Getting Rid of Acne

By Andrea Karim on 4 January 2009 (Updated 16 June 2010) 36 comments
Photo: made a point

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).

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW

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.

 

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Myscha Theriault's picture

This is a fantastic service article, Andrea. I still have problems from time to time, but back in the day when I had horrific acne, I would have LOVED to know that there were multiple kinds of acne, and as such different treatments for each. I'm sure this will help a TON of people.

Guest's picture
BT

I started having acne problems only once I was well into my 20s. I'm 30 now and still struggle. I've never been to a dermatologist, but may go soon based on your suggestions!

I've been on birth control pills since 19, and never even considered them to be the culprit! I've had my GYN suggest to mess with my prescription several times because she couldn't figure out why I was breaking out so bad on pills that were 'supposed' to clear up acne. I'd also been told by several doctors that your body goes through a huge hormone surge in your mid-late 20s that is just as bad (or worse) as puberty. Kind of your body saying "hello, I'm ready to make babies now....for REAL!"

I also know that my issues have a lot to do with genes as well. Both of my parents, even now in their 60s have problems with constant breakouts!

As soon as my new health insurance kicks in next month, I'll be looking into visiting a dermatologist as well as trying to find a different/convenient method of contraception!

Guest's picture
ecochic

I agree with Myscha - I really wish I had had this knowledge years ago! My two cents: after years of wasted money and frazzled skin, I've come to depend on tea tree oil to kill the bacteria that causes both my cystic and nodule breakouts. That and witch hazel are the only treatments I need. Of course, I never skip cleansing and using an oil-free, cell-turnover-increasing moisturizer. All I can say is that this routine works for me. :)

Guest's picture
Bijan's mom

Stories like these really touch my heart, and in a sad way, I am sorry to say. I suffered with horrific cystic acne from the time I was 12. My family was only able to afford over-the-counter treatments (Clearasil, any one? Tar soap?) I can honestly say to this day that the poor decisions I made as a teenager (drugs, alcohol, bad boyfriends), were solely based on my incredibly low self-esteem due to my skin condition, this is no exaggeration. I beg anyone with teenagers who have severe skin problems, do not waste any time, get them the medical help they need. I still had heavy acne, not to mention scars, into my mid thirties. I finally saw a dermatologist who attacked my problems with the heavy artillary (Accutane, steroids, laser) and after a lot of time and money, I finally felt like I could face the world without the world wondering why I didn't do something about the sores on my face. A lot of time wasted, that is for sure. Don't waste your time like I did. Sorry for the long rant, but this is something I feel strongly about. If you need help, get it now.

Guest's picture
Kathryn

Interestingly, I've suffered from moderate acne from an early age, and it actually did clear up (as advertised) while I was taking Ortho Tricylen.

I then switched to the the birth control patch and things stayed pretty clear. But shortly thereafter I had an "adverse medical event" (read: blood clots and pulmonary embolism) that has put me on the black list for ever taking hormonal BC of any form ever again. As soon as I stopped taking hormonal BC, my acne flared up with a VENGEANCE. That was a couple years ago, and it's settled down a little, but it's still there.

So the moral of the story is--hormones are definitely a factor, but for some women, going on BC (and specifically ortho tricyclen or its generic) or switching formulations may help (the different types/regimines of synthetic estrogens and progestins can make a difference in your response).

Guest's picture
Mary

I've had acne since I was about 11 (so, for about 12 years), and have tried a myriad of different treatments. For me, the most vital concepts in fighting acne are
1) follow treatment instructions to the letter
2) stop touching affected areas and picking (this is REALLY hard)
3) know how and when to experiment with different treatments, and how long you should continue a treatment before you judge its overall efficacy

When I was in my early years of severe cystic acne, I was quite young and didn't follow the directions for Retin-A as I should have (primarily, "allow skin to dry for 30 minutes before applying the gel"). My skin became extremely raw, and the pain was exacerbated by my other prescribed topical medication (benzoyl peroxide, which dries out skin). It was very red and painful, and swimming in the salty ocean on a beach vacation was probably the most physically painful event of my life. I gave up the Retin-a, but about a year ago my doctor prescribed it as part of regimen and I gave it another shot after talking to my doctor about my use of it in the past. It hasn't been a miracle treatment, but I have found it works pretty well when used properly.

Guest's picture
Mr.Arf!Arf!

I had really bad acne thru part of high school. Then i got rid of it. Only had to do 2 things!

1. Stop, (or make an effort to reduce as much as you can/are willing to) eating sugar, white flour, and high fructose corn syrup.

