If you haven't noticed, I am one pale son of a gun. My family is all of Irish descent and have the very fair, sensitive skin to prove it. Growing up with asthma and allergies, things like eczema and rosacea were always on my doctor's radar since these issues usually go hand-in-hand. I was lucky to never have to deal with those particular skin conditions, but what we all failed to take into account as I began my trot through prepubescence was my family's major history with acne, and the issues it could cause with my obscenely fair skin. My battle with acne has slowly built into a war, and one that I never thought would lead to a blog post ranting about it. I've never openly discussed my struggles with anyone outside my friend group, but the past four years have been a roller coaster unlike anything else I've dealt with. I swear I'm not turning into a beauty blogger, but I wanted to take a minute to talk about a real problem that almost everyone faces. Hopefully my story of struggle can instill some faith in others like me who think they're at the end of the line in the fight for better skin.
Way back in 2006, high school Maddie was running around thinking she had a problem. She'd spend her days playing with make-up, working hard to cover the one or two zits gleaming from her chin or nose. I get it, zits suck! But I had no idea back then what acne could really mean. High school Maddie got pretty lucky in the face department, and although I struggled with some body acne due to the sports I played, overall my skin was doing well for being a teenager. As I entered into college in the fall of 2010, my face slowly but surely began to get worse. When it got bad enough that even my mom took notice during the time we spent together, I knew something needed to happen. I tried everything: filtering my water, only eating certain kinds of bread, watching my sleep the best I could, and washing my face religiously. By November of that year, my face was a speckled mess, and I was desperate for something to help. I went to my regular doctor, started on a prescription medication, and went to see a dermatologist for some kind of topicals to assist in the process.
The meds kicked in, the topical cremes seemed to help, and my face slowly returned to it's mildly-pimpled self. The rest of the year things were going well, and I was happy. Everything was fine again until the summer of 2012. The medication I was on was started to disagree with my body causing a swirl of issues, one of them being return of my acne. Upon returning home from Warped Tour that summer, my face was a mess. I thought that being home without changing climates daily and a more regular sleep schedule would help, but by then the damage had been done. My face was waging war against itself, creating pimples that wouldn't just disappear overnight, or even in a week. My face had begun to produce pockmarks - the scarring caused by repetitious acne on the same place on the skin. My sensitive, fair skin was collecting pink dots that made me look like I had the chicken pox all the time, and it was bad. I ran back to the dermatologist, determined to find a quick fix, but there was no simple answer this time. They were scars, and just like scars anywhere else on your body, they would take time to heal. The best the doctors could do was have me try more meds that would hopefully help less acne arise, giving my skin the time it needed to heal without making the scarring worse.
The next year was brutal. Pill after pill, topical creme after topical creme, nothing was working. It felt like my body was immune to everything I put on it, and was only slowly getting worse. I knew i'd hit my low point when I switched to a type of medication that was physically making me sick to my stomach twenty minutes after taking it each morning. Was clear skin really worth all the trouble it had caused? Minocycline, Doxycycline, Tetracycline, Isotretinoin, Topical Retinoids, high dose benzoyl peroxide gels, I'd tried it all. Acutane wasn't an option for multiple reasons, and it seemed like I'd come to a dead end. It felt like I'd spent a year in dermatology school with all i'd learned, only to fail the final exam of fixing my own skin. I tried going to a new dermatologist, thinking they'd know something the others didn't. I showed up and was instead given a sales pitch on a Danish skin system, and six treatments of having tiny, crumbled diamonds rubbed on my face as microdermabrasion for the nominal fee of $150 per treatment - I couldn't get out of the office fast enough. I was fed up. I was beat down. I was deterred and heartbroken. I knew there were people out there with much worse acne than I, but my face was the worst it'd been in my entire life. I thought I had been doomed to a life of pink chicken-pox skin, because even if I got the pimples to finally stop, the scarring was there... it all seemed helpless. My acne had stolen my adorable nose freckles, my skin, and most of all, it had demolished my confidence. In an act of desperation I returned to my physician in the spring of 2013 and told her the stories of my failure-ridden escapades through the world of skincare. She and I spent an hour talking, and came up with a very simple plan: start back at the beginning.
