My Acne Saga – 10 Long Pimply Years

I should tell you a little more about myself. I've been meaning to write all this when I first started my blog... Delving into my Acne past, however, isn't the most pleasant thing, so I've procrastinated it for three years now.

Olena circa 2008

This might me the most difficult post I’ve written to date.

Here goes: My Acne Saga.

I first got Acne before I turned 13, and it persisted well into adulthood. I was only able to clear it up about 10 years later.

That’s ten years of pimples… Ugh…

Acne is the worst. You may be the smartest, most logical, level-headed person out there with the best personality, but when your face looks like a red pus-filled minefield you can’t help but feel inadequate…And I felt inadequate.

I hated people looking at me, especially people with clear skin. In fact, people with clear skin intimidated me and made me feel incredibly insecure.

It was completely irrational, but I just wanted to hide - stay at home until the Acne went away.

I remember my face on my 13th birthday… It was a surprise party, so I wasn’t ready - needless tosay I destroyed the pictures from that day because of how bad my skin looked!

Every morning I woke up with new pimples was a morning that I didn’t want to leave the house.

Seriously. Leaving the house took a lot of energy when my face looked like crap.

Staying home wasn’t an option, though; I was expected to go to school and get good grades. In spite of my Acne, I had to go out there into the world and have eyes on me.

My Acne at 17

I might have been projecting, but it felt like everybody who looked at me felt sorry for me. All I saw was scrutiny and pity.

To add insult to injury, I had wire-rimmed nerd glasses (before being a nerd was cool) and braces - quite the trifecta of beauty.

After trying some over-the-counter cleansers and creams and finally Proactive, my skin slightly improved…

But the Acne persisted…

Makeup became my savior. I was so happy to cover my pimples with foundation - I smeared it on like it was going out of style.

The idea that makeup could cause (cosmetic) Acne didn’t even occur to me, so I just used whatever I could get my hands on.

My skin looked blotchy and uneven even with makeup, and I continued to feel self-conscious. I always wondered if people could see what’s underneath the makeup…

I didn’t even begin thinking about my diet and how it could potentially affect my Acne. To give you an idea of how I used to eat:

For Breakfast: cereal with milk (gluten + sugar + dairy) or PopTarts with a glass of milk (gluten + sugar + dairy) or toast with peanut butter and jam and a glass of milk (gluten + sugar + dairy)

For Lunch: a sandwich (cheese and meat and bread), some kind of fruit, Nestle’s Ice Tea, or something from the school cafeteria like lasagna/fries/poutine

For Dinner: I loved frozen dinners and had them from 3-6 times a week including Salmon Wellington (cream sauce + gluten + fat), Fettucine Alfredo (cream sauce + gluten + sugar + fat), Swedish Meatballs from Ikea (meat + sodium + fat), fries (sodium + fat), Hamburgers (sodium + gluten + sugar + fat), and Vegetable Spring Rolls (gluten + trans fat + sodium). I had healthy veggies or salads with chicken or beef when my mom cooked.

Random Snacks: Chocolate chip cookies (sugar + gluten), Starbucks lattes (sugar + caffeine), Snickers and Kit-Kat (sugar + sugar + gluten + fat)

I ate like a child because I was a child. Looking at this list of food kind of makes me laugh now - there was almost no nutritional value in my food, but it tasted damn good!

I don’t know how I functioned on all that sugar, but kids are resilient.

By my second year of high-school, I was beginning to not only have Acne, but I was starting to gain weight too - all that sugar and fat had to go somewhere!

I only started to care about diet when I needed to get bigger jeans.

And still, the connection between diet and acne is a recent one for me. It was only when I experimented with different diets (Bulletproof Diet, 80/10/10 Diet, Raw till 4 Diet, Pescatarian, Vegan) in the last two years that I realized that the connection was real (I no longer diet, and I’ll write a post about that soon).

After a while, I got tired of having to constantly re-order the Proactive system. I wanted to find an over-the-counter solution - so I opted for a cleanser and moisturizer from Nivea.

I ended up clogging my whole face with tiny white pimples. My skin felt rough and looked bumpy and gross.

A similar experiment with Dior creams ended with the same result, so I was back to re-ordering Proactive.

I still had Acne when I met my first boyfriend at 18.

