I hate to brag, but until early 2016, I had perfect skin—it was so clear and smooth I had people asking if they could stroke my baby-soft cheeks (the answer was no, creep). But of course, this story isn’t a humble brag about my perfect skin—it’s to tell you where it all went wrong, and how I (finally) fixed it after a long, 12-month journey.
Soon after my 27th birthday, I started to notice huge, painful, under-the-skin acne on my right cheek—it was concentrated in one area, so I was convinced there had to be a reason why. I’d been off the pill for six years so I knew it wasn’t that. At the time, my skincare regime was pretty basic—Cetaphil Gentle Cleanser ($20) and Sukin Rosehip Oil ($20) to moisturize—and Mario Badescu Drying Lotion ($26) for the occasional spot. Soon after the acne popped up (excuse the pun), I was basically slathering the drying lotion all over my right cheek. It did nothing except add “flaky dry skin” to my list of concerns.
I live in Sydney and had countless people recommend I visit a skin therapist a month or so after the acne first showed up. I booked a consultation (the soonest I could get was about a month out), paid my deposit in advance, and waited for my miracle appointment. My consult lasted about 60 seconds, then I was ushered into the treatment room—I had a round of laser, followed by light therapy, and went home to wake up with a puffy face and no change. If anything, it was worse.
I grappled for a few weeks as to whether I should include images in this story. I decided I would, because throughout my skin journey, and late nights Googling symptoms and treatments, I’ve wanted to see other people’s skin.
My next course of action after the laser treatment was to visit a GP. The doctor was absolutely of no use and told me my body was going through a “second puberty” and to sit tight, it would all pass. By now it had been about four months with no change, so I went to a dermatologist because I’d never heard of anything so ridiculous as a “second puberty” (although some say it's a real thing). The dermatologist overhauled my skincare regime, and I added an AHA, BHA, and retinol to my routine. I drew up an action plan—exactly what I should use and at what time of the day, but my skin couldn’t handle all the change. It went dry, bumpy, scaly all over, and the acne wouldn’t budge.
Where I’d once spend about three minutes on my morning routine, I was now spending 20 minutes with different concealers, powders, and tears. My now-husband felt helpless, and would come home with different lotions and potions trying to help. Bless.
We’re about six months in now, and my skin was actually in so much pain that it hurt to smile. I started weekly light therapy sessions, and I was promised it would be the answer to my skin woes. While I certainly felt relaxed, and the left side of my face was the best it had ever looked, the acne was still screaming. My engagement party was around this time—not ideal.
Below, you’ll see my skin at the half-way point. It got worse than this, but I couldn’t bring myself to snap a pic.
I started 2017 vowing to get my skin in shape for my August wedding. I’m happy to say that I had it in a good place for the big day—I really tried everything. I had invasive hormone tests, went back on the pill, switched my skincare to all-natural, and altered my diet before I found the two treatments that finally had my skin back on track.
I’d always been intrigued by Chinese and herbal medicine, and discovered a brand called Zilch—a natural treatment designed to clear adult acne. I started the treatment in March 2017. Four tablets in the morning, four in the evening—not easy if you don’t like taking tablets. I felt nauseous for the first week, but stuck with it. By the second week, the inflammation had reduced and the painful lumps felt smaller.
I was seeing results for the first time in a year—but part of me wanted to know why the acne was there in the first place—to ensure it never comes back.
I finally went to visit my family doctor (not the standard GP I’d visited months earlier) and explained the past year of skin issues (with a camera roll of selfies). He thinks I’d had a nasal infection before it all started and had bacteria trapped in that part of my face, which caused the acne (how gross?). To be certain it wouldn’t come back, he prescribed me a course of antibiotics (Minomycin) to make sure it was gone for good and wouldn’t return for my wedding.
Now, my skin is clear, and I haven’t had a single blemish since May—even during “that time of the month”. I’m left with a few spots of post-acne hyper-pigmentation (which you can see below), but I’m on a new regime to help clear it. Now, I use a Kate Somerville EradiKate Daily Cleanser ($38) to help keep any spots at bay. I stay hydrated morning and night with Dermaquest Essential B5 Hydrating Serum ($75)—I find my skin soaks it up and immediately feels nice and plump. I follow in the evenings with Venustus Immortelle Facial Serum ($46) to help smooth, refine and lock in moisture. To exfoliate and brighten, I alternate between Cosmedix Simply Brilliant Serum ($107) and Biologique Recherche Lotion P50 ($199).
It's important for me to point out that this is my skin journey, and everyone is different. If you are suffering from acne, I hope this post brings you some comfort and ideas on where to go searching for answers.