FTS: adult acne (+winter skincare)

Welcome to the start of a new, probably sporadically updated series on this blog called Fuck That Shit.  Today’s topic is adult acne, how much it sucks, and how I am kind of winning the battle against it, maybe.

After several months of not knowing what the hell to write about, I finally got inspired after seeing Anna’s post on Door Sixteen about her struggles with breakouts as an adult.  This is actually still slightly embarrassing for me to publicly admit, but this is a blog, I guess my whole schtick is going to be “realness” and no one reads this anyways so whatever.  This will probably be a long post because this is kind of a traumatic topic for me.

I started breaking out at the ripe old age of 11.  It was horrendously embarrassing for me because I was an tall, shy, awkward tomboy with a bad haircut and gap teeth anyways, and pimples made me feel like even more of an ogre next to my tiny, glowing-complexioned classmates.  I dealt with this by viciously scrubbing my face every night and fervently hoping that I was the only one who paid enough attention to see the blemishes popping up everywhere.  One memory that is burned into my brain is a kid in my class singing a nasty little song about pimples to me.  I actually punched him as hard as I could in the side of the head partly because I had a violent temper but mostly because I felt like if he didn’t stop, the only thing people would see when they looked at me was a giant zit in place of my head.  He did shut up and no one ever said another word about my skin so I’m glad I punched him.  Still, the illusion was shattered — people definitely noticed my skin, even if they didn’t tease me about it again.

Over-the-counter medication didn’t work.  Prescription medicine didn’t work.  My dermatologist told my mother that my skin “wasn’t bad enough” for Accutane.  Antibiotics did help some, but my mom refused to let me take them long term, which was probably a good idea but fueled my angsty middle-school rage towards her.  She felt so bad for me that she bought me my first foundation, and when I was 13 I started wearing a full face of makeup every single day.  I tried to avoid things like swimming and fun, worried that my carefully-daubed mask would float away.  I grew my short haircut out because if you walk around looking like the girl from The Ring, people will think you’re a weirdo but probably won’t notice that you’re a pizzaface.

Basically me in middle school, except blonde and with bangs.

Basically me in middle school, except blonde and with bangs.

My skin remained mostly the same throughout high school and college, and I just kind of accepted it.  Acne was part of my youth, and that sucked, but obviously one day I would magically evolve into my adult-Allyson form and my skin would be perfect (apparently my perception of growing up was heavily influenced by Pokemon).  Except that didn’t happen and that’s bullshit.

I can’t tell you how bitter I was initially that I was out of college and in my mid-20s, dealing with adult acne.  It’s a hard thing to explain to people who have never struggled with bad skin, but walking around at 25 with breakouts is a massively difficult thing and to my surprise, was WAY worse than having bad skin when I was younger.  People expect teenagers to have zits.  There’s a level of shame that comes with adult acne that I never felt when I was younger.  I now work for a company where the median age of my colleagues is… quite a bit older than me.  I believe I am the only employee under 30.  It felt hard enough to get people to take me seriously without my skin looking like I just hit puberty.  As an adult, I felt like people would think that I was unhygienic — that I didn’t shower or wash my face enough.  And I was having the same issues controlling my skin as I did before.  OTCs didn’t work, prescriptions helped only a little, and now I eliminated Accutane as an option because I didn’t want my skin to prevent me from going out with friends and drinking — I felt like I had spent enough of my life missing out because I was trying to fix or hide my acne.  Fuck that shit.

Everyone with bad skin knows that contrast is a girl's best friend.

“Please keep the flash on, I’d really prefer my face to be totally washed out.”

Ultimately, the only thing that really made a difference for me was birth control.  I went on it as a last-ditch effort and miraculously, it worked pretty well.  I still have small occasional breakouts, but for the first time since I was 11, I wake up sometimes and notice that I don’t have a single pimple.  I cried a little bit the first time I realized that.  I realize that if you’re here because you’re looking for the holy grail that will end adult acne, this is a pretty shitty answer to read, but it’s the only one I have.  It’s the only thing that ever really worked for me.

As I mentioned, despite my newly-regulated hormones leaving my skin alone for the most part, I still break out sometimes.  It probably will never go away completely, and I guess I can live with that.  Part of the reason I wanted to write this post was because it was so refreshing to read Anna’s thoughts about her skin, and also to share some products that have worked pretty well for me in keeping minor breakouts at bay.  My skin is pretty oily and luckily not at all sensitive, so keep in mind this is just what has been working well for me.  I recently made a few changes to adjust for slightly drier skin in the cold weather, and I’ve been happy so far.


