes — shudder — I try to fake it and stare in a sincere manner at their hairline, when I remember to.)

      1. look away*

        I’m not the anon you responded to, and your point is valid. But there is sometimes a difference.

        I don’t know if I ever really looked at peoples’ faces, but over the past 10-20 years, I’ve increasingly not done so. It’s just that I don’t look at their faces, though. I don’t, say, approach them looking directly at them but then abruptly avert my gaze, then occasionally peek back, then slightly recoil my gaze away again, and so on.

        The latter may be what Anon is describing — not people who don’t look at their face (nor other faces), but people who make it clear they want to avoid looking at THEIR face in particular.

    4. Allergic to benzoyl peroxide, too*

      I don’t really care about how old I look but now that I am 43, with the acne I’ve had since age 12, people consistently guess that I’m in my late 20’s to mid-30’s. I try to take it as a reminder that most people really have no idea what they’re talking about when making assumptions about other people.

  25. Flying Fish*

    I like, “Why do you ask?”, and then keep asking for clarification and make her tell you exactly what she thinks is wrong with your face and why she thinks it’s a problem. As Capt. Awkward would say, “Return awkwardness to sender”

    1. allathian*

      Eh, depends a lot on the person. Some would take that question as an invitation to pry or comment further, and the LW just wants the comments to stop.

  26. Poppy*

    I read the comment in Ava’s voice from Abbott Elementary. What a horrifying thing to say to someone!

  27. Mandi*

    Wow, OP, this post made my heart ache for you. What a terrible person your manager is! If I have one fatal flaw, it’s that I have a really hard time acknowledging when people are horrible if they generally seem friendly. I’m really trying to stop doing that. She can be jovial and chummy with people and still be a horrible person! She is purposely embarrassing you in front of others (repeatedly) and pressing a very personal issue when it’s clear you’re not comfortable discussing it. I strongly suspect this is not innocent girl talk, but there’s some ill intent behind it. Maybe she feels threatened by you? Or just generally likes to make people feel like crap? Definitely shut her down per Alison’s advice, and if she doesn’t stop immediately, take it to HR. No one should have to put up with this. Hugs.

    1. OP here*

      Thank you for your kind words! This is my struggle as well—my supervisor is generally nice and gets along with everyone, and then turns around and says horrible things. And then I worry about hurting HER feelings when I address it.

      1. Another appalled reader*

        Maybe keep saying to yourself, “she obv doesn’t have normal interpersonal feelings or empathy, so I do not need to edit myself except to keep the power dynamic in mind.”

        Good luck with this, OP. It’s awful that she does this to you and apparently to others as well. She’s seriously flawed as a person and a manager.

      2. Empress Ki*

        Why do you worry about hurting her feelings? Do you think she’d retaliate?
        Otherwise, I can’t see a reason to worry about her feelings. Worry about yours!

  28. HigherEdEscapee*

    I have several skin disorders, one of which has caused the need for multiple surgeries. One of these surgeries was on my face and has left a scar that’s about an inch long. It’s much less noticeable ~25 years on, but when I was younger it was really obvious. I had a boss who did the same thing but about my scar.
    My stock answer, delivered deadpan, was “Switchblade fight. You should have seen the other guy.”
    It took several times, but eventually he figured out he wasn’t going to get any other answer. This was, hands down, the worst place I’ve ever worked. If you can do something like this, OP, I highly recommend it. Some of the other answers above that make it obvious that the person asking is a jerk are also great options. Good luck.

    1. Scarlet Magnolias*

      I have fairly severe psoriasis, over the years I have had people ask in horrified tones “What is that?! What did you doooo to yourself?!”
      My stock reply is “It’s leprosy and it’s contagious”

  29. ChemistryChick*

    Ugh, yuck, your boss is being rude, OP. I hope Alison’s advice works for you. For what it’s worth, I’ve never judged someone’s professionalism based on whether they have acne or not and neither have most people I know.

    This reminds me of the HR manager at my old job. A long time employee had always had a bump on their face and the HR manager had known this person the entire time they’d been there. One day out of the blue, employee was just walking past HR manager down the hall and the manager goes, “OMG, [EMPLOYEE] WHAT HAPPENED TO YOUR FACE?!” referring to the bump. It was…wild.

    1. n.m.*

      My parents had been married for about 30 years when one day my dad looked at my mom’s wrist (which has always been lumpy, for lack of better description) and was like “omg are you hurt?!?”

  30. Frally*

    OP, I’m so angry on your behalf!!! What the hell is wrong with her???? I’m so sorry you have such a clueless, insensitive manager.

  31. Keymaster of Gozer*

    Oh goddess, the people who see fit to comment on parts of your appearance that are none of their business are truly bizarre. I walk with a cane and am obese so I’ve had even managers ask ‘what’s wrong with you?’ and ‘when are you going to fix this?’ and the even worse ‘why aren’t you doing anything to fix this?’

