This article was originally published on October 26, 2016.
“Keep your heart open for as long as you can, as wide as you can, for others and especially for yourself.” – Morrie Schwartz
It reached the point where I spent entire weekends at home in bed with the door shut. Where I was opting out of group exercise classes, canceling dates, and rescheduling plans. Where I refused to FaceTime even my mother because of raging insecurity. Where my evenings were consumed by nothing but research to explain why the hell my skin was relentlessly breaking out.
Throughout my teens and early twenties, I only suffered from an occasional pimple on my forehead or chin, but at age 23 my face was suddenly running rampant, and I was powerless to stop it. I was falling into a depression because of my adult acne. I was losing hope that my face would ever return to normalcy–and I losing myself in the process.
“Powerless to stop it?” you’re thinking. “Did you try washing your face regularly?” That’s the instinctual question of most who have never suffered from adult acne. I understand; I used to think the same way before it happened to me. We assume, “She must use cheap make-up, eat a lot of greasy food, or not wash her face habitually.” They are unfair assumptions I realize now.
If you’ve been blessed with well-behaved skin, allow me to share my story with you. The story of a girl who had skin best described as “normal” that transformed into her worst nightmare.
And if reading this has you saying, “YES, finally someone who understands!!!” out loud to your computer, then stick with me. Perhaps I can be your light at the end of the tunnel…
It all coincidentally began when I moved to Madrid, Spain in September 2015 to teach English abroad. You’re probably thinking, “Oh, that explains it. You moved to a foreign country.” Just hear me out. That crossed my mind, too. It seemed probable that Madrid was provoking my pimples since my face got bumpier around the time I arrived. So I sought advice in stores that sold skincare products. They recommended I swap out my normal face wash and moisturizer for others geared toward oily, blemish-prone skin. They also agreed that patience would be the key. “You’re probably just adjusting to Madrid. You haven’t been here long, and the air in this city is very dry and dirty. Just give it time.” So I walked out smiling and optimistic. With new face wash, moisturizer, and patience, I would see clear skin in no time. Right? Wrong.
As months passed, my skin battle got worse. I consulted my dermatologist while in the States over the holidays. She prescribed two topical creams, but they didn’t do the trick. As my pimples continued to grow, I could feel myself fading. If I wasn’t mulling over my acne’s potential causes or researching suggested treatments, I was panicking about the appearance of my skin in the eyes of those around me–my coworkers and students, my friends, boys, passersby… Acne was beginning to control me and my life.
I continued to make changes to anything the Internet proposed as a trigger, including as make-up and food. I examined the ingredient lists of everything that went on my face or into my body. I changed everything and was constantly taking suggestions from people promising they knew what “would take care of the problem.” I cut out dairy (which was no easy feat) and kicked my already healthy eating habits up a notch. I drank water as if it were my full-time job. Dietary supplements were thrown in the mix, too. None of it brought about the changes I desperately needed. This is when things really began to spiral into a dark abyss.
I was crying daily over my complexion. I began canceling plans left and right to hide my face from the world and to spare my skin from make-up whenever possible. As a teacher, going to school made me nauseous; I never had an issue with public speaking or standing in the front of the classroom, but with the state of my skin, it took all my strength not to call in sick. I couldn’t recognize myself physically, emotionally, or mentally. Every morning I’d wake to my reflection staring back at me in the mirror and think, “Wow, I guess it wasn’t just a bad dream.”
My heart aches thinking back to those horrible, dark days. And if you’re getting depressed just reading this, don’t ditch me now. Things are about to look up.
After several weeks of complete misery and several months of worsening breakouts, in mid-May, I regained a desperately needed sense of hope. I went hiking with a friend who I hadn’t seen in a while. My skin looked awful, and I couldn’t help but address it. I thought to myself “If I ignore it she’ll think that I think it looks good. I need to acknowledge its ugliness.” As pathetic as that sounds, I’m glad I did.
My friend (whose skin was flawless BTW) revealed she used to suffer from acne like mine. She tried every trick in the book, including everything I’d been trying (i.e. changes to diet, supplements, make-up, skincare products, etc.), and proposed another solution: spironolactone. Although it’s a prescription medication designed for those with high blood pressure, it’s been found to have hormone-balancing effects that can combat acne in females (and is safe for most women to take even if they don’t have high blood pressure).
Based on her experience and after hearing mine, my friend suspected my acne was hormonally caused, too; she felt convinced it would be my “miracle cure.” The only catch making “spiro” just shy of miraculous (apart from it being a prescription medicine rather than an organic, natural cure you might hope for) is the delay in visible results–it takes about three months to see a difference in the appearance of your skin. Three months or not, I couldn’t believe it–finally someone who’d been where I was and had actually found a solution that allowed her to regain her sense of self and might do the same for me.
After consulting my doctor and doing a great deal of independent research, I started a regimen of spironolactone. The three months of waiting for results were tough. At the halfway point, in early July, I returned to the U.S. for the summer. I was thrilled to be home and thought being back in the U.S.A. might alleviate subliminal stress and aid my skin’s healing. However, coming home invited new stressors, too. Especially when seeing people for the first time in months and fearing their judgments of my uncharacteristically bad complexion.
I also doubted the medication. What if I was waiting all this time just to find that spiro wasn’t my miracle cure? What if there were other natural options I could have explored to change my skin condition? I consulted my dermatologist again; she felt optimistic the spiro would help by the three-month-mark. And I am so glad I didn’t prematurely throw in the towel because IT DID! After my three-month “spiro-versary” I finally began to see improvement! I finally began waking up to better skin with fewer breakouts, smoother texture, and fading redness. It was the progress I had dreamt of for nearly 365 days–progress I had begun to doubt I would ever see. And although I do attribute some of the improvement to my healthy lifestyle, careful consumption of dairy/alcohol/sugar, elimination of coffee, and use of natural, acne-safe makeup/skincare products, I see spironolactone as the game-changer–my lifesaver.
So, if you are a strong, beautiful woman suffering from adult acne like I did–do not give up. You may feel hopeless and, as you have read, so did I. But keep searching. Keep trying. Keep seeking support and guidance from those around you. See your doctor. Consider all your options, and don’t be afraid to explore medicinal alternatives. You will beat your acne. In the meantime, try not to let it deter you from living life to the fullest (as impossible as that may sound). Smile, have fun and be kind (to others and yourself). And always remember, “The sum of you is greater than any ‘imperfect’ part.”
With full awareness that natural remedies, thoughtful food choices, and a healthy lifestyle are best for most health ailments, I understand if you feel reluctant to begin ingesting a prescription medicine. I was, as well; organic, natural, wholesome, and healthy options are my preference in all things. (That’s why I’ve come to LOVE the Peaceful Dumpling community!). But if you’ve given many natural remedies a try (just like I did) yet still find yourself continuing to suffer, consider speaking with your dermatologist about spironolactone or other medicinal options. It might just change your life (especially if your acne is hormonally caused, like mine).
If you are a strong, beautiful woman who has not suffered from persistent adult acne, thank you for reading my story. The story of one of the biggest struggles of my life that was more trying than my freshman year of college, or even moving abroad, and more heartbreaking than any ex-boyfriend. I hope this has opened your eyes and given you a greater capacity to empathize with the women you see suffering. Be a light in their lives, and reassure them that they are beautiful, too.
“You can tell who the strong women are because they are the ones building each other up instead of tearing each other down.” – Unknown
Have you suffered from hormonal acne? What has helped you defeat breakouts?
More about adult acne: Should You Take Hormonal Balance Supplements?
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