Step one? We'd focus on the acne, and getting it under control. We decided that my body had become immune to prescriptions thanks to all the pills I'd tried, and so we took them out of the equation completely. As for topicals, they also seemed to be doing nothing. The only thing we hadn't tried was the basics, which my dermatologist had sped right past to get right to the heavier stuff. We worked backwards, and started me on two of the leading prescription topicals: Differin and Epiduo. The final big change? My face wash. I'd been a Neutrogena girl my whole life, but it clearly wasn't cutting it anymore, so we switched my daily face wash to the industry leading brand Cetaphil - specifically their new acne line of face wash & moisturizer. That very day I began to document my skin so i'd be able to watch it's progress and give my doctor updates. I was so unsure and had little faith that our crazy new campaign would have any results, but I thought i'd give it one last go. Little did I know that I was finally starting down a path of relief.
Within a week I could feel a difference in my skin, and after one month, I noticed a change in the type of acne I was experiencing. By month three, the big cystic pimples were slowing down, and by month six, they had nearly disappeared. I was in disbelief, shocked that our simple little solution to start back at the beginning could be working. By December of 2013 my acne was nearly under control. It seemed so surreal, my face was actually, really clearing...all except for the scars. I researched for hours at some points, reading the ups and downs of each wrap, mask, and peel that was meant to help with scarring, until one night when I accidentally stumbled across a silly little invention called a Clarisonic.
After doing a ton of research and interrogating everyone I knew that had one, I decided to invest in the device come January 2014 in hopes that it would help with some of my scarring before investing in an expensive dermabrasion. It sounds really stupid to spend $100 on a brush you wash your face with, but until I have reason to do otherwise, I will bet my bottom dollar on the Clarisonic's effectiveness. This brush uses supersonic vibrations to pull gunk out from the deepest pores, effectively cleansing your skin nearly 6x better than simply using your hands or a rag. Not only did the texture of my skin immediately improve, but as I slowly eased my skin into regular use of the Clarisonic I noticed that some of the pimples I could feel forming under my skin would literally disappear after one use of the brush. The few pimples that did appear weren't scarring the way they used to, the pre-existing scars I had were slowly lightening, and the deep pockmarks were beginning to become more flush with my skin. It took months for me to really notice a difference, but once I did, the change in my skin was dramatic. After years of fighting this seemingly endless fight, it was this past summer while I was out on Warped Tour when I felt like I had finally won my war. Being able to wake up every day and leave the bus without makeup (and feel confident to do so) was huge for me. I've never been the type of girl who refuses to leave the house without makeup, but feeling confident enough to be out in a workplace amongst peers for two months without a drop of foundation on my face? That was huge. Not only could I spend a summer not worrying about makeup, but thanks to my Clarisonic I knew I didn't have to worry about my acne getting worse due to my living conditions. Making sure to use the brush daily kept my face pimple free the entire time I was out on the road, something I thought was impossible.
It's taken me years - literally my entire college career - to get my acne under control. It's been a heartbreaking, time consuming effort thats forced me to question beauty, integrity, and even medical science at times. My daily routine these days is simple and consists of three key components: Cetaphil, my Clarisonic, and Epiduo. The treatments I've used on my skin might not have the same effect on other people, but what I hope to show folks is to not give up hope. Find a doctor who's opinion you trust, and give your skin the time it needs to really cycle through before making changes to your regimen. Sometimes doing too much at once is just as unproductive as doing nothing at all! My face continues to get better, and even though I know i'll never look airbrushed (who really does?!), both the scarring and redness in my skin has continued to fade. I still think i might do a microdermabrasion in the next year, but now it merely feels like it would accelerate the Clarisonic's progress, and I can survive without it. There are days I look in the mirror or catch a picture or myself, and sometimes just stare, fascinated that I don't have bumps scattered across my cheeks they way I used to.
Acne is a lifelong battle, one I don't foresee ending for me anytime soon. I have aunts and uncles who have spent decades of their lives dealing with the emotional fallout of acne and scarring, and for the first time ever I feel like I might just be able to avoid that same fate. If you're fighting this same battle, don't give up hope. It's a fight, and a gnarly one at that, but it's one you can win. Life is hard enough without always feeling self-conscious about your face, so don't let this crappy little thing called acne keep you down. We all have it, we all know it sucks, and we'll all get through it together. No one will ever think less of you for that one little zit, and if they do then they're not worth your time anyways! I leave you with one of my favorite recent selfies: make-up free, nearly pimple-free, and finally feeling at home in my own skin.