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'I've Tried Everything, I’m More Than Over It': How A 32-Year-Old Deals With Adult Acne

While I sat in the waiting room at the dermatologist’s consulting rooms, I ran through the script in my head of all the things I’ve tried in the past.

I was ready to tell him so he’d know I’ve tried everything else in an effort to get rid of my acne and would pull out the big guns. As it turned out though, I didn’t need to use my script and list all of my previous treatments.

Dermatologists know that when you’re a 32-years-old and sitting in their office with a face full of zits, you’re there because you’ve already tried everything.

Like most people, my acne started in my teens. I was probably 15 or 16 when my GP at the time put me on a high-estrogen version of the contraceptive pill which I took for approximately five years before I started my family. Yep, the math adds up; I was just 21 when I had my first baby.

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I took the pill on and off between kids but besides fantastic skin, it came with some other less-than-ideal side effects such as wild mood swings and severe depression. High-dose estrogen pills are no longer recommended or prescribed the way they used to be due to their associations with certain cancers and an increased risk of blood clots.

So now that I no longer need it for contraception (we took more, uh, permanent action following the birth of our third and last child) my doctor doesn’t want me taking it.

Of course, I expected that as I moved beyond my teen years and became a proper adult, my skin would be across that change in status and also settle down. I mean, it should recognise that I have a full driver’s licence, right? Alas, it didn’t and I’ve been dealing with skin that’s as moody as a toddler on a sugar crash ever since.

Kelly James. Image: Supplied

I have tried everything and I’m more than over it.

If there’s a product that claims to leave you with skin as pure as alpine snow and with a price tag to match, I have bought it, used it and bought it again in the hopes that it’ll be second or third time lucky.

Our contents insurance severely underestimates the value in my bathroom cupboards. While some products work for a little while, eventually the bumps return.

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Along with the products, I’ve had treatments including acid peels of varying strengths, microdermabrasion, LED light therapy, and dermal levelling. These do work, but have to be done regularly (like, weekly) to keep the acne at bay, and with price points of well over $100 per treatment, it just isn’t sustainable for a family.

One cheaper treatment I’ve tried is a smorgasbord of antibiotics. Covered by the PBS, this treatment is affordable but I think I’ve single-handedly contributed to a good chunk of the antibiotic resistance problem as I chew (literally) through higher and higher doses and different varieties as each type inevitably bottoms out. I just hope I never end up with a life-threatening infection.

I’ve also tried many alternative diet related treatments. Lemon juice in my water (sorry, tooth enamel), cutting out dairy, meat, sugar, alcohol, caffeine, drinking special teas – if it’s been suggested and I’ve done it. All it resulted in was tiredness, sobriety and unhappiness. Oh and I still had pimples.

Kelly had had to deal with acne for most of her life. Image: Supplied

The really upsetting thing about acne is that it’s right there, on your face. You can try to hide it, but makeup isn’t a magician and often makes the issue worse. I’m not the vainest person in the world, but having acne certainly doesn’t make my confidence soar.

It’s one thing to be a teenager with pimples because almost all of your peers have the same problem; it’s entirely a different thing to be a fully-fledged grownup, with a job and kids while interacting in a world of seemingly flawless-skinned people.

It wasn’t until I posted about my frustrations on my Instagram stories that I realised just how common adult acne is. The dermatologist I was referred to diagnosed me with something he called ‘adult female jawline acne’ and prescribed me a drug called Isotretinoin (the 'big gun' I was hoping for).

It's a type of retinoic acid known commonly by brand names such as Oratane and Roaccutane which, while very effective for acne treatment, can also causes a temporary increase in symptoms.

When I posted pictures of my newly worsened skin, friends and followers were quick to respond with their own stories of battling acne as an adult and encouraged me to stick with the program. So I’m taking their advice and trusting the process.

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I’m currently on a low dose of Oratane in conjunction with an antibiotic and getting regular lactic acid peels. I will likely be taking the medication for around 10 months and working with the dermatologist to treat the scarring I have (I’m a picker…).

My hope is that at the end of this – is there a better word than “journey”? – I will be able to deal with actual adult problems (like wrinkles and sun spots).

Featured image: Supplied