Diagnosed by my much-loved dermatologist, it’s a common chronic skin condition that causes blockage and inflammation of hair follicles and their sebaceous glands, usually on the face, back and chest. Seeing as I’d already been there, done that, in high school, I wasn’t too fond of my return to full-time, acne-hood at 22-years-old. Especially after five straight years of, what in hindsight looked like, photo-shopped skin. Now on the mend, here’s some things I wish I knew before I got acne, because knowledge is power.
Bare with me here. Some dermatologists say diet is irrelevant, others disagree. For me, I felt I was already compromising when I stopped using prettily packaged serums, and instead started back on the boring, but trustworthy Cetaphil. I couldn’t possibly eliminate carbs – as well as spending incessant amounts of money on beauty products, cooking a 4-hour pasta sauce is my kind of therapy. But apparently, elimination of carbs and dairy has proven to benefit people susceptible to breakouts. I did not, however, test this theory. It’s not the cause nor the remedy for everyone, but since I didn’t eat a lot of sugar (the seeming go-to culprit when talk of breakouts come up) it hadn’t occurred to me that food could be the cause. It’s important to see your dermatologist asap to check if your face problems are starting with food.
The truth is you’re going to need to combat that inflammation and bacteria, and usually that calls for active ingredients (things like retinoids, glycolic and salycic acids). I can’t tell you how many times I rushed to the organic store and loaded up on natural ingredients like rose hip oil, tea tree oil, witch hazel and apple cider vinegar after reading that it had cured other people’s acne. Usually these products would overwhelm my skin, and suddenly I’m three steps back (and yes, I’ve accepted online health forums will continue to be my downfall). Sure, these ingredients have a lot of acne-fighting properties but sometimes they are better in a cocktail-like concoction, best achieved by chemistry. Thought: everything is better in a cocktail.
The amount of times I was asked if I was removing my make-up correctly, if I was over-cleansing, if I was eating excessive amounts of greasy food, or layering too much product on, was just plain annoying. When it comes to acne, everyone who is anyone with clear skin can think they are an expert (sound familiar?). Truth of the matter is, it can be a plethora of things beyond your control, like hormonal imbalances and genetics. Don’t feel like you have to justify your actions to anyone, unless it’s a skin professional, then go nuts – they have to know everything in order to help you properly.
Either you’re rocking your acne in it’s bare-faced glory to the supermarket (wish I was you), or you’re waking up and packing on the make-up (this is me). No judgement, whatever makes you feel good. Point is, if you’re skin is making you unhappy, you shouldn’t feel bad asking for help. I too needed some convincing. In my initial consultation with my dermo I felt myself having to consistently reiterate things like “I know there are worse things to be suffering from” and “I know it’s not as bad as it could be”. But it wasn’t until my dermo stopped to remind me, “You don’t have to justify yourself, you are allowed to feel this way”, that I realised the stigma attached to acne. There’s a huge link between acne, depression and anxiety, and why not be proactive about something that is mostly fixable? Your best bet? As soon as your skin doesn’t feel your own, book an appointment. Note: any good dermatologist should double as a therapist, because our skin is the largest organ, and can make us totally, unapologetically emotional.
Remember that cocktail concoction I spoke about? For me, it was a low dose of Roaccutane (otherwise known as Isotretinoin), because my skin was well beyond topicals and antibiotics. Most acne-banishing treatments will give you an initial breakout that is generally worse than the acne you had to begin with. Call me dramatic, but some mornings I would take that bit longer to shower just to put off the whole process of seeing my skin naked in the mirror. Ridiculous on my part? Perhaps. Anyway, don’t be disheartened, it usually means that the treatment is working; befriend the process, be patient and be kind to yourself, please!
Big call, huh? But from experience, my acne was wreaking total havoc in my life. My anti-social behaviour was in full swing and I became the flake everyone jokes about in memes. Not to mention I was sensitive, and moody. I recall even throwing an open bag of garbage down the staircase at home, simply because I woke up to find that after blasting one pimple before bed, six had come to its funeral. I’d get disheartened if my loved ones didn’t comment on my skin improving, even when it was predominantly worse. And big mistake, huge mistake, if you’re going to agree that my acne is looking more inflamed today. After a passing convo with a make-up artist, I even convinced my boyfriend that his bed sheets, washing detergent and tap water were the problem. Because it couldn’t just be a coincidence that my acne came back with a vengeance as soon as we started dating, right?! No one is safe, sorry boo.
Maybe I’ve slowly evolved this piece into a self-help article, but whatever, let’s go with it. If there’s one thing I’m grateful to acne for, it’s the fact that it really gave me a chance to work on myself (and love thy self). Some people aren’t bothered by acne, but for me even the smallest breakout sent me in a downward spiral. It just comes down to personal preference. So, when my entire left cheek and chin erupted, the self-esteem that was already dwindling, suddenly went into a nose dive. Moral of the story? I realised too much of my self-worth had been based on my previously flawless complexion. I’d become solely dependent on my appearance to make me feel good on the inside. I’m sure social media has something to do with that, just as writer Catherine Barnes previously explored in her article for Beauticate.
Prevention is key here, and if you’ve got inflammation, you are more prone to scarring. Use a non-comedogenic sunscreen and post-acne, you’ll really thank yourself. But most of all, when everything seems a little blue, and you’re in need of a pick-me-up, The Sunscreen Song by Baz Luhrmann will put everything into perspective and make you feel a whole lot better. You’ve got this!
Share your story! What are your experiences with acne? We’d love to hear from you.
Story By Claudia De Berardinis