My Journey With Acne: From Chronic Breakouts To Clear Canvas

For pretty much all of 2018, my skin looked like the above image.

I’ve dealt with bouts of acne here and there. Sometimes my skin had massive breakouts, but in a few months time, it usually cleared up with better lifestyle habits and the occasional tube of Tretinoin (a retinoid).

After a year, I skipped the Tretinoin, and left my skin to a regular routine of cleansing and moisturizing, which was enough to keep my skin clear for 2 years. But in 2018, something was off. One night, after I made the worst possible mistake of sleeping in my makeup after a Halloween night out, I broke out like crazy the following week.

I thought the breakouts would stop after a few months of regular face washing, but nah. My skin said I ain’t taking orders from nobody, and decided to go to town on my face. I had terrible acne like this for over a YEAR.

Here’s a laundry list of things I did to try and cure my acne:

  • I did a 3 month sugar cleanse
  • I used Frankincense and Lavender essential oil on my skin as a spot treater (what in the hell was I thinking)
  • I abolished anything with parabens, phenoxyethanol, and dimethicone from my routine
  • I only used organic and natural skincare
  • I only drank oat or almond milk
  • I’d splash cold water on my face mid-day to reduce oiliness and didn’t follow up with moisturizer
  • I’d skip moisturizer some days
  • I listened to smooth-skinned, holistic-living beauty gurus for skincare advice

None of it worked.

When I tell you guys that I was unhappy, I was miserable. Which I know sounds dramatic as heck, but trust me, when you’re used to clear skin and all of a sudden get uncontrollable breakouts, it feels like a hopeless problem with no solution (even though there always is). My acne got so bad that I barely wanted to go outside. I didn’t want to workout. I left work happy hours early. I caked on makeup to cover as much as I could (shout out to Fenty Beauty for doing the best job tbh). I just felt ugly and gross and wanted to scrape the acne off my face.

My family told me to be pragmatic and just schedule an appointment with my doctor. I did so after much resistance to “chemical” intervention (eye-roll). My primary care physician prescribed me Clindamycin to use on my pimples, then Tretinoin, which I’d used before, on my scars.

My skin FREAKED out. For a month and a half, large red pimples took over my face. I was doing a musical at the time, and it easily took me 30 minutes to do my makeup, and on top of that, it was painful to even put makeup on because of how enlarged and red the pimples were. I thought I was back to square one with my skin and dreaded doing shows every weekend.

That’s when I stumbled upon Dr. Dray on YouTube.

If you don’t know who Dr. Dray is, she’s a board-certified dermatologist who creates videos about pretty much anything related to skin: acne, melasma, eczema, aging, milia, every single skin condition under the moon. She’s not your run-of-the-mill beauty blogger with engaging intros, twinkly lights, and fancy jump cuts telling you to stop eating soy and use Miranda Kerr’s skincare line. She’s specialized in the knowledge she provides and is pretty dry, matter-of-fact and straight to the point.

The first video I watched of hers was called “10 reasons why you are breaking out”

In summary, these were the 10 things:

1) Trying too much products too frequently

2) Choosing an as needed spot treatment approach to the acne

3) Cosmetics & fragrance/essential oils in skin care and Haircare products

4) Sharing makeup brushes

5) Forgetting to take off/wash off makeup & sunscreen before bed

6) Washing your face too frequently or throughout the day

7) Using products that are too drying for the face

8) Scrubbing the face

9) Not showering sweat off after a workout

10) Do not squeeze your face/pop the pimple!

…I was doing 7 out of 10 of these things.

I poured into her videos. I watched dozens of them at a time, they were my nightly dinner ‘edutainment’. In one her videos on Retinoids, she said that while this drug is successful at cell turnover for anti-aging and acne, it must be used with caution because it’s incredibly drying and irritating to new users. She also said that if you stop using it, the acne may very well come back. Bam. That’s the mistake I was making.

Not only was I not moisturizing properly, I was using the Tretinoin alongside Clindamycin, another irritating medication. The massive breakouts were a result of “purging”, which is basically your skin’s reaction to the fast rate of cell turnover. The fast turnover sloughs off dead skin cells, which leads to peeling, which in turn clogs your pores. After realizing that I either didn’t listen to my physician, or should have just gone to an actual dermatologist (no shade to my Doctor she’s great lol), I decided to only use the Clindamycin until I finished it. I spread it over my acne, and even my acne prone areas, as Dr. Dray recommends in the first video I mentioned.

Within a month, my skin got SIGNIFICANTLY better.

After I finished the Clindamycin, I continued using the Tretinnoin and have been using it since 2018, never skipped a tube. It’s pretty much been the key to keeping my skin mostly clear. I get the occasional pimple here and there or mild breakout on my chin before my cycle, but the persistent acne has stopped. I’ve even reduced my use of the Tretinoin to only 4 times a week as opposed to everyday, and my skin has stayed happy.

From there, I’ve added things to improve hyperpigmentation and the texture of my skin. I think of skincare as a whiteboard. Wipe the marker off with an eraser to keep it clean, but if you want to have a squeaky clean, shiny whiteboard, then you can invest in some sprays and wipes to give it that appearance.

As of 2020, this is what my skin looks like:

DISCLAIMER: I am wearing tinted spf, which isn’t really heavy coverage, but just to disclose that this is not a 100% bare face. But other than that, this is from my iPhone camera, no filters!

Here’s a laundry list of things I did/still do to clear my acne:

  • I consulted my doctor and got over my fear of “chemicals” because literally everything is a chemical
  • I use medication and ingredients that have scientific backing in acne treatment
  • I found the acne treatment that works for my skin and committed to using it long-term instead of bailing on it within 2 weeks
  • I stopped listening to “natural only” Beauty vloggers for skincare advice and opted for board-certified dermatologists and esthetician vloggers instead
  • I simplified my skincare routine
  • I avoid skincare with essential oils
  • I continue to be mindful of excessive sugar and oily foods in my diet
  • I try to get at least 8 hours of sleep every night
  • I clean my pillowcases and bedsheets every week
  • I try avoid skincare with a lot of fragrance
  • I use SPF religiously
  • I use hydrating moisturizers religiously

I’m no skin guru and I’m definitely no match for Hyram, Susan Yara, or Liah Yoo when it comes to skin-fluencing. But I could talk about this all day. So if you’re interested in what I use to keep my canvas looking smooth, follow along 😉

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