    It’s reduced me to tears a few times too. You have my utmost sympathy.

    I had a member of staff with some kind of skin condition that meant a lot of skin shedding during the day (can’t recall what it’s called, it was skin flakes everywhere they went) and another member of staff saw fit to continually ask them if they could stop it as it was ‘gross’ and suggesting they wash more often etc. This got back to me and I took the offensive sod to one side and said something like this:

    “Another person’s medical issues are none of your concern, and your ‘teasing’ is fast becoming bullying and I won’t allow it to continue”

    I think it was the ‘I won’t allow this to continue’ bit that got across how this wasn’t funny. There was a pathetic ‘but I’m just suggesting…’ retort but again I said “it has to stop. There’s nothing (X) can do about it and I really don’t want to take this any further”

    (Unfortunately the person with the skin condition did end up leaving due to the actions of another staff member- a different one and for different reasons that is a very long story of how I failed as a manager in my first managerial job)

  32. Momma Bear*

    I don’t know if OP softened the message but after the first attempt to shut it down, I’d flatly say that I was not discussing my face. Was there something work-related that she needed? Boss will look like the fool she is if she persists.

    One on one I’d tell her that her comments are hurtful and you want her to stop. Period. Your skin is no longer a discussion point.

  33. scurvycapn*

    Here’s how you do it.

    Boss: “What’s going on with your skin?”
    OP: “I think the real question you should be asking is ‘Why are you heading in the general direction of HR?'” *starts walking toward HR*

      1. Gato Blanco*

        Ooo I like this one. I wish I had had it at my fingertips in my teen years when my extended family was especially beastly about their nasty comments.

  34. Colorado*

    I would reply meth tends to do that, but I am older and salty and wouldn’t GAF. Please approach her directly and ask her to stop. I’m sorry you’re dealing with this.

  35. Distracted Librarian*

    The next time she says something in front of people, I’d be inclined to say, in as neutral a tone as possible, “I have a medical condition.”

    Then stop there and let those words hang in the air. Let everyone else in the room digest what a huge jerk she’s being.

    1. Moira Rose's Closet*

      I think this is the best approach. Just “I have a medical condition,” and then silence.

  36. Not Tom, Just Petty*

    OP is asking, “how do I make someone stop being rude and have her be cool with it?”
    Stop asking that.
    Instead think: “How do I make her stop being rude without being rude?”
    You are exceedingly polite and and even more brief.
    “It is acne.”
    No, but your face.
    “It’s acne.”
    I mean.
    I’m giving three chances because of the power dynamic.

  37. Moira Rose's Closet*

    As someone who has had a lifelong struggle with acne (I’m 36 now), I am so horrified by this. If it’s ANY consolation, please know that the people she says this in front of are probably flabbergasted and very embarrassed for HER, not you.

    1. OP here*

      Thank you so much for saying this. Rationally I know that and my coworkers are wonderful people, but in the moment it is easy to forget.

      1. Pants*

        I’d happily be your anger translator in the moment, but I fear I’d cost you your job.

        As much as I hate to see it, I also appreciate that there are others out there who understand.

  38. Potato Girl*

    Ugh skincare culture is so toxic. OP, I sympathize (and am also impressed by your self-control in not saying anything so far).

    My impulse control being less impressive, I probably would have blurted an overshare on the second or third occasion. Most likely about how my choices are between clear skin with debilitating hormonal headaches and a happy button that has as much sensation as my elbow, vs. regular breakouts and fantastic intimate relations with my partner. :D

    So, yeah, serious kudos for not doing that. ;) Also, I hope you find something that works for you!

  39. BellaDiva*

    OP, I feel your pain and frustration! Some years ago I also suddenly developed adult acne. I was very self-conscious about it and tried everything to camouflage it, with limited success. I have never forgotten one person’s exclamation of “what happened to your face?!?” I just stammered something (I don’t recall what) and was close to tears for the rest of the day.

    When I finally got to see a dermatologist it was quickly determined that I have rosacea (always had the flushed face that was triggered by wine, stress, spicy foods, etc., but the acne was new, and was quickly followed by a hair dye allergy – yay!) I’m happy to say that I have it (mostly) under control with oral medication and non-medicated skin care products, but I’ll never forget the “what happened to your face” comment.

  40. Liz Lemon*

    I hate that you even felt the need to write that you have medical issues and are working on it. It’s so not anyone’s business, no matter what you are or aren’t doing to “fix” it!

  41. Please Mark This Confidential and Leave It Lying Around*

    I can guarantee you the witnesses are not thinking “Man, what’s up with OPs skin?” They are thinking “What the AF is with this woman asking OP about her skin?!”

