What Having Cystic Acne Has Taught Me

I don’t have the worst acne but I certainly don’t have the best skin.

The first pimples appeared around the beginning of puberty, as they do for most people. Naturally, I adopted a skin care routine consisting of cheap cleansers and generous dabs of the palest shade of drug store foundation.

When I turned 15, it became abundantly clear that Neutrogena wouldn’t make the grade. I remember the moment I realised that I didn’t just have pimples, I had acne. I looked deep into the half-wall mirror of the family bathroom and saw my tiny red face staring back, covered in angry bumps.

Photo by Yuris Alhumaydy on Unsplash

Why me? What did I do to deserve this?

It made zero sense at first and seemed entirely unfair. Here was acne’s first big lesson it had in store for me: life is unfair and random. I didn’t have acne because the universe was flipping a big cosmic bird at me and I hadn’t done something bad in a past life. The cold hard facts were that genetics had chosen my skin for its personal punching bag. Modern life also brings with it a whole bunch of toxins and has ultimately messed up the microbiomes in our bodies.

I visited the doctor hoping they could provide an easy way out.

“You’re such a beautiful girl,” she told me. “It would be a shame if scars ruined your face.”

I can still feel the gut punch that those words were to fifteen-year-old me.

She suggested that I go on the nuclear bomb of acne medication: isotretinoin. You may know the pill as accutane, roaccutane or oratane.

I refused the offer. I couldn’t possibly poison my body with something that caused birth defects amongst a slew of scary side effects. Over the next three years I rejected the same suggestion from different professionals, as well as countless other people who meant well but couldn’t begin to understand my fear and denial around the medication and my acne itself.

Today, I will be on starting isotretinoin and will stay on it for about eight months. My decision has come after years of ridiculous amounts of medications that can be just as harmful in the long run. The antibiotics I’ve been on will probably cause me to grow resistant to them later in life, and being on the contraceptive pill to control my hormones came with a whole load of its own side effects.

I don’t regret the path I’ve taken because it’s pointless to run over the countless what ifs. This has been another valuable lesson brought to you by acne. We do what we believe is right in the moment and it’s only through the inevitable consequences that we realise the flaws of our thinking and are able to grow in our decision making.

Photo by Noah Buscher on Unsplash

The antibiotics and the pill barely kept a lid on my outbreaks. The suppression was just enough to enable my denial. I couldn’t really have cystic acne. It can’t last throughout my 20s and 30s. It’s just not that type of acne.

I also managed to convince myself that if I abstained from drinking and adopted a strict adherence to the low GI diet, it would some how magically solve my acne. Being a monk has done wonders for my overall health; however, you can love and take care of yourself until the cows come home but it won’t fix a medical issue.

Don’t get me wrong about self-love because, after all of this, I have learned far more about myself than I would have without the crying and self-loathing that came first. Except, that this has come at the cost of not letting other people love me out of paranoid self-protection.

My mind decided that no one else could relate or care enough about me to truly help me through this and other things. I’d been made fun of at school for my acne and even when friends told me I was having a good skin day or tried to be kind, I couldn’t listen. Instead, I had the image of a note passed in French class that depicted a cartoon of me with pimples all over my face and the word bitch underneath it. I lashed out at people because of this mistrust but I didn’t realise that this only made some people wary of me.

Yes – I am going on this pill to kill my acne once and for all, but I am also going on it to prove to myself that I don’t have to go through things alone. I also want to prove to myself that it’s wrong to torment myself over every worst case scenario. Whether that’s people seeing me without make up, or perhaps experiencing extreme side effects and ultimately becoming vulnerable in different ways.

I will still have to face my insecurities (and perhaps some new ones that will fill the acne vacuum) but from now on, I don’t want to deal with them in such an unhealthy way.

So, bring it on Isotretinoin.

I will be keeping track of my experiences with the medication over the next eight months, stay tuned for more posts about it. Comment below if you’ve struggled with acne–or any other ideas from this piece.

5 comments on “What Having Cystic Acne Has Taught Me

  1. Lala C

    I put dermalmd serum on a pimple and in 2 hours it was noticeably smaller. Within a day the pimple had dried up almost completely. Great spot treatment!


  2. My dermatologist also suggested isotretinoin. He said my skin ought to be crystal clear for my future husband. I AM NINETEEN YEARS OLD! You can imagine how I felt.


    • Eliza Lourenço

      That’s awful that the doctor said that to you. Having a skin condition is a hard experience that becomes a part of a person’s story but it doesn’t define who they are in the slightest bit. ❤


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