I've suffered from chronic acne since I was 12. If it's not cystic acne that's bothering me, it's the hyperpigmentation and scarring left over.
After I turned 26 and still had a pimply-as-fuck face, I pretty much gave up—until I discovered r/skincareaddiction, a subreddit dedicated to science-based skincare. They debunked all the skincare myths I had believed for years (like lemon is good for you), finally taught me what my actual skin type is (it's oily because it's dehydrated, not oily because it's oily), and convinced me to actually go to a dermatologist and stick with a regime. For the first time in my life, I go outside without makeup and don't feel like a leper.
I’ve suffered from chronic acne since I was about 12. I started wearing makeup in 8th grade to cover it up, and aside from a few exceptions, haven’t left the house completely bare-faced since, oh, 2004.
In my youth, I tried an elaborate series of facials, multiple rounds of dermatological treatments, hormonal birth control, every over-the-counter acne medication that exists or has existed in the last 10 years, a variety of all-natural solutions my mother bought for me (many in unmarked jars that could have been sold out of a traveling apothecary caravan), and even the do-nothing-and-just-hope-it-goes-away approach. I felt like I could write a book on acne treatments and how none of them actually work.
Over the years, there was an ebb and flow to the severity of my affliction, but it always, always came back, and usually in moments where I really needed to have a face not covered in cystic acne. You know, like any time I would be seen by other humans.
When I turned 26 and was still getting pimples on the regular, I pretty much decided to give no more shits. I accepted that I had simply lost the genetic lottery and it was my fate to slather myself in BB cream every morning for the rest of my life, because apparently for me, “growing out of it” wasn’t a thing, and even if I stopped getting zits, there would still always be the plague of hyperpigmentation left over. Things weren’t great, but they also weren’t tragic.
And then I started taking Prednisone for a separate medical issue.
Imagine my face throughout my life as an area rife with geothermal and seismic activity, resulting in frequent but relatively innocuous bubblings and geyser spewings. Going on Prednisone turned my face into a full-blown Vesuvian eruption that destroyed everything in its wake without warning.
Prednisone is an oral steroid that’s used to quiet inflammation in the body. It’s supposed to be used only in the short term, because it can initiate a variety of horrifying side effects like bone density loss and severe facial swelling and, oh yes, acne.
The extent of the breakout that Prednisone caused me was so severe that even my finely-honed makeup skills couldn’t even begin to cover it. Because I was trying to put out the hellfire of zits with a torrent of over-the-counter benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid every night, my skin wasn’t just breaking out, it was inflamed, dry, flaky, and itchy.
Makeup covered the redness but only accentuated how very angry and bumpy my face was. Something had to change, but I had no idea how I should go about fixing things. I felt quite lost, and hideous to boot.
I stumbled across the subreddit r/skincareaddiction when I was looking up information about the oil cleansing method, which a friend had recommended. What I found was a goldmine of knowledge about skincare that changed everything for me.
Skincare Addiction was created upon the premise that most people don’t understand the science of how skin works, and therefore don’t understand how skin products work either. I’m sure it won’t shock you to find out there’s a lot of marketing that goes into skincare and beauty products. That, coupled with general misinformation, results in people like me, who will slap just about anything on their face in hopes that it will work just like it says on the bottle or tube. Skincare Addiction is sort of like Mythbusters for skincare.
I was overwhelmed and fascinated at my first encounter. Here was a place where everyone scoffed at the idea of ever putting lemon juice on your face, which I had done a million times, irritating the shit out of my face in the process. The concept of going outside without sunscreen was blasphemy to these people. And, to my horror, half of them slept with Vaseline on their faces, something my mom told me would basically kill me.
But the first thing and most important thing I learned was that I needed to go to a dermatologist, stat, which I did. My breakout was beyond the healing powers of over-the-counter skincare. I got a prescription for Epiduo and Aczone; I was to use both of them at night and just the Aczone in the morning. I knew from reading up on Skincare Addiction that the Epiduo contained Adapalene, which is a retinoid that forces skin cells to turn over rapidly and make way for the growth of new skin cells. This often results in peeling and redness, so I invested in a daily moisturizer with sunscreen in it, and a nightly moisturizer as well.
The prescriptions did their work and started to clear things up pretty quickly, but the peeling was so extreme that it sometimes looked like my face was falling off. I could pull off thin sheets of skin from my face with tweezers; the biggest problem area was around my mouth and chin, and I could actually feel my face crack when I smiled. Skincare Addiction had not yet steered me astray, so I did the unthinkable. I started covering my face in Vaseline at night after applying moisturizer.
Here’s the thing about Vaseline. It’s an occlusive, meaning it creates a barrier between your skin and your environment. And if you put it over a moisturizer, it means the moisturizer stays on your skin all night and hydrates more deeply than it would without the protective barrier of Vaseline.
So not only was my skin healing, but with a little help from greasing up my mug at night, my skin actually stayed soft during the day. I could finally leave my home without worrying that I would shed my skin into a friend’s coffee cup like a disgusting lizard-person.
In the months that followed, as my skin continued to get better, I learned everything that I possibly could from this unexpected font of Reddit wisdom. I learned to only introduce new products one at a time, that way it’s easy to find the culprit if a breakout starts immediately after.
I learned the importance of chemical exfoliation, which I get from using Epiduo, but that you can also get from AHA and BHA solutions, which are gentler than retinoids.
I learned that consistency is key; in springtime of my acne discontent, if something didn’t produce results within a few days, I would immediately stop using it and switch to something else and just rage incessantly because nothing was working. Now I keep my routine mostly the same, only adding new products once I’m positive that something else isn’t working, or that everything IS working and it’s just time to up the ante with a new product, like a peel or vitamin C serum.
I also stopped picking and popping, which I always knew was bad, but seeing the drastic improvement in my skin somehow gave me the self control to keep my fingers off my face. And I started moisturizing regularly.
I always thought my skin was oily because I had acne, so I never really used moisturizers much. But it turned out my face was overproducing oil because it was always dehydrated. Science, man.
It’s almost a year later, and my skin looks a hell of a lot better. It’s not perfect and I doubt it ever will be—I’m now working on evening out my complexion since I have a lot of pigmentation left over from old breakouts.
But I no longer feel like a leper when I leave the house without makeup, and I also no longer say “fuck it” when it comes to caring for my skin. I bought travel-sized containers of my facewash and moisturizers that I carry in my makeup bag, so even if I’m not at home, I have absolutely no excuse not to go through the bare minimum of my routine.
So yes, I beat acne at age 27. I just needed Reddit’s help to do it. Words I never thought I would write.