I’ve read a lot of acne story posts and watched a lot of acne journey YouTube videos, and the thing about most people’s documentation of their experiences with acne is that, most people it seems, don’t document their journey until it’s over and they have clear skin.
My documentation of my acne journey is different. In this post, you get to see all the disgusting, painful, red sores that have tormented me for the better part of my life, but that got particularly bad around the end of 2017.
This is a series of photos of my acne and acne treatment progress, yes. But it’s also sort of a play-by-play progression of what I did to treat my acne and how each action I took helped or hurt my skin. It’s a pretty long post, but if you suffer from acne, I encourage you to read all of it.
And, if you’ve been struggling with acne yourself, please leave a comment for me at the end of this post to let me know what you found helpful about this, what information you still want to know, or just to say hi.
My Acne Journey: In Photos
In December 2017, I started taking a supplement that I heard could potentially help women suffering from hormonal acne. One week later, I was experiencing the worst breakout of my adult life — an allergic reaction that was a direct result from taking said supplement.
Lucky for me, I was taking pictures of my skin every few days at the time, as I was trying to clear my existing acne, so I caught the whole ugly thing in a series of photos.
I began using a combination of prescription and over-the-counter acne treatments in my daily skincare routine, which has helped significantly. For the first time in years, I feel like I’m finally on my way to getting rid of my cystic acne for good, which is ironic considering this is the worst my skin has looked since my teens.
Below are some photos of my recent acne journey and treatment progress.
Dec. 3, 2017 – This is when I started taking the supplement that made me break out extremely bad. As you can see, my acne was already flared up and was especially bad around my lower cheek and chin area (characteristic of hormonal acne).
This was what my skin had been looking like for the last few weeks, which was why I had been looking into new ways to treat my acne in the first place.
Dec. 10, 2017 – A few days later, the supplement didn’t seem to be doing my skin any favors, and you can notice my jawline getting some nasty red pimples.
Dec. 12, 2017 – Here’s where I started really thinking that something wasn’t right.
I know many acne treatments often have a bit of a “purge” stage, which was what I thought my skin had been going through up until this point. However, you can see that my acne became extremely inflamed by this point, with tons of whiteheads showing up on my face in a matter of days.
Furthermore, all of these breakouts were consistent with a hormonal acne pattern, indicating that the supplement I was taking was messing with my hormones.
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Dec. 13, 2017 – I stopped taking the demon supplement, but it had already done its damage. I cannot tell you how extremely sore and painful this acne was.
In just 10 days, my skin went from broken out to oh-my-god-do-I-need-to-go-to-the-hospital? bad. In my personal, non-professional opinion, an acne flare up this extreme brought on this quickly has to be the result of an allergic reaction.
I tenderly moisturized and tried to care for my skin, but had to quickly accept that no amount of supplements or over-the-counter treatments could help this breakout. I signed into my DermatologistOnCall account and got prescriptions for an antibiotic and a topical retinoid.
This was also the day I decided to create My Acne Journey, so I was at least feeling good about that.
Dec. 19, 2017 – Simply stopping the supplement I had been on kept my acne from completely spiraling out of control. However, my skin was obviously pissed about what I’d done to it.
At this point, it was still extremely red, but the number of new pimples forming decreased, and I was basically dealing with the aftermath of the breakout from hell.
I believe I had just started taking my antibiotic at this point, too. But I had not started using the topical retinoid yet.
Dec. 21, 2017 – I started using the topical retinoid I’d been prescribed (Trentinoin) around this time.
Obviously, my skin was still reeling from the allergic reaction at this point, but it was slowly starting to feel better, even though I know it looks anything but.
Dec. 30, 2017 – Hallelujah: the retinoid/antibiotic combo was starting to give me some real results.
You can see a dramatic decrease in the redness surrounding the breakout area, as well as a decrease in the number of active pimples.
My skin was very scarred and hyperpigmented from the initial breakout, but it was already much less textured and less painful.
New Year, New Skin? Not Really: My Acne Treatment Progress in 2018
Jan. 4, 2018 – I kept up with the antibiotics and Trentinoin and was seeing some steady improvements.
Despite drinking too much booze and eating like utter shit over the New Year’s holiday, my skin was continuing to improve. A lot of the redness was subsiding, and my textured skin was smoothing out.
Jan. 6, 2018 – I kept up with my acne treatment routine, including the antibiotics and retinoid. It’s hard to tell just from these photos, by my skin has almost zero active breakouts here. There’s that one or two on my left cheek, but everything else you see here is leftover scarring and hyperpigmentation from the initial allergic reaction and breakout.
Compared to the pre-breakout photo on December 3rd above, my skin here looks just as bad if not worse than it did then.
However, I actually have fewer pimples here, and I feel really good knowing that I’m on the right track to getting clear skin.
Jan. 14, 2018 – I finished up my prescribed course of antibiotics and opted not to get that prescription refilled. If you’re ever prescribed antibiotics for acne, just know that staying on antibiotics for an extended period of time can have very negative side effects.
I kept using the Trentinoin cream before going to bed each night and didn’t notice any immediate changes due to the lack of antibiotics.
