I'd always known my skin wasn't in tip-top shape, but I didn't know others noticed its poor condition until my friend (or, so I thought) pointed it out.
We were in high school and he was the class clown. One day, he walked up to me and swiped my face with his index finger. "Oh, look, found a blackhead," he joked to a hallway full of upperclassmen. He thought it was funny, and I cried for almost a week straight. Even so, I got used to the bumps and managed my breakouts as best I could.
It's one thing to freak out over a small pimple right before hitting a high school house party with friends, but it's totally different having to cover up yet another breakout at the age of 27.
I'm so preoccupied with my face, you'd think I'm approaching puberty. It's obnoxious to size up every scarf, pillowcase or beauty products that come in contact with my face, fearing my skin will lose it.
My skin has also had a love-hate relationship with acne-fighting products. Bioré acne cleansers were my go-to for a few short months before my face decided it was over them.
I made a last-ditch effort, reaching out Dr. Gervaise Gerstner, L'Oréal Paris Consulting Dermatologist. She reassured me all hope was not lost. With her help, I could control my adult acne.
1. Give it to me straight. Will I ever have completely clear skin?
Back in the day, I envied Nia Long for both her ability to rock a brown lip and blemish-free skin. I could never seem to achieve her glow, even when I slathered on Neutrogena.
Now that I'm older, I still hope I have a shot at flawless skin. Even when I get my pre-period outbreak in check, I'm left trying to fade my leftover, brown-colored marks.
"You can achieve near-perfect skin," Gerstner says, encouraging me that it's possible to rid my skin of hyper-pigmentation, the official name for those dark remnants.
However, it may take me extensive care. Gerstner suggests laser resurfacing treatments, which help slough off the discolored skin by heating facial blood vessels.
According to Facing Acne, laser therapy won't help 100 percent, but can help even my skin tone. If you don't want to shell out thousands of dollars on a cosmetic procedure, you can prevent further scarring with products like sunscreen.
2. I've tried almost every over-the-counter acne treatment. What should I do when topical products stop working?
I've outgrown beauty products like too-small denim and feel like nothing works. I'm convinced my skin's ADHD about products is the problem, but Gertsner says cleanser-hopping isn't so bad.
"Alternate between different cleansers, so you don't get resistance or build up a tolerance," she says.
If you're at your wit's end, however, it may be time to turn to oral antibiotics like birth control pills or Murad, a supplement that blocks acne-causing toxins. What about Accutane, the popular acne-fighting drug for severe acne? Before you dive into a substance that lists bowel disease as one of its side effects, see a dermatologist to help you plan a course of pimple-fighting action.
3. I'm not into popping pills. What about taking the natural route?
My mom once took me to a naturopathic doctor, who prescribed cleansers with ingredients green tea and lemon.
It worked for awhile, though the combination of ingredients made my oily skin even more greasy. No, thank you. Still, I always wondered if maybe one or more of those natural elements could be the key to helping me achieve clear skin without needed a blotting paper every hour.
Gerstner is skeptical of using natural remedies alone, but says using essential oils like tea tree oil is worth a shot. "They can be used as complementary options," she says.
The essential oil can help act as an antimicrobial, fighting acne-causing bacteria. Gerstner recommends pairing it with products that have a glycolic acid boost, like Neutrogena face washes. Pour a few drops of tea tree oil onto a cotton ball and apply directly to your pimples. If your skin's sensitive, dilute the oil with warm water before swiping it onto your skin.
4. I'm not a big makeup buff, but should I stay away from it altogether?
It's very rare to catch me in a full face of makeup, especially more than two days in a row. Makeup is something I've only gotten familiar with in the last few years, but every so often I wonder if I should trash my MAC Mineralize Foundation.
Gertsner talks me off the ledge, saying using makeup is just fine.
"Just look for oil-free formulations," she explains.
5. I do my best to eat clean, but every once in a while, I'll dive into some ice cream. Is that ruining my chances at clear skin?
There are some things in my diet I won't give up, and Talenti is one of them. Sorry, not sorry, if Caramel Cookie Crunch is the culprit for next week's zit, clear skin may not be in my future after all.
Gerstner says to consider dietary modifications like avoiding sugar, dairy and gluten in order to see what's causing your skin outbreaks. Ultimately, let's be honest: perfect skin doesn't exist. However, if you struggle with adult acne, there are ways to manage it.
For now, my skin less is less oily and I can see some slight fading in my dark spots. Because of post-traumatic acne disorder (this is not a real thing, LOL), I'm still not convinced I've totally nailed it.
Though I'll probably never not have to pop a random pimple in the ladies' room or guzzle water to keep my skin on fleek, I do feel I'm on the right track.