This post is going to be an absolute doozy, so buckle up! Today I want to take you on a wild journey through my history with severe, cystic, itchy, hormonal acne. There is so much to tell, I have broken it into two posts so you can digest it more easily! But just know this – if you are struggling with any form of acne, I understand exactly how you feel. Afraid to face the world, self-conscious of your skin, wondering why none of your friends have bad skin like yours.. And I promise there is a solution for you. Maybe it’s the same one that finally worked for me.
Acne plagued my skin for 17 years of my teenage and adult life. And in this post, I am going to reveal to you the big secret that finally helped me get clear and stay clear for good!
I am passionate about this topic, and sharing my acne & skin story with you is important because I remember how desperate I felt for help. I searched the internet high & low for years, read every acne forum I could find, so many scientific studies, and took all the general advice on acne. But nothing ever worked to get me clear!
I even saw 5 different dermatologists in the course of my severe acne, and none of them could offer me anything to fix the problem. At best, I got antibiotics which would keep my pimples at bay for a little while, but they always came flaming back with a firey vengeance to destroy my confidence and self-esteem even further.
What Didn’t Cure My Acne?
- I’m not here today to tell you that Accutane (Isotretinoin) cured my acne – it didn’t.
- I’m not here today to tell you that Tetracycline (antibiotics), Spironolactone (aldosterone blocker), hormonal therapy, or birth control pills cured my acne – they didn’t.
- I’m not here today to tell you that *insert any skin care brand* products cured my acne – they didn’t.
- I’m not here today to tell you that using homeopathic, chemical-free, alternative medicine or natural supplements cured my acne – they didn’t.
- I’m not here today to tell you that coconut oil or tee tree oil or the oil cleansing method cured my acne – they didn’t.
- I’m not here today to tell you that a diet free of dairy, gluten, grains, chocolate, soda, or sugar cured my acne – it didn’t.
- And I’m not here to tell you that the help of a dermatologist cleared my acne – it didn’t.
So what the heck was it, then? Because it sounds to me like I just eliminated all the traditional & non-traditional approaches to clearing acne.
If you have tried all of those things on the list, but your acne persists – then welcome! You are in a safe place where you are understood. I empathize, because I tried them all, too. And my skin never got clear (at least not for long).
Keep reading or watch My Acne Story on Youtube
Normal Teenage Acne
My acne started much like any other person. I was a young teen – 12 or 13 years old – the first time I got pimples. Poor baby Brooke.. little did I know what was awaiting me..
At first, I treated my skin with Clearasil Benzoyl Peroxide Spot Treatment, because that’s what everyone did when they got acne. It was my mom’s idea, because – like all moms – she knew how to handle this problem. She told me to scrub my face with a wet washcloth, dot the benzoyl peroxide on all of my spots, and that my problem would go away.
My mom told me her brother had really bad acne when he was a teenager and that he had to go on Retin-A (Tretinoin, a topical derivative of vitamin A), which worked for him. But she never had really bad skin. She also told me my dad had terrible acne when he was young, but he eventually outgrew it. Oh. So acne ran in the family. Got it.
I had two older sisters, and they didn’t have acne. But me and my twin sister did… just genetically blessed, I guess!
I figured that like my dad and my uncle, I would outgrow my skin problems soon enough.
At 13, getting acne isn’t such a big deal. It’s practically a right of passage. All teens get it, right? There were other kids at school and church who had it, so I wasn’t overly worried. This was also the time I started wearing makeup, like Covergirl concealer and powder foundation, which could help to hide my spots. Basically, at this stage my skin wasn’t so bad that it was worrying me.
Ordering Proactiv Solution 3 Step System from an Infomercial
As I got a bit older, my acne was becoming more frequent, and the benzoyl peroxide spot treatment couldn’t dry my pimples out fast enough. Even though it seemed to work at a surface level, it certainly wasn’t keeping new pimples from springing up.
I remember my mom would criticize my use of makeup, swearing that it was the culprit for my acne. But don’t try to tell a 15 year old girl that she can’t wear makeup – it just ain’t gonna fly. Especially when she needs it to cover the acne she already has.
