When I first visited my GP as a teenager about my skin, the first treatment I was prescribed was Zineryt; a lotion containing zinc and erythromycin. It is prescribed to patients with acne for around three months, where it clears up two thirds of spots for most people. However, for the unfortunate few with a resilient strain of acne bacteria; Zineryt does nothing more than just give you dry flaky skin.
After another visit to the doctor I was prescribed Adapalene. This gel generally takes eight-twelve weeks before you even start to see an improvement and in most cases your acne gets worse before it gets better. Unlike other acne products; I could apply this once per day rather than up to three. It works by affecting the growth of cells and reducing inflammation.
After months of trying various topical ointments with no results I was prescribed the oral antibiotic- minocycline 100mg. This antibiotic treats acne by controlling the amount of bacteria; reducing inflammation within the sebaceous glands.
The doctor read through the list of the “less serious side effects” to taking the medication:
- dizziness, tired feeling, spinning sensation
- joint or muscle pain
- discolouration of skin or nails
- mild nausea, mild diarrhoea, upset stomach
- mild rash or itching
- swollen tongue, discolouration of the gums
- vaginal itching or discharge
Do you still want to take it?
Of course I did! I was a vulnerable adolescent with no self esteem and just wanted my acne to go away.
Each time I took the medication; I believed I was one day closer to clear skin. Despite not seeing any visible results after months of taking the medication; I trusted the process. The doctor said it would work.
As time went on I started to noticed my immune system deteriorate. I was vulnerable to catching colds, verrucas and urinary tract infections.
It was at this time that I felt the lowest about my skin. My friends were blossoming in to beautiful young women; entering into their first sexual relationships. Having a boyfriend was way down on my list of priorities, I couldn’t risk anyone seeing my skin up close or touching my face affectionately.
Acne was affecting my social maturity, physical health and my state of mind, so after twelve months of taking the antibiotics I stopped.
Unfortunately my visits to the doctor became more frequent as the side affects of taking antibiotics for that length of time started to surface. I was experiencing severe stomach cramps and nausea; which the doctors put down to stress. To combat the spasms I was given Hyoscine, a form of pain relief also known as Buscopan.
My skin got progressively worse from this point on. Food was now my enemy and I felt like I had exhausted all my options of clearing my acne. The doctors later diagnosed my symptoms as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and explained that each case of the disorder was different and the only thing I could do was identify what foods upset me.
I felt hopeless. My acne was showing no signs of improving and I was struggling with the simple task of just eating. It was a pretty rotten time of my life and not really something I like revisiting. I was mentally unstable because I felt so alone. Medical professionals couldn’t help me and my friends didn’t understand.
To try and maintain some kind of control; I requested to try the contraceptive Dianette, which at the time was only prescribed once topical and oral antibiotics haven’t worked.
Years went by and I was still no closer to understanding my IBS but I had met other people who also suffered with the condition which made me feel much better. I had learnt to juggle having acne, IBS, a full time job, a boyfriend and maintain a normal social life all at once.
Acne still controlled much of my behaviour but as long as I had good makeup; I could get through the rest. Sure I had to have a mental map of every toilet in a hundred yard radius but I was coping. I was very open about my IBS with my boyfriend at the time but I kept my insecurities about my skin to myself. I came up with creative ways for him to never see me without makeup; either by wearing it to bed or making sure I woke up before he did so that I could reapply. It was emotionally exhausting but I felt like I was still winning. I had a boyfriend despite having acne.
Another year went by and I was an actual adult. I was working in central London and rented a flat in the suburbs. Life was hectic and so was my IBS and acne. I started loosing the ability to control my bowels and when I had to go; I rarely had time to make my excuses to find the closest bathroom. The time for embarrassment was over. You can’t have a condition like that and control the volume or smell coming from the bathroom. The jig was up. I had issues.
A couple more years went by and the pain in my gut was becoming unbearable. My grandfather had passed away a few years earlier with bowel disease, so I started becoming paranoid that I might have something more seriously wrong. I decided to get some more conclusive answers and paid to have a colonoscopy privately.
Despite being nervous about someone shoving a camera up my butt while I was still awake; I was more concerned about getting some answers.
The procedure was actually really quick and not as uncomfortable as I had worked up in my head. I had to wait a couple of weeks to receive the results from the biopsy that was taken from my gut. When the results came back all clear; the doctor confirmed that my symptoms were just from my IBS.
This was all I needed to hear to start taking control of my health. I realised that I was the one in control all along. Not my acne. Not my IBS. And if I wanted to see a change, I had to make it happen.
While I managed to get my IBS under control; I was still suffering with my acne. So I decided to take the same approach to my skin as I did with my IBS and went to see a dermatologist to enquire about isotretinoin (roaccutane). It was a lengthy process because I had to lower my cholesterol before I was able to start the medication.
I was told then that the side effects of the drug were severe depression and damage to the liver. I was completely torn. My holistic, beauty therapist self was telling me ‘DON’T DO IT’ and my blemished, emotionally exhausted self was saying ‘IT’S THE ONLY WAY.’
Did I really want to take the risk of medication again after what happened with the antibiotics?
Starting Roaccutane was a lengthy process and the possible side effects of high does were even more severe.
- personality change
- liver damage
- higher cholesterol
The doctor asked me if I had any previous episodes of depression. I knew the answer she needed to hear. So I just said “no.” Seriously? Show me someone with acne who doesn’t have depressive tendencies! I was closely monitored and had to make some adjustments to my diet to maintain my cholesterol levels. It was an expensive process because I opted to go privately due to the long wait for our national health service. After nine months, I had incredibly dry lips but my cystic acne improved and I was left with a more manageable amount of breakouts.
Four years later… I still have acne.
That’s not to say that medication doesn’t work at all, I have seen other blemished beauties have incredible results from roaccutane. But after all these years; the cause of my breakouts have never been treated.
I have recently made an appointment with a naturopathic doctor to try and eliminate some possible causes for my acne. Answers certainly do not come cheap but at twenty-eight, it is worth the investment.
If you are thinking about taking medication to treat your skin, I would implore you to only consider it after trying everything else! The most effective way to treat your acne is by treating the cause, not the symptom.
Taking antibiotics for that length of time has had such a negative impact on my health and without it; it is quite probable I would have grown out of having adolescent acne over time but instead destroying my gut health has lead to me having acne for over thirteen years.