My Acne Treatment Journey - Benzoyl Peroxide and Retin-A
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My name is Gavin and I am a 20 year old undergrad student at Penn State University. Since I was about 15 years old I have suffered from acne. It didn't get real bad until the spring/summer before leaving for college. Here is a little bit about my acne treatment journey.
I have always been a student athlete (in high school) and would usually have many hours of practice after school. This would always lead to lots of sweating leaving my face and body completely dirty. Whenever I did not get to clean my face right away I knew that I was in for an acne breakout. I would try and stock my sports bag with strydex pads to try and clean my face after it got dirty, but there were many times when I would either forget or it would just be too late - the damage has been done.
Before I get into my "over the counter" treatments, let me lay out what my skin regimen was before seeing a specialist. I bet that if you are a teenager with bad skin a lot of this will sound familiar.
Get home from practice and go straight to shower because my face felt very oily
I would use a scrub - probably a neutrogena over the shelf scrub - and scrub for minutes. The main ingredient in these scrubs is salicylic acid. I naturally have oily skin so the goal was to dry my skin out as much as I could so the pimples didn't look as "shiny." Since I had to pick my battles I always preferred that dry white skin. I felt like from far away it was harder to tell that I had blemished skin.
After the shower I would inspect my face for whiteheads and try and squeeze them out. Then I would put a spot treatment over these zits (drying them out even more). I would then hope that they would be healed in the morning.
I felt like there were stages of my acne. If it was a red spot under the skin that could not be popped I knew that I was in for a good week and a half with that pimple. Since I dried my skin out so much my face would be a bit spotty and discolored but like I said above this was my strategy to create the illusion that my skin wasn't as bad as it was.
Its embarrassing to say as a guy but a lot of the time I wouldn't want to go into the bathroom with great lighting because it was easy to see the blemishes on my face. I would either go in the dark (with the door opened of course) or I would have dim lighting so I didn't have to see my face. After constant complaining to my mother, we both agreed that it was time for me to go see a dermatologist to see if there was anything that could be done to help.
My first visit with the dermatologist was exciting for me because it felt like I was making progress to get clear skin. The derm told me that my skin was extremely dry (something I knew) but I explained to him my nightly regimen. His decision was to get me on a better program so I could go from dry, damaged skin to healthy, clear skin. Unfortunately, he expressed that I would have to deal with what was about to come (probably worse acne), while we got my skin to a healthy state.
He did cheer me up when he told me that this was nothing new and every single person goes through the same journey. He said some have it worse than others depending on their skin type, but I did not suffer from dangerous or cystic acne that would leave me with acne scars later in life. My post first appointment regimen was to be as follows:
Wash your face with a gentle cleanser called Cetaphil
Apply a light coat of Benzaclin which is a prescription benzoyl peroxide product
Apply a moisturizer with sunscreen
I was to do the above every morning when I woke up and right before I went to sleep. This was really my first time moisturizing my skin because I always hated the feeling of oily skin, however long term it was important to get my skin texture and proper color back. He also instructed me not to squeeze any pimples, but instead let them come and go naturally.
After a month of following his instructions I did start to see some results. My skin felt very smooth even though it was still covered with a bunch of zits. I noticed before I went to him I had very sensitive skin, but now it was beginning to feel firm and glow a bit (Again let me reinforce. Glow a bit with pimples still there!).
My next appointment was 6 weeks after the first and I expressed that I did see some improvement with my skin but still felt defeated because my face was still in no sign of slowing down of forming new zits. He reiterated that this was normal and when you are 16 years old your body is full of continuous hormone fluctuations.
Even though my mom said there was no way she would let me, I asked about the possibility of going on Accutane. A friend of mine was on it and seemed to be doing great and didn't express many side effects besides dry lips. The doctor told me that my acne was not bad enough for Accutane and I should continue doing what I was doing and it would improve with time.
Let me fast forward a couple years to the spring/summer before I left for college. I'm not sure if it was the stress of trying to get into college or just bad luck but my face was definitely worse than it has ever been. It seemed like I had pimples on top of pimples. I had continued my dermatologist appointments every 6 months and was starting to fall back into my old acne treatment routine of trying to dry my face out as much as possible.
I was determined to tell the doctor that I was going on Accutane because I could not take this anymore. There seemed to be nothing that was going to make me have clear skin. He came in and laughed saying "ah the joys of being a teenager." He assured me again that this was not the end of the world. He did scold me a bit for starting to dry out my face again, but said we were going to fix this. He had me repeat the same 3 steps from above, but also prescribed me Retin-a micro (tretinoin) to use to put on each pimple as a spot treatment.
So in probably April before college I was back on my dermatologist routine with retin-a. The first month I saw minor improvement and it did seem like my pimples had less of an "active life" if thats a real thing. The tretinoin gel was working great, the only side effect was a bit of dry and flaking skin since I would put it on after i moisturized. My dermatologist said if I felt really dry I could try using a bit of coconut oil after applying the gel. I would do this sometimes before bed but like mentioned earlier I always preferred dry skin over oily. For some reason it feels like there is less of a chance for new acne when your skin is dry.
My appointment right before leaving for college I was told I could start using a scrub again once a week to get all the dead skin and skin cells off of my face. So I started doing this every Sunday night and this continued to help my skin.
I am now a junior in college and have been following this skin care routine for the past 2 years and I have absolutely seen an improvement. I'm not sure if its a combo of me getting further past puberty, the retin-a treatment, or a combo of both but when I look at my friends we all seem to have the same minor acne issues.
I am ecstatic to not have to stress about my skin when going out in public now. I was never concerned with having perfect skin but I just didn't want to feel like an outcast (I'm sure many can related). I spent a long time trying to find the answer to my acne, but I am on the right path and will continue to take care of my skin properly a I get older.