Becky says things about … acne

Listeners, we need to talk about acne.

If you suffer from it, I understand; now sit down and listen to Auntie Beck tell you a lovely story about her acne. If you don’t suffer from it, you are a lucky swine, but you need to listen all the same, because I bet you know at least one person with zits the size of Jupiter who could do with some empathy.

Sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin.

I had textbook teenage spots: the equilateral triangle of whiteheads on the forehead; the oily pimpular dusting on the chin; the bulbous protrusions on the temples.

It didn’t bother me that much; I was gloriously confident, and wore a lot of animal print. Then I went to a house party and some dude casually said ‘Ah, I see you’ve grown a spot since I last saw you.’

To be fair to the snivelingly rude arsehole, it was a gargantuan spot, but from then on I took acne more seriously. Happily, me taking acne more seriously coincided nicely with acne taking me more seriously, and it ventured onto my back in cheerful globular mounds, and to my chest in snug, tight little pustules. Mum took me to the doctor and I was prescribed some green gel that had three noticable characteristics: 1) it stung like hell when applied; 2) it left crispy flakes on my bedsheets; and 3) it did bugger all to clear up my acne.

So I bumbled on into my late teens, single-handedly keeping the concealer-stick industry afloat, and then at university my acne got bored and wandered off. Not completely – I was still never without a peskily determined blemish – but it took a holiday.

Then when I was about 26, my acne folded away its Hawaiian shirt, turned off the TV, put on its industrial boots and went back out to work.

Spots appeared where they had never appeared before, namely on my jawline, up my cheekbones, under my chin, on my neck. And they were angry. Painful. And so there.

No amount of foundation or concealer is going to completely conceal an acne-splattered face. You can still see Everest when it’s covered in snow, can’t you? Well, you can still see savage boils of hell on your chin when they’re slathered in expensive ‘blemish concealing’ foundation. You can see a spot particularly well just as it’s starting to crust, and your foundation forms a little moat of oily goo around the flaky peak.

Two things happen when you try to cover up spots: 1) You are constantly convinced that everyone is staring at the vicious pustule on your chin (which they may well be doing); and 2) due to your acne-prone skin being insatiably oily, by 2pm your blemish concealing foundation has slid right off your face.

The good news for acne sufferers is that there are many thousands of products you can spend your hard-earned money on that will definitely categorically 100% certainly get rid of your acne and give you perfect baby skin. The bad news for acne sufferers is that you have to purchase every single one of them to eventually find the one that actually works. The worst news for acne sufferers is that 99% of them are bollocks.

Becky’s Guide to Acne Treatments

1. Buy every single item in your local pharmacy’s acne aisle. Constantly dab at your pustules with witch hazel sticks, smother your skin in chemical-smelling gels. Result. Your spots laugh at your pathetic attempts to get rid of them, and you are £40 worse off.

2. Venture to department store skincare counters. Swoon over promises of radiant, blemish-free skin. Buy five products from the ‘acne-prone’ range. Follow a complex 17-stage cleansing, exfoliating, toning and moisturising regime twice a day. Result. Your skin looks like it’s been doused in paint stripper, your spots shake their pus-filled heads in amusement, your productivity levels plummet because you are spending four hours a day removing various products from your face in small delicate circular movements, and you are £160 worse off.

3. Go for the highly-advertised cures (only available online), which are backed up by science and research. You receive a clinical gift box of scientific unguents containing all the seriously-named chemicals that are clinically proven to obliterate your acne, like hydrational hydrabollockychlorzine acid or badgerzhoric A12. The clinical gift box comes with an informative booklet telling you that, in addition to the science that you have just sold all your jewlerry to purchase, you should eat lots of fruit and veg and drink 497 pints of water a day to cure your acne. Result. After three days of using the highly-advertised scientific cure, your acne looks slightly better. You tearfully rejoice at the miracle of science for ending your carbuncled misery. On the fourth day, you have 13 extra spots, your skin looks like it’s been sandpapered by a bad-tempered wilderbeast, and you are £90 worse off.

4. Resort to home remedies. Study ’17 home remedies that WILL cure your spots!’ on the Interweb, and scrub at your skin with cider vinegar, lemon juice, lavender oil and turmeric whilst quietly weeping. Result. A turmeric face pack leaves you looking dangerously jaundiced for at least a week, your bathroom is in a right state, and your spots are finding it all hilarious.

Listener, I tried them all. When I found myself following instructions for a sweetcorn and angel tear face pack I decided enough was enough and went to my GP.

And I was unfathomably lucky: despite my acne not being comparable to some of the cases that some poor souls suffer, my GP understood that it was affecting my life, and prescribed me isotretinoin (also known as roaccutane or accutane). I had never heard of it. I had thought the only last option available to me was lasering my skin off in an exclusive Harley Street clinic and living the rest of my days inside a rubber giraffe mask.

Now, isotretinoin is no walk in the park. I had to have blood tests to make sure I was physically well enough to start it, and it comes with a whole heap of fun side effects, like incredibly dry skin, sore lips, joint pain, dizziness. Within a month of being on the drug my lips felt like they would blow off in a sudden gust of wind, and my skin was feeling decidedly dry and shrivelled.

For the first time in my life I was buying moisturiser for very dry skin and slapping it on my face so that I resembled a seal caught in an oil slick. But, gradually, old spots faded, and new ones didn’t materialise. I couldn’t believe it. I can’t believe it. I took my last pill nearly four months ago, and right now the only really visible blemish on my face is a red mark on my forehead which is the result of a poorly-aimed eyebrow scratch.

