Acne; it’s something that affects tens of millions of people around the world, and yet, sufferers can sometimes feel completely isolated. Suffering from acne at any stage in life, can be a traumatic experience. As a teenager, even though more people suffer from acne at this stage in their life, it can feel like the end of the world. As an adult, when less people around you suffer, it can feel like “Why me!?”. As a sufferer of acne in my teens, and into my early twenties, I went through the range of emotions, and definitely the range of treatments. My family, none of whom suffered from acne, said I need to make sure I just wash my face with soap and water! Well, as we know, that’s not necessarily great advice for anyone suffering from acne, and needless to say, it didn’t work.
TEENAGE ACNE YEARS
After the soap and water, came special oil free soap. After the oil free soap, tea tree soap, and tea tree oil, Clearasil wash and Clearasil treaments, Oxy on the Spot, Witch. You name the brand I tried it. I was squeezing oranges daily, and hoping Vitamin C would provide my miracle cure, making sure I ate healthily, avoiding chocolates, avoiding full fat dairy products. Next came Benzoyl Peroxide products, and the drying affect that comes along with them. But no, none of it worked. None of it made even a noticeable difference to my acne. At least not to my eyes. In fact, if anything the acne had worsened and was now on my back, providing an extra embarassment for when I was getting changed for P.E or my favoured sport, basketball. I would always have to position myself, with back to the wall, and quickly replace my top, just to make sure nobody saw. All the products mentioned can be good products. I’ve used them since my acne settled on smaller breakouts, or spots, and had some success with them. But for a moderate, to severe acne breakout, for me personally, they did not work.
So with a large portion of the range of over the counter treatments exhausted, I was at a low ebb. My parents made an appointment for me, and it was off to the GP. Antibiotics were prescribed (erythromycin) as well as a topical solution (Zineryt). I went home excited, and with hope. With my hands of prescription only medicines, this was it. My acne was going to be cured!!! Antibiotics to treat acne are a standard treatment for acne chosen by GP’s in the UK, and I was feeling confident.
As any acne sufferer may know or have experienced, when you have acne, every morning after a new treatment is an exciting moment. You wake up, and put your hand to your face, in the hope that large spot that had appeared yesterday, will have taken mercy on you, and left you alone. You rush to the mirror, and hope against hope, that the new treatment will have miraculously left you with skin like Cindy Crawford (am I showing my age?!). So, the following morning, I did just this, but of course was faced with the inevitable let down, that I still had spots strewn across my face and body. This continued most mornings for the next two months, which I was advised was how long it could take to notice the effects. Looking back objectively, it may have controlled the acne somewhat, but it was still definitely a problem. And to me at the time, a big problem! In fact, the antibiotics didn’t do anything I thought. But perseverance is a must in any walk of life, so I carried on with my acne treatment regimen. A combination of antibiotics, oral and topical, healthy eating with plenty of vitamin C, anti-oxidants and other recommended acne supplements, good hygiene, with twice daily washing of my face with a gentle face wash. Basically, everything one should do for acne, I was doing (apart from resisting the urge to squeeze my spots!)
But alas, I was still the spottiest person in my class. What a teenager can probably never really understand, at that fragile time of emotional development, is that you always amplify and exaggerate your spots and other embarassing incidents, ten fold. I would position myself in class, to have the good side of my face (that day) to the majority of the class, or at least to where the pretty girls were sat! But day to day, week to week, my acne would float across from one side of my face to the other, and it was clear I was fighting a losing battle.
By now, I was 16, and the next treatment to try (out of desperation??), was homeopathy. For those who don’t know what homeopathy is, it basically works on the same principle as vaccines. Give a little of what causes an illness, and the body will learn to fight that illness. The problem with doing that for acne, is it is your own hormones, that really cause the over production of sebum in the sebaceous glands! So I never really quite understood the principle of how this could help, and perhaps that was my downfall (read about the placebo effect), or perhaps, it just wasn’t good science! Regardless, unsurprisingly my acne persisited.
