Friday, 4 December 2009


In seven short days from today I will hopefully have achieved my longest held dream...I will have smooth clear acne free skin thanks to finishing a year long course of Roaccutane...
I have suffered from acne in varying degrees since I was 11. My first outbreak of proper spots came in the summer of my final year at primary school and my skin and I have been at war with each other ever since. Almost every day for the past 20 years has been held to ransom by its whims. Carefully laid plans and outfits have often had to scrapped or altered due to the sudden appearance of a particularly angry spot, especially since I have been unfortunate enough to suffer from acne on my face, neck, back, chest and upper arms at times. Polo necks have been my faithful friend!

I feel that acne has defined my life in many ways. It has made me deeply unhappy and self conscious at times in my life, but it also forced me to come across as confident even if I didn't feel it and introduced me to make-up which has been one of the greatest loves of my life and my eventual career. I went from dabbling in foundations and concealers to hide the worst of it to experimenting with every kind of eyeshadow in order to draw the attention away from my poor skin. My experiences with acne made me an empathetic make up artist and person who could relate to any skin problem that made people feel bad about themselves, with the result I loved helping people in my job (and I was a demon salesperson!) That doesn't mean I didn't get upset when customers would refuse to deal with me because obviously the skincare/make-up/etc didn't work or my skin wouldn't look so awful...

I think unless you have been on the receiving end of comments like that at any age because of acne, it's difficult to understand how 'a few spots' can make you feel so worthless. It is seen as vain to want to tackle the problem and even medical professionals take the view that is just a part of teenage life to experience some acne. I only wish it was possible to convey the sense of unhappiness and desperation acne can cause at any age and get doctors to prescribe the stuff that really works much earlier.

Over the years I have used just about every product you can imagine to try and tame my spots. Nearly every night of my adult life I have gone to bed covered in everything from hydrogen peroxide, toothpaste, Sudacrem, TCP, tea tree oil, benzyl peroxide, shark extract, witch hazel, salcylic acid, calamine lotion and enough expensive cosmetic products to open my own department store counter. I have tried splashing with warm water, dousing myself in Clearasil and exfoliating with aspirin. I have tried every medicated cream, lotion and ointment the doctor and pharmacist have to offer and I have given myself years of yeast infections due to trying antibiotics. I have cut out yeast and sugar, stopped smoking and quit alcohol (albeit temporarily). I have tested everything going, been tempted to try laser treatments or a witch doctor and spent a colossal amount of money. So far nothing has worked that well. It was time to bring in the big guns and see a consultant dermatologist and get my hands on Roaccutane.

This was not in fact my first time trying the wonders of isotretinoin. I have taken it twice before. First time it had to be abandoned due to my recurring gallbladder problems and the seond time I had an overly cautious dermatologist who didn't prescribe a high dose for long enough for fear I would go green or something. I tried to explain as long as the green skin was smooth and blemish-free, I didn't really care...but to no avail. 4 months of tablets did buy me a year or so of good skin. It was better than nothing.

However taking myself to the Dermatology department of the hospital aged 30, I was determined not to be fobbed off as vain, hysterical, hormonal or sickly. Luckily I had a great dermatologist who agreed there was no point doing anything other than a proper course of Roaccutane to try and defeat my acne for good. I agreed and he proceeded to explain the staggering list of potential side effects to make sure I knew what I was letting myself in for...

Roaccutane does the trick but it's not an easy fix. It is extremely dangerous to an unborn baby and female patients must (in the UK) take hormonal birth control alongside it. It can cause levels of fats to rise dangerously in the liver and must be monitored with blood tests. It is blamed for depression and suicidal thought in some patients. Other studies have linked it to bowel disease. These effects are common enough that the manufacturer Roche have suspended distribution in the US pending class action suits over these issues. Luckily though for most people the side effects are much less severe and mainly involve ridiculously dry skin as the drug basically reduces the amount of oil produced in your skin to prevent the opportunity for spots to develop.

Not being entirely new to Roaccutane, I knew to get in there quickly with a routine in the shower of exfoliating, cleansing with aquaeous cream and moisturing with products thick enough to make me look as if I was swimming the Channel. I applied oil almost hourly to my face and applied Carmex even more religiously than usual. All of this kept the dry skin under control, but I forgot about the fact Roaccutane makes your skin thinner and more sensitive. I knew to avoid waxing, but I had no idea this nasty little side effect would leave me with blisters on my feet from walking more than 500 yards. I also didn't realise my skin would be so sun sensitive that I would burn on a cloudy day whilst wearing SPF 50 (but I did quite enjoy having my first ever tan lines!)

For me these minor side effects over the past year have been well worth putting up with for the chance to have skin that I can bear to look at in the mirror for almost the first time in my adult life. I look forward to being able walk with blistered feet and use shower gel again in a few weeks when the reptile-like dryness fades, but not as much as I look forward to having the clear skin that makes me look like an adult rather than an overgrown teenager. I have my fingers firmly crossed that this mammoth course of Roaccutane does the trick and the only thing my skin has to look forward to in future years are a few wrinkles...but in the meantime I plan to appreciate every good skin day I have! (And keep applying Carmex like the lip balm addict I am!)

1 comment:

  1. I found this really interesting, and touching. One of my dream careers is dermatology, as I just think it would be amazing to help people - the health of your skin can affect your quality of life so, so much.
    It's wonderful that you got the help you needed (finally, this "It is seen as vain to want to tackle the problem and even medical professionals take the view that is just a part of teenage life to experience some acne" hacks me off something rotten), and can go out and feel dazzling. Not that you weren't dazzling before, I am sure.