Why Your Acne Treatments are Not Working

How many times have acne treatments let you down?

Let’s say you have this friend and let’s call this friend Sue. You complain to Sue about your stubborn acne which refuses to leave you, no matter what you do. Now Sue says she knows someone who went to this dermatologist and got cured of some skin disease when no other doctor could. This dermatologist with magical skills certainly seems very interesting. If he can cure this problem when no one else could, maybe he can cure your acne too.

So you implore Sue to get the number of this doctor. She does that. You make an appointment with this magical doctor, let’s call him Dr. John. His receptionist says he can see you a week from today. You mark it in the calendar and can’t wait for your appointment. The day arrives and you reach the clinic early. You take a seat and wait for your name to be called out. Finally the moment arrives and you enter the consulting room full of hope, dreaming of having clear skin in 2 weeks.

Dr. John greets you and asks you how he can help you today. You can’t help but blurt out how your acne has been troubling you. You go on to describe how no matter what you do you always seem to wake up every morning with more acne than the previous night. Dr. John nods sympathetically pulling his prescription pad towards him. He begins to write something down. Watching him you think, finally the magical solution to my problems. Clutching the paper he gives you, you walk out elated right to the nearest pharmacy. After getting all the medications that have been prescribed you go home ready to start the treatments.

A week passes and you hardly see any improvements. Maybe it needs more time, you tell yourself. Another week passes by where you religiously apply all the ointments and take all the medications. At the end of this second week your skin still looks the same as it did 2 weeks back. To make matters worse it’s peeling a bit in places. How many times have you been in this place?

So why does this happen to you time and time again?

First, if you’re above 25 years old you are suffering from adult acne which is way different from the normal teenage acne. While both are caused by an imbalance in hormones, the teenage one is caused by changes in the body during puberty. If you’re an adult, your imbalance of hormones is caused by stress, improper diet, medications you take and lack of sleep. Unless you take measures to reduce of these factors your acne may not have an expiry date like teenage acne.

Medications prescribed by doctors like antibiotics, ointments, OTC creams work by trying to kill acne causing bacteria or reducing the sebum levels in the skin. The downside of this is the good bacteria are also killed and your skin dries out and gets sensitive. Your acne remains the same. Of course you will always be told that you need to use more of the ointments or take the medications for longer but if you see no difference after 2 weeks it is more than likely that you’re never going to see one. The other downside is that your immune system will be weaker and your skin much more sensitive than before.

While some of the bacteria that cause acne may be killed, all the other factors leading to acne are still around. You are almost never told to sleep and eat well along with your prescription. As a result the acne does not stop, or even if it does stop for a while, it most probably will come back.

So before you decide to take another round of antibiotics or apply OTC creams try changing your diet just a little to see if it does help even a little bit.

Is Skin Purging an Actual Thing?

I’m sure you’ve heard the term skin purging. If you have acne and are using a new product for it, within a few days you might start breaking out a little more. This period when your skin actually starts getting worse is referred to as the skin purging period. So is it a real thing and how long does it last?

Skin renews itself every 28 days, i.e old cells die off and are replaced by new, healthy cells. This is known as cell turnover. Acne forms deep within your skin. So the hair follicle gets inflamed and the pore gets blocked. Eventually the inflammation makes its way to the surface of the skin and this is when you breakout. However this “breakout” has been in the lower layers of your skin for a few days before it slowly shows itself.

The reason purging happens is because some of the ingredients in the product may speed up cell turnover. When cell turnover speeds up, blocked pores that would have taken 7-8 days days to make themselves visible suddenly do it in 2-3 days. You get clusters of new pimples. However these new pimples should heal quicker as well. Since skin normally takes around 28 days to renew itself you should really see results after a month if the product is actually working for you.

I once used an “Isotretinoin” cream for a year. It was prescribed to me by my dermatologist. Each time I told her it was not working she said I was purging or it was the time of my month. Don’t be stupid like me. Keep an eye on your face and if you feel something is not right stop.

