Acne, Accutane, and Acceptance

A Skincare Journey in Three Acts

Acne, Accutane, and Acceptance

Act 1: Acne

Growing up I had gorgeous skin. The kind of skin that effortlessly turned my chubby cheeks golden brown in the summer sun, rarely needed multiple applications of sunscreen, and retained its baby-soft texture for years. But then something happened that changed my skin for the worse: Puberty.

I started my period in sixth grade and it changed everything about my skin—texture, color, sensitivity—everything. All of a sudden I started to burn within minutes of being outside and breakouts starting showing up across my forehead and cheeks. Doctors said it was simply "growing pains" of entering my teenage years so, for a while, I ignored it. After all, I surely wasn't the only middle schooler with a whitehead or two.

But when I got to high school, things started to change again. My whiteheads almost completely disappeared but were replaced with small red bumps that mostly congregated around my jawline and neck. I even got the occasional (and very painful) bump on my chest and was on and off birth control throughout my teenage years per the suggestion of my doctor to help control the breakouts.

I tried everything: Proactiv, Neutrogena, Clean & Clear, and a very, very pricey Clinique set, but nothing seemed to work. Whenever I expressed how frustrated I was to my doctors, their response was "wash your face more" or they'd nod to my mom and ask if I showered enough.

Too long, didn't read? No one helped me.

Act 2: Accutane

Needless to say, my acne issues lasted the entirety of my high school career. Every social event where my neck and face had to be even decently exposed was nerve-wracking. I plastered foundation all over my skin for prom and made my mom pay to get my senior photos retouched.

I moved to New York City in the fall of 2012 to go to college and one thing is for sure: pollution is no friend to your skin. However, one positive skincare-related thing came from living in such a big city. I had access to more dermatologists and was finally told my issue wasn't just acne, it was cystic acne (for those of you who don't know, cystic acne are large and painful breakouts that happen very deep in the skin).

With this new information, my doctors continued to switch my birth control in an attempt to find one that could wrangle my skin issues. And I continued on my quest for good skincare products, even briefly trying a 5-step skincare line from Barney's that cost roughly $60 per bottle (I can't find this brand on their site anymore... sketchy).

I started seeing a new dermatologist in 2014 who, during our first meeting, decided I needed to go on Accutane. I was desperate for a solution and agreed to try it and to kick off my Accutane journey that day, I was given 20 shots in the face to help control the acne swelling.

I went home crying red as a lobster, bleeding from the injections, but hopeful that Accutane would fix all of my problems.

I was on Accutane for about 6 months. It's a pretty heavy drug, and I threw up regularly after swallowing it. My overall mood largely shifted downward and my skin was so dry it physically hurt.

Not to mention, Accutane is extremely inconvenient and pretty taxing to keep up with. I had to get blood tests done every month and I had to sign waiver promising to stay on birth control or remain abstinent throughout the process.

When the 6 months was up, my skin had significantly cleared and I decided not to continue taking Accutane, though my dermatologist kept pushing it (despite the many complaints I had about it). My new skin lasted only a few months before those pesky red bumps began to reappear around my jawline and chest.

Unhappy with the unsupportive nature of my old doctor, I visited a new dermatologist who prescribed doxycycline to me. Doxycycline wasn't exactly a cure-all, but it was helpful enough that I've been taking it on and off up until this year.

Act 3: Acceptance

When the top-of-the-line skincare products and the world's most powerful prescription drug fail to clear your skin, you begin to lose hope pretty hard. But then something pretty miraculous happened—I stopped trusting brands that are rich in chemicals.

A couple years ago there seemed to be a big boom in the natural and organic skincare space. Since I felt that everything else had failed me, I was iffy about anything that didn't list benzoyl peroxide as an active ingredient.

Benzoyl peroxide is found in products like Proactiv, Clean & Clear, and Neutrogena, and for a long time my motto was "if it doesn't sting, it doesn't work." But since I had nothing to lose I decided to switch up my skincare game and go natural. Let me tell you: it made all the difference.

A part of my current rotation includes daily cleansing with philosophy's purity made simple, Fresh Seaberry Moisturizing Face Oil before bed, cocokind's Turmeric Stick for emergency spot treatment, and I also started getting regular facials at Mud. Facial Bar.

Mixing these products while continuing to stay conscious of my makeup choices has made my skin clearer than it's been since I was about twelve years old. I still struggle and get breakouts in their favorite spots (my jawline and neck), but they're so much more manageable, way less painful, and not quite as red.

My skin has a long way to go, but I found that natural ingredients are stronger than any dosage of a drug like Accutane.

So trust me: stinging does not equal working.

How does it work?
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Brittany K. King

Brittany K. King is a Chicago-based writer. She spends most of her time avoiding saying the word ‘gyro’ out loud. 

See all posts by Brittany K. King