Tuesday, March 1, 2011

My Face vs My Hair

I've been saying for months now that I was going to talk about my battle with adult acne.  So sorry it has taken so long.  It's one of those problems I don't want to admit I have but that a lot of adult women go through.  I'll take you all through my battle with me so you can see what I have learned and done to help myself.

I had mild acne as a teen. Nothing that some Oxy 10, and some Stridex pads could not treat.  In college around my sophomore year I had a bout of severe acne, probably driven in part by stress, and it drove me to see a dermatologist.  I had breakouts on my forehead and cheeks that would not go away with regular topical treatment.  I was 19 then so I didn't know much about doctors or treatments so when I was prescribed a twice daily antibiotic to take, I just tried to take it as ordered.  It made me sooooo sick!  I was supposed to eat when I took it but I always wanted to vomit within a half hour of taking the pills.  I stopped taking them out of necessity and instead only used the accompanying topical antibiotic.  I didn't tell the doctor or go back there again and my skin eventually became manageable again with topical treatments.  Those included Cetaphil soap and tea tree oil- recommendations from my mom.

A few years later, out of school and on my own health insurance, my skin had started to have more breakouts than clear days and I again went to a dermatologist for that and a few other reasons.  That doctor said I only had mild acne and prescribed Differen Gel.  She also told me that I have severe hyper-pigmentation due to my complexion and was not a good candidate for laser hair removal. (remember this for later!)

I took Differen gel for years.  That stuff was $60/ tube- with insurance! It kept my skin at bay for about 5 years through most of my 20s.  I stopped taking it occasionally when my prescriptions would run out or when I would run out of money for it.  Each tube lasted for 3-5 months.  In early 2008 I had ceased using it for about 6 months, and my skin was acting up.  On a regular annual physical visit I asked for a new prescription and it was granted with the note "Acne" as her one unhealthy remark.  THIS time, it did not work.  Not only did it not work, my skin got worse and worse.
Eventually I stopped using any drugs and tried re-setting my skin.  I used Tea tree oil and oil of Olay.  Then I used natural astringents, blemish sticks, alcohol, and even the evil proactive, (both formulas!) over the course of the next year and a half.  Nothing worked and my skin got yet worse.  My self confidence began to crumble and I complained incessantly to my boyfriend.  I saw my mom for the holidays and she was, for lack of a better word, appalled at my new face.  I saw my dad around that worst point and he said "Nia, you used to smile, and now you are fading away."  And it was true.  I was trying to hide the bumps and redness with makup and it wasn't working.  I had begun to try and hide myself as an alternative.

Around that same time I was diagnosed with Poly-cystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS).  The acne was a symptom though I had very few others.  Weight gain was one of those other symptoms. I had gained 20 pounds in the prior 6 months, though I was still thin.  But the sudden weight gain worried me and I went to the doctor to find out what was going on.

At this point I was turning 30, had a face full of active acne and scars and had various other health issues related to the PCOS plaguing me.  I was sad and blaming myself for what was happening.  Like most people I felt that acne was caused by not caring for your skin properly, or washing the right way for the type of skin you had, or not wearing the right makeup.  I began doing research on acne and set a new years resolution to clear my face.  I found out more about PCOS, and I stopped eating sugar.  I found out more about acne and discovered that the blemishes on my chin were cystic and that their location and my age indicated that they were most likely caused by hormonal imbalance.  The topical solutions I had been trying for the past year would not have worked.  And the herbs and essential oils were not enough to really treat the problem.  Despite my past experiences with doctors and my mom's advice I decided that I again needed to see a dermatologist. 

I searched high and low for a black dermatologist (because of my hyper-pigmentation and scars) and I went in with high hopes.  I thought I'd get laser treatments, peels and advanced care and knock it out!  I got there, and the doctor didn't even see me.  I saw a white nurse practitioner, and she stood 5 feet from me, writing on a notepad.  She prescribed me a 30 day treatment on an oral antibiotic, nightly treatment with Tazorac and daily treatment with Aczone.  I got some free samples and some coupons and walked out holding in tears.  I told myself it would not work and that they didn't understand how I felt.
But I took everything as prescribed anyway.  In a week, my face didn't hurt any more and the cysts were shrinking.  In a few more weeks the cysts were gone and I just had scars and a few small blemishes that would still come and go- the stuff I would treat topically before.