Here are a few things you should keep in mind when using a new product to know if you are purging or the product is not working and instead making you break out.

  1. Purging should last maximum for a month. If you do not see any improvement after a month it is time to stop using the product.
  2. You should not be breaking out in places you don’t normally break out. This means the new product is causing breakouts rather than purging.
  3. Please use only one new product at a time so you know which one is working. Give each product a chance and don’t hinder things by throwing another product into the mix.
  4. If your new breakouts look much different than your normal breakouts please stop using the product. For example if you normally do not have cystic acne but start getting it after using a new product, please stop.

So yes skin purging is an actual thing. But all said and done please use your judgement wisely when it comes to your face. Whatever anyone says, let your feelings have the final say in the health of your skin. A few days of not using a product will not do any harm to your face. You can always restart a product but cannot undo damage to your face.

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Why seeing Dermatologists for my acne was a bad idea

Note : This is not a complaint or a rant about any or all dermatologists. This is just my personal experience with dermatologists about my acne ONLY. 

Dermatologists acne bad idea

As someone who has seen their share of dermatologists for acne, I think it’s not only ok but fair for me to say that not one of them helped me. Their treatment for acne was the same, whether I was 14 or I was 34. If I had had some guidance in my early twenties about proper diet and skin care I would not have fought acne well into my 30’s. 

I have had a lot of problems with the skin on my face, which I’m really happy to say I have resolved on my own. My experience with dermatologists started when I was really young. If I remember right I was 8 or 9 years old and I used to get white patches on my face. These patches had come and gone throughout my childhood. Various doctors gave me topical ointments and steroids for these patches which did not work. Imagine that, steroids for a 9-year-old. I was then taken to a top dermatologist who was visiting the city for a few days. I still remember he set up his temporary office in the front room of this huge old house. You had to walk up about 30 steps from the road to reach the front door of the house.

His had placed a desk near one of the huge windows in the room. Anyway, after listening to what my Mom told him, he went on to tell her how I should avoid wheat, milk, rice, tomatoes, brinjals, spinach and the list went on. I remember these 6 only for some reason. The problem I see today with telling people to avoid a huge list of foods is that you’re not telling them how to do it, why you’re telling them to do it and what to eat instead. Add to the fact that I was 9 and the list he gave were things we ate on a daily basis, you can bet the diet was never followed even for a day.

Maybe he wanted to check if I was allergic to anything, but the list of what I remember were really random things. Next, if I did somehow avoid all the foods he told me to and my patches cleared I had no way of knowing which food I was allergic to. So what was I supposed to do? Avoid all those foods forever? Not to sound like a smarty pants, but I cured those white patches on my own. How? By drinking an extra glass of milk and eating a lot of spinach. Coincidently these 2 foods were on the list that I was told to avoid. So basically those white patches were a calcium deficiency.

When I was 14 my acne started. A physician I was seeing for a cold, prescribed a vitamin A supplement for my acne. She told me it would make my skin clear. After taking it for 6 months and seeing no results I stopped. Throughout my teens and twenties, all the doctors I saw for my acne gave me antibiotics and topical creams like Benzoyl Peroxide, Salicylic acid, Retin-A, topical Isotretinoin. All these big sounding medications lost the battle with my acne. My acne did not decrease while the redness and painfully dry irritated skin increased. I strongly believe that my skin got sensitive after all these treatments.

Fast forward to a few years back. I started going to a skin clinic for my acne. The reason I went was that I assumed they would combine skin care along with treatment for acne. I thought I would cure my acne and make my skin great. Finally!! All I got was a dermatologist who was little friendlier than normal but the treatment remained the same – antibiotics and topical ointments!! I was told I needed a few peels and then laser sessions. All through these peels, my acne was active and more acne kept forming. They never stopped. As I grew older they got bigger, red and painful. They moved from my cheeks and forehead to around my mouth, chin, between my eyebrows, places where I had never had acne before. Basically, I knew I was losing my battle with acne.

