There are few childhood experiences more traumatizing than your first skin breakout. Most likely, you remember yours. You were probably 11 or 12 years old and caught a glimpse of a pimple in the middle school bathroom, or perhaps in your own mirror while getting ready for school in the morning, and promptly freaked out. You covered it up the best you could (probably using your hair or a scarf) and demanded your parents take you to the drugstore after school to buy some Clearasil.
I’ll never forget my first skin breakout. I was seven years old (young, I know) and didn’t even notice the blemish until my mom pointed it out, because I didn’t care that much about appearances just yet. I’ll also never forget how my mom exclaimed, “How do you have a pimple already? You’re not supposed to get them until you’re twelve!” and immediately interrogated me about my face-washing habits and whether I was eating sweets behind her back.
I wish I could say that was an isolated incident, but unfortunately it was only the beginning of a downward spiral for my skin. Shortly after my first breakout, my mom showed me how to exfoliate and put hot compresses on my face to draw the gunk out of my pores. She encouraged me to pin my hair back so the oils in my hair wouldn’t cause forehead pimples. By the time I’d started middle school (when most girls were just starting to get pimples) I was already exfoliating daily, applying benzoyl peroxide cream twice daily, and doing pore strip treatments weekly. Not a day went by when I wasn’t asked, “Did you wash your face?” or asked if I’d eaten something that might have resulted in a new pimple forming.
This, as you can imagine, took a toll on my self-esteem. I’d always struggled with my self-image, but adding acne to the mix made it an even bigger battle. I remember begging my parents to pay extra for the “retouching” add-on that was offered with school photo packages so my acne wouldn’t show up in my yearbook photo. Every time my mom took me to Costco I’d try to coerce her into buying me the newest acne-fighting face wash or ointment. I even tried to cover my pimples up by using my mom’s old blushes (I wasn’t allowed to wear makeup until I was 14 years old) which did not go well. I tried every over-the-counter acne treatment I could get my hands on, only to see no improvement in the state of my skin.
When I was in eighth grade my parents finally gave in and brought me to a dermatologist. I was prescribed prescription acne ointments, and for the first time in years was able to achieve clear skin. Having your skin clear up is a minor thing for many people, but for me it meant the world. When I started experimenting with makeup as a high school freshman, it was a form of self-expression rather than a means of covering up my pimples. I got side bangs because I no longer had to worry about the oils from my hair getting on my forehead. For the first time in my life, I started to like the way I looked.
Of course, prescription medication didn’t resolve all of my skin-related problems. Even today at 19 years old, I have to be vigilant about skincare. I still exfoliate and use pore strips, and still use the prescription ointment that saved my skin as a young teen. I have to be careful about what I put on my face-I can only use non-abrasive face wash and apply non-comedogenic makeup and lotions. I buy makeup-removing wipes in bulk so that I never go to bed with even a speck of makeup still on. I spend way too much of my paycheck at Lush, because their all-natural products are one of the few I can use without worrying about inflammation. My skin can be a pain sometimes, but it’s a small price to pay to not still have to deal with the acne I once did.
I firmly believe that the things we experience when we’re young help shape us into the adults we become. For me, one of those experiences was dealing with really bad acne. It sounds stupid, but having pimples frequently pop up on my skin from ages 7 to 14 taught me that no problem is unsolvable. Sometimes, though, the over-the-counter solution doesn’t work and you have to find a different solution. People tend to dismiss acne as a common teenage problem, but it can affect someone in inconceivable ways.