2. Take zinc supplements. Seriously. Google acne and zinc. It totally worked for me.

If your not sure about #1. do a reverse test, wait till your acne is not so bad, then eat a ton of candy/cake/coke and wait 24 hours. You should see the difference.

Best of luck!

Andrea Karim's picture

I keep forgetting that birth control is occasionally prescribed to clear up acne! People are always shocked when I tell them that birth control caused mine - but it didn't cause mild acne vulgaris. It either caused, or contributed to, painful cystic acne. Who knows - it might have been birth control in combination with other medicines that caused the acne, rather than birth control on its own.

Although this isn't directly on-topic, I should mention that birth control also gave me massive mood swings. I was suffering from constant depression, crying jags, and anger control issues until I quit taking birth control. I felt like a new person once I was off of it. I know it does great things for a lot of women, including reducing cramps and acne, but for me, it was a horrible experience. This doesn't necessarily mean that it's the culprit for other people, though - it just happened to be the case for me.

Tea tree oil! That was the other one - again, another natural remedy that does nothing for my breakouts. I'm glad that some people find a cure in it, though, but for me, it didn't do a thing.

I don't believe that refined sugars are enough to cause acne in and of themselves. They might contribute to conditions that allow it to occur. My diet has never been high in refined sugar, as I'm diabetic, and yet I broke out like crazy.

Guest's picture
Jak

The last place people should get acne help is at the store counter, these people work on commission, stay away.
I suffered for many years with serious acne too and thank God I finally found good scientific info at cosmeticscop.com. You can also get the cosmetic review books by Paula Begoun on what products to avoid, surprisingly a lot of products meant for acne actually will make it worse.

Guest's picture
JenN

Paula Begoun's book "Don't go to the cosmetics counter without me" (or maybe it's makeup counter) is great for getting facts about several different kinds of skin conditions and reviews of thousands of products and whether they do what they claim.

Guest's picture
Beth

I too started having problems with my skin once I hit my mid-twenties. I tried a lot of things, but I found that alternative medicine was the only thing that helped.

However, I completely agree with the point that grabbing a product off the shelf (holistic or not) is bound to met with disaster. It's hit and miss, and the misses get to be expensive. In my case, I went to see a practitioner (a fully qualified and licensed one -- I did some research before I went).

She helped me identify specific triggers (allergies and food intolerances that I didn't know I had) and recommended treatment. I now use natural products that are better for the environment and less toxic for me.

While this worked for me, I know it's not for everyone. I totally agree that people should see a specialist -- whether it's a dermatologist or alternative practitioner -- to get the right course of treatment. It saves a lot of time and money.

Guest's picture
Marisa

Thanks, Andrea - this is a great article! I had a similar experience, and was really really embarrassed about getting treatment for it in my late 20s when it became a problem. I'd tried pretty much everything mentioned above before I finally overcame my embarrassment (and unease about taking medication for something that seemed vain and trivial).

I had no luck with antibiotics (and hated taking them, anyway), but I switched doctors and my new dermatologist prescribed Spironolactone for me. It's only an option for women, as it (among other things) interferes with androgen (a male hormone). However, for me, it's been a miracle drug.

My point, I guess, is that different things work for different people, but that it totally and completely worth it to look, and keep looking. If I had just continued to treat my acne topically, I would have continued to have major problems. I look - and feel! - so much better now that my face isn't distorted by gigantic cystic acne.

Guest's picture
Juliette

Great post! No singular practice or purchase solved the problem I had with my skin.

It's been a year since my skin really cleared up and I found that changing to a less stressful job, using a mineral-based makeup with a built-in sunscreen (bought at a boutique), washing my face with a gentle product only twice a day, skipping toner completely, using a good quality moisturizer (bought at Target, a Johnson and Johnson product), and spot treating the areas really helped. Washing my face before I worked out also helped, even after I switched to good quality makeup.

Surprisingly, I believe it really helped when I stopped exfoliating daily. I know there's this rumor that acne is caused by dead skin sloughing off and clogging pours, but that clearly wasn't my problem. I rarely exfoliate now, letting that "dead" layer protect my sensitive skin from the windy, dry climate of the Intermountain West.

Plenty have said "don't pick" the pimples. But we do it anyway. It's totally illogical, so if you're going to do it, be smart about it: Wash your hands, wash your face and prep the area to be picked with a warm washcloth or chamomile tea bag, the heat of which will bring the gunk closer to the surface. Then push on either side, gently, avoiding nails and other devices. When you see the gunk, wipe it away and leave it alone. If you can't stop then, you'll only bleed, and that's just a way to convert your blemish into a wound. So stop when you see the gunk, and place the warm washcloth or whatever back on top of the blemish for a minute or so.

