Before I write a post on how I ‘cured’ my cystic acne, I’ll give a little back story as to how I developed it the first place, because if even one person reads this and it prevents them from having to go through what I went through with my skin – it’ll be worth it! *Disclaimer – I say ‘cured’ but I’m not a doctor or scientist so would be a bit big-headed to suggest that I found the cure to something. Even though I did cure myself, but anyway, I’ll change it to ‘solved’ for all intents and purposes 😉
As a tween I had regular oul teenage spotty skin, nothing to write home about but still visible enough to give the confidence a teeny knock and make the hormonal transition from child to teen rather unpleasant (but seeing as everyone in school was practically in the same boat it wasn’t a big deal).
Also at this time I got my period: heavy, looong, irregular, exhausting. Don’t you just love Mother Nature and her spot on timing?! (Excuse the pun). I was already anaemic due to having coeliac disease but not realising it yet, so this was NOT a great time for me. I had just started secondary school! I wanted to feel fabulous and confident! Not be found heaped in a corner, passing out from my perishing haemoglobin levels!
After a year I’d had enough. ‘Take me to the doctor’… I cried to my mum, ‘Now!!’ So off we pop to the doctor who declares the glorious news that he has the very thing that will take all my woes away. ‘Here’... he hands me a script, ‘Take this contraceptive pill and it’ll sort out your periods AND your skin.’ Bingo!!
I thought I’d won the lotto. Plus, for some reason I thought it really cool to be on the pill. I was only 14, but something about taking the pill made me feel all grown up and sophisticated. AND I heard it made your boobs swell up like crazy. I looked down at my flat chest – Double BINGO!!
The first month or so on the combined pill was like hell. I had the worst stomach cramps that felt like labour contractions that prevented me from eating or moving or being able to do ANYTHING but writhe around the bed in agony all day and all night. Suffice to say I quickly lost a lot of weight and strength and became a bit worried. I was given morphine-strength pain killers, told to lie in a hot bath every night and stick it out ’til it passed – which it did. What was all that about?! I was too young to question it and believed if the doctor says it’s fine – then it’s fine! He’s a doctor for feck sake, he knows what he’s doing!
Once that initial hiccup and cramps disappeared the pill did sort out my cycles and made my skin beautiful. By that stage most of my friends were starting to take it too, so it became so normal I took it everyday for years and never gave it another thought. Those days were the pre-WiFi, Google era so I never really did much research into the side-effects or long-term effects of hormonal contraceptives and happily plodded along none the wiser.
Once the Internet became more accessible and I got my own laptop I started to read up a bit on the topic and thought, jeez, I’ve been taking this for a reeeaaaally long time with no break, Is that normal?! Then and there, I decided to stop the pill and let my body have a rest. I’m not a teen anymore, surely by now my cycles and skin will all be tickety-boo on their own…yes? YES?! Naw. Now I know the body doesn’t work that way. You can’t expect to pump yourself full of artificial chemicals and expect it to organically adjust or ‘reset’ to how it naturally should be – silly woman!! (Even though I know some women who say they go on and off the pill more often than a light switch with no ill effects, swiftly undoing my anti-pill proclamations)
It took nearly a year for my cycles to return and become semi-regular post-pill. My skin seemed OK too, Phew! However, into the second year I began to notice a darkening of the skin around my chin. On the surface it appeared as normal but underneath, it just seemed… off. I put it down to the fact that it was coming into winter and I had recently moved into a freezing cold flat so thought perhaps it was just a lack of vitamin D and the stress of the move.
Increasingly the areas became darker and I developed redness and pimples around the sides of my mouth. No big deal – I can manage this. No problem! I bought new cleansers and decided to try and keep a good skincare routine but the pimples just kept coming, travelling farther down each side of my chin and making me took like Dracula. Ah c’mon now…what is this?!
The pimples started to get more sinister. They weren’t ones you could pop, throw a bit of Sudocrem on top of and move on with your life; the odd one was deep, pulsating, far under the skin, boiling away, feeding on it’s own making. What the f**k is this?!
I flew to my new doctor, and, surprise surprise, he prescribed me a mini-pill that was sure to clear it up. I really don’t want to take this, I thought, after all my Internet reading, but I was getting a bit desperate. I justified it in my head that if I just take it for a few months – six tops! – then it’d clear up whatever’s going on here and I can return to my life.
It was like the mini-pill became the fuel that flamed the fire. After a week or two on it this ‘reasonable’ acne had accelerated at such a rapid pace I had no choice but to rush back to the doctor who’d given it to me. His mouth dropped open when he saw how badly my skin had flared. Now was it not only covering my chin, but around my lips, my nose and even my once unblemished forehead too. And holy shit, was it PAINFUL! He asked me which pill I had been previously on years ago and convinced me that switching back to it – considering it had worked when I was a teen – would be the solution, along with this lovely packet of antibiotics, burning, acid-like spot cream and a future date with a dermatologist.
Unsurprisingly, none of it worked. The domino effect had irreversibly begun and the more antibiotics and creams and pills I took, the worse I felt. The dermatologist told me I had developed cystic acne AND acne rosacea, but for some reason he couldn’t seem to tell me why this was happening in the first place. I begged for some kind of answer but he dismissed with a ‘it’s just one of those things’. Well, if you don’t know what’s causing it, then how in God’s name can you effectively treat it?! To me it was like haphazardly plastering a big, gaping, infected wound with nicely-smelling band aids and a pat on the head. Not exactly helpful.
