As someone who’s had cystic acne since age 12, it was a bitter, disappointing lesson to learn that it wouldn’t disappear as soon as I aged out of my teens. The fun part of my early twenties was overshadowed by the fact that I spent years trying to cure my stubborn red spots that were a result of my acne. I tried time and time again to get rid of my acne, but nothing seemed to work.
Here’s just a sampling of some of the acne-curing strategies I’ve tried at various points in my life: cutting out dairy, sugar, and alcohol, Differin, every antibiotic under the sun, putting positive thoughts out into the universe, sheet masks, oil cleansing, not wearing any makeup, vitamin D supplements, iron supplements, sleeping with my hair up, changing my pillow slipcase constantly, and drinking gallons of water.
It wasn’t until my dermatologist prescribed Spironolactone, a blood pressure-lowering med that’s also used off-label to treat hormonal acne, that I looked in the mirror one morning and saw a clear, blemish-free face staring back at me. Now, I deal with occasional zits, but they’re much fewer and farther between than they used to be. All that said, I recently had to go off Spiro for health reasons – I’m crossing my fingers that my zits are gone for good.
I know I’m definitely not the only one who understands the frustration of dealing with stubborn acne. In fact, adult acne in women is so common that last year, the New York Times wrote that it had reached “epidemic proportions.” Making things more frustrating is that some evidence suggests Latinas are actually more susceptible to adult acne than women of other ethnicities, according to Cosmopolitan. The culprit, according to New York dermatologist Dennis Gross, is our genes. He told Cosmo in 2013 that the same genes that make us “less sensitive to sun exposure and sun damage” also make our skin more oily and prone to breakouts. Womp, womp.
All this is to say that if you’ve struggled with acne, you’re far from alone! Below, three Latinas share what finally cured their acne for good. Don’t forget to take notes.
Maria A., 26
“As soon as I turned 12 or so, I started struggling with cystic acne. My acne was really bad for someone my age – it wasn’t just a pimple here or there before a big event. I had clusters of acne that caused scarring and tried everything I could, from the toothpaste urban legend to every Neutrogena spot treatment that came out. Although we knew acne came from my dad’s side of the family, we thought it was something I would grow out of eventually. I’d be outside shopping with my mom and random señoras would come up to my mom and ask her about my acne and why she was letting me eat greasy foods. Pretty much everyone we ran into had something to say about my acne or had some sort of advice for how to deal with it, from trying to sell us Herbalife products to claiming they could bring me some sort of essential oil from their home countries. The dermatologist that my family had been seeing for years wasn’t much help either and even believed that chocolate y caramelos were the source of my skin problems.
I first learned about Accutane when reading Judy Blume’s young adult novel Here’s to You, Rachel Robinson. I was pretty internet savvy when I was in 8th grade and actually found a dermatologist online that had resources about Accutane. I went with my mom to my regular dermatologist and asked for a referral to another dermatologist. [That] dermatologist was open to me using the treatment. I had to get bloodwork done every month while on the dose and also had every symptom in the book: My face would peel horribly, I would get headaches if I was in the sun for too long, and had occasional nosebleeds. I finished my Accutane treatment when I was about 16, and 10 years later I still don’t get breakouts.
I can actually maintain my skin with some simple cleansing and moisturizer but still love playing with different masks and serums. The most important thing that helped me was being proactive and finding a dermatologist that wouldn’t just send me home with yet another tube of cream. I’m so thankful that I wasn’t afraid of asking my dermatologist for a referral to [another] dermatologist when I realized we weren’t going to get anywhere. Accutane has been quite controversial throughout the years, but I think one of the important factors [is] working with an expert who would provide options and suggestions that work for you.”
Sari R., 39
“I’m 39 now, but I’ve always had a problem with breakouts. They would usually happen around the week before my menstrual cycle so after a while I just became used to it and accepted it for what it was… Around the time I turned 37, my breakouts starting becoming worse so I decided to make an appointment with a new dermatologist.
She really cared about my skin and told me that if she prescribed me a prescription-strength retinoid it would be extremely expensive but that they just approved or were about to approve a new over the counter medication for acne-prone skin called Differin and that I should give it a try. I had to wait about two months until it was available, but when it hit CVS I was excited to go purchase it and wow, what a difference it has made in my life.
My skin is so much more reliable whereas before it was so unpredictable. [Now] I don’t have the crazy random breakouts around my T-zone area, which was always the problem.
I wash my face every morning with regular face wash, and after I apply a small amount of Differin gel to my face. It really has been my savior! I would highly recommend it to anyone and guess what – it’s not making me broke! My skin isn’t perfect, but it’s a whole lot better than it was before.”
Andreina C., 30
“I first started breaking out when I was 12. I would use over-the-counter stuff like Neutrogena, and whatever I could find at the drugstore, just whatever I could find to treat that. But then when I turned 15, it got really, really bad – it wasn’t just normal breakouts here and there, it was cystic acne – and I had to start seeing a dermatologist. We tried topical products but nothing helped, so he put me on Accutane.
It was awful – it made my skin super dry and it made my breakouts worse. I also suffered depression from it, which is a side effect. I was just this 15-year-old who had horrible skin, was in high school, and was feeling depressed. I didn’t know what it was, but I knew I wanted to cry all the time.
The dermatologist said it was a side effect of the drug and said, ‘It sounds like this is a choice you’ll have to make – if you want to continue to take it, is it worth it?’ And I was like, ‘I feel so awful and it’s not even working – my face still looks awful – but nothing else was working, and this pill that was supposed to be so amazing didn’t work either.
I felt like I was at a dead-end and when you’re a teenager, that’s a lot to go through. Finally, the doctor suggested that I try another pill, Spironolactone. I’d heard from a lot of other people who’d been prescribed that pill also and that was the pill that helped. My face started to clear up slowly. I’d still get a pimple every now and then, but it wasn’t like it was when I was 15 with these huge boils that just hurt and wouldn’t go away.
College was an interesting time because I went away to school so I was living with other people. I would see these girls who would go to sleep with all their makeup on and wake up the next day without a single pimple, and I was like, ‘I can’t do that ever. If I fall asleep after a late night out without taking my makeup off, I knew there’d be hell to pay in the morning.’
I took [Spironolactone] all throughout college, then I graduated from college and moved away. I didn’t have a doctor because I had moved out of state, and I was like, ‘I’m not going to take this pill anymore, because I can’t get to a doctor as easily and also because I don’t want to be dependent on this pill for the rest of my life – I don’t know what the side effects are.’ And at this point, I was in my early twenties so I was thinking maybe as I got older the zits would disappear.
By the time I was 25, I was working as a TV reporter, so being on camera every day and having to worry about your skin is a lot to deal with. You have to put makeup on because of the lights, but putting on all this makeup clogs your pores, so there’s a lot of anxiety.
I tried to manage it with over the counter products, you know cleanser, toner, moisturizer, exfoliating, doing a lot of reading on how to manage it, but as I continued on into my career and started to make more money, I started to get facials. I started seeing an esthetician and that’s helped a lot. I still break out, but it has helped me manage it and just having somebody work with my skin every month is really helpful. I’ve never been as bad as I was when I was 15, but every year, I hope, ‘I’m a year older and I’m going to enter my thirties and this will be the year when I finally wake up and have perfectly clear skin.’”