On fighting acne

It’s been months now since I started my medication for my current nemesis: acne. I’ve also been putting off writing my concurrent acne story for months now. I kept telling myself that I shouldn’t publish it unless my skin had completely cleared already so I would have a sufficient before and after photo for proof.

So why this post? My skin is still a far cry from being clear – my acne had gotten a lot better, sure, but I’m left with acne spots all over my chin. After stumbling upon this article though, I thought I shouldn’t wait any longer to share my own story in order to (hopefully) help people and prevent them from going through the same experience.

Before anything else, let me give a short background about my skin. I’ve always had an “average” oily skin type. “Average” in the sense that I get acne breakouts every now and then, but it has always just been little pimples that would go away after a week or two. Nothing too serious, although some have left nasty acne spots on my face, particularly on my left cheek. Still, they were nothing that a concealer couldn’t cover.

I began having really bad acne breakouts this year, sometime around July. My left cheek and chin were covered with red, painful acne and so was my right cheek as well – which, mind you – had never had pimples before.  Due to the nature of my profession, I know I always have to look my best and so for the first time in my life, I finally decided to visit a dermatologist and get proper treatment for my acne.

I was prescribed with anti-acne soap, oral antibiotics (tetracycline), acne solution, acne lotion, and a topical antibiotic which I had to use day and night, doing spot treatment on the affected areas on my face. All of these were exclusively available on the clinic of my dermatologist. I used this medication for almost a month and a half. My acne, particularly the ones on my chin, were finally beginning to heal when a week later, I noticed new ones growing on the same area again.

My horror story officially began from thereon. It was really frustrating to be on acne medication and see your acne begin to heal, only to have a new batch grow on your face again. Thinking it was the same kind of acne I had been experiencing for weeks, I continued to treat it with the same medication I had been using at the time. Little did I know that it was so much more than what I thought it was.

I began to suspect there was something wrong when the acne on my chin began to hurt. I had itchy acne before, but I never had painful acne, and I was sure it wasn’t supposed to hurt the same way mine did. It was so painful that I couldn’t sleep at night. Thinking it would heal faster, I tried to put warm compress on the affected area to make it pop. When I woke up the next day, my entire chin became more red and inflamed while having multiple pimples that are filled with blood and pus.

It was one of the worst work weeks of my life. I had to go to work with an acne-inflamed face and I was so ashamed that I began wearing face masks as well. I took comfort in the idea that some of my office mates initially thought that I’m simply sick, thus my mask. I continued my treatment along with the warm compress every night, hoping it would get better. However, things only seem to have gone for the worse when my chin started to throb painfully. It was too painful that it began bothering me at work – there were days where all I could utter was “My face hurts too much” to my office mates. I couldn’t bear it any longer so I decided to pay an overdue visit to the doctor. And boy, was I glad I did.

I went to a different dermatologist this time (my former derma was from the province, I currently live in Makati) and she told me that what I had back then was already infected acne. It was similar to impetigo contagiosa (mamaso  in Filipino), a bacterial skin infection that can be caused by  Streptococcus pyogenes or Staphylococcus aureus. I say similar because in retrospect, my derma didn’t warn me about the risk of infecting other people even though impetigo is highly contagious in nature. She also told me that it was a good thing that I decided to have a consultation right away because the infection that I had is dangerous and could spread to my bloodstream and affect my other organs.

For three weeks, I was prescribed to drink antibiotics 4x a day, cleanse my face with Cetaphil, put a sodium chloride solution to my chin (the same solution that hospitals use for wound irrigation) for 20 minutes, and apply Bactroban cream on the affected area afterwards. The treatment process was long, and I continued coming to work with a mask on, sometimes with only a gauze to cover my entire chin. It was so hard to eat, but what was even harder for me was having to face people and answering the inevitable question of “What happened to your face?”. I know they were only concerned about me, but I still felt really bad that it’s the first thing people notice and there was no other way for me to hide it. If only I could, I would’ve completely shut myself in our apartment and not go out AT ALL so people won’t have to deal with my nasty face and I won’t have to deal with curious stares from strangers on the street. But you know how the old saying goes: shit happens and life goes on. I can’t afford to lose my job, especially during the time where I needed it most to pay for my medical bills, so I continued coming to work, face mask and all with my tail between my legs.

After three weeks on intensive oral antibiotics and anti-bacterial cream, I went back to the derma and my medication shifted to complete anti-acne medication. My derma told me that she had to make sure the infection had completely gone away first before she could prescribe me anti-acne meds, which she noted are a lot more painful than my previous meds for impetigo. This time, I was prescribed to be on Doxicycline (oral antibiotics) for six weeks (which I have to drink twice a day), and to apply Benzoyl Peroxide (5%) cream during the day  and Tetrinoin Retin-A during the night. I was also advised to put on sunscreen with a SPF 30 during the day when I go out.

skinregimen

It’s been two weeks since I began this anti-acne medication and so far it has been super effective. In comparison to the first acne medication that I tried from my first dermatologist, I can say this one is a lot more effective, considering my acne have completely dried up in a span of only a week or so. However, as I mentioned earlier in this post, my skin is still a far cry from being completely clear: I still have acne spots on my entire chin area. They’re like a battle scar that I have to wear everyday, but the mere fact that my acne had already healed is comforting enough. It’s enough reassurance that while this is a long battle that I’m fighting, I’m not losing.