Having a boyfriend did two things: it got me on birth control, and it pushed me towards trying to be a better version of myself. I wanted him to be proud of being with me…So I started doing research and obsessing over my skin.

I sat at the computer for hours at a time just reading about Acne, skin, scientific articles, products, ingredients, reviews, and other people's experiences with Acne. I wanted a cure!

But they all said the same thing: see a dermatologist and/or use Benzoyl Peroxide.

My dermatologist prescribed Accutane for my Acne, and I even bought it. Holding the pill bottle in my hand and reading the long list of side effects made me rethink the whole thing.

I wanted clear skin but I didn’t feel right about messing with my body. The birth control was doing enough of that anyway (more on that later).

I had been using Proactive for years (with the second step being Benzoyl Peroxide), and I couldn’t understand why I was still breaking out. It was the right acne-fighting ingredient after all!

I didn’t know the importance of using the right cleanser. Moreover, nobody warned me about the consequences of over-exfoliation, and I exfoliated twice a day, every day, on Proactive (because of the harsh cleanser).

My skin was super dehydrated (dry and oily at the same time).

Makeup went on flaky because my skin was so dry, but my face looked oily because I was overproducing sebum. I had to go in with tweezers after applying foundation to get rid of loose skin flakes.

I became obsessed with ingredients and started experimenting with other products wanting to find the perfect skin care routine.

Keep in mind that experimenting with products is scary as f#$% when you have acne-prone skin. My skin already sucked, and I could potentially make it worse with any new product.

Staying inside my Proactive comfort zone seemed like a fine idea for years because it was scary to try anything else, but I needed to find something that wouldn’t damage my skin like Proactive did.

I wouldn’t buy a product unless I knew what was in it and why - and I always read all the reviews. Shopping for products took countless hours of research!

Then somebody said that natural oils could cure Acne, so I was right on it!

I bought oil after oil, and when one didn’t work, I’d try another one. I was so hopeful that I could find an easy, natural cure... When the Acne persisted I was reluctant to give up the dream of a natural solution for Acne.

My skin became an absolute wreck - the worst it's ever been!

I felt so insecure... Making eye-contact with people was difficult. I felt terrible when somebody’s eyes landed anywhere on my face.

I was becoming desperate.

I decided to try an aspirin mask one night just because I needed something, anything to work. I kept it on for 5 minutes, then 15, then 30…I was overzealous; only to chemically burn my face!

I literally couldn't leave the house for 6 days. I had deep dark red scabs on areas where I applied the mask. I skipped all my lectures and avoided the mirror because I looked like a monster. I wish I was exaggerating, but I did some real damage…

My obsession with clear skin was not a good look on me. I really had to rethink everything.

The chemical burn disaster taught me one lesson, though; patience.

I had to wait for the burn to heal, and I had to learn to be patient with my skin. Moreover, I learned that I had to be gentle.

I wanted a result so badly that I made mistake after mistake seriously tormenting my skin.

The Acne that I created using oils left tremendous scarring and redness that wouldn’t go away and I literally never left the house without makeup.

Then I heard of acne.org’s Regimen. I think it’s the best three step system on the market right now, but that’s not saying a lot. Three step systems (like Clinique and Proactive) are great because they’re easy to use - all the products are chosen for you in succession.

They're a great place to start before you become more confident in ingredient and product knowledge.

However since everyone’s skin is different, these systems have to cater to the majority and are pretty generic (they do work for a lot of people)…

My skin isn’t the majority, though. I break out from talc, fragrance, oils, diet…But the Regimen helped me maintain pretty clear (yet still dehydrated) skin for a while.

My experience on the Regimen

It’s a three step system with a Cleanser, Treatment, and Moisturizer, with an optional 4th step in the form of an AHA cream. I had all four steps and loved them until Dan (the creator of this Regimen) changed the moisturizer’s formula.

The new moisturizer was awful - it didn’t moisturize, and it looked disgusting under makeup.

I used to curse Dan for this because I was convinced that I found the perfect Acne-fighting system and he messed with it! I loved the rest of his system and had to find a replacement moisturizer; the last bottle of Dan’s original formula was quickly running out.

However, this change made me look closer at the Regimen and I finally took off my rose-colored glasses and looked at it more objectively.