Someone else posted about their success with tea tree oil, and I agree. It's far better than Seabreeze. As for diet, I saw no benefit from avoiding sugar, which I tended to do anyway, or white flour (I'm a wholegrains girl on most things), but I did notice that drinking water was really helpful (and cheap!).

One more thing: I deeply regret I spent nearly 10 years in a very public profession battling my complexion so awkwardly. I wish I'd just gotten over my insane idea that going to the dermatologist was arrogant. Not going was a way of reinforcing for me that I didn't deserve to be pretty. So if you haven't solved the problem on your own in a few months, go see someone. Afterall, your OTC remedies and old wives tales might actually be part of the problem (but stop exfoliating and see if that helps at all :) first!).

Andrea Karim's picture

Hi, Juliette. That's so funny about exfoliating - it's one of the only things that prevents me from breaking out in smaller acne. It just goes to show that there's a different solution for everyone!

Valid point about picking - one of my only New Year's resolutions is not to do that anymore, or at least to severely limit my poking and prodding.

Guest's picture
Alpha Raye

Great article. :)

I have personally found one of the most effective things for my acne to be washing my face with baking soda, and nothing else. I do use some anti-acne lotion but I have given up on expensive cleansers.

I spent years as well trying to find something, mostly grocery store attempts, I refuse to go to a Clinque counter. My acne has never been bad enough but I have only found one thing that works as well and that's a $10 a tube Clearasil Ultra... and I have become cheap!

[much in part thanks to wisebread!]

So, I tried the baking soda suggested by alot of people, and I am blessed enough, that it works most of the time.
I still have breakouts here and there... but not as bad!

Guest's picture
Guest

I really didn't have much acne as a teenager but in my twenties I began having pimples show up on my chin. Took me a while to figure out....the cause was coming from my office telephone. I would hold it in the crock of my neck while I was typing. The mouth piece of the phone was touching my chin. Started cleaning my phone mouthpiece more often and it cleared up.

Guest's picture
deepikaur

Great article! Pro Activ actually worked for me, but my skin began to dry out, so I resorted to using it only twice a week.

I actually blogged about a solution to this today over at my blog. Drinking a glass of lukewarm water with a few drops of lemon in it every morning (have to keep consistent) will reduce acne TREMENDOUSLY. Very cheap remedy. Also has numerous other benefits I discuss in my post.

Also, drink plenty of water and keep active. Move out and about, get some fresh air, and keep your hands clean. It's also essential to get enough sleep.

Guest's picture
Kelly

I've tried everything over three decades, and nothing worked. (Well, I didn't do Accutane.) Finally a young dermatologist told me about an off-label use for a diuretic that was having some success with some patients with deep, cystic acne. Tried it. Loved it. Can't live without it. It's spironolactone. It doesn't cause weight loss/gain. It will affect mood swings if you don't take it regularly. To me, it's a miracle, and I'll never live without it again. 50 mg a day (half in morning, half at night).

Guest's picture
Guest

Many people are unaware how often they rest their chins in their hand. Germs on hands transfer to chin. Also, the compression factor must be considered, i.e., pressure of head on hand can contribute to clogged pores.

Another thing, and this won't be everyone's cup of tea (but don't shoot the messenger!), Louise Hay's book, Heal Your Body, lists a cause for pimples as "little bursts of anger." The solution is to try for more serenity in one's life. This is touched on by Andrea when she noted, 'nothing seemed to have any effect on my angry skin.' Many people are now acknowledging that one's skin is a reflection of one's emotional state.

'The mind-skin connection makes all the sense in the world to Shelley Sekula-Gibbs, MD, clinical assistant professor of dermatology at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston.

[During development in the womb], the brain and skin are derived from the same cells, so there is a connection," she says. "And the other immediate relationship is that when people experience stress in life, quite frequently, their skin becomes a reflection of the stresses."'
http://www.webmd.com/skin-problems-and-treatments/acne/features/effects-...

"Psychodermatology is a field that addresses the impact of an individual's emotion as it relates to the skin," says Karen Mallin, PsyD, an instructor in the departments of psychiatry & behavioral sciences and dermatology & cutaneous surgery of the University of Miami/Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami.
http://www.medicinenet.com/script/main/art.asp?articlekey=52328

Guest's picture
Jessica

More suggestions from an adult-onset acne sufferer:

I found that clearing up my acne required a multi-pronged approach. The things that are working for me:

1. visiting a kinesiologist to get a personal evaluation of food intolerances, followed by dietary changes

2. Elemis tri-enzyme resurfacing regimen

3. exercise

Prescriptives oil-control lotion and toner also seem to be working for me, and they are less expensive than Elemis. If you want to try Elemis, look on e-Bay for more reasonable prices.