Jan. 19, 2018 – I kept using the Trentinoin and also switched up some of my makeup products. I stopped using my NARS tinted sunscreen and, instead, opted for two much cheaper products: Neutrogena’s Sensitive Skin Sunscreen and Wet n Wild’s cruelty-free Photo Focus Foundation. My skin didn’t react badly to either of these changes, so I was a happy camper.
Feb. 9, 2018 – A few weeks later, my skin was back to being very unhappy. I attributed this to the fact that I was no longer on antibiotics. I had to accept the fact that my acne was too bad for even an online dermatologist to treat, so I scheduled an appointment with a dermatologist. Luckily, my primary physician’s office had just opened a skincare clinic, so I didn’t have to wait the usual three months or so to get an appointment.
At this point, though, I was only using my trentinoin cream and it didn’t seem to be doing me much good by itself.
Feb. 16, 2018 – My skin pretty much stayed the same over the next few weeks. I did try to track what food/lifestyle choices could be affecting my acne, but the only thing I discovered was that drinking alcohol made my hyperpigmentation really red. Other than that, no amount of cheese, caffeine, makeup, etc. seemed to make me break out more or less.
Feb. 27, 2018 – Again, nothing really different happened with my skin until I was finally able to get in to see my dermatologist. However, I think it’s important to include these additional photos just to really drive home how persistent and out-of-control my acne was. I’m a relatively healthy person. I exercise four days a week, I don’t each much fried or fatty food (though I do have a weakness for sugar), I don’t eat dairy often, I clean my skin every morning and evening with gentle products… and this is still the level of acne that I had to deal with every day.
April 9, 2018 – In the beginning of March, I went to see my dermatologist. He recommended that I get back on birth control, which I had been off of for about two years at that point. In addition to getting back on the pill, he also prescribed me a water pill called spironolactone. He told me that he’d treated a number of women around my age with severe acne and said that, while medical professionals weren’t quite sure why it worked, combining birth control with spironolactone often significantly helped to clear up their skin.
After being on this combination of drugs for about a month, I started to see results. The changes were very slow, but the number of breakouts I was getting started to decrease.
May 29, 2018 – After staying on spironolactone and birth control for about three months, my acne showed a lot of progress. In this photo I have almost no active breakouts on my face. All of the marks you see are actually scars from my saw palmetto breakout and the acne that followed it.
As you can see, I had a lot of deep, hyperpigmented scars all over my face. I naturally have pretty pale skin, too, so these scars really showed up big time.
After I was able to get the acne itself under control, I started adding some additional treatments into my routine to help with the scarring.
In addition to staying on tretinoin, I also started using The Ordinary’s niacinamide serum and their silicone-free vitamin C serum. Note: Since all of these products contain some kind of active vitamin ingredient (tretinoin = vitamin A, niacinamide = vitamin B, vitamin C = vitamin C), it’s important to not use more than one at a time.
I used the niacinamide serum in the morning every other day or so, I used the tretinoin at night, and I used the vitamin C serum one night a week or if I know I’m not going to be in the sun at all during the day.
July 15, 2018 – At this point, I continued to keep taking my spironolactone and birth control, but was using less and less of the trentinoin cream. Instead, I started using The Ordinary’s roeship oil serum a few times a week, because I’d heard that rosehip oil is good for acne scarring.
I noticed that, on nights when I used just the rosehip oil before bed, I woke up with a great complexion, and any pimples I’d been starting to get were always almost completely gone. So I stopped using the trentinoin completely and just used rosehip oil before bed each night. My skin became more hydrated and I experienced even fewer pimples. I couldn’t really tell if my acne scarring was getting better or not, but it certainly wasn’t getting any worse so I decided to stick with the routine.
It should also be noted that, about a month before this picture was taken, I also received both a micro-needling and a Laser Genisis treatment for my scaring. Hence, it’s hard to say if the rosehip oil reducing my scaring or if the professional treatments did. Please read my post on the Dermapen vs Laser Genisis treatments to learn more about that experience.
As noted in that post, I felt that the micro-needling worked better than the laser treatment for my skin, so I decided to take matters into my own hands and start micro-needling my face at home. Which brings us to November…
November 2, 2018 – You guys. The diffence that microneedling my face at home, plus keeping with the rosehip oil has made for my skin has been insane. Honestly, I really didn’t think the microneedling was doing much, but looking back at these photos has really showed me that I’m seeing progress, even though it may feel really slow some days.
I also have a full post on my microneedling experience, so please continue reading here if you’d like to know more about that. Basically though, I’ve been microneedling once a week for about a month to a month and a half, and the picture above shows the results. I definitely still have scarring — and some very deep scarring at that — but my skin is gradually improving.
The biggest changes I’ve noticed to date have been the change in hyperpigmentation. From July to November you can see a huge difference in how red and scarred my skin is, and I’m excited to see what another few months of needling do for me.
Additionally, I also went raw vegan, and then just normal vegan, starting in September 2018. And, as I’ve discussed in my post about begin vegan, I don’t think that veganism is necessarily the reason my skin has improved. But I do think going vegan has helped a little bit. Please read that post here to learn more about veganism and acne.
And that about brings us up to date.
My acne journey is far from over, but I’ve made a lot of progress in the last month.
What acne wins and setbacks have you experienced recently? Tell me in the comments below!
Also published on Medium.