30 Years of Acne: Kristine’s story (of radical acceptance!)

Kristine is one of the most incredible people I know. I’m fortunate that she felt this was the right moment, and the right place, to tell her story. We also did an interview that is posted to Facebook – find it here.
None of us have everything “figured out,” and that’s ok. When we’re working hard to accumulate knowledge on the journey, it’s vital that we share! Thank you, Kristine, for sharing and being the amazing resource that you are.
Please shop Kristine’s recommendations throught the links below.
-Liz
Kristine writes:
I turned 42 this year which marks an anniversary I choose not to celebrate. I have now spent three decades of my life in a heated battle with acne.
If you’re of a certain age, maybe the soundtrack of some beloved John Hughes film plays in your head when you think of acne. Painted as a “normal” part of adolescence, having “zits” is, for some, a rite of passage.
For another subset of the population, though, acne doesn’t pass on once we reach adulthood and pimples are much, much more than an annoyance.
I was twelve and my hairdresser was washing my hair when she pointed to the small lesions on my forehead and told my mother she should do something about those. We dutifully went to the dermatologist. It was the late 1980s and the treatment du jour included rounds of antibiotics, extractions, and a spray of liquid nitrogen coupled with prescriptions for topical antibiotics and an injunction against picking.
I did as the M.D. ordered. Still, pimples were a constant.
When I was a senior in high school, I began to experience heart palpitations. I complained to my parents and my dad, who was also an M.D., arranged for me to have an EKG in his office, largely to silence my fears. The test came back normal.
Imagine my surprise a few years later when the allergy drug that I had been taking at the time, Seldane, was recalled for causing fatal heart problems. Turns out, when mixed with the antibiotic erythromycin, Seldane can cause an abnormal heart rhythm and kill you. Hazard to guess what antibiotic I was on at the time for my skin?
That’s right. My acne treatment could have killed me.
Fast forward a few years to my sophomore year of college. My lesions had become nodular, cystic, ever-present little boogers. Sometimes it hurt to lay my head on the pillow at night. My internist decided that they had to be hormonal, so she put me on oral contraceptives.
For ten years, I took powerful, artificial hormones for my skin. They didn’t work either. The cysts persisted.
Along the way, I was trying every topical solution the market had to offer. And I religiously cared for my skin. The idea of falling asleep without washing my face, toning and moisturizing would never have occurred to me, not even after the craziest of nights out. My skin was cystic and lesion-filled even with the best attention. I couldn’t neglect it for even a night.
I got engaged in June of 1997. I was a law student at the time and all I wanted in the world was clear skin for my wedding. I found a doctor who would prescribe for me what was considered the gold standard – Accutane.  I arranged to have weekly blood tests to monitor my liver enzymes and began on a small initial dose.
If you have ever used Accutane, you know it is intense stuff. I can remember sitting in class, peeling skin off my face in long sheets. My nails became brittle. I couldn’t wear makeup.  The inside of my nose cracked and my lips felt like a desert. I carried a tub of Aquaphor around with me everywhere I went.
And, I was angry.
The night of my first dose, I can remember furiously taking my shoes and throwing them against the wall.
“This is insane,” I thought to myself at the time. “I don’t even know why I’m so angry.”
I’m not the only one to have experienced this dramatic side effect. But despite anecdotes such as mine, researchers have had difficulty establishing a strong correlation between emotional side effects and Accutane.
My cysts did go away. I had clear skin for my wedding. Then, a mere six months after I stopped the Accutane, they returned.
I’ve been married for 18 years now and my skin problems have been an unwelcome third wheel in our marriage. I’ve seen dermatologists, endocrinologists, and the best functional M.D. in Atlanta. I’ve given birth to and breastfed three children and my skin bears the scars of the hormonal havoc that child-bearing wreaked on my face.
After the birth of my second child in 2008, a pregnancy that brought me both terrible acne and “the worst” pregnancy-induced melasma mustache the med spa where I sought treatment “had ever seen,” I gave up.
I waved the white damn flag and told my skin that I was done.
Instead of spending my free time after the kids went to bed in acne-related internet forums or scouring the medical literature for breakthroughs, I just stopped caring. I stopped looking in mirrors.
Acne had stolen so much joy from me and I was putting an end to it.
I still break out, although now that I am in my 40s my breakouts are different from ever before. I cannot remember a day in my adult life, actually, where I woke up and didn’t feel some sort of lesion on my face. Even as I write this post, I am poking around at a new nodule above my upper lip.
But, while the lesions still hurt, they don’t overwhelm me anymore.
In March of this year, I signed on as a Beautycounter consultant. I had many anxieties about taking the plunge, and not the least among them was, “Why would anyone buy skincare from someone whose skin looks like mine?”
I’d love to say that I’ve gotten over that but the truth is, it still crops up before every Beautycounter interaction I have.
I never expected Beautycounter to solve my intractable acne. And, although I love, love, love the products, I still break out.
But what Beautycounter has given me is the chance to transform my thirty years in the trenches with this nasty little opponent into wisdom and experience with skin. It makes me feel good to get out there, even when my skin is not camera-ready. “Progress, not perfection,” our CEO Gregg Renfrew often says. I couldn’t agree with her more.
My Beautycounter regimen includes:
Charcoal Cleansing Bar (2x a day)
Rejuvenating Toner Pads (before bed)
Rejuvenating Radiance Serum (before bed)
Rejuvenating Eye Cream (before bed)
Soothing Face Oil (in the morning)
And, to minimize the signs of acne, melasma and aging, I use:
Dew Skin Tinted Moisturizer (alone or under Tint Skin)
Tint Skin Foundation

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2 Responses

  1. Wow, it’s like you told my story! My acne started at the age of 12. I was on every antibiotic known to man, and went on Accutane for the first time in the early ’80s Acne was a constant for most of my life. I was also a vegetarian most of my life. Usually ovo-lacto, but at one point raw vegan. After trying literally everything (including a third…yes, third!) round of Accutane in my late 30s, I finally cleared my skin by eliminating dairy, grains and sugar. I’m 50 now and my skin has never been better. Switching to more natural skincare has really helped also, but I definitely cleared my skin from the inside out.

  2. Oh, and if I didn’t make it clear, I am no longer a vegetarian. While I have incredible respect for anyone who wants to follow that lifestyle, I feel my best consuming animal protein on a regular basis.

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