Updated: Mar 14, 2021
They say it will fade over time. I’ve been told a countless number of times, “This prescription or this cream will do the trick.” Just when I thought one doctor would be able to help me, I was just approaching another dead end. Dealing with hormonal cystic acne takes a tremendous toll on my self confidence and has made me question my self worth. But even though the journey to healthy skin is difficult and ongoing, I want anyone who can relate to remember they are not alone. I am 22 years old, but am nowhere near giving up.
It all started when I was in 7th grade when I experienced very minor breakouts, which was a consistent trend throughout my entire high school experience as well. It was typically a result of not taking makeup off, being an athlete and the occasional monthly dues. However, I always knew that I could control the narrative. If I was consistent and disciplined, I could’ve had amazing skin given any breakouts were caused by my actions. But, this journey took a dramatic turn as soon as I went to college, freshman year when I began classes at University of Nebraska. According to Jody Levitt, MD, Assistant clinical professor of dermatology at Mount Sinai Medical Center in NYC, “The college years are a prime time for breaking out, even for people who went through the bulk of their teen years without acne” (Curing the College Acne Blues, WebMD). It was an important time for me to meet an array of new friends, get involved and feel like my best self. Yet, when I began to have uncontrolled breakouts that caused my entire face to swell, I no longer had control. I could not do a single thing right! From eating healthy, to dermatologist prescriptions, every little trick was pulled out of my sleeve. This left me feeling embarrassed and ultimately, I crawled into an early hibernation. For anybody that doesn’t know me, my experience with attending UNL had come to an end mid semester and I left on the footnote of shriveled self love.
I moved home, for seven months, hoping that I could gain control over my confidence and health. I proceeded to take a break from school, worked out twice a day while working at a gym, maintained a healthy diet and prayed the spring sunshine would help replenish my scarring. I was no longer breaking out dramatically, but I was also not clearing up, and this was including maintaining a healthy lifestyle for my college age. Once I transferred to Colorado State my sophomore year, the acne grew to an even more aggressive level. I would sit at my desk every night for nearly an hour just trying to pop any pimples and apply new creams. It was so embarrassing, and although people who cared about me wanted to give me advice on how to control it, it was apparent that this was the first and perhaps only thing people saw in my appearance. It was at this time that I tried accutane. I stuck with accutane for nearly 8 months, never experiencing a clear up. As a matter of fact, it got extremely worse the whole time and even after stopping it. My face was scarring faster than I could even recognize new pimples. It was plain and simple horrible, and not to mention painful.
My parents were unsure of what to do too, and before we could even begin with figuring out how to prevent new breakouts, we had to figure out the scarring. The summer after my sophomore year, I proceeded to undergo seven different micro-needling and laser treatments to help with scarring. Luckily, this did help for a little and gave my skin the collagen it needed to heal skin damage as the breakouts came. The sunshine of the spring and summer typically helped in giving my skin some vibrancy, but also brought out the redness of former damage. Once Junior year rolled around, I was persistent. The last thing I wanted was to have another winter like the previous two where it was out of control. I then went on a mission trip to Haiti where the humidity is at its peak and the warm weather soaks in my skin. This was the best my skin had EVER been since I began college. Within a matter of a week, it had almost completely cleared with only scars remaining. But, as soon as I hopped off the plane in Denver, I woke up with a tomato face once again. So at this point, I had to assume that the dry and cold were to blame for irritation. But how am I able to control that narrative when I live 5280 ft. above sea level? This also explained why the Accutane only made it worse.
Junior year, I had a set and complicated routine. I had coated my face with four layers of moisturizer daily, slept with three humidifiers in my room, sat in the CSU recreation center steam room almost everyday for a solid thirty minutes, applied dermatologist recommended creams, and maintained a vegan diet. This all helped tremendously, given I had minor breakouts all winter and was able to continue healing my scars. By no means was it perfect, but it was much more contained then all I had experienced previously. Yet, this was also not normal at all! This routine was not realistic and after all that, I still had breakouts! Nothing seemed to be the perfect solution, but I was getting closer.
When I say I had to take control of my health, this is what I mean. By the end of my Junior year, I had seen three different dermatologists, undergone nine procedures, taken Accutane twice, tried every single over the counter product, and had a healthy lifestyle. This quarantine was good for me in the sense that I used this time to carefully and deliberately research. I had contacted many doctors, reached out for advice, and created a brand new game plan for my acne journey. I contacted one doctor, a young woman out of a local practice, and explained my situation. And even though she was not a dermatologist, she wanted to find the route of the cause. I am now a senior in college, and am hopefully one step closer to solving this problem.
At this point in my life, I have learned to accept and love myself even with the acne troubles. This has allowed me to appreciate not only the qualities I do love about myself, but to also give myself a pat on the back for not letting acne bring me down any longer. My determination has not only allowed me to learn more about my body, but eventually find a solution that works for me may help someone else in a similar situation. Someday, if my kids experience the same troubles, I will be able to provide answers rather than put them through the same troubles I have undergone, and that does make all of this worth it.
So in terms of what I am currently doing, I have tried two different birth controls to regulate my hormones. When blood work was done, there was indication that my testosterone levels were off, crazy right! After all of this, we are beginning to find the route of the issue. I have also been prescribed a testosterone regulating medication. On top of all of this, I had learned that my antidepressant medication was to blame fo
r the irregular hormone levels, and I had been taking that medication since the end of my high school experience. Although I cannot stop taking the antidepressant, the new hormone medication and birth control may help in reversing the antidepressant curveball. In addition to all of this, as I have learned humidity helps, continuing to sleep with humidifiers each night. And, instead of applying a million different topical products, I now only apply one. This is the dermatologist recommended cream and now that I have learned that the cause of my acne stems from within, I no longer need to worry about the topical aspects as much. I continue to eat healthy, but also choose to enjoy my life more than I allowed myself to before. And in all of this, my acne is not perfect, but it is so much better. I have only a quarter of the breakouts as before. My scars cont
inue to heal quicker. The best part? This is only my first trial of all these medications! So if one thing doesn’t work, we will try something else.
So for anyone who has made it this far in reading this article, I am not here to ramble for my own sake, but to bring awareness to these types of medical conditions others may also be going through. It is painful and most of all embarrassing. However, acne does not define you! You are more than what appears on the cover and no one deserves to let acne make them feel less beautiful than they are. Cystic hormonal acne is a medical condition and is not always a reflection of your lifestyle or choices. It is not a black and white situation and requires a lot of attention and patients. If anyone has experienced anything similar, it is important to remember you are not alone and that you can absolutely take charge of your own health. Also, you can always reach out to me and ask more questions. I am here for you! Take advice, seek professional help, and learn more about your skin and body. One of these days, maybe even soon, I will be completely clear and these struggles will be behind me. But it is because of the amazing support from loved ones and all the trials and errors it took to get this far/continue to go further. To anyone who has given me advice and loved me through the heartbreaks of it all, thank you. I found self love in this
mess, and because of this all I will be stronger.