What now? By chance, my dad knew a consultant dermatologist (why did it take so long!), and he was the next port of call. Now the heavy duty acne treatment is something called Roaccutane(Isotretinoin). This is an incredibly powerful drug, but also incredibly successful in treating acne. Amongst it’s side effects are dry skin, lips, but also in a small number of people, suicidal thoughts. Blood tests are required to make sure you get the right dosage, and it can not be given to women who are pregnant. It can damage the foetus, and so regular pregnancy tests are required to make sure women of child baring age, do not become pregnant while taking it.
So I was back to my daily excitement, and had a reemergence of hope, that my acne would finally be defeated. A few weeks in, and at long last, I could notice spots on my back clearing. My lips and mouth were definitely dry, but that didn’t matter. Nothing a bit (or maybe a lot), of lip care couldn’t solve. My face was a little slower to respond, but bit by bit, some actual skin appeared. The dreaded acne spots were making way! The treatment lasted 4-5 months, and by the end of it, I still had acne, but it was manageable. I felt new. I felt free. I felt relieved. . . . BUT
Acne is not always an easy condition to treat
UNIVERSITY ACNE YEARS
A few months after stopping the treatment, spots started to creep back. I was reluctant to go back on Roaccutane because of the well publicised side effects, and long term treatment made me a little nervous, particularly as muscle pains were another possible effect. As a keen basketball, football and tennis player, I did not want this. It was probably sport, and being good at it that helped me retain a level or normalcy about my teenage years. I was the best basketball player in the school, and this gave me consolation.
So I began the search for new treatments, perhaps something that would just maintain my moderate acne. So now, it was the turn of herbal treatments, and Acnease. Acnease was expensive. Very expensive. I was just starting university, and my parents had kindly given me a monthly allowance, despite staying at home. Between that, and money I got for basketball coaching, acnease consumed it all for a few months. Acnease did not work for me, and I was left with a similar feeling of frustration after finishing my homeopathic treatment. It was then, that I dicsovered high end skin washes, and scrubs. My favourite was Zirh. But Zirh Fix was not cheap, not cheap at all for a student. I was throwing everything at my acne to keep it at bay, but it was definitely still there, and definitely still affecting my day to day life. Each new product, gave new excitement, but my acne almost seemed to develop a resistance to treatments after a few weeks, and I would move on to the next expensive treatment.
My University years, definitely were’t as bad as my school years, however the acne was still visible and present year round. Each year, I would think it would stop. . . surely at 18? 19. . . 20? Surely 21!!?? But no, I had learnt to live with my acne, and manage it as best I could. Sure, I would get a little down about it at times, but fortunately never became depressed. Duac Gel was my main source of relief in this time, and generally kept my acne manageable.
After graduating and moving into my first job, I stumbled across some research. Since looking into it again for the writing of this article, there is conflicting opinion on Vitamin B12 and acne, however at the time, I was still willing to try new things. I began taking vitamin B12 at a dose of 4 grams per day (again, not cheap), and within three weeks, I could noticed a difference. I was getting less spots. And three weeks later, less again. Had I found a cure for my acne? Was it just coincidence? The truth is, I will never be able to back up with scientific facts, that B12 worked for me, but certainly the clearing of my acne, coincided with my taking B12. However, I should say, that many people have not had success with B12. My wife had mild acne, and after suggesting B12 to her, we didn’t notice any difference. But finally, I was acne free, for the first time in over eight years. It had been a struggle, but the feeling of not having spots to deal with each morning was liberating.
SOME ACNE ADVICE
The point of this article is not to recommend any particular treatment or product. It is to simply to encourage you proactively seek treatment immediately if you’re acne is getting you down. I let my acne simmer too long, and tried to wash it off for too long!
- Moderate to severe acne will not generally just go away from a good skin care regimen. If you want help, speak to your GP.
- Keep your skin care regimen simple, and effective, and seek professional help and advice
- Remember that your acne is always a hundred times worse in your head, then it actually is
- Don’t get depressed. You may have times when you’re low about it, but remember your acne will go away. Don’t let it shape you
- Remain confident, and remember that those who judge you on your appearance are not generally the types of people you should have time for.
- Don’t squeeze your spots. Or if you find it too difficult to follow that advice, at least don’t forcefully squeeze your acne spots! This can result in scarring, and this is one legacy of acne you may not be able to get rid of. (Although there are acne scarring treatments)