My Acne Journey 2020

by - December 05, 2020

At the beginning of 2020 I had set an intention to improve my relationship with my skin which was negatively impacting me in the self-love department. I was cancelling on friends, and when I did leave my house, I was caking on my makeup to cover as much of my insecurities as possible. I hated it. I hated my face. I hated that my body was betraying me daily, and honestly, frustration was my default mode. I wanted to go to the beach makeup-free or do the bare minimum in the mornings for work without worrying if coworkers or clients will be distracted by my acne flare-ups. I was also in a lot of pain all the time. I couldn’t even sleep with my face touching my pillow because it would be so inflamed that it was hyper-sensitive. And, don’t get me started about washing it during breakouts. It was REALLY BAD and truthfully, looking in the mirror was exponentially more painful than the physical ordeal. 

Now, I’m no stranger to acne as you would have read in my 2015 acne story blog post. I was first diagnosed with cystic acne in 2009, and since then, my journey has been a roller coaster, sometimes even more accurately a downward spiral. Recently, however, things have been progressive. Though my skin is far from perfect, I am conscious of the fact that it is a process, and I am being patient and grateful for where I am today. I’m learning as I go along and since I’m in a much better place I wanted to share my latest lessons in case there is anyone struggling as I have been: 

Keep Seeking Professional Help Until You Get Answers…

If it’s one thing I’ve learned from my struggle with acne it's trusting your body and your intuition. I went to the doctor this year more than I have all of my entire life (I generally never get sick). Since September/ October of last year however, my stress levels increased and I felt like my body was shutting down. I was barely productive at work and I just didn't feel like myself at all. My doctor said I just needed rest as she saw nothing wrong with me except that I should probably go on antidepressants to mellow out a bit -___-. I left it alone. But while I couldn’t quite understand what was happening inside of my body, I was absolutely clear that I couldn’t live with the condition of my skin, which at the time I was treating as a separate issue. 

In July 2020, I decided to bite the bullet and visit a dermatologist. If you’re thinking DUH, well, you’ve probably never had a dermatologist inject your cysts with steroids that left permanent holes on the same face she “accidentally” gave you a chemical peel on during an eczema flare up. A dermatologist who came highly recommended and was noted as one of the best. She was my third derm and I wasn’t loving these expensive and poor experiences so I pretty much gave up on dermatologists after that (2014). Also, every dermatologist I went to forced birth control or Accutane on me as the only solutions, even when I said no, and they provided no alternatives. While my acne was bad, I didn't think those extremes were right for me. Fast forward to July of this year when a close friend and then my god-father recommended the same dermatologists after seeing me really struggling, I decided to give this one a try. Thankfully he was able to get my skin back on the recovery track, plus he was also the first doctor to identify the actual underlying cause of my acne, PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome), which I was later diagnosed with in August by a Gyno [eventually I’ll share this revelation with you all]. I’ve had 3 sessions with this dermatologist but I have since switched to a medical aesthetician where I do monthly peels and facials for upkeep. I decided I no longer needed to see him since he too insisted that birth control and Accutane were the next phase of treatment. 

Updating My Routine:

Now that my extreme inflammations have calmed, I’ve moved on to a more maintenance stage of healing. Currently my steps are: cleanser, toner, serum, moisturizer and treatment (prescription). I ALWAYS wear sunblock and exfoliate twice per week. The first thing I did was to switch out all my acne cleansers for gentle ones. I use to believe if the product didn’t burn or tingled, it wasn’t working. It took me a while to acknowledge that I had supersensitive skin that required gentle care for best results. Now, I currently use either an Elta MD foaming cleanser or a Simple gentle wash. On occasions I do an oil cleanse prior to one of these cleansers. 

The best thing I did for my routine though has been research. Ive started watching YouTube videos, follow skin gurus, and read skin books to expand my knowledge. I’ve been learning about skin PH balance, stuff like the 60 seconds rules, what active ingredients to never mix and things to avoid altogether (like fragrance, parabens and other harmful irritants). I experiment little by little with products that cater to my specific needs, always checking reviews first, and then slowly incorporate them to see what’s creating the biggest impact. I try to be as consistent as possible for this reason.