It took me well over a year of prodding to drag myself to the kinesiologist, but it has been well worth it - this has made the single biggest difference to my skin.

Unsuccessful approaches over the years have included: visits to multiple dermatologists, antibiotics, prescription topical creams/washes, various over-the-counter remedies (from cheap to expensive - I too got excited about Dr. Weil's mushroom stuff, and it ended up in the trash), etc.

Also, I am finding that the Elemis facials are great, and before moving to a different city, I found that microdermabrasion was very good. After the move I tried a different person for microdermabrasion and ended up with the worst acne I have ever had - so be careful which skincare professionals you use.

Good luck.

Guest's picture
Guest

I never had acne until I turned 24. First my face, then chest and back. Luckily, I found a good dermatologist right away.

It was stress. Stress from my job and from being an overall "people-pleaser".

Not anymore...the word NO is becoming a part of my regular vocabulary and I'm learning not to feel bad about it.

Guest's picture
Margaret

The problem with chocolate is not the food itself but the fact that it contains caffeine, which can aggravate acne for some people.

Guest's picture
Louise

My number one tip for healthy skin is: drink lots of water.

Sometimes, that's not enough. When I was younger and had break-outs, someone told me of a low-cost way of dealing with them and I stopped buying all those expensive creams and cleaners after that.

Aspirin masks.

Get uncoated generic aspirin, put a few pills in your palm, a few drops of water, and rub your hands together to dissolve the pills into a paste. Apply that to your face in the acne-prone spots, leave for a minute or two, and then just wash off.

It leaves my skin feeling soft and clean.

Guest's picture
Guest

Thanks for pointing out that there are different kinds of acne, and that no solution works for everyone. As someone who has dealt with acne for eight years (since I was sixteen), it killed me to hear "You just need pro-activ/Dan's acne cure/to eat only apples/accutane/etc."

My advice: go to your dermatologist. Go every two or three months until things are fixed, and then continue going to make sure everything stays that way. This is what dermatologists do! It's their job! They know about all the latest treatments, and what has worked for similar patients, and the kind of moisturizer that will help when your skin goes through that initial dry-out phase.

I can't say how much of my life was wasted because I was so ashamed of how I looked, and I wish that I could go back in time and tell myself this.

What has finally worked for me: cetaphil face wash, dermalogica moisturizer, retin-a, and benzaclin. Your mileage will vary.

Guest's picture

Great article! It's good for people to know that there are different types of acne so that they can treat the type of acne they actually have.

Guest's picture
Ggrrl

I was one of the clear skin teenagers who grew massive zits in my mid to late 20s. I spent substantial amounts of money on every promising system - Murad, ProActiv, expensive boutique brand systems. They usually worked for a couple of weeks and then added other odd problems, like dryness and redness to my existing ones.

I finally went to a dermatologist two years ago. I now wash and moisterize with Cetaphil, a drugstore brand, and use Differin cream, which costs about $15 per month. The most expensive part of my new and completely effective skin care regimen was throwing out all of the $28 bottles of cleansers, toners and moisterizers that didn't work!

Get a referral to a good dermatological doctor. If you can't afford it, see if any local medical schools will let you be a test patient for a supervised medical student.

Andrea Karim's picture

I wish that Cetaphil worked for me. I bought a huge bottle of it on the doctor's recommendation, but I might as well be washing with a bottle of hand lotion. It never removed any dirt or make-up, and my skin just felt greasy afterwards. I have heard from a number of people saying that it's a great find, though, so I'm glad it's so affordable.

Guest's picture
Malcom Reynolds

Miss you Andrea. I look forward to your posts...

Guest's picture
Gina K

After years of trying various things, the thing that worked the best for me was neosporine. Yes I know it's rather greasy looking, but I put it on overnight on the offending zit (just a small bit) and by the morning it is half (if not almost entirely) gone. I know I could go to a doc and get some prescription that would do the same thing- at quite a cost, but this one has worked for me so well, why mess with it? I also only exfoliate once a week and wash with mild soap once at the end of each day. But then again this it the regimen that works for my skin. I spent too much time and money on products that made my sensitive skin look and feel worse. I also don't wear makeup unless I'm going to a club or for an interview. I'm of the opinion that Makeup clogs the pores, natural or not can harbor bacteria, and can make your skin worse. In the end perhaps it's genetics or luck but I'm 31 and my face looks 25, sans expensive products and procedures.