  42. Turingtested*

    I worked with a “Little Miss Helpful” who was always giving a coworker with acne advice about it. It was very rude and hurtful. You just don’t say any variation of “What’s wrong with your face?” at work. (Unless you’re literally about to call an ambulance and need to make sure the blood isn’t ketchup)

  43. Tina Belcher's Less Cool Sister*

    I just want to say that you’re ALLOWED to have less than perfect skin, even if you’re not “working on it”! I noticed that you made sure to tell Alison/us internet strangers all the ways you’re trying to improve your skin, but you don’t owe us (or your boss, or anyone) a justification or apology for being less than flawless.

    I agree with Alison that telling your boss you’re working with an expert to get to the root of the problem is probably the best way to get her to back off, but OMG. We’re all just bags of meat covered in skin and sometimes that skin isn’t airbrush perfect, and that’s ok!

  44. aek*

    Wow. And I thought my old boss had no boundaries. People are so weird.

    Given the spectacular lack of boundaries, I’m not sure I would even use the word acne. I feel like with people like that you have to give them NOTHING. If you reward them even a little for their rude behavior by satisfying their curiosity you’ll get more. You have to be less than boring.
    “what’s up with your skin? ”
    Confused look and shrug…so about those tps reports.” or if you can’t not use words at all “My skin?–nothing you need to know about those tps reports”

  45. AA Baby Boomer*

    Please let us know how you decided to handle it & how it went. I hate to put it this way; but your manager’s behaviour reminds me mean girls in High School. I am so hoping it’s not that. As a manager she should be picking up on your tone, facial expression and body language when she gets going. It sounds like you are giving her the benefit of your doubt. Not sure if she deserves this.

    When I moved to Florida & was premenopausal I developed cystic acne on top of Roscea. I had one woman at work give me some old foundation under the guise of helping me; that she had used. She wasn’t my favorite person after that one. I still have acne and roscea in my late 50’s. Fortunally the meds keep it under control; but 1 coffee too many I look like a tomato. I had decent skin as a teenager; but as an adult it leaves a lot to be desired.

  46. OT Lady*

    This is just as bad as the worker who shamed someone over a cold-sore. And as someone who has had those her entire life, thank you for pointing out the obvious!

  47. n.m.*

    OP, if it makes you feel any better, everyone who witnessed this interaction is thinking “why is Boss being such a weirdo?” And not judging you.

  48. Not that kind of doctor*

    Just want to throw in two points of encouragement:
    1) I can almost guarantee that the witnesses are deeply mortified to be an audience to this inappropriate grilling, and they are on your side.
    2) You say “she doesn’t take things personally” – great! Therefore, you should feel free to be very direct/blunt with her about this behavior, and she won’t hold that conversation against you.

  49. OP here*

    Y’all, I could cry for how kind, understanding, and hilarious you all have been in your responses. You really are making me feel less alone and embarrassed and I am grateful. It’s been a rough go emotionally, but I am feeling much better and promise to keep you updated xx

      1. MEH Squared*

        Same. And my pitchfork is rusty. I’m old, still have acne, and am allllll out of Fs to give. I’m there!

  50. nora*

    I have surgical scars on both wrists and I know what they look like but they’re not that. I had one of the surgeries when I was waiting tables. A customer asked about the bandages. I didn’t care about the job by that point so I went into graphic detail until she turned green. Sometimes you just have to be a jerk to shut down idiots.

  51. AA Baby Boomer*

    I have the worse story regarding someone saying something to someone’s face in front of others. A male coworker to a female coworker; with others present; informed her that another employee has a video of her husband and man at a public bathroom. The individual that took the video is gone as you can assume.

  52. TitosandCoffee*

    I thinking other posters are being a lot more generous than I am reading this. I think your boss is a covert bully. Does she make these comments when you are leading something? When you disagree with her? I feel like she may be a mean girl who knows that these comments hurt (how could they not???) and is trying to keep you off your game or take you down a few pegs. Hugs for sure. and be careful with this one.

  53. Nuke*

    I sympathize with this SO much. I’m 31 and have only just, this year, gotten my acne under control. I’m pretty heavily scarred from it on my face, shoulders, and chest. It took years of failed stupid washes and wasted visits to dermatologists to get my actual doctor to help with it. UGH! It was the painful cystic kind, too, hence the large scars. If I miss one day of the current treatment plan I’m on, I will start breaking out again, so I’ll probably be doing this for the rest of my life.

    It is an intensely embarrassing thing to deal with as an adult, because “most people” just sort of “grow out of it”, and assume that if you’re an adult with acne, you must be doing something to cause it. Which is of course, entirely wrong.

    I once had a coworker pull me aside into a back room and ask me if I knew what Proactiv was. And she said her daughter struggled with acne as a teenager, and that really helped her. Have I heard of Proactiv? Have I tried things?? I was around 24 at this time, and she was an older lady so I want to forgive her, but it was so inappropriate to talk to me like I was a child who simply didn’t know how to take care of myself.

    Sorry for the ramble but I just want OP to know, you’re not alone. I don’t know how I’d react to someone asking me about my skin in front of AN AUDIENCE, but it would probably include near death-inducing embarrassment. How profoundly inappropriate.