The most critical thing I had to learn is to be patient with my skin. No good product works overnight, unless it’s filled with steroids, is really harsh or magical. Sometimes it takes up to 6 weeks to see real changes (I know shoot me now! Lol) especially if you're using natural products which I tend to go for, like hempseed oil. You will have to rework your routine a few times, treating day and night differently and see what's best for your skin needs. I struggle most with inflammation, hyperpigmentation and scarring most and these are a few products I’ve been loving recently:

Toner - Farmacy Deep Sweep 2% BHA Pore Cleaning Toner(with moringa and papaya) 

Serum - The Ordinary Niacinamide, The Ordinary Hyaluronic Acid, Eva Skin Clearing Vitamin C Serum

Sun Block - Elta MD UV Clear Broad-Spectrum SPF 46

Moisturizer - Clinique Pep Start HydroBlur Moisturizer

Oils - Hemp Seed Oil (Organic) 

Treatment - The Ordinary Azelaic Acid Suspension 10%

Exfoliate - Frank Body Original Coffee Scrub (favorite product ever) 

Mask - Caudalie Glycolic Exfoliation Mask, Frank Body Brightening Vitamin C Mask 

Improving Gut Health
You’ve probably heard this before but I think this has been significant for me especially since I have PCOS. I’m a pescatarian - actually more vegetarian and occasionally I’ll eat salmon or other wild-caught/ salt-water fish only- so most of my meals are plant based which is good for the gut. I try to eat foods rich in polyphenols, are anti-inflammatory and rich in fiber. I also supplement with things like Maca Root, Magnesium and Chlorophyll (in my water daily). I also started taking probiotics for the first time in September which has been a game changer. (Currently using a brand called SEED, they are ecofriendly and has excellent customer engagement through education so I love them!) 

Staying Active 
I exercise several times a week for a minimum of 30 mins. I do mostly Yoga or pilates at home and then tennis twice a week. I love Down Dog and Fit On apps for home workouts. I also love doing dance exercises so I follow along on YouTube to Afro-Beats, Hip-Hop and Zumba classes to work up a sweat. I used to go crazy with HIIT workouts but I don’t do them often anymore (they were adding to my stress) and I stick to the 10 minute routines when I do to avoid overwhelming my body. While being active is highly recommended you dont want to cause the body any stress so balance is the key which brings me to my next point…

Stressing Less
Did you know that where you breakout is a good indicator of what’s happening to your body? A part from breaking out on my cheeks due to my cystic-hormonal acne, my chin and neck was also badly inflamed due to stress. I have to be a lot more mindful of releasing what I cant control (hard work for someone like me) and just do my best to stay present. I TRY to meditate in the mornings but I’m not as consistent as I’d like to be with that. My Apple Watch often recommends breathing exercises for me throughout the day so I do these every now and then which definitely helps. 

(photos: July 2020 vs December 2020)

Having acne is tough and every single journey is unique. I’ve given up on myself so many times due to frustration but I am here to encourage you to keep going. If one doctor doesnt work out, seek out another. If one product doesn’t work, try another one. Do your research and pay attention to the triggers, they will be the key to uncovering the treatment you need. I promise, IT WILL GET BETTER. I am not cured but I now know that my acne is caused by my PCOS and in keeping that under control I can tackle my acne too. I wouldn’t have discovered this if I didnt listen to my body and stayed persistent. This also means that in listening to your body when it comes to treatment if something doesnt sit right with you, say no and move on to another solution. Google is your friend! You are not alone in this as its very likely your suspicions have been addressed somewhere in the webosphere. Be patient and most importantly, be kind to yourself.

until next time
Do Good, Dress Well

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  1. So happy to read this huge step for you! You look beautiful and proud of yourself. Your workout routine sounds interesting
    I am discovering joyful movement compared to forcing myself to do harder workouts at specific places and times. All the best on your continued wellness journey!

  2. your skin is looking great! thank you for sharing your journey with us. looking forward to the next chapter.


  3. I too was diagnosed with PCOS last year and it gave me such a relief to find out what was wrong with me. Just like you, I've had acne for well over ten years and a dermatologist figured that I had PCOS. I wonder if we went to the same person. I've found a gyno and now I'm trying to treat what's going on inside of me. I wish you all the best!!!!

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