  1. Cetaphil Gentle Skin Cleanser ($7.79):  I have found that medicated soap doesn’t really affect my skin at all and seems to be a waste of money.  This soap is cheap, readily available at pretty much any US drug store that I’ve been to, and basically just cleans my face without doing anything else.  At this point, that’s totally fine.  I use this every night with my Clarisonic, sometimes in the morning if my face feels a little oilier than normal.
  2. Murad Exfoliating Acne Treatment Gel ($54):  Murad makes great anti-acne products.  They are expensive, but most of them last me quite a while.  This is probably the one product of theirs I will attempt to never live without.  The main ingredient is 1% salicylic acid, but it also contains retinol, and using this religiously (along with the Clarisonic) has dramatically improved the texture of my skin.  I mean, it’s fricking smooth.  If I had one skincare product to recommend, this would be it.
  3. Murad Skin Perfecting Lotion ($34):  This is another Murad product, and it’s nice, but I’m not completely sold on it, so if you have any recommendations, please let me know.  In the winter, I use this as my morning moisturizer after using the exfoliating gel.  It’s nice and lightweight and in the winter when my skin is a little bit drier, it doesn’t make me look oily (in the summer I use a mattifier in the morning and this moisturizer at night instead).
  4. Mario Badescu Drying Lotion ($17):  This is a super weird product but it works great for when a blemish does manage to surface.  I remember using this in high school and liking it but stopping using it for some reason.  At night, after I moisturize, I dip a cotton swab in here and dab it on anywhere I feel like I might be getting a zit.  It’s bizarre because you are not supposed to shake it, it smells super strongly like some sort of rubbing alcohol, and it is PINK.  I will have pink spots all over your face and I’ll go to bed feeling like a strange bubblegum-colored leper, but in the morning when I wipe it off, most pimples are pretty much gone.  Bonus — you can dot it on pretty much anywhere because despite the name, it’s not super drying and is actually very gentle.
  5. Lancôme Rénergie Lift Multi-Action Night ($112):  This is the most absurdly expensive stuff I have ever put on my face.  The secret is that I never, ever pay for it.  I use Lancôme foundation that costs juuuust enough to qualify for their free gifts, and they give away a lot of free gifts.  In the last 2 or 3 gift bags I’ve gotten from them, there have been large samples of this cream and so I just started hoarding them.  I have never once actually bought this product and I probably never will because there are so many other things that $100+ will get me and they don’t melt into my face never to be seen again.  Obviously some day my samples will run out and I’ll have to find something else, but I do really like this cream.  I don’t know if it helps with wrinkles but it feels super fancy, smells awesome, and since I started using it my skin hasn’t felt dry — but I also wake up without an oil slick in my t-zone.  If you’re a rich person, I recommend this.
  6. Murad Clarifying Body Spray ($37):  Probably the most embarrassing thing I will ever cop to on the internet, but my breakouts aren’t limited to my face.  They also like to travel down to my back and ruin my life.  Once again I found medicated soaps to be a total waste of money (and they never smell nice) so I resorted to using this stuff on my back whenever I see a pimple pop up.  It’s got 0.5% salicylic acid, and it works pretty well, though I almost wish it was a little stronger — I use 1% on my face and I feel like my back should be tougher?  It’s expensive as well and unlike the other Murad products I use, I feel like this runs out pretty quickly.  One cool thing is it does spray upside down.
  7. Yes to Cucumbers Facial Towelettes ($5.99):  These probably should have been first on the list but I added them in at the end because I forgot, and I was too lazy to switch my numbering in the picture.  Anyways, these are also a staple for me and I will never use any other.  Almost every eye makeup remover I have used has made the skin around my eyes burn and feel dry — the rest of my face can handle pretty much anything, but my eyes are total wimps.  I like these because they are wipes, and they are quick and easy to use, and my skin does not feel like peeling off after I use them.  I also use them in the morning sometimes when I’m not too greasy/lazy/running late.  They are also relatively inexpensive and can be found at most US drugstores.

And there you have it!  My super long adult acne sob story along with the stuff that I’m using to not hate my face these days.  If you have any product recommendations or just want to bitch about how adult acne makes you want to rip your skin off, please feel free to comment.

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2 Thoughts on “FTS: adult acne (+winter skincare)

  1. Ah. You’re speaking my language. I had dreadful acne for years, and finally bit the bullet 6 months ago to go on Accutane. It’s been a LIFESAVER. I highly recommend it.

    The side effects haven’t been all that painful…. I just make sure I’ve always got lip balm on me, and a few times have had to carry around little tubes of moisturiser to put on my dry face areas every time I go to the bathroom, but apart from that it’s all good!

    good luck with your treatment! Also, cetaphil is the shiz. I LOVE it.
    Alisha recently posted: No Words; Just Whistler [ink]

    • Hi Alisha,

      Sorry, I never saw your comment! I’m not used to checking for comments on the page, I guess. Thanks so much for being the first one :)

      The biggest concern I had with Accutane was that I thought it was supposed to be very bad for your liver unless you didn’t drink at all? I’m not sure if that’s true or not, but I didn’t want to give up going out with friends so I never wanted to try it. I’m intrigued though, since you said it’s working so well for you! I hope your acne struggles are finally over for good.

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