    1. Pants*

      Ugh, I’m so sorry. The worst of those people, who just know they have the cure that’s right for you, are relentless. I found myself angrily listing out everything I’d tried (a long list) just before wrapping up with a very colourful and precise suggestion of my own for them.

      And why the heck are strangers some of the worst offenders? WTF is WRONG with people?!

  54. Coin_Operated*

    General acne I feel like is pretty normal, and this is strange to talk about in front of other people, like really boundary crossing. One time I had this massive zit developing, which I knew about it, but what I didn’t know is that at some point in the day it turned into a giant white head before a major event was happening at work that day. My boss thankfully pulled me aside beforehand and she was like… “I don’t know how to tell you this, but you have a whitehead there.” For me, I was grateful as I was able to at least pop it so I didn’t have this giant whitehead on my face in front of people.

  55. CatWoman*

    I was very prone to cold sores when younger (still am, just not nearly to the extent it was back then). Once a girl shrieked out, “Ewwww! What’s that on your lip???” in front of the entire class in which I was on the platform being used as a model. I flatly responded, “Herpes”. She never came near me again, and I wish I would have said it sooner. The instructor asked why I said that, and I told him it was true, and if she was going to be that rude, she deserved it.

  56. morethantired*

    I would say “I don’t want to talk about my skin problems at work. I find it uncomfortable.” and repeat as necessary.
    In March I got a horrible haircut and had to get out in front of it at every new Zoom meeting: “I do not want to talk about my hair, thank you.” Because otherwise you get the “oh, new haircut?” comments, and it’s like… WHY?! I don’t comment on someone’s hair just because I noticed it changed! If they asked “what do you think of my hair?” I would say it looked nice, but no one every asks that! I assume people don’t want to talk about their hair or face or anything unless THEY bring it up. Yet it seems like everyone else just can’t help themselves if they notice ANYTHING is different about someone. “New glasses?” “hair today?” “I like the new color!” Why are we talking about this??

  57. velomont*

    Since she’s brought this up in front of everyone, how about, with a completely straight face, give her and the audience a run-down on the situation with an overview of the treatment regimen as well as the health care professionals involved. And when you are finished, say “Any questions everybody? I’ll be happy to provide any further info.”

  58. knitcrazybooknut*

    OP, I don’t deal with acne, but I’ve been in a similar situation. I have a gluten sensitivity, so at work potlucks and food opportunities, I’m selective about what I eat. I don’t make a big deal out of it, I don’t get mad if there’s nothing but carrots for me to eat, I just pick what I want, and I’m happy to have it.

    I had a coworker that was pretty socially awkward, and when it came up that I didn’t eat bread, he would press me on it, during the event with the entire department sitting there. “Why don’t you eat bread?” “I have a sensitivity, I’m not allergic, but I have issues when I eat bread.” “What kind of issues?” “I don’t feel well.” “What happens?” on and on forever.

    I mean, did he want me to describe how it felt when I sat on the toilet for an hour or so with all the grody details involved? I still don’t know. But I understand the embarrassment involved in someone asking you over and over about bodily processes for no apparent reason!

    You’re awesome. Your boss is ridiculous.

    1. knitcrazybooknut*

      Also a possibility: “Oh, that? Sometimes the souls of those I’ve killed oozes out of my pores.”

  59. AA Baby Boomer*

    You wonder if she has a filter in her private life; or is it worse for family? Velomont’s suggestion might work?

  60. AllisoninAK*

    OP, this lady is wildly out of line. I hope you use some of these great scripts and leave her in no doubt that her comments are unacceptably inappropriate!

    I still have residual trauma from 10th grade English. I finished a quiz first and walked to my teacher’s desk to turn it in, as the entire class sat silently, completing the task. At full volume, said teacher proceeded to tell me what a shame it was about my terrible acne, because otherwise I’d be such a pretty girl, and would I like the phone # of a good dermatologist? I thought I’d fall through the floor. On the bright side, I confirmed that my classmates were all super kind and empathetic, because nobody laughed or uttered a peep as I slunk back to my desk. The only people who brought it up afterward were checking to make sure that I was ok/telling me I should knife her tires in the parking lot. 25 years later I still cringe/wonder WTH that teacher was thinking.

  61. I feel you, OP*

    I never comment, but this one hit too close to home. OP, I can imagine how you’re feeling — as someone who has had hormonal acne for over 10 years, I’m already self-conscious enough as it is; I would die on the spot if someone pointed out the pimples on my face. I would recommend seeking therapy if you can to help with all the self-image issues, insecurities, and depression that comes with acne (not that I can tell you need it from reading this post, more as just as a recommendation as a good act of self-love). I am obviously not a physician and don’t know anything about your medical history, but I will just say that Spironolactone and a new topical called WinLevi have worked wonders for me. And r/acne (Reddit thread) is amazing. Wishing you all the best in your journey to clear skin.

