Remember the days when each morning was just a new day for a new pimple? When the mirror greeted you with a pizza-faced, pimply visage? When the number of blemishes you had at one time was as numerous as the stars in the sky? I do too. For me, that day is today.
Though I recently turned 25–by all accounts, the true age at which time modern adulthood begins–I still have acne that is not unlike that of my 15-year old self. And it is so embarrassing.
As teenagers, few were immune from acne
At the onset of puberty, acne left nearly no face untouched, my own included. Advice on how to get rid of pimples (dabbing on toothpaste at night, sitting out in the sun to “dry out the acne”, etc.) was shared and accepted by all. And even though entertainment portrayals of adolescence asserted that getting a single pimple on the day of the big dance was a life ruiner, I knew better than that. We were all in this together, visibly battling the onslaught of blocked pores that dotted our foreheads, noses, chins, and cheeks. Acne wasn’t embarrassing in middle or high school, because teenagers were just meant to have acne. Skincare ads in my favorite magazines only promoted products that promised to clear skin of pimples, and every TV station I watched was constantly promoting Proactiv.
I was certainly not immune to acne in my adolescence. I spent years trying to find the right cleanser, moisturizer, or topical solution that might replace my pimply face with the skin of OC-era Mischa Barton. But when products didn’t fully follow through, I didn’t stress, because I knew that it was just a matter of years before puberty and acne faded from my life.
It was magic–my acne was gone
Coincidentally, that time came a lot quicker than I had expected–or so it seemed. A medicine I started taking my junior year of high school had the unexpected, but much appreciated, side effect of clearing up acne. In just a matter of weeks after I started this new prescription, all of my pimples were gone and replaced with glowing, radiant skin. I no longer needed to conceal my skin with cakey powders or thick foundations, because there was nothing to hide anymore. I didn’t even need to wash my makeup off at night–my skin was simply impervious to pimples.
I used this medicine for years, and it wasn’t until my sophomore year of college that the underlying issue had cleared up, and I realized I was just abusing this medication for its skin-clearing effects. By this time, I was 20-years old. Most of my friends had outgrown constant breakouts, and I figured I would have as well, so I stopped taking the medicine cold turkey.
Welcome to adult acne
It took a few months, but the acne crept right back onto my face. It was slow at first–a pimple here, a pimple there. But once the assault began, it worsened with a fervor. Soon I was battling acne that put my 8th grade yearbook photo to shame. The skin on my face was red, inflamed, and painful. A new pimple popped up what seemed like every hour with a volcanic fury. And for the past 5 years, no matter what methods of skincare I’ve tried, I’ve greeted a new pimple on my already crowded face every day.
Whereas I was one among many sufferers of acne in grade school, my pimples announce themselves a bit more prominently now that my peers have clear skin. When my friends worry about acne, it’s usually because they have one pronounced, red bump. When I worry about acne, it’s usually in reference to the 20 or so pimples smattered across my cheeks and chin. And though my friends say they don’t notice my acne when I mention it, I can’t help but think that they must, because it’s always on my mind.
My acne has started to get in the way of my adult life
When I look in the mirror, I see a face that looks dirty and infected, and it makes me feel like others might perceive me as untidy or gross. I try to avoid meeting clients for work, attending networking events, or having meetings in rooms with bright lighting, because I’m worried that my acne will distract them from my words. I think they’ll be distracted because I’m so distracted by my skin. I feel like if I don’t constantly conceal my pimples with makeup, wearing my hair a certain way, or a strategically placed hand on my face, the acne is all anyone will notice about me. Ironically, my insecurity about my skin probably draws more attention to its condition than anything else.
But a few days before my 25th birthday, during a particularly bad breakout of huge, painful bumps, I made a decision: I scheduled an appointment with a dermatologist.
Sometimes, you just need an expert
It’s something I’ve avoided for years. I saw my friends clear up their skin by drinking more water, or changing out their pillow cases more frequently, or finding the right cleanser for their skin, so I thought I could do the same without any outside help. I felt like I should be able to tackle my acne by myself if my friends could, and I worried that seeking medical help for my skin meant I was too inept to take care of myself.
But after years of researching acne and doing everything I possibly can on my own, I’ve come to the realization that this is a problem I will not solve without some guidance. All the internet research in the world won’t make me a dermatologist, so I think it’s about time I call off the trials and errors of finding my own skincare regimen and ask an expert for one.
What I’ve learned along the way
Most of the articles on this site are personal stories and anecdotes with specific takeaways. So what’s mine for this story? Well, there’s not one really. Not yet, anyway.
I’ve been following a new regimen of daily antibiotics and prescription topicals for a few weeks now, but my acne is definitely still with me. I hope I can write a follow up to this article in a few months explaining how my dermatologist solved all my problems. But in the meantime, for any readers who might be struggling with their skin too, here are a few things I’ve learned from dealing with acne well out of my teenage years…
1. Be patient
When I see a new pimple forming on my chin, it’s really hard for me not to pick at it. I convince myself that if I don’t pop the pimple now, it’ll just get worse and more obvious. But in an attempt to stop pimples from getting worse, I’ve vowed to let pimples run their course (most of the time), and it truly has made a difference. Though they continue to tauntingly stare back at me in the mirror for a little longer than I’d like, they do fade away quickly once they’ve been left alone.
In the same vein, when using new skincare products, it’s important that you really give them time to work. Some of my research online has suggested that many new products can actually cause your acne to get worse before it gets better–this is called purging. You really need to use a product for 2 – 4 weeks before you know what it will actually do for your skin.
2. Stop touching your face
This advice is tough for me to follow much of the time. I often absentmindedly touch my face and find myself picking at a pimple or trying to extract a blemish when I walk by a mirror. But what everyone says is true: touching your face does make acne so much worse. Not only do your hands and fingernails carry so many germs and oils with which to clog your skin, picking at pimples with those hands can often make those pimples appear even worse.
3. Change your pillowcases more often
This unique tip is really practical when you think about it. Each night, you deposit a host of skin cells and sweat onto your pillowcase as you sleep. Sorry, I know that’s a gross visual, but it’s true! Just changing your pillowcase every night or every other night can drastically reduce the amount of gunk your face is exposed to while you sleep. I change my pillowcase every other night and use one side of the pillow each night so my face gets a fresh side.
Pro tip: if you’re like me and don’t have a ton of sheet sets, use a t-shirt as a makeshift case.
4. Clean your face every single day
Straight up, you need to wash (and moisturize!) your face every night. As with the icky pillowcase scenario, your face’s exposure to the elements and your own oils and sweat each day is obviously not very good for your skin. It doesn’t matter if your skin doesn’t feel oily or if you don’t wear makeup–you need to wash your face every night. It doesn’t matter if it’s late and you just want to crash into bed. It doesn’t matter how many drinks you had before you called your Uber home (or wherever else you end up). No ifs, ands, or buts about it–wash your face.
5. Stop worrying–you notice your acne more than anyone else does
Here’s a piece of advice that I give myself a lot: Don’t be embarrassed–nobody’s paying attention to you as much as you are. Harsh? Perhaps. But it’s true!
Most of my insecurities, acne included, are about things that other people just aren’t paying attention to. I forget sometimes that I’m the only person who gets to stare at my pimples up close in the mirror. Nobody else has the time or the desire to analyze the state of my skin–there are better things to worry about. If you have a hard time believing this, just remember all the times acquaintances and friends have gotten haircuts that you haven’t noticed. It’s easy to skip over the state of someone’s hair, or skin, or clothes when you are more interested in what they have to say or do. The same goes for yourself as well.