Getting Rid of Acne
Acne is more than just a mild annoyance - it can be downright painful, affect self-esteem and social life, and cost hundreds of dollars in search for a viable cure.
I rarely had acne as a teenager. I don't know why I was spared this one humiliation, since everything else about me was awkward and unfortunate at that age. Anyway, I guess the ordeal didn't pass me by so much as take its sweet time getting there, because I started breaking out like crazy about 6 years ago. Around my chin and mouth, I had big, ugly red bumps that were unpoppable and hurt my face. My cheeks were covered with smaller bumps with no discernible head or core - just small white bumps that were only more obvious with makeup applied on top.
Because acne usually shows up on your face, and your face is... well, what you face the world with, experiencing acne can affect your self-esteem and social life. I spent months refusing to go out (other than to work) because of my embarrassment surrounding my pimples. They were so big that I couldn't cover them with makeup, and they didn't respond to the obvious solutions. I've never been much of a socialite, but I had never been a complete shut-in for reasons of appearance before. I visited every department store, every high-end skin care boutique, hoping to find a serum or cleanser that could wash away those painful and ugly bumps.
The truth is, no one skin care regimen or treatment is going to fix everyone's acne problems. You'd never know this if you headed into a skin care section at a department store - plenty of well-meaning but ignorant Clinique saleswomen were intent on convincing me that a bar of soap and some "moisture gel" would fix my face up in a jiffy. Watching TV late one night, I was inspired to try Pro Activ, which caused me to break out in a dry, flaky rash that covered my face, neck, and scalp.
It cost me hundreds of dollars and many hours of wasted time to figure out how to eliminate my zits. Here's what I learned during my search for a solution to my acne issues. First, though, a note about what this article does NOT contain: lists of acne treatments (salicylic acid, sulfur, blah blah blah you can look that up elsewhere), an endorsement of a particular skincare line (you have to find that one for yourself), advice on how to pop a pustule (don't), or admonitions to avoid chocolate (do not avoid chocolate). This is not a complete list of ways to fix problem zits, but rather a few tips that I've picked up along my acne journey that surprised me.
There are many different kinds of acne.
There is no one solution for acne, because there are many kinds of acne. There are surface pimples that respond really well to treatments like benzol peroxide, and there are deep pimples that may require antibiotics or steroid injections. Acne rosacea appears more as a rash across cheeks and noses, and can lead to a build-up of thick skin. Nodule and cystic pimples begin far under the skin's surface, but appear as big red zits on the surface of the skin and don't generally respond to topical applications (mine did, however - read on).
When my breakouts started in my mid-twenties, I was actually suffering from three different kinds of acne: acne rosacea (which is genetic, and tends to strike people with fair skin) just below my eyes, cystic acne around my mouth and chin, and smaller, bumpy pimples on my cheeks next to my ears. It seems easy to think of all acne as simple variations of the same problem, but they really are very different, and thus require different treatments. So, if you aren't getting the results that you want from your acne treatments, you might want to consider the possibility that you are treating the wrong kind of acne.
Just because you have acne doesn't mean you have oily skin.
Surface pimples are primarily caused by clogged pores. Dirt or dead skin particles can block a pore or hair follicle, and normal skin secretions back up behind the pore, and the whole mess is then infected with bacteria. Voila! Pimples. However, a breakout of acne doesn't necessarily mean that you have insanely oily skin, even though everyone and their mother will probably start advising you to start treating your acne with harsh toners.
When I had my terrible break-outs a few years ago, I had incredibly dry skin, but because I had acne, everyone told me that I had "combination" skin. Using all the typical acne treatments only made things worse, because many pimple ointments are designed to parch your skin like the desert air. Irritated, dry skin didn't prevent pimples from forming - it made the skin around the pimples look that much worse and didn't stop my pores from clogging.
If you do have oily skin, using harsh astringents and soaps may dry your skin out (or it may make it worse as your body tries to compensate for your dry skin by increasing oil production), but it doesn't necessarily eliminate pimples. If you find that Pro Activ (very drying) works well for you, that's great, but if it doesn't, you need to consider another option.
'Natural' or holistic skin care isn't necessarily better or more effective.
Although it sounds like a great idea, a skin care line billing itself as 'natural' isn't necessarily going to give you better results than any other line of face products. Here's an example: I have thin, sensitive skin that flushes easily, so I frequently look feverish (or drunk) when I'm totally healthy (and sober). I was delighted to hear about Dr. Weil's Plantidote line of Mega-Mushroom skin care from Origins. From the Origins web site:
[Dr. Weil] believes that one of the most vexing issues facing skin’s healthy appearance is “the fire within” – a key cause of dryness, redness, hyperpigmentation, lines and wrinkles.
