Walking into a Harley Street clinic (not that I’ve done it many times) can be an intimidating experience. A little like being a thirteen year old trying to fit in at a ‘grown ups’ dinner party, with your unsophisticated clothing and conversation giving you away. There’s something about Harley Street’s reputation, its imposing architecture and the immaculate interior décor of its clinics that is instantly daunting. Luckily for me, my visit to Dr Sam Bunting , cosmetic dermatologist extraordinaire, last week, was anything but intimidating. In fact, it was by far the most open, frank, and down-to-earth conversation I’ve had with anyone since I developed this skin condition.
Dr Sam combines the warmth and sympathy of a best girl friend, with the reassuring rigour of the best doctor you’ve ever had, and, crucially, the ability to talk about an embarrassing and scary condition in a way that makes you feel relaxed and positive. Despite her miraculous track record (see her great testimonials here ), Dr Sam is resolutely matter of fact - this isn’t about miracles, but about science.
Firstly, Dr Sam laid down the facts, following a lengthy account from me of all I’ve tried (and failed at) so far, making me realise just how random and utterly un-methodical my approaches to cure this condition have been up until now: one lady at a spa recommended I start using some new products, avoid stress (easier said than done, but a valiant goal), and ditch any synthetic products (“Oh,” said Dr Sam, “She was doing ok up until that point…”). I’ve tried lavender oil, giving up caffeine (not necessary to abandon altogether, according to Dr Sam - hurrah!) giving up dairy (definitely helps - but, as Dr Sam pointed out, not necessarily sustainable or desirable)... and so the erratic list goes on.
What I needed, of course, was some method in my madness, and that is just what Dr Sam specialises in. After hearing my back story and checking my skin close up (the bit that I can never quite bring myself to do - ew), Dr Sam has set me a programme for the next couple of months, a combination of oral antibiotics and creams. I have to admit, I had been resisting the antibiotics thing - it feels a little bit like acknowledging that something is truly, medically wrong with your skin. But I wouldn’t think twice about taking ‘proper’ medication if I had a bad injury, terrible headaches or the flu; why should my skin, the one bit of me that everyone can always see, be any different? Dr Sam highlighted the truth that skin problems by their very nature often cause emotional problems, such is the effect of this change in our appearance to the outside world. It’s crucial, then, to treat these problems with the respect they need.
The programme is very simple to follow - one antibiotic tablet each day, and a tiny squidge of a cream called Duac 3% every other day, building up until I can apply it every day, then adding in another cream called Differin every evening. All of these are prescription items, the sort of thing I originally hoped I didn’t need, but now I wish it hadn’t taken me so long to get serious about my skincare. Dr Sam is also clear about the fact my skin may initially get a little worse, as it gets used to its new regime (I can testify this is already happening!). But, this is all part of the process, and patience is my friend in making this a success. Dr Sam told me to expect roughly 30% improvement after three months, and 60% after six months. It seems like a long time, but I think Dr Sam’s programme will be a good use of those months, considering I’ve thrown the last six away on myriad panicked potential treatments.
The rest of my skincare regime is looking happily simple. At the heart of it is the brilliant La Roche Posay range (which I’d already discovered, albeit using the slightly the wrong products for my skin, it turns out). I’m now going to be using their cleanser, moisturiser and sun protection (more details to follow next time). Yes, that’s right - sun protection, every day (my boyfriend couldn’t understand how this is needed under London’s grey-cloud canopy), because my skin will be super sensitive to the sun with its new regime. I’ve always longed to have the discipline to apply proper sun screen daily to my face, hoping it might preserve my face in its mid-twenties iteration for life - so maybe this is a blessing in disguise.
Oh and makeup. We live in a world of no-makeup selfies, where cosmetically enhancing your face is often chastised, or spoken about in hushed terms. I admit I used to be a girl who, sometimes, saw my minimalist makeup as a badge of honour. There are many reasons why that view was naive, but I have recently realised its transformative power, emotionally as well as physically. Dr Sam is refreshingly honest about how important it is to know how to use (the right) makeup as part of acne treatment. She has recommended I try Vichy Dermablend Foundation and their Dermablend Concealer stick, and shared this genius little YouTube film from Lisa Eldridge with me . I don’t mind admitting that, such is my state of mind at the moment, Lisa’s heartfelt intro to this film made me tear up a little. Yep, I’m a total convert - this isn’t about vanity, it’s about fixing a serious health issue.
As with so many challenges in life, the first step on the road to a solution is admitting the gravity of your problem, and seeking help. I definitely felt, as I stepped out of the grand old entrance to 10 Harley Street, that I’ve found the help I need in Dr Sam. Like a woman on a mission, I headed for the pharmacist to pick up my goodies - seeing them as my new best friends, despite their scary scientific names.
Such was Dr Sam’s infectious positivity about my treatment plan, I actually felt buoyed up by the idea this whole experience might have a positive impact on my wellbeing in general. This acne might have given me a late-twenties shock, but the trail to solving it has also given me a wake-up call - swapping a dedication to my desk for a commitment to calming Pilates, my latte for rooibos, and my haphazard beauty regime for the one my skin deserves; not to mention finally becoming a grown up and learning how to apply foundation properly. Not all of this might be necessary all of my life, but, as Dr Sam pointed out, at this rate I might look younger than I do now when I wake up on my 30th birthday.