During middle school, I was cursed with the typical, not-really-that-impressive variety of acne, the kind so many of us endured and most of which went away by my high school and college years, thanks to hormonal birth control. I’ve NEVER had perfect skin, which, for someone like me who hates wearing makeup, is mildly annoying. A first world problem for sure, but dammit I’m allowed to want clear, glowing skin! It’s not like I’m asking for someone to buy me a log cabin on a twenty-acre goat farm next to a babbling brook in the Smoky Mountains (unless you really want to. Far be it for me to stand between you and your dreams).

Anyway. My skin and I were on speaking terms until around the time my daughter stopped breastfeeding and I had the Paragard IUD inserted. (OMG “inserted” is the worst word EVER, isn’t it? GROSS.) I’m not sure if either of those events triggered the volcanic cataclysms that occurred on my face for the next four years, but…maybe? The paragard IUD is non-hormonal, so docs claim it cannot trigger breakouts, but tons of women in chat rooms disagree. Some say the copper can cause a kind of allergic reaction that manifests as acne. I dunno, I’m not a scientist. I only know that I was embarrassed by my face, and it effing SUCKED, and I want to give everyone all the details in case it helps someone make a correlation that might help them win the war on their face. =)

So while I was erupting like Mount Freaking Vesuvius, I was not applying sunscreen daily, because HELLO, sunscreen (yes, even the good crap made for people with acne) makes me break out. But…I live in Florida. The sun here is wicked fierce. I ought to know better. Still, sadly, although I wore sunscreen at the beach or when running, I didn’t apply it every day as a general rule. And guess what happened? The acne SCARRED. Because that’s what happens when you put what is essentially an open wound in the sun to heal. It leaves a damn mark. So for four years, my acne raged out of control and each zit left a dark mark on my face when it healed. I was looking at myself in the mirror and saying “You are disgusting.” Not good, people. Not good.

So. Here’s what I tried during those four years:

Proactive: NOPE. My skin was dry, red and peeling. And their moisturizer didn’t do crap to ease the dryness.

Other benzoyl peroxide cleansers and topical gels: NOPE. Same issues as with Proactive.

Salicylic acid cleansers and topical gels, etc: NOPE. Seemed to help the redness, but definitely did NOT prevent new breakouts.

Drinking tons of water: Hahahaha, that’s cute. But NOPE.

Not eating greasy foods: See above.

Coconut oil: Used as both a wash and a moisturzier – to my surprise, this actually helped a little, but didn’t completely clear me up.

Homemade salt scrub with coconut and clove oil: Made my skin soft and glowy but did not prevent new breakouts.

This thing:

This didn’t prevent breakouts, but it did clear away the dead skin cells and what-not. The mircrodermabration part of it has been proven to help clear age spots, and I did notice a small difference. I like it and I still use it every day.

But I was still breaking out. So I finally did what my husband had been urging me to do for years: I put myself at the top of the list for once, and went to see a dermatologist.

The doctor prescribed Aczone and Retin-A and a bunch of other stuff that, when added up at my pharmacy, came to like $1,000. After I regained consciousness and peeled myself off the floor, I decided to get only the Aczone, because I had read that it worked.

Meanwhile, I watched like 8 million YouTube videos about acne, most of them just pissing me off because they were only trying to sell me some dumb product that was a clone of Proactive, and then I finally stumbled across this lady who I really like. Based on what I learned from her, and also what I had gathered by researching the insanely expensive prescription products my doc had recommended, I bought the following:

This chemical peel:

I used it twice per week. It burns like hellfire but does beautiful things to my skin. Does not make me break out. I do think it helped lighten my dark spots. I’m still using it twice per week (I apply it with one of those fan brush thingies).

This vitamin C serum:

This made my skin glow, but I’m a bit suspicious that it made me break out a little. I haven’t used it in a few weeks, but I’m going to try again now that my skin is clear and see what happens. It really did make my skin very soft and glowy.

This moisturizer:

This moisturizer has retinol in it, which is a cousin of retin-A, so I thought maybe it would compare to the retin-A I did NOT get when the doctor prescribed it to me because OMG IT WAS EXPENSIVE.

At this point, I still was not using sunscreen because I was so worried about breakouts. I was just trying to stay out of direct sunlight as much as possible. So for two months, I used all the above crap and my skin was almost clear, down to one or two pimples per day, and maybe one volcano a week before my period.

I went back to the dermatologist for a checkup. I told him what I’d been doing and he pointed out that although retinol is nice, it is nowhere near as effective at encouraging cellular turnover as actual retin-A. He also reminded me that I could have called them and they would have found a way for me to get the retin-A cheaper because they have coupons and online pharmacy insider info and stuff, which I KNEW, but I HATE talking on the phone so I didn’t call him. I’m a dumbass.

