So You Think You’ve Got Acne?
The struggle is real. At some point or another, a pesky zit has popped up on your face and you’ve tried everything you can to rid yourself of the pimple. But in doing so, you made it worse and you were left with a scar as a reminder. Welcome to the war waged on your face, also known as acne.
Not many people realize that acne is a medical condition, called acne vulgaris. Acne is a skin disease that occurs when hair follicles under the skin become clogged. The clog is thought to be caused by the overproduction of oil on your face, called sebum. The sebum production causes the plugged hair follicles to become enflamed and it results in a pimple.
I’ve been dealing with acne since I was 13, and I’m still struggling now at age 22. I feel like I have exhausted all my options other than just leaving my face completely alone. I found that I accepted having acne in my high school age, because 85% of Americans between the ages of 12 to 24 experience at least minor acne.
Acne is a huge market for the cosmetics industry. There are dozens of products in the stores that claim to zap zits, eliminate blackheads and reduce pimples. Most of those products worked the first time I used them, but not long after, my skin grew resistant.
With many different skin types, there are lots of products to test drive, and most of them are still stored under my bathroom sink – as rejects that did not work. I’ve tried the entire range of Cetaphil face cleansers, as well as Neutrogena acne solution gels and most of the Clean & Clear face washes. I even tried soap infused with tea tree oil, to no avail. It soon became evident to me, after trying dozens of brands and their products that my skin was not going to clear up by over the counter products alone.
I felt discouraged and embarrassed. It seemed unfair that so many of my peers had clear, camera ready faces, while I felt like my face was turning into one big zit. Looking in the mirror was always a mix of displeasure and remorse. I often tended to pick at my acne out of self-doubt, which ultimately left me with deep, purple scars.
I finally hit a breaking point in high school, where I was so insecure about my acne that I went to the doctor to see what they could do. I spent the next few years trying many different prescription products to see if anything could clear up my face. At first I went the topical route, trying Adapalene in conjunction with my over the counter remedies that gave limited results.
Frustrated with the absence of results, I turned to trying all sorts of ways to hide the acne that terrorized my face. Every time a makeup brand came out with a new line of foundation promising to cover up acne better than the last, I bought it out of sheer hope.
I hated taking the time out of my morning to apply layers of foundations and concealers when I could be sleeping. It was a time before YouTube tutorials were trendy, so I did not know that putting on huge globs of foundation was not going to make my acne invisible.
Once I started college, my acne began to fluctuate, particularly around my period. I would have days were my skin was clear and I felt confident to go without any products on my face. And then there were the lows; the days were I felt like I couldn’t even go to my classes because I was embarrassed about how bad my acne had become. Usually my acne disappeared the week before my period and during my period it came back with a vengeance.
I would often break out with acne that physically hurt my face, painful to the touch. I also had the unpleasant experience of feeling what acne underneath the skin feels like; you know those zits that you can feel coming before they show up, and then they erupt as red volcanoes spewing lava? Yeah, that was a fun time.
I finally decided I would try oral acne medication. My doctor started me out on Minocycline and added in the topical Epiduo acne treatment. Both of these medicines alone can make your face sensitive to the sun, so you have to be vigilant in putting on sunscreen every day.
The oral medication results took months, but finally my face cleared up. I still had occasional break outs, around my time of the month and ones that were triggered by bouts of stress. I went a while without feeling that I had to put on concealer, foundation and powder before I left the house.
But after a while into taking the Minocycline, my acne seemed to come back and was even more stubborn. There was no getting rid of it! I lost the great feeling I had finally felt when I was virtually acne free, with the exception of acne scars as a reminder of what had once been my face.
As a last resort, I headed to the dermatologist and she proscribed me Doxycycline, another antibiotic in the same family as Minocycline. She put me on a large dose and told me to check back in a few months.
And here I am, a year later and I am still not acne free. I’ve finally come to accept that my skin is just sensitive and there is no true solution to acne, despite the claims and reviews of all the skin clearing products and drugs.
I’ve had to shed the insecurity caused by my acne in order to be a happier version of myself. I still have days where I look in the mirror and my reflection doesn’t make me feel good about myself – but I know that I’m not alone in that feeling. We all have something that we would like to change about ourselves and I wish I could be acne free.
My latest skincare routine is still taking Doxycycline, rotating three different face washes, using two different moisturizers, and a combination of a drugstore Salicylic acid treatment and a homeopathic tea tree oil treatment. Whether it works or not remains to be seen, because I still have both my good and bad days. I’m also a big fan of using green color correcting products to mask my redness.
I still have days when I know my acne is bad, and despite that I still leave the house with little or no products covering up my acne. I might not be willing to take selfies and Snapchats with my naked face, but I realize that my skin’s imperfections don’t have to define my attitude or mood. I don’t have to let my acne run my life anymore.
This article previously was published in 2016 by Tote Magazine. © Rachel Shubin 2017