Our adult acne sufferer reflects on the practicalities of undertaking the quest for perfect skin
The path of true love never did run smooth, and nor does the path to clear skin. I've written a lot about the life-affirming joys, epiphanies and acquisition of new skills entailed in fighting acne, but haven't said much so far about the downside.
Now, I’d like to be clear that I haven’t turned suddenly into a pessimist, disillusioned and about to give up. Far from it - I’m still in awe of what appears to be a pretty miraculous treatment for a condition I’d started to assume would be with me forever. However, I don't think a true diary of an adult acne sufferer would be complete, or honest, without taking the rough (and sometimes dry, sometimes pimply) with the (much sought after) smooth.
Dr Sam warned me my skin might turn drier as an effect of the lotions I've been using. I've thankfully never before suffered dry skin on my face - I’m more of an oily T-zone kinda gal. These lotions, though, can have a number of effects on any skin, so Dr Sam suggested I keep a range of moisturisers (my bathroom shelves are now to skincare as Imelda Marcos’s closet was to shoes, much to the joy, you can imagine, of my boyfriend): she explained it's useful to keep several, from lighter to more heavy-duty, and use whichever you think your skin needs. This makes total sense - you adjust most things in life based on how you feel - the amount of eyeliner you wear, length of your hemline, strength of your first gin and tonic on a Friday evening... it seems odd now I could have had just one moisturiser for all skin-moods.
I started with La Roche-Posay's Toleriane Riche , £15 - brilliant for a number of reasons, not least its utterly affordable price and availability in Boots (making it one of a rare few products you can actually buy at the last minute from train stations if you realise you've forgotten your epically gigantic clear-skin-kitbag). It feels so light when applied, I’ve sometimes found it hard to remember in a post-workout-getting-ready-flurry whether I'd even applied it or not.
Several weeks into my treatment though, I started to feel like my skin was tight all the time - a little like I was constantly wearing a face mask that had dried several hours ago. I also started to develop flaky skin, appearing round my mouth and chin. It was time to acknowledge that my skin had met its match: time to reach to the depths of my skin care box of infinite, Mary-Poppins-esque depth, and fish out the serious stuff.
The serious stuff is Obagi Hydrate, which has to be ordered via Dr Bunting (not a Paddington station, Friday evening purchase). It looks serious too, in plain white packaging, medicinal as a doctor’s coat. I feared this might be like painting emulsion on my face, but it's as light-feeling to apply as the Roche-Posay number and has a little pump action dispenser which helpfully provides some portion control. And, most importantly, it does the trick - just a couple of days in and my skin was totally free of tightness and flakiness. I've switched back to La Roche Posay this week in the daytime (skin's in more of a bright and breezy kinda mood this week), but use the Obagi overnight to give my skin that little extra boost.
The other, and slightly less palatable, side effect of my treatment has been (what I now realise to be) the antibiotics waging war on my stomach. Despite my attempts to eat healthily, I’ve had a lot of heartburn, and bloating that is NOT conducive to me working this season's crop tops. I emailed Dr Sam (side note: wouldn't life be great if you could always email a doctor directly to say "is this normal?"). It is normal, apparently - I think sometimes we underestimate the effect all drugs have on us. There's also a simple sounding solve - probiotics. Rather than just relying on yoghurts for this, I did some investigating (i.e. - popped into Holland & Barrett, who were super helpful) and have been taking Acidophilus each day, with a meal, to give my tummy a bit of a break. It’s worked! Well - the heartburn’s gone... I think I might leave crop tops in 1994.
The final issue is more practical than physiological, and revolves around the aforementioned huge amount of products I now carry around with me. If only, like in the ads, we always applied our skincare regime in the comfort of an enormous, well-lit bathroom with endless, elegant storage solutions, his ‘n’ hers sinks and with all the time in the world. Unfortunately, this is emphatically not the case. My own bathroom (ahem, my and my boyfriend's) is miniature (London-sized, basically), and throughout the week I variously get ready there, at the gym (which is always a hurry, hot, and involves bustling for a space at the mirror) or at work (terrible lighting; colleagues). In addition to my makeup bag, which has bulged comically of late, a little like a python that's just consumed a small cow, I now have four bottles of stuff that have to go on my face and neck each morning. When I realised I was carrying not one but two canvas totes to the gym (one for clothes, one for toiletries) and that my shoulders were starting to hate me, I gave in and adopted the backpack. There is a reason school kids don't lug their books around in a shoulder bag, more classically chic though they may be. Lucky for me, this season has thrown up a whole load of smarter-than-your-average backpacks with two lovely straps for carting around my skincare-hospital without breaking my back.
There we go - a true first world problem for you. Too many lovely skin products to carry around in a normal handbag. And, now I’ve written it down and got that all out of my system, I realise even the flaky skin and achey tummy are no worse than what we inflict on ourselves anyway through too much sun or wine respectively at other times. And none of that matters a tiny bit if I can get my face back to the one I used to know.