In truth, the Regimen was better suited for men (created by a man with his own Acne in mind). The cleanser was too harsh for my delicate skin, coupled with drying Benzoyl Peroxide, and a poor moisturizer I was forced to look elsewhere for a gentler alternative.

The search for a proper moisturizer was maddening. I bought countless moisturizers from different price points only to break-out or have dryer skin as a result.

I spent months reading about, buying, and trying out moisturizers (not exaggerating).

After what felt like forever, I stumbled upon Bioderma in a pharmacy in Ukraine, and my moisturizer woes were over for good! This product had everything my skin needed. If they discontinue it, I might explode.

Bioderma helped me replace two out of the four Acne.org products in the system, and my skin became even better!

I spent my summers in Ukraine (where I’m from), and by sheer luck, a friend of a friend recommended a certain aesthetician who helped me fully eliminate my Acne. I went from red marks to clear, baby smooth skin in 6 weeks.

She extracted my pimples (the proper way), applied chemical peels, moisturizing masks, and got me wearing Mineral Powder Foundation.

My skin finally looked incredible! I couldn’t believe it!

Waking up every morning was a joy…but a little scary too. I was still afraid the Acne would return.

This perfect skin lasted for years. My skin care routine was impeccable, and chemical peels were in my vocabulary. Never did I ever go to sleep without washing my face.

For all intents and purposes, I knew what I was doing...

Until I gave up birth control pills. Once I ran out of my final pack after using them for 5 years, I decided to stop taking them for good. I thought my skin was perfect; I was healed! Nothing could mess with me now!

Yeah right…

The challenge of taking and giving up birth control pills was unforeseen.

When I started taking them at 18, a lot of changes occurred in me. My Acne improved slightly, but the changes I'm talking about were in my head. I grew increasingly irritable, moody, and downright depressed. My days on Alesse21 were the days where I cried and screamed the most - seemingly for no reason.

My mother and boyfriend were concerned about me.

I was a monster - my behavior was irrational, and it was decidedly unhealthy. I thought I was going crazy.

It took over two years on Alesse21 for me to make the connection. I thought I was just an awful, emotional, and crazy person. To my relief, when I switched to Minestrin I calmed down!

I was so happy to realize that I wasn't to blame - it was the hormones!

Minestrin further helped to clear up my skin, especially coupled with my awesome skin care routine. I also started doing yoga, running, and taking better care of myself in general.

My days on Minestrin where the best days of my skin.

The changes that followed after quitting birth control pills were imperceptible - I didn't notice them for years.

The Acne started returning incredibly slowly, and I started gaining weight incredibly slowly too.

It was odd to me since my lifestyle and diet were also the cleanest they had ever been. I was sleeping enough, and I wasn't stressed...But my body was subtly changing.

It took about three years for my body to normalize after birth control - that's with a balanced diet and plenty of exercise. My current bloodwork tells me that my hormones are more or less balanced, with slightly higher androgen levels (acne causing androgens).

I'd love to take a magic pill and have perfect skin, but no such pill exists.

Now I focus on getting the basics right: a great skin care routine, a clean and balanced diet, a healthy lifestyle, and a happy mind and body.

Clear skin is definitely something I strive for, and my Acne has forced me to take great care of myself overall, but now the challenge is to stop obsessing over it…The struggle is real after 14 years of obsessing and scrutinizing my face.

It’s difficult to reprogram myself when so much of my mental and emotional space was taken up with this subject - and still is.

There were so many ‘doh’ moments in my Acne journey, but that’s what happens when you don’t know what you’re doing. I was unwittingly getting closer to clearer skin and learning a lot along the way.

My Acne story is what I wanted my blog to be about from the very beginning, however being easily distracted like I am, I wrote about everything but skin!

The other reason for my procrastination of the subject is that I’ve never shared how Acne made me feel. I kept it inside, putting on a brave face.

I found talking about it embarrassing…I'm not one for sharing how I feel.

The one thing that I thank my blog for is that it got me to put myself out there more; to open up and share that which is uncomfortable to share without fearing what you might think.

Acne really messed with me, and I wanted you to know.

Now you know.

With love,
Olena

PS. If you’re suffering from Acne, check out my Acne Video for a ton of tips, routine, and product recommendations.

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