  62. still anon*

    Boss: What’s going on with your skin?
    Me: OMG my face!!! I need to go home right away!!
    Repeat as needed.

  63. Michelle Smith*

    First of all, I’m sorry this is happening to you. It’s wildly inappropriate. Secondly, I hope that it doesn’t come to this, but if it does, please escalate this matter above her head, to her boss or to HR. This is harassment, it’s affecting your ability to do your job, and it’s possibly illegal disability harassment under the law. The hostile work environment this manager is creating could expose the company to legal liability and that often gets people to take action. Good luck.

  64. Ann Ominous*

    You could also play dumb. “What do you mean?” “My what?” “I don’t see anything”

    1. whingedrinking*

      I’d try to treat it the same way one would if someone pointed at any other part of your face and said, “What’s that?”
      “My nose?”
      “It’s…my nose?” Not sarcastic, just baffled. Like…how does one even deal with a person who doesn’t grasp the basic concept of noseness like they’ve never seen one before?
      I feel like you could say, “I…have acne?” in the same way.

  65. Goldenrod*

    I also struggle with adult acne – really, it’s so common, I don’t know if we even need to call it “adult acne,” I think many, many adults have this. I am now on a prescription for Spironolactone, which helps a lot, but I still get flare-ups.

    But anyway! I can’t get over how incredibly rude and insensitive some people are! I had a similar interaction once at a supermarket. I asked a clerk where to find popcorn – he proceeded with (unwanted) flirting, and then after showing me where the popcorn was, said, “What’s that?” and pointed to a spot on my face where I had (tried to) cover up a break-out.

    I tried acting dumb, “What? What do you mean?” and he just stared at me for a long beat and then said, “Acne. It’s acne.” And walked away.


    Anyway, getting back to your situation, OP. My last boss actually made fun of my clothes! I don’t know WTF is wrong with people, but I hope you take some of these fine suggestions and make your boss feel stupid the next time she does this!

  66. nnn*

    Next time she asks: “Like I told you last time you asked that, it’s acne.”
    The time after that: “Like I told the last two times you asked that, it’s acne.”
    The time after that: “Like I told you the last three times you asked that, it’s acne.”

    If this were a purely social situation, I’d be telling you without hesitation to also respond this way when she mentions it in front of others. Unfortunately, because of the workplace power dynamic, you’d have to weigh how much she can and would harm you for embarrassing her in front of others in exactly the same way she was attempting to embarrass you in front of others.

  67. LuckyClover*

    My rule of thumb is if it’s not something a person can fix within 5 minutes, it’s not ok to point out.
    I.e. you can get spinach out of teeth or tie a sweater around your waist if there is a hole in your pants, but you can’t change your skin condition, outfit as a whole etc…

    1. Rocky*

      This is my rule as well; if someone has their skirt rucked up at the back, I’ll mention it. If the skirt is unintentionally sheer, I won’t mention it.

      1. JSPA*

        But you don’t know if people have options. Long cardigan; change of clothes in one’s bag; lunchtime shopping trip before their presentation at 4 PM; potentially all options they’d want to avail themselves of.

        The rule as I heard it is, “don’t say anything if you know they can’t do anything to change it.”

        Exemple, “they’re about to walk into a meeting to present, and need to feel confident more than they need to know about a stain on their shirt.”

  68. C-Dub*

    As someone who cannot stand it when people don’t mind their own business, this just takes the cake. This is none of your boss’s business! More importantly, this is a sensitive topic. I periodically break out too, but that is usually because of stress. But whatever the reason, what your boss is doing is NOT okay.

  69. Dancing Otter*

    I would be so tempted to pick some poison ivy and smear it on her phone. “Oh, dear, whatever is wrong with your face, boss?”
    I wouldn’t DO it, but isn’t it a great image? Sauce for the goose, and all that.

  70. Penelope*

    I think an honest approach is best. I would speak privately to the boss. I would say, “I am sensitive about my acne. On bad days where it flares up, when you ask me about it in front of other people, I don’t know what you want me to say and it puts me on the spot. It’s kind of confronting. This is an ongoing condition at the moment where I am on medical treatment.”

  71. HNL123*

    I once got a chemical peel without fully understanding how badly I would peel. I even had to present to clients in person with skin hanging off my face no amount of makeup could hide.
    Not one person said a peep. I am grateful for that and never again scheduled a peel early in the week. All this to say, if my boss made repeated comments on my acne I would be mortified. I’d probably say something like “yeah, adult acne sucks. Hoping I’ll find a good solution with my dermatologist. I’d rather not talk about it to be honest, thanks”

  72. Calamity Janine*

    bad advice you shouldn’t do:

    so how quickly can you transition to working at home and using zoom to join meetings with the stupidest possible filters you can find.

    kittens may be inappropriate for court, but also, no acne visible to be commented on,

    1. Calamity Janine*

      and hey, we are coming up on Post Halloween Clearance Rack Time, too!

      i’m not saying you should go buy one of those meme horse masks. but if you do, then you should bring it to work, and when your boss is in line of sight go “oh hold on!” and rush to put it on. “oh, this? it’s an aid to assist Boss, otherwise she just gets so hung up on my acne, and she seems so surprised by it every time no matter how i’ve told her before… so, out of sight, out of mind!”

      of course you will be making a far more distracting spectacle but you’re also going to call your Boss to the carpet in a supremely socially embarrassing way, where she either has to backpedal immediately and thoroughly, or sit there looking like God’s perfect twit because everyone knows she can’t behave, or both.

      this is why you should not do this

      but maybe dream about it, and laugh.

