I Never Had Acne as a Teen, but My Breakouts Got Out of Control When I Turned 22
I didn't really have acne as a teenager. I experienced the occasional breakouts like most people in their teens do, but nothing serious. I didn't need to use any special topical products to keep my skin clear — a simple drugstore cleanser for oily skin did the trick just fine. My skin-care luck carried through for the duration of my college years. Then, I turned 22 years old.
It's almost impressive how fast my skin situation was flipped on its head. A month after my 22nd birthday, my skin started breaking out uncontrollably, more than it ever had before. I ignored it and wrote it off as a fluke reaction to some new product I tested, or a result of stress (which I was under a lot of, at the time), or just a really bad case of hormonal acne — but then it didn't go away.
Two years ago, my acne presented itself in uncomfortable, red, cystic pimples around my jawline and some on my cheeks — hardly any popped up on my forehead or around my mouth. At the time I was working as a fashion and beauty editorial assistant (my first job out of college), and to say I was under a lot of stress is putting it very lightly. By the nature of my job, I had access to tons of skin-care products, but nothing I tried helped clear up my acne. That job stress, combined with the stress of having the worst skin of my life, put me at a low point. I had this idea in my head that because I work in the beauty industry, I shouldn't be experiencing skin issues like this and that it somehow meant I was bad at my job.
Finally, after a few months waiting around for the issue to go away on its own, I visited my dermatologist. My derm confirmed what I was already thinking: I was experiencing hormonal breakouts, most likely aggravated by stress; common for women in their early 20s. (After talking it over with my mom, I found out she too had an issue with this around the same age.) I was prescribed two topical products, an acne cream for the morning and a retinol cream at night to help increase cellular turnover and decongest my pores, along with spironolactone, an oral medication traditionally used for high blood pressure but is now a dermatologist go-to for fighting persistent hormonal breakouts.
I followed the regimen my doctor gave me for months and saw very little improvement, which resulted in her upping my dosage of spironolactone. This was discouraging, but I stuck with it. That's when I finally saw some changes in my skin and fewer new pimples popping up. The issue was still far from solved, but it was progress. This went on for about six months and, little by little, my skin got better. I didn't love that I was on an oral medication for my skin because I typically try to avoid taking necessary medications, but it was the only thing that was working, and I was desperate.
In the spring of 2019, I started a new job as a beauty editor (one that I absolutely loved), and the decrease in stress paired with the oral medication helped my skin clear up almost completely, save for the occasional breakout here and there, and of course, those pesky acne marks that are left behind for months after a zit goes away. I know that acne is completely normal, but my self-esteem went back up once my skin cleared.
Fast-forward to today, I often go makeup-free (something I never thought I'd be able to do two years ago). That's not to say I still don't break out — I just woke up with a new zit last week on my chin — but I have a whole new appreciation for both my clear skin and acne.