One of the requirements of the new aggressive treatment was that I only use very mild cleanser, if at all, a good moisturizer and only apply meds when my skin was dry. I decided to try oil cleansing and forgo soap.  I began using castor oil mixed with tea tree and rosemary oils in the shower and rinsing it off each morning.  Some oil would linger and act as my moisturizer for the day and I thus suffered no ill effects from the super drying Tazorac.

Today, my prescriptions have run out and I have not re-newed them.  My face is clear of the cystic acne, though I still get occasional blackheads and clogged pores.

Things I avoid include:
  • Soap
  • Olive oil
  • Coconut oil
  • Shea Butter
  • non-mineral based (regular) foundations
  • Talc
  • Topical alcohol or peroxide
  • Eating more than 25 grams of added sugar a day
  • Sleeping on the same pillowcase for more than a week
Things my skin prefers
  • Castor oil
  •  Mineral based makeup
  • gentle, manual exfoliating (washcloth or fingertips- no products with abrasives)
  • washing only once a day
  • Drinking more water every day
Pretty much I keep it simple.  You can see my skin in my last few posts and it looks nothing like it did.  I know now that if my acne begins spiraling out of control I need to look at internal reasons and check on my PCOS.  I did not go on the pill and don't plan too.  I'm 31 now and almost all the symptoms I began to notice regarding the PCOS have virtually disappeared.  I lost 15 of the 20 lbs I gained, everything is "regular" again and my skin is not running my life.

I encourage you to see a doctor if you are dealing with severe adult acne- and not just a dermatologist but your OBGYN or your GP.  And look up acne and its causes.  Different places indicate different causes and can allude to deeper health problems.  As my dad would say there is NO reason to walk around with acne this day and age.  Though I don't agree with treatments like Accutane, I do think that many deeper medical conditions can be treated by modifying your diet and balancing deficiencies where possible.  And a good doctor will work with you to find a treatment you are comfortable with.

I hope all this writing has helped some one.  Please share your stories and remedies in the comments.


  1. Awesome post! That took a lot of guts to post those pics, I'm sure. I hope your "skin journey" continues to go smoothly. ;-)

  2. have you tried cutting out dairy? i just recently found out drinking milk gives me acne without fail! i haven't completely cut it out, but i've switched to almond milk and no troubles! it's worth a try, sis :)

    i know how much blemishes can zap your confidence, so good luck to you! if it's worth anything, i LOVE the neem and tea tree soap from chagrin valley. you can buy a sample bar too - it's worth trying!

  3. Heey girl, great post!

    I thought I was the only one that still suffer from acne at my 28th.
    I think it's brave of you to openly talk about it.

    I swallow now antibiotics and I've have no blemiches or sore bumps anymore. only I have a lot of dark spots, but I fade them with Palmer's fade cream and black soap. It takes a while before they are gone, but my face will ever be smooth again

  4. I wash my face with good quality raw honey (a smooth one without granules) day and night: it removes the mineral make up and it's antibacterial. Thanks for sharing this information and I am glad you have found your solution. Do you moisturize as well?


  5. i know exactly how you feel. i was suffering with adult acne brought on by birth control pills! normally people say that birth control helps acne. i never had acne to begin with so i was going crazy during this breakout time! it was horrible, my acne is gone now but i still have scars. im using a bleaching cream to help fade the scars and its working pretty good. im glad your skin is better. and yes acne does mess with your self esteem, i know it made me feel horrible.

  6. Thanks so much for sharing this. I appreciate your blog.

    I had moderate acne from high school through my twenties. I thought I *had* to have a cleanser with salicylic acid to clear the bumps and blemishes. After a while, I noticed hypopigmentation (light spots) on my cheeks along with the breakouts. I thought long and hard about what could cause this, and decided to cut out the S.A. My skin wasn't happy at first, but after a while it improved and the spots have faded dramatically. I try to make sure that I exfoliate with a smidgen of baking soda about twice a week in the morning (since I don't have the S.A. to do the job anymore). I've never gone this long with clear skin.

