My Journey with Acne
By India Watson
As I embark upon the next phase of my acne journey, I thought it would be wise to document my experience from start to finish. The next phase begins as I decide to try to clear my skin once and for all. This has been a long time coming and I hope this is the final chapter of a very long saga!
I have written this article chronologically, detailing the various phases I have gone through from my first breakout to where I am now. It is worth noting that this is just my experience, an anecdotal perspective if you will, and one thing I have learnt is that something may work wonders for one person, may do the complete opposite for another. If you or someone you know is struggling with acne, I hope this blog provides some reassurance that having acne is not the be-all and end-all, although at times it can feel that way.
There is often the belief that spots start in the teenage years when puberty is in full flow and hormones are raging. This is why, aged 10, I found it quite distressing that my forehead was a minefield of hard, painful zits, particularly as I wasn’t much of an early bloomer. I had a good diet, was very active and was just like every other 10 year old in my class… except I was the only one with bad skin. I remember my mum doing everything she could to help, and she still does to this day, but I was a determined young girl and thought I knew exactly what to do… cue the bad decisions.
I recall thinking that if I could just scrub the spots off my face, then they would go and cease to return. This involved daily scrubbing with harsh exfoliators and scratchy facial buffers. Unsurprisingly, this just spread the infection around my face, causing my spots to multiply rather than dissipate. I also began wanting to wear makeup to cover my sore, angry-looking breakouts, and I did so with a thick, drying concealer that was completely the wrong shade. If you are an acne sufferer you may know the never-ending cycle of wanting to wear makeup to hide your spots, which then clogs your pores causing more breakouts, which need more makeup to cover, and so it continues. That is not to say that makeup causes spots, but it is important to find one that works for you and that isn’t greasy or pore-clogging. I remember feeling hard done by and self-conscious, constantly thinking everyone was staring, when really, they weren’t.
Trial and Error
The acne carried on into my teen years at a consistent level, I was always broken out in some way and my skin was really oily. As I got older, the spots seemed to travel downwards, and by 13 my whole face was covered. I was beginning to feel helpless, and the only thing that made me feel better was that many of my classmates were now developing spots, and whilst I didn’t want anyone else to suffer from acne, I no longer felt like an anomaly.
My parents saw it taking a toll on my happiness and as the spots were not budging, I decided to see a doctor. I left with a prescription of benzoyl peroxide and zineryt, feeling hopeful and excited to start using them. 4 weeks down the line and my skin was sore, dry, and still as spotty. I was then given erythromycin (antibiotics) and saw some improvement, but the spots returned soon after I finished the course.
By 15 I needed more specialist help, so I went to see a dermatologist who put me on a course of light therapy, alongside weekly microdermabrasion (a facial vacuum cleaner essentially). Unfortunately, the microdermabrasion didn’t work for me, instead of producing smooth, rejuvenated skin as I had hoped, it popped my active acne (whiteheads) and spread the infection around my face. I then went to several facialists and had acid peels and extraction facials (it's as painful as it sounds) which again made no difference…To cut a long story short- you name it, I’ve tried it. It got to the point where I felt bad that my parents had invested so much money and effort into my skin, and nothing was improving. It sounds pretty dire, but the story goes up from here.
Understanding and Discovery
At this point in the story, I am around 19 years old and had just returned home from my gap year. My skin, whilst still covered in active acne, was now scarred from the umpteen years of popping my spots, and the deep cystic acne that covered my cheeks. It sounds sad, but I had not seen my face free from spots since I was 10, and so I was used to seeing my face covered in acne, and I accepted that it was just how my face looked.
I have also learnt that with skincare it is more about prevention, rather than a cure. My acne is most likely the symptom of a much deeper hormonal issue, and so my focus is now on keeping everything in balance. Despite having this understanding, my skin was still something that I scrutinize every day, and it became my hobby. I would spend hours researching products, watching YouTube videos from skincare gurus, and educated myself on all things skin. I found a relatively basic routine that helped to keep my skin feeling balanced- not too oily, and not too dry, but I am still struggling with persistent acne.
If we then go to the beginning of 2021, I decided to see a dermatologist in the hope of finally clearing my skin. I had a consultation with Dr Clayton at Derma Reading, who was understanding, empathetic and listened to me whilst I explain every product, antibiotic and cream I have tried, chapter and verse. I suspected she would suggest Roaccutane, a very serious acne drug, and the only thing I had not tried, however, I was very wary of this drug and ruled it out as an option due to my anxiety regarding the side effects. She appreciated this and instead suggested I tried Treclin gel, a combination topical gel containing clindamycin (an antibiotic) and tretinoin (a vitamin A retinoid). I applied this gel for three months and to my surprise, my skin cleared tremendously, albeit not completely. I was happy with the results but as time went on, the level of acne clearance was beginning to plateau. I returned to Dr Clayton and asked If I could try something stronger. She suggested Tretinoin cream on its own which is the retinoid element of the Treclin that seemed to be working well for me. I applied this consistently for a further 3 months and the condition of my skin continued to improve, and I was generally happy with my progress, however, as with many of the other topical preparations I had tried, the results begin to dwindle at the 3-month mark.
It is now the end of August 2021, and I had persisted with clearing my acne topically for a good 5/6 months, but I still wasn’t completely happy with my skin. It was time to go back to the drawing board and back to Dr Clayton to reassess Roaccutane, the final resort. I don’t want to put anyone off considering Roaccutane as it is widely considered a miracle drug for clearing acne and surprise (!)… I am about to go on it.
Dr Clayton talked me through my course of treatment and explained to me the side effects (dry lips, possible low mood and possible achy joints amongst others). Dr Clayton explained that I would need blood tests taken at various stages of the treatment and a negative pregnancy test at each monthly follow up. The low mood aspect for me was a real worry due to a family history of depression but Dr Clayton clarified that you are monitored throughout your time on Roaccutane and if you are not getting on with the drug, then you can always stop. She put me at ease and explained everything to me in a clear and understandable way. I felt confident enough to agree there and then that this was the best option for me. It should be noted that my decision to finally go on Roaccutane has been about 10 years in the making, and was not a decision I took lightly. After speaking to Dr Clayton, I am now excited to get started and it has given me hope that this will restore my confidence and make me love my skin again!
I want this blog to give a little hope to anyone suffering from acne, or who may be considering Roaccutane. If you are apprehensive about starting acne medication then please do follow my journey as I document the ups and downs of Roaccutane with the goal of getting closer to better skin once and for all.