If you are 25 and have had the same experience as I have, why don’t dermatologists help? First, they have no idea what is causing your particular acne? Sure they know how the actual acne pustule is formed, i.e the pore getting clogged etc. but the factors leading up to this are a mystery to them. Before the actual acne appears on your face a lot of things have been going on in your body. Maybe your body is in a state of inflammation, maybe your hormones are imbalanced. None of this is taken in effect by them while trying to cure your acne. No advice is given on diet or basic skin care.

Dermatologists know acne, but they do not know skin care. More often than not the prescribed medication for acne leaves the skin worse. The medication deals with acne superficially. Antibiotics kill the bacteria that cause acne and topical ointments try and do the same. However, these bacteria alone do not cause acne.

I wasted precious time trying to find that perfect dermatologist or skin clinic who would have the answer and cure for my acne. However, I never found them. What I found was that my skin was getting worse. Because I took so many antibiotics my acne got worse and turned cystic. At one time my whole face was covered with cystic acne. These left horribly indented scars which even today are difficult to get rid of. If I had just dealt with my acne on my own my skin would have been much better. Eventually, I found out what caused my acne and few ways to deal with it.

Also, acne goes way beyond being a physical problem. Acne affects people mentally just as bad. Any treatment for acne needs to take this into account. The person suffering from acne needs to be listened to and be assured that her acne will be cured, one way or the other.

What I hope that is acne sufferers will realize that there are other options out there besides medications, which sometimes only make the problem worse. Don’t get me wrong, if dermatologists have or are helping your skin heal then great. Otherwise, you’re better off looking elsewhere and making changes in your life that work with your body to heal the acne.

Have you ever had any experience, good or bad, with a dermatologist with regards to acne? Comment and tell me.

Also, you can enter your email below and steal my 2 tips on clearing your skin now. I will send it to you neatly packaged in a little ebook.

The truth about sensitive skin

Most of us who suffer from acne either feel we have sensitive skin or are told that we have it. So is it something that is genetic? Are we born with skin that is sensitive? Or is it something that we do that makes it that way?

I went through most of my 20’s thinking I had sensitive skin. I bought skin care products for sensitive skin and all that did was make my skin worse. As a kid, I did have skin that turned red easily but it was smooth and clear. As I grew older my skin got increasingly worse. It was red in places, dry in places, it felt tight when washed, it felt dry and tight but looked oily. And this type of skin is generally termed as sensitive skin. If you suffer from acne I am sure you know exactly what I’m talking about.

So what exactly is sensitive skin? Sensitive skin is skin whose uppermost layer, which acts as a barrier against the environment, is weak. How does this layer get weak? The most common factors are age and environmental stress. Medicated ointments, harsh soaps, pollution, bad diet, lack of proper hydration, using hot water to wash your face also contribute to this.

What happens when this layer is weak?  I once used benzoyl peroxide for a few breakouts on my chin and the next day my chin had hives and it was swollen and itchy. I had to go to the dermatologist and get something for the swelling and itching. Tea tree oil had exactly the same reaction. So what happened here? I had used benzoyl peroxide without any reaction before. The thing is that the years of using harsh soaps and constantly using different creams on my face for acne had weakened my skin barrier completely. So the inner layers could not deal with the strong benzoyl peroxide and therefore it reacted with the hives and the itching.

For years I used to get terrified of even washing my face as I knew that after I would feel like my face was about to crack. This is pretty strange for someone who has acne and is told that acne is caused by excess oil, .