  7. Thanks for this post. Sometimes I feel like I'm the only adult in the world dealing with acne. My new years resolution this year is to work on clearing my skin and improving my overall health. So far is has helped. I am taking a multivitamin daily along with Flax seed and biotin. I am also working out 3-4 days a week now. I am not going to give up this fight against acne.

  8. I too suffer from adult acne. I've been dealing with acne since I was 13. I was a practicing strict vegan from the age of 13-21. I learned eating right and using herbal remedies did nothing for my acne because my acne is hormonal. And no amount of soy or herbs was going to cure my acne. I too researched PCOS and went to see a Endocrinologist (Hormone Doctor). He did an total blood workup. I wasnt diagnosed with PCOS but he said that I had an abnormal amount of testerone excreted from my skin that was causing my acne. He prescribed me the birth control YAZ and an Androgen-blocking medication (blocks the testerone) Spironolactone. So far my skin has been getting better everyday. I would suggest going to an Endrocinologist than an OBGYN because they know how to treat it alot better. Oh. NEVER buy the geneic form of a Birth Control. I was on the generic form of YAZ and didnt understand why I was breaking me out so bad so I switched to the brand name and its actually working so much better.

  9. Oh. Totally forgot. If you are in the DC Metro Area. Dr. Eliott Battle (Black Dermatologist) is the BEST to see. Him and the rest of his staff (all black ) SPECIALIZE in the treatment of African American skin. At his clinic they even offer laser treatments for acne and removal of acne scaring. He developed the technology himself. I've had the laser treatments. Its pricey but the results are GREAT. The website is: http://www.culturamed.com/

  10. If you live in the DC Metro Area the best dermatologist to see would be Dr. Eliott Battle. He is wonderful. At his (All Black staff) practice they offer laser treatments for acne and acne scars for our skin. He developed the laser treatment himself. Check him out at www.culturamed.com I've gotten the laser treatments and they work wonders. :)

  11. What I find particularly interesting are the conversations we (women) don't seem to haven often enough about hormones, GYN issues, etc. I'm glad that you brought up the connection between skin and hormones here. We sometimes make vague mention of being "hormonal" or whatever, but rarely discuss what that means, or the multitude of ways it can impact our emotions, our health, our relationships and our appearance.

    And just so you know, I've never noticed any acne on you, IRL or in pics. :) We always see our own "flaws" more than others do.

  12. I love your blog, and thanks for sharing your story. I have not suffered from adult acne, but I do battle with hyperpigmentation issues. If any of your readers live in the Chicago area, I recommend my dermatologist (Dr. Brooke Jackson; www.skinwellnesscenter.org)...She is removing my 22 year old tattoo as well!

  13. I truly, truly appreciate your post. I have the exact same skin issues and our skin looks the same except my scars are a lot worse. I will try castor oil and see if that helps. I love mineral makeup, but they never provide enough concealer which is the reason why I wear makeup anyway.

  14. I'm sooooooo glad you all found this post helpful! I feel funny with these pictures out on the interwebs, but I know I'm not alone and WTH- I did look like this for a while so *shrug* ... I guess... lol

  15. @Melyssa. There is def something to that! I'm lactose intolerant, to varying degrees at different times. Right around the time my acne was at its worst I was not able to even have chocolate or butter, even some dry cereal in my almond or soy milk would bother me. I was taking lactaid every day because I could not figure out if my bread had milk in it, or if the sauce on my food had butter. :-(
    It sucked.
    The severity has decreased again dramatically in the past year though. I can have cheese again with no issues.

  16. Thanks @Jade for the DR info. I will save that for sure. I am in the DMV!

    @annoymous !Honey! That sounds like it would work well. I wonder if Agave nectar would work the same?

    @everyone still plagued by this acne- I hope we continue to get some more great tips like the ones above.

  17. Love this post! Like you, I suffered from adult acne as well. After trying various treatments, I finally discovered pure witch hazel and cotton pads. Whenever I had large, cystic pimples, I made a paste out of baking soda and water. While it dried them up quickly, as you know with fair skin, I had both red and dark scars! However, over time, they have faded; I've only been left with open pores. I'm a fan of mineral makeup too!

