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My Acne Journey: My Guide to How I Cleared my Cystic Acne

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at U Mich chapter.

Ah, acne…one of the many woes that come with being a teenager.  Unless you are among the few chosen ones who have naturally clear skin effortlessly (if you are, know that you are BLESSED), you can probably relate to the frustration that comes with waking up to a new, angry red spot (and always when you have an event coming up too…I swear pimples can sense when you have plans).   However, for some of us, it’s more than one or two annoying pimples…it’s clusters of deep, painful, cysts that erupt across our face that refuse to go down and leave angry bruise-colored scars when they finally do.  Growing up, I often received compliments on how clear, smooth, and even my skin was, which led me to naively believe that I would never have problems with acne, despite the horror stories my mom told me about how severe hers and her brother’s was when they were adolescents.  Up until my junior year of high school, I had naturally near-perfect skin that never broke out, and I could count on one hand the number of pimples I’ve ever gotten.  It wasn’t until my junior year that I first began experiencing acne, and by the time quarantine hit, I was really struggling with it- it was so severe that it hurt if I moved my face too much.   I truly thought that I would never have clear skin again, but after a lengthy process of trial and error, I found what worked and didn’t work for me, and finally got my (mostly) clear skin back.  Here, I have compiled a list of my biggest do’s and don’ts for my fellow cyst-ers (if you’ve watched a Cassandra Banks video you’ll catch the reference, she was a HUGE help on my acne journey), and what I wish I knew when I was on mine.   

DO- Be gentle 

I know that it’s tempting to look for the strongest products you can find on the market and slather them all over your face, but that is honestly one of the worst things that you can do.  I once applied a maximum strength spot treatment all over my face and left it on overnight when the directions said to only let sit for ten minutes, thinking that I was going to wake up with the clearest skin ever, but I ended up with a very red chemical burn on my face.  Please follow the directions on the product; it’s there for a reason, and I promise you that you do not know better than the chemist who formulated it.  I would also completely 

overdo the actives and use multiple retinoids and acids together.  Worst of all, I would skip the moisturizer, thinking that it was too oily and would clog my pores.  All this did was completely destroy my skin barrier, and I ended up with super tight, flaky, and irritated skin.   It was only when I switched over to gentler products like Korean and Japanese skincare, that was when I saw the most improvement; gentler does not automatically mean less effective!   

DON’T- Overload your skin  

Just because your favorite influencer has a 20-step skincare routine with all the latest serums and gadgets does not mean you need to.  Of course, it is fun to experiment with new products but bombing your skin with a bunch of different products is going to do more harm than good.  Try to introduce new products one at a time to see how your skin reacts to it, and if your skin reacts negatively, you will know which product caused it.   

DO- Be consistent  

The key to seeing progress in your skin is staying consistent.  It does not matter if you have the best routine in the world, you will not see the results you want if it is not done routinely.  Start out with something that you know that you will be able to stick to, and then after being consistent with it for a month or so, you can start adding more in.  You only really need a cleanser, moisturizer, treatment to address skin concern, and sunscreen.  If you wear makeup, you will also need to remove it with a good 

makeup remover like micellar water or cleansing oil (NOT makeup wipes).  Following even the shortest, most basic routine is better than doing a long, fancy routine sometimes.   

DON’T- Expect overnight results 

No matter what you use, products need time to work, and anyone who claims that a product works overnight or promises drastic results in an extremely short time frame is straight-up lying to you.  Unless you are using literal unicorn blood or the tears of Jesus himself, no product will give you instant results.  I get it- when you have acne, the only thing you care about is getting rid of it as quickly as possible; when my acne was at its worst, I was shopping for and ordering skincare obsessively and would do an extensive 10-step routine every night, thinking that this would breakouts would be gone in two weeks, max.  Obviously, this was extremely unrealistic and led me feeling extremely frustrated.  However, once I adjusted my expectations and acknowledged that healing cystic acne is a journey that requires time and patience, it became a much more enjoyable process.   

To everyone currently on their acne journey, I see you.  Those who have had it know that it is so much more than just a couple of pimples; it is a physically painful condition that often wreaks havoc on your self-esteem and mental health.  While my skin is still not perfect, and I still break out here and there, it is miles from where it used to be.  I truly thought that my skin would never heal, and that my face was going to be riddled with spots and scars forever, but I trusted the process, and it paid off.  Now, I am no longer afraid to go out with my bare face, and when I do wear makeup, it’s because I want to, and not because I feel like I have to cover up my skin.  Don’t give up; it will take time and effort, but if you keep learning and trying, you will find what works for you.  In the meantime, do not let acne stop you from living your life!  Do not let it take even more from you, it really is just some temporary bumps on your face and does not affect your worth in any way.  Whenever I had a bad flare up, I would just want to hide in my room because I was so self-conscious, but I realized that I barely notice acne on other people; even if I do happen to notice it, my eyes glaze right over it and I am much more likely to notice their beautiful hair, or dazzling smile.  I promise you, you are judging yourself and your skin much more harshly than anyone else is.  At the end of the day, “perfect” skin does not exist; so much of what you see in the media is the product of makeup and filters.  In real life, everyone has pores and texture, because we are human beings.  Be kind to yourself, and happy skincare! 

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Ariana Tao

U Mich '25

Economics student at Umich Figure skater and lover of all things fashion/beauty