This is a really nice idea, but it's also a load of hooey. Logically, I understand the holistic idea behind this, but if some kind of internal imbalance with my liver or stomach is causing my skin to appear stressed, then slapping some mushroom serum on my face isn't really going to fix that. However, the idea of having radiant skin was so seductive; I spent a bundle of money on the entire package, and... well, nothing. My skin is still incredibly thin and sensitive, prone to flushing whenever I'm too hot, too cold, or enjoying a glass of red wine (this is actually a part of acne rosacea, and nothing Dr. Weil has created can even begin to address this problem).
After failing with the mushroom juice, I ventured into a holistic pharmacy, where a nice lady explained that the reason my face was breaking out was that I needed MORE oil on my face, and convinced me to try Dr. Hauschka's skin care line, which involved dousing my skin with oils in a misguided attempt to fool my skin into thinking that it didn't need to produce any more oil. There's nothing wrong with the Dr. Hauschka line, but it did absolutely nothing to solve my acne problems.
My skepticism regarding holistic and natural remedies doesn't only apply only to expensive treatments - I've had a number of friends and readers try to convince me that lavender, eucalyptus, and geranium oils are effective as spot treatment for acne, but I have yet to see any evidence of this on my face. I tried egg white masks and homemade oatmeal scrubs - nothing seemed to have any effect on my angry skin.
Chocolate is not the culprit.
It's possible that chocolate is causing your skin to be red and bumpy, but it's not likely that chocolate is to blame for any acne you might be experiencing. Food allergies can cause skin rashes, but actual acne is rarely caused by food. You can certainly be more prone to breakouts because of stress, as your skin may be more prone to bacterial infections if your immune systems is too stressed by other factors to respond to small things like a clogged pore. Acne rosacea will flare up and become more obvious when the sufferer is drinking alcohol, but rosacea is not caused by alcohol per se. So, unless you experience obvious and immediate reactions to chocolate, you can feel free to indulge as you see fit.
Don't pop that!
Yeah, yeah, trust me, I know it's hard. I'm a consummate popper - no, really, it borders on some kind of obsession for me. I know how difficult it is to keep your fingers from scratching or picking at a massive pustule on your face; hell, I have trouble not popping OTHER people's pimples. I'll see some kid at Target with massive, pulsating pustules on the bridge of his nose and it takes every ounce of my self control not to lunge across the room and start lancing the hell out of his face.
But really - the only thing you should extract from your skin are blackheads, and even then, it should be done with utmost care, clean hands, and no fingernails. Bullying your skin will only cause further damage to the skin's matrix, and that won't help cure acne in the long run.
Don't be ashamed to ask for medical help.
I didn't want to go to a dermatologist at first, because I was afraid that I would immediately be given an oral antibiotic that would be extremely harsh on my stomach (the most commonly-prescribed antibiotics just about eat a hole through my stomach lining). Frankly, I also feared having to admit that, at the age of 25, I was having trouble with acne. It seemed like such a teenager-ish problem. Having large and obvious acne was awful in and of itself, but for some reason, asking a doctor to help me fix it made me feel like I had failed to do an adequate job of taking care of myself. In addition, I felt like spending good money on seeing a doctor for someone as superficial as acne was irresponsible, especially since my insurance at the time didn't cover such non-essential visits.
The office visit and prescribed medication cost me just over $300. And it was worth EVERY BLOODY PENNY. If only I had spent that money on the dermatologist up front, I would have saved myself another thousand dollars in pricey skincare expenditures. The topical antibiotic foam that my doctor prescribed helped to control the cystic breakouts, and the prescried gel (called Metrogel, don't ask me why) obliterated the bumps covering the sides of my face. As a very last resort, I eliminated several non-essential medications one by one, and finally discovered the culprit f my cystic acne - birth control pills. I haven't taken hormonal birth control in six years, and the cystic acne problem has almost completely vanished. Hormones are a very well-known culprit in teenage acne breakouts, but for some reason, it didn't occur to me that all the extra estrogen might be contributing to my zits.
If you can afford to see a specialist about your acne, see one. If you nip this problem in the bud now, you can avoid years of problems down the road. If you don't see an improvement in your acne after a couple of months of medicating, ask your doctor to try something else. Be persistent in your requests, and don't let insecurities about the vanity of it all stop you. Having acne doesn't make you a failure, or dirty, or speak volumes about your personality. It's just a problem with your dermis, and there's no shame in that.