Living with Adult Acne


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Easy Living Magazine

Imagine not being able to face the world because you’re so ashamed of your skin. Natalie Simonson, 36, tells us how it feels…

Everyone has a tip when it come s to acne. ‟Have you tried putting toothpaste on them?” is my favourite. I’m sorry, but that really doesn’t work.

My spots started with a vengeance when I was 20 – usually acne kicks in with Puberty, but I was told mine was hereditary (my father also suffered with it in his twenties). Doctors called it cycstic acne, which meant my skin repeatedly produced small cysts in the hair follicles that grow in to large boils and angry spots. It felt like an ambush : they came in all shapes and sizes, from enormous carbuncles to little pimples, blackheads, whiteheads and raw pustules. It wasn’t just on my face – they crept onto my back and bottom.

Make-up helped a little, but there was no hiding the lumps. I saw several GPs, but no one gave me practical advice. They kept pushing antibiotics, so I tried five or six types, but none of them worked and side effects made me sick. Then they thought it might be linked to hormone imbalances, so I was put on the Pill but, again, there was no improvement.

Self-conscious doesn’t even come close to describing how I felt. I didn’t look anyone in the eye; I kept my head down so that my hair fell across my face. I remember walking past a group of school children on one occasion and, amid a chorus of laughter, one boy shouted, ‟Look, she’s got cancer on her face!” They were only kids, but it was humiliating.

One GP kept suggesting Roaccutane; it reduces how much sebum your skin produces and at the time was considered ‘wonder drug’, but the side effects are horrific. By the time I was 26 I was so traumatised, I agreed to a course. It was possibly the worst six months of my life. Roaccutane is still considered an experimental drug, even though it’s been around for more than 25 years, and there was no avoiding the headlines about the many inquests that linked the drug to suicides. It felt like having a severe PMT everyday with chronic headaches and nausea. I was in this pit that I couldn’t mentally scramble out of and I had to have blood tests every month to monitor my liver function. And after all that, the Roaccutane didn’t make a blind bit of difference to my acne.

My skin had a huge impact on my career as a massage therapist. I cancelled appointments when it was raw. Greeting a new client would trigger my own internal commentary: ‟Have they noticed? Are they looking?” And then I would see their gaze flick from my eyes down to my skin. It stopped my from pursuing a qualification in head massage because I couldn’t bear anyone on the course coming near my face to practise.

My social life suffered terribly. I pulled out of dates at the last minute, cancelled my 29th-birthday celebrations with 12 hours’ notice, wasted theatre tickets and couldn’t accept an offer to sing at my friend’s wedding. Life hardly seemed worth living. But, as much as I felt exposed, it never affected my relationships with men. I cancelled a lot of dates, but when I did have boyfriends, they weren’t bothered by it. I was the one with issues. I wouldn’t like them touching my face and it took me a long time to feel comfortable naked. The whole world could have told me I looked great, but I didn’t agree. There was no one in the public eye who suffered from acne as extreme as mine, I’d see magazine pictures of Cameron Diaz with ‘bad skin’ captions. ‟Really?” I’d think it’s not that bad, trust me.”

It’s hard to convey how much pain I was in- even a breeze would make the spots hurt. They would sting,  like dozens of insect bites, then constantly throb, throb, throb until one of the boils opened and spilled out the infection, and the pain subsided.

I soon became a skincare product pro: Kiehl’s, Dermalogica and Dr. Sebagh do effective acne ranges, and I could always count on good old sudocrem for a calming fix. I dabbled with other brands of contraceptive pill, sunbeds to dry the spots out, a bacteria-killing laser; I saw a herbal nutritionist, switched to a vegan diet and went for regular colonic irrigations.

By the time I was 31, my spots had started to calm down, and, thankfully I’d seen my last boil. However, I had hundred of scars- many from where I had picked at the spots – and they were never going to fade of their own accord. I’d heard of new laser treatments for scarring, so I searched on Google and came across The Private Clinic. If it could reduce my scarring, even by 20 per cent, that would be something.

After my first Pixel Laser Treatment I saw an improvement: my skin was clearer and smoother, and I had a more even skin tone. After seven treatments, I moved on to Pearl Laser Skin Resurfacing to tackle the deeper scars. It was uncomfortable but not excruciating. I’d stay at my parents for few days after each session while my skin settled. The treatments essentially burn off a layer of skin, so it’s not a pretty sight when it swells, dries out and sheds, but afterwards you’re left with rejuvenated glow. Over the course of two years I had eight treatments on my face and six on my body. It was expensive, at £2,500, but worth every penny. For my pothole scars, I had skin grafts taken from behind my ears. I’ll never forget my mum welling up when she could see my skin starting to heal.

It made wearing make-up easier, too, since my skin’s surface was smoother. The clinic recommended a foundation called Lycogel – it’s specifically for patients to use after cosmetic surgery and I’ve since carried on buying it. It gives me coverage without suffocating my skin or without making it oily. The pictures you see of me today are a breakthrough. I have no make-up on, except for mascara, brow pencil and lip gloss – and that would have never been possible before. I still have some scars and I’m proactive in preserving my complexion. I take a multivitamin and L-Carnitine, which helps my skin cells works more efficiently.

If I could go back in time to my 20-year-old self, I’d say, ‟It will get better. You are not alone. There is a help out there, but first you have to learn how to live with yourself.”It’s changed my perception of vanity, too: if anyone was to comment on my looks, I’d think, ‟Shut up.” I don’t need to answer to anyone, because my confidence and happiness are totally impenetrable now. If you were to ever meet anyone with acne, here’s some advice: don’t look anywhere else but their eyes. Don’t judge what’s on the outside. And, please, don’t mention toothpaste. 

Adult acne- now what?

There’s no fix-all cure for acne as yet, but this solution stand up to expert scrutiny:

  •  Nlite is a bacteria zapping laser which, professor of dermatology Tony Chu says, ‟targets the bacteria, reduces inflammation and stimulates collagen production.”

Natalie was treated by Dr. Puneet Gupta at The Private Clinic of Harley Street. 

Source: easyliving.co.uk – November 2012

*All images, videos and testimonials are based on the personal experiences of our patients and represent individual body shapes and results. Results may vary from person to person. All testimonials are provided voluntarily by our patients and clients and all photos and videos have been consented to and have not been altered in any way.

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