Monday, February 8, 2016

My Journey to Clear(er) Skin

Photo by Annie Hall

Neither of us have ever really talked about this on the blog, but we both struggled with persistent acne all the way through college (and for me even after).

As someone who has basically tried all acne treatments under the sun, which is barely even a hyperbolic statement, I thought I would record my experience here in case anyone is going through something similar.  Everyone's experiences are obviously unique, so what works for me might not work for someone else.  

Click through to see what finally worked for me and my current routine!

I first started breaking out on my forehead around eighth grade.  Nothing huge - mostly bumpy, uneven texture.  I was lucky enough to not ever have cystic acne, but the acne I had was determined to resist every form of treatment.  I started out with the over-the-counter basics: Clean&Clear, Neutrogena and Clearasil with no luck.  Salicylic Acid and 10% Benzoyl Peroxide was never enough to make any difference in my skin.  I started visiting the dermatologist in high school and started along a string of prescriptions. I tried Clindomycin, Differin, Benzaclin, Retin-A 0.025% and Epiduo.  My dermatologist also mixed in some antibiotics (doxycycline) to fight from the inside out.  Even this didn't really help. My skin just wasn't having it.  

My acne was so stubborn, my dermatologist and I decided to do a short course of Accutane (Isotretinoin) my junior year.  This is usually reserved for cystic acne, but since my skin was so non-responsive to everything else, we decided to go for it.  If you don't know about Accutane, its a pill that you take once a day and it basically shuts off your oil you cannot make any pimples.  It also means your skin gets very dry.  The first course I took was hard; my lips were constantly drying out.  I flew through tubes of Blistex Medicated Ointment.  The other thing about Accutans, is that as a girl, I had to go through the iPledge program, which requires you to take a quiz and pledge not to get pregnant every month before you fill your prescription (isotrentinoin is known to cause serious birth defects, so this is really important).  All that aside, this is the first thing that actually worked for me.  Most people who take Accutane do not have their acne reoccur even after they stop taking it.  I am apparently one of the small percentage of people for which this is not the case.  My skin cleared up completely and stayed (mostly) clear only until my second semester of college.

In college, I began to break out more on the sides of my face, with an occasional whitehead popping up on my chin every now and then.  I honestly think that a lot of my acne was stress-related.  Inevitably I would break out around midterms and finals.  I decided to do a second round of Accutane to see if I could finally kick my acne in the butt.  The second round was much easier; my skin and lips didn't feel as dry as the first time. Again, my skin cleared up and stayed clear for a while, until after I graduated.  But still I started to break out on the sides of my face again.

Photo by Tyler

You can see in the above photo from 2013 how I was still breaking out on my cheeks and the sides of my face.

Frustrated, but not interested in taking Accutane again, I started taking topical tretinoin and benzaclin together.  The second round of Accutane and this post-course treatment combo finally started bringing my breakouts down. Tretinoin is the same as Retin-A, but I started at a higher dose (0.05%) and this made all the difference.  Looking back, I don't know why my dermatologist didn't suggest me going to this higher dosage of trentinoin before opting for a opting for a second course of Accutane (maybe it wasn't available at that dosage previously??).  At any rate, Tretinoin 0.05% is my miracle cream...even though I still get a whitehead from time to time, spot treating with this clears it up within 24 hours!  I also started using Clarins Double Serum.  This is one of those things that I would normally consider too pricey, but it honestly improved my skin and seems to make my acne medication work better.  Recently I phased out the benzaclin in the morning and just kept to the tretinoin at night (due to price and the fact that the benzaclin gel is only good for 3 months and you can never get through it all!).  

For anyone currently struggling with Acne, I would suggest exhausting all topical options before opting for Accutane.  It's permanently effective for almost everyone (except me, apparently), but it is a rough medication. There are a lot of topical options out there, and even I was able to finally find one that worked!

Here is my current acne routine:
Wash with Bioré Charcoal Cleanser - Love this, it tingles when you wash and is so refreshing!
Estée Lauder Perfectly Balancing Toner - The one step everyone loves to skip, but it seriously makes a difference. Toner removes oil and balances your skin's pH.
Estée Lauder Clear Difference Oil Control Mattifying Hydrating Gel - Better than lotion.  It is super light so it is great under make-up, and it keeps my T-Zone from getting too shiny throughout the day. I received this as a gift, and $50 is a bit expensive in my opinion, so I am on the fence if I will repurchase...if anyone has a cheaper dupe suggestion, I am all ears!

Clarins Double Serum - I first learned about this at a Clarins event, where skin expert Christopher Truffa informed us the correct way to apply this: pump once into your palm and then rub your palms together to combine the two parts of the serum and warm it up.  Once it is warm, press it (don't rub) the serum into your face.  This is my biggest skincare splurge, and it is worth it every time.
Tretinoin acne cream 0.05 - A little goes a long way! I put a light layer on areas where I would normally break out, as well as spot treat anything that pops up.


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  2. Love your style

    Mercedes Marie