Do I have a hormone imbalance?? Is it something I’m eating? Is it the fluoride that the Irish government insist on adding to the tap water I’m drinking?? Is it an infection?? Is it stress related?! Is it genetic?! Is it something I’m putting on my face without realising?? WHAT IS IT?!!!
‘We don’t know. But if you want to read this leaflet about Roaccutane here, which I would strongly suggest you consider taking before you become severely scarred, and decide by our next appointment if you want to start a six month course of it or not. Oh, and don’t read about it online as there’s a lot of fear-mongering and it will put you off. Trust me it’s the best solution’. He actually said that to me.
Of course I went straight home, whipped open my laptop and read all about Roaccutane with my mouth hanging open for hours in disbelief. American lawsuits; peoples’ hair falling out; onset diabetes; arthritis; birth deformities; SUICIDE!!! Jesus, I’m not taking this, is he off his nut?!!! Fucking hell. This drug is EXTREME!! Of course there were those online who were singing it’s praises and saying how well it worked to clear up their skin, but I couldn’t help but notice how many more people said that while, yes, the drug worked initially, a few years later their skin got crazy bad again and they would have to go back, risking their health once more for round two!
At my next appointment I told my dermatologist I didn’t want to take the drug and thankfully he didn’t force it. But then lay the quandary: if I don’t take it, then what exactly is my other options? Only one apparently. Antibiotics – and lots of them, for a long, long time. I didn’t like the sound of this treatment either but at that time it seemed like the lesser of two evils.
I stayed on varying strains of antibiotics for around two years battling my skin woes, having to rotate them often so as my body wouldn’t become immune. They didn’t make me feel very good internally and I had just returned to University as a mature student so with the mixture of extra booze, changeable eating habits and yet another house move (or two), I could almost feel my bowels disintegrating inside me. I knew it was time to consider other options as this chronic tablet-taking was not sustainable.
I was so frightened to stop the antibiotics as they had definitely, over time, reduced the extremely painful cysts but I still had to carefully manage the acne I had left that would flare up now and again whenever the fancy took it. I went back to my doctor and pleaded with him to help me. I could feel the frustration boiling inside me as he told me the only option I had was to go back on the birth control pill. I felt like screaming and giving him a good thump in the face. I’d love to see you have to take the fecking pill… you wouldn’t last a week you… MALE!! He convinced me he could figure out the correct pill for my needs (meaning the progesterone/oestrogen ratio) to reduce the acne while minimising side-effects and prescribed me yet more contraceptives. Here we go round the merry-go-round!
I felt like giving up. My skin was destroyed, my insides were destroyed, my hormones were frayed, my mental health, well-being and confidence, shattered. I reluctantly took the pill, after time weaned off the antibiotics (thank God), and managed to stay like that for a while. Until my hair started to thin and I noticed light bald patches on my head. Excellent!!
I knew it was the pill causing it. The hormone shift was causing my hair to thin and giving me terrible mood swings so again… I had hit a wall. One thing I did realise though from my time on it was that it definitely did reduce the acne on my face. It didn’t clear it, but it had helped.
OK, Step One – now I know it MUST be hormone related. If it wasn’t, the pill probably wouldn’t have made a difference (or made it worse as the progesterone-only mini-pill had done before)
Step Two – STOP going to the doctor and figure this out for yourself! Them goons don’t have ovaries (granted I had only encountered male docs regarding this) and while I respect the fact that they are very intelligent human beings, it doesn’t always mean they have basic cop-on or a good, helpful manner.
Step Three – Take a holistic approach and treat your body kindly as nature intended, not bombard it with chemicals and hormones strong enough to send a horse mad! (First stop – Herbal Shop!)
Step Four – Be patient. Long-term results don’t happen over night. There were many years of repair to cover. This could take time – so be kind to yourself and stop stressing!
Step Five – Trust your instincts, and when you feel something unbalanced inside, you’re probably right.
Step Six – If you have a daughter, DO NOT let her take a contraceptive pill at a ridiculously young age before her hormones have had a chance to fully develop, mature and balance out on their own.
I believe, without doubt, that being put on the pill at 14 years old is the reason I had such a terrible cystic acne flair once I came off it. I had shut off my natural hormones before they had really even began to work for themselves, and so when they did ‘kick-start’ in my twenties after years of lying dormant, it was almost like they were making up for lost time. The natural 8-odd years of gradual teenage, hormone development happened to me in a year, so if you can imagine the amount of oil building up and extra facial hair becoming trapped became a recipe for disaster.
Thankfully I found the solution to this situation, with NO side-effects and it really didn’t even take that long either. I wish I had of took my health into my own hands years ago instead of being ping-ponged back and forth between non-sympathetic doctors.
Don’t get me wrong, Western medicine definitely has it’s place and I wouldn’t be foolish enough to refuse it if I needed it, but I think a lot of tablets are handed out willy-nilly that in the long term cause more harm than good (hello conspiracy theory!). Imagine how much money the drugs companies made from all those hundreds of tablets I consumed over those years. Was my health really the main concern here? It never felt like it. But I can say I did learn one lesson from my saga: not to be afraid to tell a doctor you think they’re wrong!! I used to smile and agree with everything they said as I believed they genuinely knew ALL the answers. But now I know, half the time they don’t, so don’t fuck about – I have one life and one body, never again will I let it be controlled by someone other than me!