There is no sugar-coating acne. It is rubbish. You can spend all day listening to fluffy platitudes that ‘you are beautiful no matter what’, but you can pretty much guarantee that the producer of those platitudes has never had to deal with a crusty, seeping Eighth Wonder of the World in the middle of their forehead. If you have acne, it is a daily battle.

And it’s easy for me to say ‘Go ahead, try isotretinoin’  as one of the lucky ones who has had a success story; but, like a smug ex-smoker, there’s always a chance that my acne abstinence will break and those devilish little swines will creep back onto my face again. But if you haven’t tried it, give it a go. It might just be that one thing that works for you. It’s surely better than spending a third of your life exfoliating your skin with the sap of an ancient Babylonian mountain plant (only available online).

And whatever you do, don’t try the turmeric face pack. Trust me.

29 thoughts on “Becky says things about … acne

  1. Doxycycline is also brilliant for acne. I spent most of my teenage years taking it on GP advice. No blood tests needed and no side effects either. Worth a shot anyway!

    1. The moral of the story being that it’s best to get medical advice rather than needlessly spending hundreds of pounds on cosmetics that do nothing!
      Thanks for reading! 🙂

  2. So glad its improved for you Becky. I don’t have acne but I’ve had periods since my teenage years where my face suddenly becomes allergic to *everything*. I look like I’ve been punched in both eyes, that my collagen lip fillers have gone seriously awry, and that the top layer of my skin is making a desperate bid for escape from the angry firey redness beneath, so I can relate! Things are OK at the moment but like you, I’m aware it could all start up again. Fingers crossed it lasts for both us! And I’ll stay well away from turmeric facepacks….

    1. Wow, isn’t skin a savage beast?? Particularly when it acts on its own accord for seemingly NO good reason. Definitely fingers crossed that things remain okay for both of us! Otherwise I’ll dig out that giraffe mask….. 🙂
      Thanks for reading!

  3. Hahaha, girl, I just love you and your little stick figures. So great. I had acne as a teen and it sucked balls. Thankfully, it was just on my face and not my torso or anywhere else so I could just wear a bag over my head and be good to go. I used accutane to slay my beast as well. I remember the blood tests and the side effects you mentioned! The packets had a pregnant woman on them with a red circle around her and a line through it. I guess being pregnant wasn’t recommended or something. Anyway, I feel your pain. Kudos girl! I’m sure you’re lovely with or without your face blemishes or giraffe mask.

    1. A fellow accutanist! Woo hoo! Yep, I had to sign all sorts of pregnancy disclaimers saying I wasn’t going to get pregnant whilst on the drug, and that if I did get pregnant I wouldn’t blame the hospital if the drugs harmed my unborn child – which apparently it categorically does do. For a drug that’s mostly a high concentration of vitamin A it doesn’t half pack a punch!
      Thanks so much for the lovely comment my love! 🙂

  4. Glad you SPOTTED the problem and are now without blemish, pustule and can zit off into the future without a stain or blocked pore. Love you any way

  5. I always felt sorry for my friends with bad skin. Mine is moderately bad AND has freckles! Even now, at a half century, those things show up. And I cry!

  6. I love seeing when you have a new post up, always brightens my day 🙂

    I don’t have bad acne, but I generally have at least one spot, usually on my chin or cheek. It’s not the end of the world, but on the rare days when I have no spots I miss it because I’m so used to them being there I just assume they are.

    1. Well, when you have just the one spot you can always give it a name, like Steve, or Linda. I wouldn’t miss the days when you have no spots!
      Thank you for your lovely comment! 🙂

  7. In answer to your question, why yes, I believe you CAN still see Everest even when it’s covered in snow. Your witty analogy for a pimple covered in concealer was all the funnier for the innocent way you delivered it.

    I remember those days – specifically, I remember trying clothes on in Sportsgirl in my lunch break, and being horrified to see a huge pimple in the mirror, which I immediately couldn’t resist squeezing, of course it started bleeding, and I couldn’t make it stop, and finally had to go back out into the store, and then back to my job (as a sales assistant), with a huge pimple on my forehead that was bleeding. It seems halarious now but it wasn’t at the time!

  8. ACNE is the the gift parents have for making teenagers understand the agony they bring to our lives…I’m kidding! ACNE is the kind of thing you wish on your mortal enemy…I’m kidding. Jeez, tough crowd.

    ACNE is horrible and robs teenagers and other young adults of their confidence and in severe cases, of their will to live. Case in point. I also used that exact same product that makes your lips feel like there’s not enough moisturizer on earth. And it worked, and I now have near perfect skin. I say near perfect skin because it’s ruined by wrinkles.

    I guess that’s the next phase of my life.

    1. Hah, soooo true!! The worst part about adult acne was having acne NEXT TO THE WRINKLES!! Now the acne is gone the wrinkles are SO MUCH MORE THERE!!
      Acne is a rubbish thing to live with. Glad you’re another accutane success story! It’s powerful stuff! 🙂

  9. The latest miracle cure around here is Rodan and Fields. I don’t really know if it’s safe. Of course they say it is, but is it? I don’t sell it and this is not an endorsement …

  10. How did I miss this post! As the canvas for 50 MILLION spots at any one time (according to 13 year old Tess), I feel your pain. It’s only when I hit my 30s that they seem to have more or less fecked off. Although I still get the odd dock-off one popping up every now and again to remind me that I’ll probably still be a slave to the concealer when I’m claiming my pension.

    1. Yes, the old acne of doom. Horrid business. It certainly felt like I had 50 MILLION spots at any one time, which started to become irritating when they were popping up alongside emerging wrinkles…

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