  73. Overit*

    Or be pregnant and your male boss repeatedly asks why you go to the bathroom “so often” and when ypu remind him you are pregnant, so DUH. He then suggests you eat more popcorn necause “It is nature’s bulldozer!” In staff meetings. Yes, meetingS. Plural.

  74. ZucchiniBikini*

    I had to shut down a colleague recently on a very similar issue – I don’t have acne but I do get seasonal acute facial seborrheic dermatitis, which looks red, scaly and sore (although it doesn’t typically feel as bad as it looks). This colleague exclaimed “Oh my God, what’s that rash??” and I explained it was dermatitis, non-contagious, and I was fine, hoping that would be the end of it. the VERY NEXT DAY in a group meeting she said “Oh it still looks so awful, aren’t you sore? You should really see a specialist for that!” I contacted her after the meeting and said calmly but firmly “I’m going to need you to stop commenting on my skin, immediately.” She seemed chastened and has not said anything since, but has been cool to me in our interactions (I am fine with this!)

    I understand the dynamics are harder with a manager and I feel for your situation, LW – it really sucks :-(

  75. fhqwhgads*

    I’ve had some success responding to various inappropriate questions with “No thank you”. It doesn’t fit the pattern the asker is generally expecting so it sort of throws them off and usually prevents continued badgering.

    1. Gato Blanco*

      Smart. I am going to keep this one in my back pocket the next time *that* coworker of mine says something like this. His latest was “Oh, did you have to change your glasses? I liked your old glasses better.” when I got new frames.

  76. Look Back In Ingres*

    Just something I want to point out re: the doing it in front of other people – I can guarantee that pretty much everyone witnessing these interactions is judging her harshly for being such a social doofus rather than thinking about your skin.

    Sending good vibes from a fellow rosy-cheeked person (who, no, isn’t sunburnt actually).

  77. Environmental Compliance*

    Internet hugs, OP. I have rosacea and am also going through hormonal issues relating to changes in medications, which is aggravating the rosacea (and at this point I’m honestly wondering if I’m having mini hot flashes). My face goes TOMATO on my nose/cheeks. No reason. I’ll just be sitting, typing away, and BOOM.

    I have had so many people ask me what’s wrong, assume I’m embarrassed about something, assume I’m sick, etc. My go-to response has been to neutrally say “That’s just my face skin doing what it wants” or “that’s just how my face is sometimes”. Usually that makes enough of a point that the topic is dropped. For the few people who do not get it, they get the ‘here’s how badly my face hurts, believe me, I’m aware, but thank you for your concern’.

    I really, really wish more people would internalize the “if it can’t be fixed in a couple minutes, it’s not my place to comment (especially loudly, in public)”. Tell me if I’ve tucked my skirt into my tights, don’t tell me my face is WOW JUST SO RED, WHAT’S WITH YOUR FACE EC. It helps literally nothing.

  78. BreakinBad*

    Sounds like it’s time to pull her aside in a one-on-one to tell her point blank that this is a medical matter and is therefore not an acceptable topic of discussion ever again. And if it keeps up, time to talk to either your grandboss or HR. Or both.

  79. AngelS.*

    What about those people who hand out fliers or cards for weight loss products?? Actually they target specific individuals.

  80. Luna*

    As someone trained in cosmetics, whenever I hear someone covering things up with makeup, I just want to scream, “No, don’t do that!” because all the stuff in makeup can lead to just making the problem worse or prolong it being there.
    But you say you are in contact with doctors, so they probably know and would tell you to not cover it up, if it was a case where it’s medically better to not do that.

    But asking you bluntly ‘What’s with your skin?’ in front of other people? Sheesh! Maybe a blunt, deadpan, “It’s called acne. Never heard of it?” would help. Or the same, passive-aggressive, blunt message of, “What’s with your manners?” or even “What’s with your [insert external factor, like a mole on her throat]?”
    Though that latter might be unprofessional. And useless, if she really wouldn’t mind going off on a tangent about how she takes care of the mole or what not.

    On the overall topic of the acne, try to not think too much about it and how you might appear (professionally) to other people. I know it’s difficult, especially since people tend to be self-conscious about this stuff, but try to keep in mind that people care a lot less and think about you than you believe they do.

