My 9-Year Struggle With Acne

“Woah who put a volcano on your face?” is just one of the off-handed, seemingly harmless comments I endured during my acne phase. Can you call something a “phase” when it’s been half your life?

From when I was 12 to 21, I struggled with cystic acne. Also known as the most severe form of acne vulgaris, and it’s just as horrible as it sounds. Not only is it physically painful, but it’s emotionally damaging as well. Having severe acne made me feel ugly and super insecure, like I had a deformity. I felt judged by everyone, even if they weren’t looking at my skin.

I’ve taken every medication that exists for acne treatment. I’ve tried holistic methods. I’ve done laser treatments. After everything else failed, I finally resorted to Accutane in college. It’s a serious drug and a tough treatment. I was tired all the time, achey and had terrible headaches. But it worked! And for the first time in my life I heard, “Caitlin you have amazing skin!”

But my newly clear skin didn’t last long, and six months later I found myself back in my dermatologist’s office crying my eyes out. I was part of the unlucky few who don’t get “cured” after the first round. I went on a second, more aggressive round of Accutane. The second round was easier for me since I already had one under my belt so I was more prepared for the side effects. Mentally, I kept my fingers crossed that I’d never have to do it again.

My skin looked amazing during my treatment. But my acne came back once, and I was convinced it would come back again. When I took my last dose, I wasn’t excited.

The six month mark came, and I broke out a little. Someone else wouldn’t have thought it was a big deal, but to me it was. It meant that I was going to deal with this forever. I was exhausted. My dermatologist, bless her heart, held my hand and said that it was going to be okay. We were going to figure it out.

She was also very real with me. A third round of Accutane was not the solution. For my body type I was on an extraordinarily high dosage, and I was essentially on it for two years. I couldn’t handle another round, and my acne was at a point where it was manageable, which I had never experienced before.

My acne comes from a hormonal inbalance. Basically, my body overproduces testosterone which overproduces oil and my skin can’t keep up. It usually wasn’t as horrific when I was on birth control, but since my issues with the pill, I can’t take hormonal birth control or hormone supplements, and my IUD is not ideal for women with a history of acne because it can cause breakouts.

My dermatologist suggested Spironolactone, which is a blood pressure medication that at the right dosage reduces the effects of testosterone. It’s more complicated than that, obviously, but that’s the gist. She also gave me several topical treatments to use along with it. And with the pills and the creams, I’m finally at a place where I’m happy with my skin.

I’ve realized that acne is unfortunately not something I will ever grow out of, but I don’t spend hours over-analyzing my face anymore. I don’t wash my face and then cry at how horrible my skin looks. I don’t sit at home with a mud mask instead of going out with my friends. I don’t avoid putting my hair up in fear that my whole face will be exposed.

Whenever I breakout now, I still cringe a little. But I’ve accepted that this is something I have to deal with on a regular basis. My skin and I have come a very long way, I just have to love it and care for it more than most people.

Do you struggle with acne? How have you dealt with the emotional side of it? Tell me in the comments!

I was also insecure about my nose, but I’m so glad I didn’t get plastic surgery!

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  • Anonymous

    I did read somewhere that using the Dandruff Shampoo Head & Shoulders (the one with the zinc in it) is apparently good as a body wash for acne, and as a facial wash. (I use it in the shower and I have noticed it’s effective in conjuction with my antibiotics).
    You can google it and there’s a lot of discussions about how it’s effective and the results that people have had.

    I’ve had acne since I was 13 and I’m now 18. It’s very physically as well as emotionally damaging. I haven’t worn a singlet top in that length of time, I’ve never worn anything that shows my back. I used to spend a lot of time pulling my shirt up because I was so self-conscious of people seeing it and I missed out on YEARS of going to the beach, parties and even just shopping with friends. They even stopped inviting me places after a while because they just assumed I wouldn’t go. (I’ve never told them about my acne).

    I even had dreams about how people would be coming over and I’d have to run to get something to cover it up.

    It took two different doctors before I was put on antibiotics that seem to be working. I’m currently about two weeks into my last course of antibiotics (it has now taken three courses of antibiotics) and I haven’t had a breakout, my acne scars seem to be fading and I can tell you that I feel so much more optimistic about my life and about the things I can now look forward to doing.

    The trick is to stay positive and don’t just try one thing. If you try something and it doesn’t work, go back to your doctor and try something else! Keep trying. I promise you something will eventually work!! The key is to be persistent.

  • Emile Turck

    Typical features of acne include: seborrhea (increased oil-sebum secretion), comedones (blackheads and whiteheads), papules (pinheads), pustules (pimples), nodules (large papules) and, possibly scarring.The appearance of acne varies with skin color. It may result in psychological and social problems.

  • Anonym

    Hey Caitlin , I am 21 and i suffer from the same thing you have . But i will tell you a cure , i have been following for a month and my acne has reduced. And its POSITIVE THINKING . One month ago , I used to cry my eyes out over how ugly i looked, but once I realized I could’nt do anything about it and really accepted that fact, I am happier . I know you must have heard it before , but please start thinking that YOU ARE BEAUTIFUL , it DOES really work and i am not bluffing. Get up in the morning thinking beautiful and end it the same way. You will be cured 🙂

  • some random person

    i have terrible acne. nothing i do helps. my parents are too embarrassed to take me to a dermatologist. i’m so self conscious of my face, i hate it. what can i do?

    • Caitlin Corsetti

      I’m so sorry you’re dealing with this! There is nothing embarrassing about seeing a dermatologist. I would explain to your parents that it’s a serious concern for you, and it’s affecting your self-esteem. While I would definitely recommend seeing a dermatologist, sometimes regular physicians can help as well so you might be able to speak with your general doctor at a physical!

  • AmyM

    I’m 16 and I have been dealing with severe acne since I was 11 or 12. I went to my GP for something different but my mum asked if there was anything he could do about it anyway. I wasn’t bothered at the time but now I’m so glad she did! It took 3 years of topical solutions, creams and an assortment of pills before my GP finally referred me to a dermatologist. He took one look at it it prescribed a course of Roaccutane (UK version of Accutane) alongside Dianette contraceptive pills. I took the Roaccutane for 6 months and had all the side effects you mentioned as well as my acne getting worse for the first few months. Almost 2 years later I am still on the pill for my skin and although people say my skin looks really good now every time I get a spot I freak out that it’s all going to come back. My GP wanted to take me off Dianette because it can have bad effects if taken for too long but I wouldn’t let her! Thanks for this article – it made me feel like I wasn’t alone and that someone else understands what a traumatic thing acne can be.

    • Caitlin Corsetti

      Thanks for sharing your story! I know it’s hard, but it sounds like you’re getting to a good place with your skin, which is great. I have that anxiety every time I get a spot, too. It gets better! You are definitely not alone!