  18. Can you post your skincare regimen?

  19. Thank you for sharing your story! You are definitely not alone:)
    I have adult acne, but recently decided to no longer use my medications. After about 4 yrs. of using creams & lotions, I'm really curious to see how my skin fairs after my efforts to get "healthy" (i.e.,drink more water, exercise, eat more veggies, get more sleep, etc.).
    Glad you have found solutions that work for you!

  20. Thank you so much for sharing this.

    I, too, suffer from adult acne, and it seems to be hormonal. I have virtually clear skin most of the month, and then I break out into these huge, painful pimples.

    I know I should go to a derm, but I'm so tired of being in doctor offices lol

    Anyway, I wish the best to you with pcos and the acne!

  21. Have you tried the Murad products?, they are really good much better than proactive. www.murad.com is the site to get this from and it has worked wonders in my skin. I saw results immediately with these products. I'm so glad that you found out what was wrong with your skin and body, your skin cleared up nicely.

  22. Not sure about agave but it should not be pore clogging and it has nice minerals and moisture, so why not to try! the thing about honey is that it is antibacterial and generates a small amount of hydrogen peroxide with water... and it has antioxidants as well. but, still, it is not vegan unfortunately. I will definitely research agave though, nice idea!


  23. I just stumbled upon your blog and I love it! And I love your hair, it's so thick and versatile.

    I liked this post as well, I've always had great skin, until I went to college. And during college I was using all these cleansers and moisturizers and trying everything I could to make my acne go away. Especially because every bump on my face leaves a scar that lasts for 3-6 months. I was washing my face night and day but nothing seemed to work.

    Then I wanted to try new things, and I did oil rinsing as well which helped A LOT, but I got lazy and started only doing that 2 or 3 times a week, and just washing with water the other times....and duh duh dummmmmm, my face got soooo much clearer. I realized that I had actually been over-washing and taking the oils that my face needs away. It took some trial and error, and I'm still not completely acne free, but I know if I continue to figure out what works for my skin, I will be one day.

    Thanks for this post, gives me hope for clear skin!

  24. Great post, I think it's very true how things like this - adult acne etc are still hardly ever brought, so well done for doing so and I'm glad you found something that's working for you.

    I think the situation in England is even worse to be honest - I feel like GPs can be quite dismissive of acne complaints unless they feel it's really bad. When I was a teenager the GP recommended oral antibiotics which worked up until a point but when I stopped taking them my skin eventually flared up again and here I am still suffering from breakouts and I'm 25. I think

    To be honest it's the hyperpigmentation that bothers me; I never get that many spots at a time but each one leaves its mark and it's so annoying! Anyone got recommendations for combatting that? Rather scared of bleaching creams...

    At the moment I'm self medicating by taking zinc supplements which is actually helping I think! Plus I drink lots of herbal tea these days too which can't be a bad thing. But I hope in future it's something that people can feel more comfortable talking about.

  25. I really love this post. It's nice to see a fellow natural that is dealing with the pains of PCOS as well. I am only 21, but have been diagnosed with it for years now.

  26. I wish that I had found this post several weeks ago when I was diagnosed with PCOS. This post is greatly appreciated. Thanks so much for sharing.

  27. I've just been diagnosed and just started trying different oils. My face is really bad from the hyperpigmentation. I've been suffering since before I was a teenager and I am 33 years old still suffering from it. Hope your info helps.

  28. Thanks for commenting. I need to do an update post about this. I am still struggling here but I have found a few more tools to help the good skin win. I will get a new post up soon! Good luck to you meantime. Hyper-pigmentation is horrible and covering can just make it worse :-(

  29. I had no acne as a teen but began suffering in my 20s and 30s. Finally, after spending thousands facials, acne products, and different types of prescription treatments, i did a massive online research and decided that my issue must be addressed internally and not externally. So in my early 40s, I stopped eating beef. The acne on my cheeks cleared up right away. but the acne on my chin and jawline went crazy! So after more research, I, too, learned that the acne was hormonal and that dairy could be a trigger. so I stopped eating dairy. It helped. But what REALLY helped was understanding the hormones associated with food (phytoestrogens and phytoandrogens). For example, corn is a phytoandrogen, which acts like testosterone in your system. I love popcorn, but it's a phytoandrogen that I was introducing into my system and causing hormonal acne.r


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