My 20-Year War With Pimples (And PCOS): Can I Please Just Have Clear Skin Now?

I am, and always have been, absolutely desperate for clear(er) skin. I will literally do just about anything.
Publish date:
January 24, 2014
acne, PCOS

Me and my face, we’ve never been friends. As far back as third grade, my otherwise smooth and beautifully clear face was beginning to sprout dark splotches that my older sister’s copies of “Seventeen” told me were pimples.

Fast forward almost 20 years and they still haven’t gone away. To make matters worse, my acne is now joined by humongous old-woman pores, dark spots from former pimples, and expression lines. Is there an anti-aging acne cream that actually works? Because I need that, immediately.

Needless to say, I spend a lot of money on concealing makeup, which actually works quite well. But, sometimes a girl wants to face the world with her actual face and not, you know, 80 pounds of creams.

And it’s not that I don’t try. Hard. For years and years and years. Starting in middle school, I have read everything ever published about skincare and acne. I’ve tried everything over the counter and visited a number of dermatologists. I ordered Proactiv in 2005. I wash my pillows every week and avoid touching my face unless I’m washing it. I don’t wear hats or anything else on my forehead. Everything in my makeup bag in non-comedogenic. I hardly ever go to bed without washing and treating my face, no matter how tired or drunk I am. You get the idea—I do almost everything right and, yet, nothing ever works.

A few years back I was diagnosed with PCOS, a hormonal imbalance that is often accompanied by doggedly persistent acne thanks to an overabundance of androgens in women. Knowing that helps and I’ve had the best skin of my life since switching my diet around to be more hormone-friendly, but my best skin is still kind of a hellscape nightmare of a situation.

The fact that I try so hard with little success is what makes other people’s reactions to my acne even more annoying.

When I was 20 and experiencing one of my “good” skin periods—defined by the ratio of pimples to clear skin slightly tipping in favor of the clear part—the beauty editor at the magazine where I was interning asked me why I hadn’t gone into the beauty closet to get products to “fix” my face. Oh, thanks lady with amazingly clear skin, I had no idea that my face was covered in splotches, so I appreciate the fact that you pointed it out to me.

A boy who had messaged me on an online dating site once responded to my silence by writing that he preferred “girls with smooth skin” anyway. Ouch. Like, I know he was just trying to be hurtful because I rejected him, but it’s not like he didn’t have a point. Doesn’t everyone prefer women with smooth skin?

I am, and always have been, absolutely desperate for clear(er) skin. I will literally do just about anything. I drank (diluted) apple cider vinegar every day for months. Sure, it helps with blood sugar and other stuff, but someone on some PCOS forum said it cleared her skin up so I tried it. It was disgusting and stinky. It worked a little, I wanted to believe, so I kept drinking it. I’ve ordered lots of off-market creams and lotions from Canada and drank all sorts of earthy teas. I’ve intermittedly cut dairy, starches, sodas, while adding salmon and nuts—face food, if you will. Nothing that completely cleared me up, though.

But there was a bright spot. A couple of years ago, when my best skin started to emerge, my skin and I reached a sort of impasse—it would never get better and I would learn to accept it/camouflage it. For a glorious two years or so, I actually kind of reveled in my semi-clear skin. I had blemishes, yes, but I had an amount that was manageable for me and didn’t make me self-conscious if I decided to go makeup-free. Score, right? Until a horribly horrendous hormonal upswing took control of my body a few months ago and literally (not literally) vomited bumps all over my face, with a particular concentration on my jaw line.

Added bonus? Chest and bacne, which, despite my face, had never really been a problem for me. Coupled with an increase in the annoying whiskers I’d finally managed to reduce, a complete absence of my period and a crazy propensity for water retention that I hadn’t previously dealt with before.

So, I’m back where I started years ago—completely vicious PCOS symptoms and a face littered with bumps that belie my quite advanced age. I’m back to scouring random websites and forums for weird remedies. The latest? Pregnitude. Despite its douche of a name, the “reproductive support” supplement has worked wonders for lots of women with PCOS, bringing on stubborn periods and clearing up pesky pimples. Everyone on Amazon says it’s a wonder product, but, of course, it’s not working for me. I’m trying Spearmint tea next and, foolishly maybe, I’m back on the apple cider vinegar.

All of this has me asking, in a very whiny, entitled sort of way, why I can’t just finally have good skin?! Like, I’ve earned it at this point. There are two really cool looking beauty marks that have appeared on my face with age that would be so dynamite if they didn’t just look like more pimples—I deserve to have those marks seen for what they are!

It’s all very shallow, obviously. I mean, if my Facebook feed is to be believed, this world is complete shit and people do mean things to other people all the time. Melissa Harris-Perry cried on television the other day. Really, really terrible things are happening and I’m whining about my face. But, it’s my face and I hate my pimples and, after two decades, I just want them to go away.

I’m taking an extended break from adult life, in Paris, and documenting my hiatus from adult life at