How I Dealt With My Adult Acne Problem

Just Call A Dermatologist, Okay?

By: Alicia Cesaro

At The Cov we talk about health and beauty on the regular, and we're all pretty vocal about our own issues—what's worked, what's hasn't, our favorite treatments—it goes on. When we're completely lost on something or just really curious (like when should we toss our mascara? Or, does LED light therapy actually work?), we call up the pros and have them break it all down. But we decided it was time to talk to you guys about something, um, a bit more personal. Specifically, the journeys (one dermatologist guided; the other self-treated—read the other half here!) that a couple of our editors have taken in order to get a handle on their adult acne issues. If you dealt with it as a teenager, your whole life, or are currently in the midst of your own breakout dilemma, just know that we're right there with you (oh, and we think a good concealer and a red lip really help, too).

I think I have a slight version of PTAD (um, post traumatic acne disorder), at least that's how one of the other editors put it to me one day when we we're having our weekly inter-office discussion on the important life things; like our current skin situations, relationship woes and whether we should drop $60 on that straight-from-a-fairy-tale beaded Zara dress (yes, yes you should). I think this mainly because I look in the mirror every morning and see my skin as blemished, flawed, scarred, et. al. Even if to my coworkers, family (well, not really, my brothers feel the need to call me out every time they see me. Thanks for the self-esteem boost, guys!) friends and strangers, it looks just fine.

You probably know how this story starts, you've probably heard it before. But even if you think your pores love you right now, that completely frightening flare up just might happen to you one day and my solution might be yours. Or it may be happening to you right now (it gets better!). In either case, read on.

While most cruised through their teenager years riddled with pimples, I was going to bed sans face wash and sweating it up at lacrosse without so much as a post-practice Oxy pad swipe (gross, I know). I had great skin and I thanked my parents for it—it had to be good genes. It stayed that way into college, even with the, you know, excessive drinking, major stress and a buffalo chicken calzone addiction—all popular "triggers" for acne. Then I moved to Spain and you guessed it: shit hit the fan. As in, cystic chin acne that boiled under the surface, then stuck around for what seemed like forever, followed by scars (olive complexions <3 discoloration) that would last even longer. I couldn't imagine immersing myself in a new country and meeting strangers with the acne starter plan covering my face. So being stranded some 4,000 miles away in a city where I could barely order myself a coffee properly, much less ask for medical advice, I did what any responsible young adult would do. I called my mother.

Karen flew from Boston (she was coming anyways, but my mother is an angel) armed with a slew of products stuffed in her suitcase and lots of sympathy. It held me over until I came back home. But I moved again and the skin situation only got worse. Maybe it was the travel? New environments breed stress, right? There were dermatologists in three continents and many tears shed along the way. Yeah, I know it sounds trivial—who cries about their skin to the doctor? But you don't realize how much your face (the first thing people see when they meet you) means until you have something to hide.

Then there was Dr. Allison, who had a thing for J.Crew flats and printed chinos and a serious plan for tackling acne (she also scored bonus points for not making me cry, thanks Allison!). It was one of those good news/bad news scenarios. Bad: there's no cure and it's genetic (blame it on a distant cousin). Good: it can be prevented and controlled (I like control). Thus became my long-standing love affair with a prescription topical retinoid, Adapalene and a little pill called Doxycycline.

When you start an anti-acne regime, especially one including retinol, they say your skin will get worse before it gets better. This is 100% accurate. My skin is very dry (I used to say sensitive too, but everyones is, so it's a pretty moot description) and not even a bit oily. The Adapalene made my skin red, scaly (actually) and really, really dehydrated. Some days it was worse than the cystic pimples themselves, but I held faith. To supplement the lovely side effects, my derm recommended a simplistic routine. At night: Cetaphil Gentle Skin Cleanser followed by the Rx retinol (wait fifteen minutes) then moisturizer (Clinique Dramatically Different Moisturizing Lotion forever and ever). In the morning: Clarisonic and cleanser to exfoliate off the flakiness and sunscreen, always (drugstore, Neutrogena; $$, SuperGoop). I became a die-hard skin routine follower—no matter how late I come home (or glasses of wine I drink) I steer myself into the bathroom, remove my makeup, cleanse and apply Adapalene. And it all paid off, my skin cleared and because I cover my entire face in a thin layer nightly, it prevents new pimples from even forming.

In this industry, I'm exposed to a lot of amazing products and constantly tempted to try new anti-aging oils and serums. But then my skin freaks out (there are a lot of ingredients that don't play well with retinol) and I'll go crawling back to the OGs. Lately, I've become slightly enamored with Glam Glow's Flashmud Brightening Treatment, I deal with discoloration and find this helps. Yeah I still get pimples sometimes, but as Allison promised, I have it under control. I've since weened myself off the Doxycycline pill—that whole antibiotic resistance thing—but the Differin Gel and I are as tight as ever. Plus retinol is the best way to fight aging, so it's basically a win-win.

Now go call your dermatologist. Or have your mom. Either way works.

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