Disclaimer: This post gets pretty real, and is picture heavy with some gnarly and unflattering pictures of my damaged skin. You’ve been warned.
Right now, my skin is the best it’s ever been.
It’s clear, soft and calm, with no redness and not even a single pimple. But the road to where I am now was a long and painful one. I’ve struggled with many different skin issues over the past 9 years, some of them genetic and some of them self inflicted. I know I never had it as bad as some people, but my skin has still caused me a huge amount of issues throughout my life. For the sake of this post, I’ll break up my experience chronologically into the three major difficulties I faced.
From the tender age of 11 onwards, like many others I suffered with acne. It was like I woke up one day and my skin revolted. All through my teen years, I envied those girls who’d get a tiny bump on their chin and sulk, hiding my face with the huge, sore cysts that would leave nasty red marks behind once they’d left. There were pimples all over my face, and it destroyed my self confidence.
After some begging, my mum took me off to a dermatologist and I was prescribed Duac, a strong benzoyl peroxide and clindamycin antibiotic gel. The problem, I think, was the dermatologist’s willingness to prescribe strong medication to a teenager without giving proper directions.
Off I went from their office, envisioning my new life free of my acne, but little did I know of the issues I’d cause myself. From then on I used Duac religiously every day, followed only sometimes by a light moisturiser, usually with more acne fighting actives. Now, with more experience under my belt, I know that this is a recipe for skin irritation and disaster. After doing this for a few weeks my acne was 90% clear, but I had practically burned my skin to a crisp. My face started to burn all day, and even splashing water on it hurt. I had started my journey with dehydration.
DEHYDRATION & SENSITIVITY
My skin was so damaged from improper care with strong medication that I had created a new issue – severe dehydration and sensitivity. Acne was less of a problem though it still reared its ugly head from time to time. Even though I went to a private girls school with a strict no-makeup policy, you bet you’d find me every morning in the school bathroom layering on cheap mineral foundation to try and take some of the redness away. I mention the redness because that was always been my main skin issue – I looked perpetually sunburned. I was teased in high school, made fun of for my ‘ski mask sunburn’. The redness came right up around my eyes and stopped suddenly in a perfect goggle shape.
You could see a distinct line between my burnt face and my neck.
My skin was flaking and peeling off, and the foundation just made it look drier. Still, I never wanted to be seen without my makeup. I continued to use the Duac sporadically, trying in vain to find a balance between acne and burning skin. Even years after I stopped using it, my face retained a raw, red and peeling appearance. This led to a third issue – skin picking.
COMPULSIVE SKIN PICKING
As I reached my elder teen years and the stress from school grew, in an effort to be free from my remaining acne I began to pick at my skin. This is something I still struggle with a lot to this day, and I hope to write a blog post about it soon. It quickly became a ritual of mine to sit in front of the magnifying mirror and scour my poor, scabbed face for each and every blemish and squeeze the life out of it. I even had moments where I’d take things like pins, scissors or nail clippers to my face and do some serious damage. I would scratch of cut off anything I could feel that was ‘imperfect’. It felt like I was taking control of my skin and improving it, but looking back I see how much damage I caused. I even have some lasting scars from particularly bad wounds.
At this time, my skin care routine was still very minimal. I was studying out of state, with very little money or time on my hands. I had never found a combination of products that didn’t cause me deep, sore cysts, and I stumbled into a routine of washing my skin with Cetaphil gentle cleanser (which I now know I’m sensitive to and it contributed to my breakouts) and moisturising with whatever I could find. I just didn’t have the room in my life to care about my skin any more. The dehydration and sensitivity persisted, and this coupled with my incessant skin picking meant I had pretty crap skin for a few years.
Over that time I experienced a series of stressful life events, including graduating from a small high school and entering a huge new university, living in a borderline abusive household, dropping out of my university degree and unexpected, gut-wrenching heartbreak. This triggered a time of extreme emotional stress where I took very little care of my skin and it suffered a lot because of it.
My stress was so high that I began experiencing full body rashes, especially on my face, neck, chest and arms.
My skin became covered in spots that would itch and burn. I hated the way I looked and felt so self conscious I would never leave my apartment or I’d find places in public to hide and cry. Self care took the wayside and as I grew more frustrated with my skin I started to wash it with whatever bar soap or shampoo and leave it to dry without moisturiser.
My skin started to peel like a snake and I could feel it crack and sometimes bleed.
I hate to admit it, but I even used baking soda scrubs (yikes) day after day in the hopes that my skin would somehow be smooth and soft again.
Finally, I began also suffering from a painful skin condition called seborrhoeic dermatitis, a fungal infection of the scalp and face. At this point, my skin was the worst it had ever been.
My face was covered in red patches and tiny bumps, and my eyes swelled up. I had scabs and blisters and every pore stuck out like a sore thumb. My skin felt like sandpaper, and for the first time ever, I realised I needed help.
I had an infection on the skin beside my eye which was posing a threat to its health. After going to my doctor and coming away with eye drops, an ointment and strict instructions for gentle skin care, something in me changed. I decided that I’d had enough of the pain and stress. I wanted to turn my skin and life around.
THE ROAD TO REPAIR
I got help for my mental issues, went on medication, moved back home where I had the support of my family and got into a relationship with someone who is my number one fan and best friend. I changed my life direction and my degree, cut out many toxic people from my life and focused on small goals. I made my skin’s health one of these goals and began caring seriously about the products and routines I used. Research became a huge hobby of mine and I was ravenous for information on how skin really worked. I became aware of how much misinformation I had absorbed without realising it. I learnt to focus on hydration and repair, and finally understood that my skin had the capability to heal itself if only I would let it.
MY LIFE NOW
Over the course of the past year and a bit, my skin has made a complete 180.
It’s no longer red and peeling from dehydration. I beat seborrhoeic dermatitis with a prescription ointment from my dermatologist. My skin no longer reacts negatively to the wrong ingredients in my products and as a result I’ve experienced a huge reduction in acne.
Now I only get one or two small blemishes every week, and they heal in no time. I’m still working on leaving my skin alone and not picking anymore, and I still have some red marks, but I can see an improvement every day. While that wasn’t the end of my skin woes, it was the end of that chapter of struggling.
Most of all, my mental health has been in such a huge upswing now that I’m not battling stress in my daily life. I’m off medication and feeling truly happy for the first time in so long. Looking at these pictures and reliving my late teen years really shocks and saddens me because I can remember vividly how unhappy I was. But everything’s changed for the better and life is looking up again. I’m unbelievably glad that I’m not where I used to be, and I can’t wait to see where I’ll be in another year’s time.
If you’ve made it this far I applaud you for sticking around. Self care is so important and far too often forgotten in our hectic lives. I hope my story can be both a cautionary tale and a wake up call for you to make time to look after yourself. If my journey and pictures inspire you to make just one change to your habits, then I’ll be happy. I learnt to care for my whole body and mind just by starting with my skin, and I know you can do the same too.
I want to hear below about whether you’ve made it through the worst of your skin journey, and can look back and be glad it’s over, or whether you’re still in those times.