This was around the time of life that Proactiv was blowing up with their infomercials and celebrity endorsements. My mom ordered it for both me and my twin sister. The two of us used their 3 step system religiously, and it seemed like it was helping, but it was also expensive! Over time we gradually moved into other 3 step systems offered by drugstores, such as AcneFree.
The Dermatologist Phase
The older I got, the more aware I became that my friends with acne had been to the dermatologist and gotten their skin cleared from prescription oral and topical medications. And since the Proactiv and AcneFree systems weren’t really working that well anymore, it was my turn to see a medical professional.
I’m going to be brutally honest here – knowing what I know now – I genuinely believe that if I hadn’t gone to a dermatologist – I might not have had to endure the next phase of my acne – severe, itchy, deep, painful acne cysts – the phase that literally and figuratively scarred me for life.
Here are the various things I was prescribed by dermatologists to treat my acne:
- Birth Control Pills
- Other prescription-strength topicals containing benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid, or retinoids
- Tetracycline (Antibiotic)
- Doxycycline (Antibiotic)
- Minocycline (Antibiotic)
I was also prescribed other things I can’t quite recall – one I do remember was a specially formulated tinted makeup product containing salicylic acid to wear as foundation. It was awful!
All the dermatologists told me the same thing – you have to give the medicine time to work. Expect a minimum of 3 months to see results. So I waited, and waited, and waited.
Antibiotics were my Solution to Clear Skin until they suddenly weren’t
Truthfully, topicals were useless. The antibiotics were the only thing that got me clear and kept me clear, but if I ran out of them and didn’t fill the prescription, my acne would come back worse!
And that made me realize something.
How long was I going to have to stay on antibiotics? First of all – there are side effects associated, and secondly – you can build a resistance to them. And it was happening to me. The longer I used them, the less effective they became.
My Cystic Acne Explosion
By this point, my acne was no longer anything resembling the cosmetic, surface-y spots of my early teens. I was in college now and was experiencing full-blown severe, deep, painful, itchy, cystic acne.
To make matters worse, my attempt to cover my acne with makeup wasn’t fooling anyone. Going to class and going to work was embarrassing. And frankly, I don’t think enough people understand the impact a severe skin condition like cystic acne has on your emotional & mental health.
Read my take on how acne really impacts your life here.
I was devastated by my skin and at a total loss of what to do next. Luckily, the dermatologist knew.
The Inevitability of Accutane (Isotretinoin)
This wasn’t the first time a dermatologist had recommended accutane to me and my twin. But we had avoided it, mostly because our mom was convinced it would destroy our health. Therefore, we were willing to try anything and everything else first. Accutane was only viable as a last resort.
If you don’t know, accutane is a contraversial drug. In fact, Accutane itself was pulled off the market after research showed it could be linked to IBS (irritable bowel syndrome), but it now appears under new names such as Absorica, Claravis, and Sotret. It’s all just a brand name for Isotretinoin – a derivative of Vitamin A, and it works by reducing sebum (oil) production in the skin.
And boy, oh boy, are there a lot of known & dangerous side effects! Accutane comes with serious warnings and requires serious precautions. I’m not going to list them here, because writing about Accutane deserves a whole novel. But do your own research! And then you’ll understand why after being prescribed this drug, I couldn’t ever work up the courage to fill it.
I remember the dermatologist told us that Accutane would completely change the insides of our body. Ok? Meaning, it would change the way my body produced sebum forever. Hmm.
It’s also extremely expensive even with insurance. And it requires a commitment to monthly bloodwork and 2 types of birth control at all times. I went through all the motions, but during that time I began to meditate on what taking this drug potentially meant for my present and future health.
In the end, I didn’t think Accutane was worth it.
-> What Comes Next? My journey to clear skin doesn’t end here. In Part 2, I discuss the natural approaches I took to get rid of my acne, and the revelation that ultimately got me clear for life!
Help Others Get Clear Skin
It took me 17 years of trial & error, and endless time in the dermatologists office before I figured out how to clear my acne. I want to help others get clear skin faster than I did!
Consider sharing this article with any friends or family you think could benefit from this info.
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