How I finally cleared up my skin after 15 years of cystic acne

A rare non-running selfie of the elusive Bri

I didn’t really want to talk about this on the blog since this topic isn’t really related to running, lifting weights or doing yoga. Although it’s related to eating healthy, it’s a bit more personal than I usually like to get. But I thought since it’s about self-care and mental health I may as well share my story. Plus, if it helps someone else struggling with the same issues, even better.

My battle with bad skin
I’ve had bad skin since I turned 15. Almost everyone has bad skin at that age, but mine was particularly bad. Not only did I get acne, but also cold sores (on my chin and nose, never on my lips) and eczema. Birth control pills never helped, and neither did dermatologist-prescribed retin A creams and other steroids. I’ve been to the best dermatologists in Victoria, tried Proactiv (which completely dried up my skin in a bad way) and took antibiotics. The only thing I haven’t tried was Accutane, because I’ve heard horror stories about how bad it can be for your liver and what it can do to your skin if you take the wrong dosage.

I’ve been dealing with problem skin for my entire teenage and adult life, finding relief only occasionally for a few days after a tropical vacation (my skin tends to improve after a week in the sun sans makeup and stress). And as anyone who suffers from bad skin will know, it’s pretty psychologically damaging to have problem skin. Not only does it hurt (cystic acne and cold sores), but you also feel so self conscious of your face. It takes me twice as long as most people to get ready in the morning because I apply make up like I’m creating a work of art or something. Because of that, I’m often late, which causes even more stress.

There would also be times I’d avoid social situations all together because I was feeling so self-conscious about my skin. And when I did feel confident enough to go out, I’d avoid going anywhere near a window or outside in natural light.

Those who know me in person and see me on a day-to-day basis always say it’s not that bad — but that’s because I do a pretty good job of covering it up. Only my close girlfriends, parents and boyfriend have seen me without make-up and at my worst. Obviously I don’t have “before” photos to share, because I could never bring myself to take a photo sans make-up during a particularly bad break out. But my skin looked similar to this beautiful soul’s skin, who was brave enough to show the world what she looked like without make-up:

Of course, I would love to say I learned to embraced my bad skin and could see past it to love myself as the beautiful model in the video was able to do — and I truly hope anyone suffering like I was could do the same. But it wasn’t just a vanity thing for me — my skin was also a huge source of stress and anxiety and caused a lot of physical discomfort and pain for me.

Seeking alternative help
Late last year, after my doctor tried to put me on Accutane for the hundredth time, I decided to contact a local skin clinic that uses laser therapy and naturopathic dermatology to help clients with their acne. I know, I know… that’s not science based. But when you’ve tried science based for 15 years and it hasn’t helped, you get desperate. And I was desperate. I’m 30 years old, for goodness sake — I should be worrying about wrinkles by now, not acne!

In November of 2014, I researched cosmetic skin clinics in Victoria and found one that had a treatment that helped heal acne-prone skin. I decided to bite the bullet (and part with $700 of my hard-earned money) to do laser therapy at Clear Skin Victoria every two weeks for four treatments total. The laser therapy helps to minimize pore size, gets rid of sun damage and reduces bacteria in the skin, all with minimal side effects. Along with the laser treatments, I met with the naturopathic dermatologist at the clinic to discuss lifestyle factors that may be contributing to my bad skin. She tested my cosmetics, tested me for food allergies and suggested some supplements I should take that might help.

What the naturopath found was this: I’m stressed out, my hormones are out of whack and my digestive system and immune system are struggling, hence why I keep getting cold sores. Is that true? I dunno. And at that point, I didn’t care and was willing to try anything.

My prescription: Meditation to reduce stress, therapy for my anxiety, a DIM and turmeric supplement to help with hormones, a diet similar to someone with IBS, the use of natural cosmetics only and daily probiotics.

Untouched photo wearing all natural make-up from 100% Pure - just tinted moisturizer and a bit of compact powder on my skin.

Wearing all natural make-up from 100% Pure – just tinted moisturizer and a bit of compact powder on my skin.

It’s been a month since I finished my last laser treatment and therapy session, two months since I started taking the DIM supplement and meditating regularly, three months since I cut out all dairy and reduced my intake of wheat, and over a year using only natural beauty products and taking probiotics.

And for the first time in 15 years, my skin is clear.

It only took me 15 minutes to put on make-up this morning instead of an hour. I sat facing the window in a meeting today instead of with my back against it. I can wash my face at my boyfriend’s house before going to bed instead of keeping my make-up on overnight. I can talk to someone at a close range and not feel self-conscious. You have no idea how amazing it feels to be able to do this.

Of course, because I made several changes at once, I don’t know if it was the cognitive behavioral therapy, the DIM supplement or laser therapy that helped the most. Maybe it was the combination of all three. Right now, I don’t care. I’m just so happy to have more normal skin. I’ll get small zits now and again, but it’s nothing in comparison to what I had before.

Just in case you may be suffering from the same skin condition and have tried absolutely everything with no relief, here’s a breakdown of what I used:

My clear skin arsenal

My clear skin arsenal

Of course, you should ALWAYS consult with your doctor first and seek help from medical professionals before you try any of this stuff. Remember, this is just what worked for me and is completely anecdotal and NOT backed by science. But I know what it’s like to feel like you’ve tried everything. I know what it’s like when treatment after treatment doesn’t work. I would spend hours searching the net for posts like this hoping maybe it would be the miracle solution I was looking for. As much as I put my trust in science-based medicine, sometimes you need to be an advocate for your own health and seek alternative treatment when nothing else seems to be working for you. And this worked for me.

Do you/have you suffer(ed) from bad skin in your adult life? What have you tried to help heal it? What worked for you?