    We have professional people walking around with acne, acne scars, incredibly dark freckles, warts, odd little growths on their face, scars, etc, etc. They are there. Some people might notice them and use them as identifying markers (“Ah, right, that’s Jane, the one with the scar on her nose”). But especially the latter is usually done by neurodivergent people, and as one of them, I can assure you that having such a marker is not because we focus on it a lot. It’s just a marker that makes it *a lot* easier to recognize someone right off the bat.
    It’s a lot easier to differentiate between Jane, the blonde, blue-eyed secretary with the scar on her nose, and Janice, the blonde, blue-eyed receptionist.

  81. Liisa*

    I genuinely don’t understand what people are trying to accomplish by pointing out things like that where people have relatively little control over them. Like, sure, I can understand pulling someone aside for a discreet “your fly is down” or “you have TP on your shoe” or something else that the person receiving the info can actually DO something about, but what does this boss expect to happen in the moment? “Gee, you’re right, let me skip out on the rest of this work meeting to go put on more makeup?”

  82. Rainy Cumbria*

    I have adult acne too (and it’s recently got worse with perimenopause) and I really felt this. I just wanted to send some solidarity to OP. Every comment anyone makes, even if it’s well-intentioned, chips away slightly at my self-esteem.

  83. toolittletoolate*

    Commenting on aspects of an employee’s appearance that is out of their control (weight, acne, etc etc) is completely inappropriate at any time. And commenting on any other part of their appearance is only acceptable if it violates a clearly articulated dress code–e.g. sweat pants in a formal office environment–and that should only be handled by someone with standing to discuss it with the employee-their supervisor or manager. I’m so sorry that is happening to you.

    I genetically have very dark circles under my eyes–have had them since I was a kid. (My mom did too). I am also extremely pale (again, genes). Sometimes I use makeup to even things out, but sometimes I just don’t, and that’s my choice. I cannot tell you how many times someone has commented on pale skin/dark circles-what’s wrong with your eyes? are you tired? You look sick! Why are you so pale?

    I am so sick of that.

  84. Ruthuthu*

    I love the suggestions if she continues to pester you.
    If I may add one : “I thought we had agreed on a moratorium on asking about my skin, it’s just acne.” But it may come across a tad too passive-aggressive.

  85. Kel*

    “What’s going on with your skin?”

    “Oh god, oh no, is it happening again? EVERYONE GET BACK!!!!”

    Then start screaming and throw yourself on the ground like you’re slowly being zombified.


  86. Blazer 990*

    Damn. I wouldn’t even say those things to my daughter who suffers from acne. It’s being addressed, she knows it’s there, no need for me to comment. People can be so rude. I’m sorry OP. It’s just skin. It doesn’t define you.

  87. Barr*

    So sorry OP. Like others I’ve experienced some real weirdness around my adult acne, which was very severe a few years ago. I went to a skincare store and tried to ask the salesperson about what I should use and she WHISPERED her half of the conversation I guess bc she thought I’d be so embarrassed. Sigh

  88. NeedRain47*

    OP, people who hear her do this are probably thinking how incredibly rude she is! It strikes me as much worse for her reputation than for yours.
    If someone said this in front of me I’d be shooting lasers out my eyes regardless of who they said it to.

  89. JSPA*

    “Boss, here’s a tip on how professionals deal with chronic skin conditions. My job is to take care of my skin, which I’m doing, and then to focus on my work, even during a flareup. Your job as my manager is to pretend I’m succeeding, say nothing, and focus on my work, as well.”

    Treating it as something she wouldn’t happen to know about, so you’re quietly cluing her in, puts you in the position of the professional person with relevant knowledge, who’s passing on a work tip. That way, you don’t have to be seething, offended, angry etc to be heard, and there’s no urge to soften the language.

    I like to set people up for mutual success and improved relationships. Giving her a description of what she should be doing, and see if she lives up to that, therefore strikes me as the best answer.

    1. JSPA*

      On what grounds? It’s not sexual harassment (many body comments fall under that heading, but “your skin is doing something odd” doesn’t).

      It’s not discrimination on the basis of a health condition : “Made me feel awkward over something boss neither knows to be nor perceives to be a health condition” isn’t legally actionable.

      Bullying / mocking isn’t illegal in the US (and OP doesn’t even seem to think it’s meant as bullying, in any case).

      So long as there isn’t a pattern of making such comments only or primarily towards people on one or the other side of the “class protections,” boss can (legally) keep asking about pimples.

  90. ACL*

    I had a boss who did that. In my case, it was one really big, obvious, and hard-to-get-rid-of zit. The first time, my boss asked if I had accidentally hurt myself on the face. A few days later, she said “I think you have an infection.” I was really angry at her for mentioning something that I was indeed aware of, and that was troubling me enough without people commenting on it. I ended up telling my boss that I didn’t like comments about my body.