Guest's picture
Guest

It is sometime since the post but I'm just discovering this wonderful article. I'm 50 and having breakouts that I never had as a teenager or in my 20s. It is cystic acne around my chin and under my nose. This started about 2-3 years ago and just terrible huge pimples with no heads and did it ever hurt. I am also a compulsive picker (lol) that has to restrain herself. Mainly because my teen year issues were blackheads. The pain is was always making me mess with the acne just to get some relief. I felt I was starting menopause and this was worse every month with my cycle or even if I didn't have my cycle. The Dermatologist was the only one who really took that part seriously and was going to test my hormones. I am glad that I didn't mess around with my OB/GYN or Regular Doc since they gave me the same old song and dance about acne.

I'm so glad to see that others have had some of the same experiences. My teenage son started breaking out by the time he was 9 or 10. Nothing helped him from over the counter. My Ex insisted that he try the Pro-Active before I took him to the Dermatologist. It helped some but dried out his face and was not consistent with the results. He had to take the strong medication (I'm not good with medication names) for six months but it worked wonders on his skin and he has had very little problem since. He has almost no scaring since I pushed to get him in there and treated.

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noam

come see what i found about getting rid of pimples theres so much info here on how to rid pimples

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Nikki

aveeno clear complexion soap/ cetaphil daily cleanser
witch hazel toner/astrigent
aveeno moisturizer & or plus aveeno positively radiant serum
aveeno /cetaphil sunscreen

ALL DAILY...GREAT FOR ACNE AND DISCOLORATIONS, esp. for African Americans like myself

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Mary

You could have been writing about me in this article... same late-onset, same struggles with various over-the-counter remedies, the hesitation and shame to see a dermatologist over what I perceived to be a vanity issue... I just hope my story has the same happy ending! Unfortunately I am having little luck even with the various antibiotics and medicinal creams my derm has put me on. But she plans to start me on Accutane this Friday. I'm dreading it, but wish me luck!

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Guest

Good article. I didn't have acne until I was in my early 20s and sometimes it got bad (BTW I'm 41 years old). I spent hundreds if not thousands of dollars on prescription and over the counter medicine. I've been pretty much acne free since September 2008. As others have said, tea tree oil really helped. My other suggestions would be to get a non-irritating cleanser with 0.5% salicylic acid and use an oil free sunscreen during the day (if you are female and wear make-up, make sure nothing you put on your face will clog your pores). The one thing that ultimately stopped the breakouts was that I stopped eating any dairy products. I don't know why this helped so much but it did. Not eating dairy is a small price to pay for having clear skin and not having to spend money on expensive acne treatments.

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Guest

This article is very reassuring in that I am suffering now with horrible cystic acne, and for the last 2 months I have felt so embarassed, and miserable. This article makes me realize that there are other's who know exactly what I am going through, and even though I feel alone in this, I am not. The only thing that was discouraging for me is that I have not been on BC since my early 20s and I am now 30. I have been seeing a dermatologist for months, and it's gotten worse. I've had steroid injections, been on a strong antibiotic that I ended up forming an allergy to, and all topical agents (benzeclin, adapalene, clyndamicin) seem to make it worse as well. I then tried the hollistic route, and did a 10 day cleans which I knew I didn't need bc my metabolism is great, and I'm very healthy and in shape. I then gave up dairy and switched to soy (giving up cheese which I love) and it's been a month of that. I do drink a glass of red wine in the evenings and was looking up if that could be effecting my acne when I came across this article. I am a wife, and a mother of the most beautiful angel who is not even two yet. My husband's been deployed for 6 months, and my acne is causing me to be really down, which I can't afford bc I want to be happy with my baby. I have had drs imply that it could be an intestine issue, or a gynocology issue (acc. to hollistics and Asian medicine) and made to feel like it's me. I have never felt so badly about myself and feel completely lost on what to do next. I've resorted to using ProActiv again just bc I am desperate and used it when I was younger for mild acne. I would love to know the topical medication that helped with the cystic acne? Any suggestions?

Andrea Karim's picture

The medication that I was prescribed was clyndamicin - a topical foam. Combined with stopping my birth control pills, it was effective treatment. I'm afraid that I can't offer medical advice, since I'm not remotely close to qualified to do so. I do know that red wine can exacerbate some types of acne, but I have never heard of it contributing to cystic acne.

You say you've taken cortisone shots for it already?