How I Cleared Adult Acne Without Prescription Pills

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The worst part about my skin is that it's not actually that bad; I just have such stubborn and persistent yet mild acne. It didn't hit me until college, and I don't know if I let it happen because I wasn't taking care of my skin (and myself) or if it was inevitable, but ever since my freshman year, I've always worn makeup because I hate my skin so much.

When I was in high school, my skin was never a problem. I was healthy and active and took really good care of my skin, hair, and body. I basically dropped the ball when I left for college, though. I stopped exercising, my eating habits went toward the typical college fare of tater tots and pasta from a box, and I couldn’t be bothered to do anything with my face.

My skin went downhill and fast. I had a lot of dryness and random acne flare-ups. I saw my dermatologist back in my hometown, and her immediate recommendation was Isotretinoin, more commonly known as Accutane. I was all for it — my brother had done it years before that and knocked out his cystic acne in a matter of months, and he hasn’t had a problem since. My mom, however, wasn’t OK with the drug. It’s really powerful, and as long as she was paying, I wasn’t getting it.

So we searched for alternatives. My dermatologist put me on Retin-A, a diuretic, and birth control to start. But after giving them a few months, the only differences I was seeing were terribly bad dryness (yet no acne improvement) from the Retin-A, nothing from the diuretic, and weight gain from the birth control. I paired the Retin-A with a light moisturizer to try to balance it out, but even then my skin was such a wreck that I could hardly even wear makeup.

After another visit, she put me on different drugs to try. And I went through this cycle for the next few years. I’d give everything a few months to work, but nothing ever did.

Gotta love stubborn acne.

It was also frustrating because I was getting to be in my mid-20s, which is a time I would have never thought I’d be dealing with acne and other skin problems. But adult acne is actually a thing. And I’ve got it.

After years of medicated topicals and a host of drugs, I finally asked a dermatologist if I could do Isotretinoin. I was told that even though my acne is mild, the Isotretinoin would be a good way to knock it out for good.

Finally. I would be done with this headache.

I did all the preliminary testing for the drug and got the reading materials, and as I went through it, I thought to myself, “Wow, this drug is intense; it could deform my baby if I get pregnant, but no more acne ever!”

So I suffered through the horrendously dry skin, the no-drinking rule, the multiple forms of birth control, the monthly pregnancy and blood tests, the hypersensitivity to sun, and the worsening of my vision. (Seriously, even my eyes were affected by Isotretinoin.) And after three months, my skin was flawless. The usual cycle for Accutane is four to five months, and my nurse cleared me after four. Since my skin had already looked great for a month before that, she said I should be good to go. She warned me, though, that Accutane doesn’t always stick. She said the majority of people are done after one cycle, but about 10 to 15 percent of people need to do a second round.

But my skin had cleared up so easily! I was free of acne!

For the first time in my adult life, I was able to go without makeup and not feel self-conscious. I felt better than ever.

But it didn’t last. About six months later, my acne crept back in and settled into its old ways.

I decided not to do another round of Isotretinoin. It’s so hard on you, and I just didn’t want to put my body through that again.

So I found alternatives. I don’t take any medications anymore, and I don’t use any prescription topicals. I’ve found a routine that works pretty well for maintenance, and I only have breakouts once in a while. I use a light salicylic cleanser ($17) that my dermatologist sells at her boutique and an oil-free moisturizer ($14) that goes with it. (It’s designed for teens. Just what I always wanted to use at age 27.) So I wash my face every night with the cleanser and my Clarisonic Mia ($125), then I put on the moisturizer right before bed.

If I have a deep pimple that doesn’t want to go anywhere, I’ll just put some Neosporin on it before bed. I might do that for a couple nights, and it usually gets rid of it.

I put on another layer of moisturizer in the morning before my makeup, which has been another journey to figure out. I’m currently loving Giorgio Armani Luminous Silk Foundation ($62) that I put on over Maybelline’s Baby Skin primer ($7). Both seem to really agree with my sensitive skin and give me a great even-toned finish.

After 10 years of dealing with problem skin, I’ve gotten to the point where I can just accept it. Like I said, my skin’s not that bad — it’s just stubborn! But once I found a way to manage it, it became way more tolerable.