  91. Deana J*

    A manager at our organization was a very nice woman, but may have been slightly on the spectrum. She would always be very up front and sometimes rude about things like this, and also very literal. She could not read clues like a slightly annoyed expression. You had to just say, “I don’t want to talk about my face.” And she would move on. My current boss, high level tech, is similar. He cannot tell in a meeting that someone is annoyed or fidgeting from not understanding the tech talk. You have to say, “please simplify” or “let’s move on.” Then he does and all is well. I don’t know if the manager in this letter is a jerk, blissfully unaware or just being rudely direct unintentionally. I think the first step with someone you otherwise like is to always be direct, in private, “I don’t want to discuss my skin,” or whatever. It doesn’t even need a reason. Note, I’m a rosacea sufferer and am grateful for my dermatologist, but I hate it!

  92. Jan Levison Gould*

    I have pretty bad Rosacea, and I also sometimes get comments about my skin. Funny enough, I go with one of Alison’s suggestions if people ask me about it… I’m just like, “This is just my face!” I usually get a little uncomfortable chuckle, and when I explain that I have Rosacea, people usually say, “Ohhhhhh.” I don’t think people realize how weird it is to comment on someone’s skin. It’s just not a thing people think about. They don’t expect others to be self-conscious about it.

  93. irishgirl*

    PCOS over here. I get acne at 36. Not much I can do about it as it is hormones. No one has ever asked me about it and i dont wear any make up cause that isnt my jam. This person’s boss is so rude. No one ever commented about mine at work at least not to my face.

  94. Alex (they/them)*

    I had pretty severe adult acne before Accutane, but the only people who commented on it rudely were children. I can’t believe an adult would think that’s ok?!

  95. S. D.*

    I feel for you! I also have adult acne and rosacea, and have had some very extreme flare-ups. I’ve found that some people who’ve commented over the years are people who haven’t experienced this kind of issue (although we all have some physical issue we deal with; not all are so visible!). At one job, I had a customer come up to me with suggestions and recommendations. I’ve had people I dated (short-term) ask “is that a pimple?” when it’s something cystic and crazy. They don’t realize that drawing attention to anything physical can be distressing. This seems to be why people don’t like hairstyles, weight, tired eyes, or anything commented on – we have a history (or society’s disdain) that makes it uncomfortable or distressing.
    I agree with the recommendations in this article. If it were me, I would take a moment in a 1:1 meeting to explain the gravity of why it makes me feel uncomfortable and that it’s a medical condition. I think getting serious with her will make her uncomfortable (kind of satisfying) and maaaaaybe prevent her from doing the same thing again with other people. It’s all a learning process, and my own experience has helped me be more tolerant. I hope she will learn, for your sake!

  96. CLC*

    I love Alison’s responses. I have PCOS and even with excellent treatment that improves all other symptoms, acne persists. I would be super caught off guard and probably wouldn’t know how to respond in the moment, but in order to shut it down I would hope I’d say “acne is a part of my chronic endocrine condition.”

    I also want to point out—holy sh*t, this person is a c-level exec???? How do people do it. Seriously how do people do it.

  97. Banana cake*

    Director with adult acne here. No real advice other than empathy, knowing how a bad skin day undermines your confidence.

    Your colleague is a shitty person, inappropriately commenting on something medical which you can’t change. A confused face and ‘…what a personal question’ always worked for me.

    Don’t mistake this situation for a you problem.

  98. teensyslews*

    I too have adult acne and if anyone I worked with, ever, pointed it out at work I would simply turn into dust and disappear into the wind… so OP is already stronger than me. I have no advice here, only commiseration as I wait for my referral to a dermatologist to go through.

  99. Kim*

    I am a lifelong acne sufferer and began seeing a dermatologist at age 12 for stage 4 cystic acne . It would clear with treatment , then start again for years. No one commented about my face until my first professional job after college in the late 1970’s when I suddenly had a bad breakout . An older coworker told me it was a sign of not being sexually satisfied! Within a couple of weeks he was hitting on me. He knew I was engaged and to be married in a few months. I wish I had known what to say . In those days HR didn’t have policies on sexual harrassment.

  100. Blinded By the Gaslight*

    I don’t wear much if any make-up, and when I do, it’s often just brows and lipstick, maybe a little mascara, but sometimes I can go weeks without any of that. I once had a female manager (who also never wore make-up!) comment to me when I entered a room full of people for a committee meeting, “Oh! Look at you with your lipstick on! You look so bright and fresh!” I smiled and said thanks. Because that was the normal part.

    Then she kept staring at me . . . smiling . . . like MARVELING at my face, and said, “Yes–so bright, so fresh! . . . You know, they say women look better with make-up, and . . . you DO! You REALLY do!” She said this like it was a revelation, smiling the whole time.

    So rude and embarrassing.

  101. Erin*

    Ugh, I’m so sorry, and I totally empathize. I had a coworker give me an unsolicited recommendation for skincare products. I had another coworker ask if I had been hit in the face with a rake. (I’m serious.) I’ve actually been glad to wear a face mask, because people don’t comment on it, and I feel less self-conscious about it.

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