I have struggled with acne since I was 14. It came on, one spot at a time until one day I woke up and realised I had an entire face covered in spots. Fast forward 10 years later and my face is still awash with pimples, pustules, nodules and severe scarring. I tried every type of treatment on the market, had dozens of trips to my GP and spent hundred of pounds on over-the-counter products but still had made only marginal progress. Years of frustration, tears and low self-esteem lead me to put clearing my skin first on my 2018 new years resolution list. I'm writing this blog now, on the brink of 2019, task complete. The success I've made towards clear skin has inspired me to make a blog and help to encourage and motivate other people who have suffered with poor skin.
Acne and my teenage years
Whilst 80-90% of all teenagers experience acne, I felt like I was the only one in secondary school with bad skin. I remember washing my face two or three times a day trying to scrub away the spots. I look back at how much I must have irritated my skin but the more spots that appeared on my face, the more effort I put into trying to scrub them away.
My next tactic was foundation and concealer. I remember the exact brand of concealer that I used all throughout my early teens. It was cheap and did a great job at hiding the blackheads, the raised whitehead and most importantly the hyperpigmentation. But the cheap, greasy products that a teenager can afford probably were some of the worst things I did to my skin. They were highly comedogenic (and so did a wonderful job at clogging up my pores) contributing to more dirt and sebum being trapped within the follicles on my skin, which only made my skin worse. The worse my skin got, the more effort I put into covering up my spots to the point where I wouldn't leave my house on less it was with a face full of concealer and foundation. On and on it went in a vicious cycle that only perpetuated my acne.
Along with bad skincare and bad makeup I also did not do myself any favours by picking at my spots all the time. I remember how often I would stare at my face in the mirror and pick at my spots, a lot of the time without even washing my hands or putting on any antiseptic afterward. Looking back at it now, this was probably the single greatest factor that contributed to my acne scarring and hyperpigmentation. Hindsight is truly 20:20 and it's easy to see all the mistakes I made with wiser eyes. Genetics started me off on the pathway to bad skin (as it did with my dad, brother and sister) but lack of knowledge and education made me my own worst enemy.
By the time I was 16 or 17 I finally went to see my GP for the first time. I can't believe that it took me so long. I finally had hope that a trained medical professional would be able to cure me and I remember walking home with my first prescription medication: topical Benzoyl Peroxide. This wasn't the end of my acne, there were still many years before that would come but I was finally on the right path.
My late teens and early 20s
Having acne is no longer okay, the moment you turn 18. Yet here I was in my 20s with spots that had no plans of going anywhere. I kept visiting the GP and was prescribed every type of acne medication in the books. Topical retinoids, topical antibiotics and oral antibiotics. Each type of medication did their bit and my acne for the first time wasn't getting worse. I started using 'Simple', which had affordable products that didn't irritate my skin. I also invested in a better makeup brand: Mac, which I still use today, a non-comedogenic brand of makeup which was not contributing to bad skin. I really began to start working on all areas of my skin. I stopped touching my face and if I couldn't resist the urge to pop a spot, I would do it under aseptic technique, making sure my hands were clean and always applying tea tree oil afterward. For the first I started to see results of my hard work. I continued this throughout my first degree and then through medical school.
I made sure to continue to put in the work required, but it seemed no matter how hard I complied with my medication, there wasn't much improvement. For every spot that disappeared, it felt like another would take it's place. I began to feel such frustration with my skin and had such a lack of confidence. I only wish that I started on the medical route a lot earlier, because it's only once you've tried all the milder treatments that your GP can begin to prescribe you the effective stuff.
By 2018, I had literally tried every acne medication that has ever been licensed and was starting to see results. I had seen moderate improvements to my face (picture below) but it was not enough.
I was 24 now and just couldn't understand why my teenage acne had not settled down. I went to my GP one final time and asked to be put on Roaccutane. Even with the scarring, my GP was still reluctant to refer me to the dermatologist. I remember him looking at my skin and telling me that it wasn't that bad and that he couldn't justify the side effects of the medication. But I had had enough and wasn't backing down. Fortunately once I finally got my referral, the dermatologist was very keen to start me on the medication. Roaccutane otherwise known as isotretinoin, otherwise known as God's gift to acne was the game changer. I can honestly say that I owe so much to this medication. I was on it from February 2018 till July 2018 and the results were so dramatic.
During the first month of Roaccutane, my acne got worse. I was experiencing large, bulbous, painful spots, similar to the spots I had as a teenager and I felt that I had taking a backwards turn.
My skin was greasy and my pores were massiveIy enlarged and the texture of my skin was horrible. I remained calm, knowing that this was part of the process. By month two all trace of oil had gone and my skin was dry as a bone.
By the third month my skin was so dry that it was too painful to make facial expressions. I bought enough vaseline and carmex to last a normal person two years, but I would finish a pot of vaseline in a fortnight. God forbid I'd leave my house without lip salve. I started needing to carry eye drops in my bag because my eyes became so dry and uncomfortable. I was dealing with the side effects but couldn't tell if my skin was improving.
The fourth month in, I was noticing improvements, so much so that the side effects seemed more bearable. I had gotten used to carrying around hand cream, eye drops and vaseline everywhere and I was so happy with the improvements.
By the fifth month, my skin was the best that it had ever been. I was so happy and relieved and felt more confident then ever. I wasn't able to complete my roaccutane course due to moving cities but speaking to my GP, I was reassured that the roaccutane had done it's trick.
Life after Roaccutane
I was anxious at not being able to finish my course of roaccutane. But after 4 months, my acne has not returned. The side effects disappeared after a few weeks and my skin had moisture again! After roaccutane, I've really enjoyed having a solid skincare routine and experimenting with different products.
Tips for other people:
Take pictures of your acne journey. I wish I had really documented my skin properly at it's worst so that I could really see the improvements now.
Learn what products work best for your skin. I've tried following so many other people's skincare routines that just didn't work for me.
Visit your GP sooner rather than later. There is only so much products from your local drug store can do.
At the end of the day, it's acne and not cancer. Live your life and don't let it affect your confidence.