"Just drink water." There is nothing more irritating than scrolling down your Instagram feed, seeing all these women with naturally perfect skin – glowing in the sun with not a blemish in sight – and their magical advice to achieve clear skin is: drink water.
Well, I want to know what water these ladies are drinking because I have been drinking my water and have tried every natural skin regimen under the sun promoted by our favorite YouTubers with no success.
Since middle school, I have had mild to severe breakouts. Nothing too terrible, but enough to be noticable and impact my confidence when the increased discoloration and acne scarring began to become a topic of conversation. In high school, I went to see a dermatologist and was prescribed an acne medication, which virtually eradicated my breakouts; it was miracle. Using acne cream basically allowed me to forget I even had it.
Problem solved... Or so I thought.
Despite its success, deep down, I used to feel ashamed whenever someone would comment on how clear my skin was or ask for my "secret" and it was acne cream. It made me feel like I was cheating somehow, or that I wasn't trying hard enough to research and find a regimen that would give me clear skin without any medication. I had friends with nearly perfect skin and they didn't use acne cream, and thought, Why couldn't that be me? On YouTube, I found so many influencers broadcasting their successful transitions from acne medication, encouraging viewers to reject a life "enslaved to chemicals" to "free ourselves" and "take control over our health and futures."
So, I decided to do just that and go rogue.
Two years ago, I went on a quest to completely wean myself off of chemicals. I was so desperate to go all-natural in every way – my hair, diet, and skin – and was confident that if I put in the time and energy, I would have luscious curls, a snatched waist, and glowing skin. I got 1.5 out of the 3 right, but my abrupt transition off of acne medicine without consulting my doctor or selecting one particular skin care regimen nearly permanently damaged my skin.
I approached natural skin care the same way I approached my natural hair journey: I would hop from product to product, watch countless videos and mix methods, and somehow through process of elimination, I would determine what worked vs. what didn't. It was a disaster. Determined, I really tried to stick it out, telling myself that I just needed more time for my face to adjust, but my skin was super sensitive to all of the DIY mixers and elixirs I was cooking up and I began to develop severe hyperpigmentation and cystic acne – far worse than anything I experienced before my original medication.
Not only was I out there looking crazy and smelling like a pine cone from all the tea tree oil I was using to treat my breakouts, but my self-confidence was really taking a hit. I still look at *unedited* selfies from that period and cringe.
It was one evening before a school formal event that I reached my breaking point.
My face was so raw and tender from all of the scrubbing, face masks, and chemicals that applying makeup was not only painful but made me worry about the makeup further inflaming and breaking out my skin. Additionally, the thought of getting ready and going to this event without any makeup sent me into a panic. Everyone would see the discoloration, the bumps, I just couldn't to do that. So I decided, I wouldn't go. Later that evening, I watched on Snapchat as everyone was out at this event, enjoying themselves and living their best lives, while I sat in bed applying yet another face mask. Wistful, I scrolled back through my phone onto pictures of my skin before I stopped using my acne cream and it seemed like a different world. I was sick of smelling like a pine cone. I couldn't take it anymore. I decided to return to my acne medication.
Maybe, I'm a sellout. Maybe, I didn't wait long enough or went about transitioning the wrong way. Maybe, I don't care.
I don't have perfect skin and I'm OK with it.
Acne medication just happens to be a part of my narrative and it works for me. All I know is that I didn't look or feel the way I wanted to when I stopped using my acne cream, and I will pursue whatever regimen, chemicals or not, that make me look and feel beautiful. I wouldn't have stopped using my acne cream if I didn't feel shamed into pursuing natural regimens, and after consulting with my dermatologist this time around, I transitioned to a cream with increasingly lower chemical percentages and that can be used less frequently and eventually, not at all.
Chemicals and medications are not inherently bad or harmful if used correctly.
The primary prescription I personally use is Duac, a clindamycin benzoyl peroxide topical gel as a spot treatment. I started off at 10% strength and have been slowly decreasing the intensity over time. When money is tight, I opt for a dupe on Amazon that I have had good success with called Replenix. When I first returned to prescription acne treatments, I was using Duac and Tazorac, a retinoid, to basically remove my entire top layer of damaged skin and address my hyperpigmentation and acne scarring. But, I HATED it. Although it was technically successful, my skin peeled for weeks and was super raw and tender. I couldn't even wear foundation without looking diseased. As soon as I ran out of my dosage, I immediately stopped using it. Alternatively, I do chemical peels every 3-4 weeks to balance my complexion, my favorite being the Microdelivery Resurfacing Peel by Philosophy. For cleansers and moisturizers, I use Neutrogena Oil-Free cleanser every night or with a spin brush 2-3 times a week and Cetaphil face lotion – nothing fancy.
My story isn't an unwavering endorsement of acne medication. I still drink a lot of water, try not to touch my face with dirty hands, and limit my consumption of greasy foods, and honestly, in a perfect world, I wouldn't use chemicals at all. But, rather than feel ashamed and boxed into a corner regarding perceptions, I am here to say that everyone's experience is different and it's okay to do whatever works for you. Just ensure that you are properly informed and feel empowered in whatever decision you make.
So, if you are considering transitioning from acne medication, go for it. Just go about it correctly. If you want to embrace your skin as-is, go for it. Just know that your journey may not pan out the way you originally imagined and you are free to go about it however you want. And, if you want to continue using your prescription, I'm right here with you.
It's your skin, it's your life, it's your choice.
Featured image by Lydia Anglin