The whole experience was as painful as it is emotionally exhausting (I wrote about it here). I know I’m not pretty, but I don’t think I looked that bad either until I had my acne infection. I did not bother to put on makeup anymore because aside from not being allowed to, I just began to feel apathetic with my overall appearance at the time. Why bother putting on lipstick if I’m ugly anyway, right? It just felt wrong in all sense of the word. I knew putting down myself was not going to help  but I couldn’t help it at the time – my self-esteem was being torn apart.

Fast-forward to where I am now, I’m still on my way to conquering acne. I’ve yet to get rid of all of my acne spots but I’m getting there – I will be there. Plus, I can finally put makeup again – I can now hide my acne spots with concealer – and it’s enough to help me pick up my torn self-esteem and fix it again. But before I end this blog post, I also just want to share some of the lessons that I got from this entire experience. Some of these are tips you’ve already heard from known beauty experts but I just want to reiterate them, for my own reference as well.

1. See a dermatologist (or a doctor) as soon as you can.

Experience taught me that of the several things that you can put off, paying a visit to the doctor should not be one of them. In my case, what I initially thought was just a terrible breakout on my chin turned out to be a potentially harmful infection. Another reason why you should go straight to a dermatologist if you want to cure your acne as soon as possible is because sometimes generic topical treatments just won’t work.

Acne affects a lot of people but remember that acne treatment can still be a case-case basis as we all have different skin types. The facial cleanser that worked for a friend might not work for you simply because the cleanser is meant for dry skin (which she has) while you, on the other hand, have oily skin. When I told my first dermatologist of my skincare routine (cleanse, tone, and moisturize) at the time, I was surprised to be told that it’s not yet advisable for me to moisturize on a daily basis as my oil glands are still active at my age and are therefore enough to replenish moisture on my face. So taking into consideration that I already have oily skin, applying moisturizer to my face was a little too much and clogged my pores, which then resulted to acne. It’s always better to have an expert look at your skin and prescribe what works best for you rather than for you to play a guessing game.

2. Use gentle and non-comodegenic products.

cetaphil

If for some reason you can’t see a dermatologist when you’re having a breakout, don’t jump to the first anti-acne soap that you see right away. Instead, opt for gentle cleansers like Cetaphil. When it comes to your skin, remember that less is more. The less products that you apply to your skin, the more room you’re giving it to breathe. Again, all of us have different skin types and while anti-acne soaps/cleansers all have the same claim, a particular product might be too harsh for your skin type.

3. Hands off!

Keep your hands off your face as much as possible. Acne is caused by bacteria – and with our hands doing so much of our work for us – just imagine the amount of bacteria that thrives on your hands which you could be transferring to your face when you rub or scratch at your cheek. If you can’t help it, try to dab the itching area with a clean tissue instead or use the back of your hands/fingers as they are cleaner than your palms. Always wash your hands with an anti-bacterial soap, too.

4. Keep your hair away from your face.

You may not notice it but a lot of dirt also collects on your hair especially when you go out. Keep your hair away from your face to prevent additional bacteria from landing on your skin. When you go to sleep, tie it in a braid. Aside from doing your skin a favor, it will also help prevent you from having tangled, messy hair when you wake up.

5. Practice proper hygiene. 

pillow

Change your sheets and pillow cases on a weekly basis. Another culprit that might be contributing to your breakouts is the dirt that collected on your sheets, which you have to lie on when you sleep. If you can, put a clean towel on top of your pillow every night. This way, you can be assured that your face only comes in contact with clean material.

6. Use a clean paper towel to dry off your face.

papertowel

Don’t use on your face the same bath towel that you use to dry off the other parts of your body with. After cleansing, pat dry your face with a clean paper towel instead.

7. Use a sunscreen!

sunblock

As someone who lives in a tropical country, I think one thing that most of my people take for granted is the effect of UV rays. Just because you have enough melanin on your skin, it doesn’t mean that you’re completely safe from getting skin cancer. Skin cancer aside, another reason why you should put sunscreen when you go out especially if you’re currently suffering from acne is because it can trigger hyperpigmentation, which causes acne spots. I currently use Dermplus Moisturizing Sunblock with SPF 35. It’s highly recommended that you use a sunscreen with SPF 30 and up because it blocks 97% of the sun’s UV rays. After applying the sunblock on my face, I usually wait 30 minutes before I go out because that’s how long it takes for the skin to absorb the product and for it to fully take effect.

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I’ll let you in on another tip. Most beauty websites advise you to only do spot treatment when you’re using Benzac or any other anti-acne product. That’s what I initially thought too but this is what my dermatologist advised me: apply it on your whole face.

benzac

The reason? You can’t predict where your acne will grow next so it’s always better to take preventive measures. What I do right now is I squeeze a pea-sized amount of Benzac (and Tretinoin during the night) onto my palm and apply that onto my entire face. I make sure to avoid the sides of my nose and my lips because those areas are extra sensitive and easily burns. During the first few days, both Benzac and Tretinoin REALLY stung for me (Benzac feels cold and nice to the touch but it starts to hurt when your skin absorbs it). But I learned that’s normal because my skin was still learning to adjust to the product. The pain eventually subsided on the following days. My derma also told me that if I thought the pain was really too much, I could alternate the application of the products and use them every other day.

So far, I haven’t grown a new, single pimple since the day I started this regimen. However, please take this with a grain of salt because your skin type might be entirely different than mine; I’m only sharing what works best for me at the moment. Acne is literally a long battle – the head of Philippine Dermatological Society (PDS), Ms. Blossom Chan once told us that acne treatment can take 1-4 months before you really start to get results. On that note, be patient, be brave, and remember that you’re not alone in this fight.