So what had made my skin sensitive? Let’s go back to when I started getting acne at the age of 14. At this age, I started using medicated ointments and using harsh soaps on my face. As my face got oilier I washed it more, not realizing that both were connected. I took antibiotics prescribed by doctors and, applied even more ointments. None of these ointments did anything for my acne. All they were slowly doing in the background is making the uppermost layer of my skin weak. This is the layer that protects the skin and when this layer is weak, you will have symptoms of what is then called sensitive skin like stinging, burning, dryness, peeling. Fast forward to a few years later. I had chemical peels done on the advice of a skin clinic. I just cringe thinking about what I did to my skin.

When I stopped using soap to wash my face, half of the sensitive skin symptoms like dryness, redness, and the itchy feeling disappeared within days.

So the best way to deal with sensitive skin is to make the uppermost layer of the skin thicker. Doing this will not only make your skin stronger and less sensitive, but it will give it a smooth and radiant look.

So I leave you now with some tips to make your skin barrier stronger. Doing this will also make your skin less prone to acne and able to fight it better.

  1. Stop washing your face with a soap based cleanser. If you have to, stick to just once a day and that too using a very mild cleanser that does not contain detergents like sodium lauryl sulfate.
  2. Avoid toners that contain alcohol. If you must use toner use green tea or rose water.
  3. Stop using medicated ointments for at least 6 weeks.
  4. Drink 2-3 liters of water. This keeps your skin  hydrated and helps repair the skin.
  5. If you do use scrubs, stop for a while. Give your skin at least 6 weeks rest so that it can repair itself.
  6. Don’t use hot water to wash your face.

Comment below if you have any other suggestions to help deal with sensitive skin.


Why I refused to take Accutane and why you should too – Part II

This is the second post on Accutane. Please click here to read the first part.

So how far would you be willing to go for clear skin? Would you be willing to put your whole body at risk? Only if you have experienced acne first hand will you understand the pain and frustration when nothing works to clear your acne. Only you know how excruciating it feels when you have to go to work but your acne is bad. Even as strongly as I felt about the drug, I bought it after it was prescribed to me. That’s how desperate I was!!!!! Though I never took it, I can truly understand why so many people do – acne is a big blow to your confidence and happiness.

So now let’s just take a  look at what it is.

What is Accutane

Accutane (isotretinoin) was initially meant as a chemotherapy drug for the treatment of cancer. However further research proved that it was ineffective in the treatment of cancer but it was found to be effective in treating acne. It was initially meant only for the treatment of the most severe cases of acne, acne that did not respond to anything else, but today it is prescribed for even mild cases.

How it works

1. It dramatically decreases the size of the oil glands in the skin.
2. The acne bacteria that live in the oil in the skin also decrease as the production of oil is decreased.
3. It slows down skin cell turnover which in turn prevents clogged pores.

However, while it may help clear your skin, you’ll be putting your whole body through hell, as Accutane has a lot of serious and even dangerous side effects.

Here are some of the most common side effects of the drug – dry skin, itching, rash, dry nose, nosebleeds, cracking or peeling skin, dry mouth and lips, cracks in the corners of the mouth, dry eyes, inflammation of the whites of the eyes, joint pain, back pain, dizziness, drowsiness and nervousness. And mind you these are just some of the side effects and the most common ones. There are other side effects like liver damage and alopecia (thinning of hair) which may be permanent. Some side effects may even occur even after the medication has been stopped. Check this link for the full list of side effects. http://www.rxlist.com/accutane-side-effects-drug-center.htm

The thing is, you don’t know if Accutane is going to work for you. Also you don’t know if you are going to suffer from the million side effects of it. Normally medicines are only prescribed only when the benefits outweigh the risks and I don’t think Accutane passes that test.

Acne is not a standalone cosmetic problem. It’s a sign that something is not working right in your body. You’re better off trying to fix that and making yourself healthier in the process. Don’t destroy your whole body trying to cure your acne. Taking a chemotherapy drug for anything other than cancer is really not worth it.

If this does not convince you I suggest you Google “Living with the side effects of Accutane” and read the stories that appear in the results before taking the drug.

Do comment and let me know if you have taken Accutane and your experience with it.