So I got the retin-A and have been using it for a few weeks now. In conclusion, for ME:


The retin-A not only helps with the acne, but is also clearing up the dark spots. AND! AND!!! It has made some of my little wrinkles go away. AMAZING. I want to make out with retin-A, that’s how much I love it. I have no idea how I went so long not knowing about it.

ALSO, I finally got this sunscreen. I LOVE IT I LOVE IT I LOVE IT. It does not make me break out, and I swear it makes my foundation go on smoother on the rare occasion that I decide to wear makeup. And I am an idiot for not trying harder to find a decent sunscreen before.

By the way, I love Olay products in general. The professional line is a little pricey for someone as cheap as I am, but, I mean, I’m tired of hating my reflection. I’m worth the extra ten bucks, you know? (Dear Olay, if you’re reading this? You owe me like 200 bucks.) 😉

So that’s it. The microdermabrasion, the peel, the Aczone, the retin-A, and the moisturizers (retinol for night and sunscreen for day). That’s what I do, and my skin is FINALLY clear.

To be clear: All of the products linked here ARE linked to my Amazon associates account, because DUH why not make a few bucks if I’m going to talk about this stuff anyway, right? But I’m not sponsored by a single one of these products. They are all sitting on my bathroom counter and I bought them with my own darn money. =)

I hope this post helps someone learn to love their reflection. It sounds like a petty, shallow thing, but it is incredibly painful to look at yourself and feel disgusted, especially over something that should be treatable. Why suffer needlessly, am I right?

This is me, a few weeks ago, waving at my kids from the airport. No makeup at all, totally untouched. (I’m too embarrassed to show the before picture, sorry-not-sorry, self-esteem issues, leave me alone.)


So do you have an acne story? Let’s share and bitch about how there’s no reason for retin-A to be so freakin expensive! And don’t forget to follow me on Facebook, where I pretty much never talk about acne. =)


  1. I got severe acne when I was pregnant with my daughter and it took a year and a half to clear up after she was born. I went to see an acupuncturist and bad acne can be caused by what they term in traditional chinese medicine as “blood deficiency”. Treating the blood deficiency cleared things up immediately (and also made me feel better) and it hasn’t returned. No expensive facial products for me. So, if you’re suffering and open minded, find a reputable acupuncturist or chinese herbalist and take their advice.

  2. WHOO HOO! So happy for you. My skin has always sucked too. I feel you and I’m so happy you found something that works!

  3. I can soooo totally relate!! And I am determined to let the world know how horrible proactive really is..I just saw a commercial for it which reminded me I had to comment on your blog post. They just had the nerve to call this crap “gentle” which couldn’t be further from the truth.

    I started using proactive around 2006 when my friend who also used it recommended it to me. I guess I was suffering from acne then, though I don’t think it was very bad. I used proactive for about 3 years and it worked great. My face was clear and I had no complaints.

    It wasn’t until my friends wedding in November 2009 that I really questioned what I was putting on my face. Not only was proactive clearing up my face, it was also bleaching my towels. I won’t ever forget this gal’s words that inspired me to ditch this stuff which is apparently widely used by people with acne problems–

    “if it’s bleaching your towels what is it really doing to your face?”

    Apparently the main ingredient benzoyl peroxide was literally stripping the color from any towel or tshirt that touched my face right after washing–and stripping my skin of its own natural oils.

    I really didn’t think much would happen when i went off proactive in November 2011 but boy was I wrong!! My acne came back tenfold. I was nearing 30 and looked like I was a teenager again, similar to what happened to you. The worst part was that I was getting married in a year and my face looked terrible. I can’t say that it got any better by my wedding either, summer of 2012. No, it took me until just a few months ago, summer 2015, to finally find something to clear up my face. 4 years of proactive withdrawl!!

    Recently, My friend recommended this stuff called African black soap from Ghana. It may closely resemble poop (block of black/brown stuff) but I swear the stuff works MIRACLES!! Completely natural and costs all of 5-10$? I started using it in July when I was 6 months pregnant, I still have a bunch left and my face is now clear, trying to get rid of the scars. Even through all of the hormones, my face still cleared up. On top of that I use moisturizer from traders joes followed by coconut oil. Clear skin for no more than 30$ every 6 months or so! Not to mention, crap free.

    I am now on a mission to get anyone I can to steer clear of proactive and to let people know about my cheap new all natural regimen which works amazingly. 🙂