Saturday, September 13, 2008

Adult Acne: Or Why I Need New Hand Towels

I have never been one to have clear and pristine looking skin. I suffered an occasional breakout in high school, but nothing that left me praying for darkened rooms or that crushed my self-esteem. So I put up with the occasional breakout, relied on the pill to multitask its way through my twenties and then I got pregnant. The thick hair grew in (then coiled into an ugly looking dreadlock in my drain about 4 months after the baby came), my nails were hard and strong, but where was that glow? If I had to hear that I was having a girl one more time because she was "stealing the beauty out of my face" I could have cried (well, cried more).

I searched the aisles at Target and CVS looking for something, anything that I could put on my face. I asked my obstetrician who told me she might be able to bring something in for me. This was quickly forgotten by both of us. But how surprised was I when I went in for my yearly exam to find a display table of her new line of face and skin products for pregnant women? Why was I not the guinea pig? Please, a free sample couldn't have hurt, or possibly a mention that she was developing something, at least then I could have looked forward to using it in subsequent pregnancies, but nope, nothing. (For those of you who are interested the line is called Beaute de Maman and can be found at I haven't tried any of it yet, but will let you know once the next babes comes around.) So I was stuck with a gentle skin cleaner that did nothing but take up space in my shower. Maybe, once the baby was born things would clear up.

Not so much. I was many months postpartum and my skin started to resemble the topography of the Northwest. I am talking mountain ranges of acne that would not go away. They would lay dormant for weeks, no hope of a possible eruption. These were not mere whiteheads, taken care of with a quick pinch and few tissues, these were hard core cysts designed to suck every bit of self-confidence from my being and mock me each time I was naive enough to actually look in the mirror. Why? Why? Why? I already had stretch marks, I am still carrying the equivalent of what my one year old weighs on my body in weight, really we had to mess with the face too?

So I took some action. I called a dermatologist. Why this thought didn't occur to me earlier I am not sure, I just assumed eventually all the hormones would work themselves out and my skin would somehow flatten out. A nice even plateau, like the desert, miles of uninterrupted neutral landscape. This is actually my big problem in life. I just assume everything will eventually work out. I found that it is a lot easier if you actually initiate some sort of action. So, I found myself at this dermatology office, straight out of Private Practice. Now, I love me some Addison on Grey's Anatomy, but I am not a huge fan of the spin-off, however, I have watched it and this is what that place was like. I could just feel the healing waiting to reach out to me and settle on the large boils growing on my face. Everything was clean and fresh, high-tech but not sterile. The rooms still had paper on the chairs but they were painted a soothing palate and piped full of satellite radio. It was the kind of place that made you believe that clear skin was a right and not a privilege. That acid peels and laser hair removal, though well out of my price range, were waiting for me, arms open wide, in the near future.

Two doctors walked in. One was a young man, he looked fresh out of something. I later learned that he was 34. This only after I told him I didn't want to be 32 with adult acne. He then pointed out a small red pimple underneath his jawline, hidden quite nicely by his incoming beard and only noticeable if you stared really hard, because in fact, anyone who was even looking that closely would probably assume it was some sort of razor burn. I digress. He felt my pain. That young, smoothed skin doctor with his clipboard and dreams. The other doctor was a woman. She was young, but I couldn't determine her age because her skin was so white and translucent that it looked like the reflection off my engagement ring in the summer sun. Who are these people who do not go to the beach and get tan? Don't they know that you just look better with a little color? Anyway, they started this tag team questioning that was a little off putting. I couldn't tell who was the good cop. Were they going to fault me for my obvious sun habit? Would they ask about my relationship with peanut M&M's? Would they ---gasp---ask me to change my form of birth control? Ladies, when you find something that works, you stick with it. I found the Ring. There was absolutely no way I was switching. I looked to Dr. Clearskin for some support, clearly she would recognize the struggle to find a good match. She smiled a small smile of support and Dr. Clipboard gave a few other options. Clearly, they were in it to save my skin. According to Dr. Clipboard it was hormones that were responsible for the havoc that my skin. Hormones? Can you believe it?

They prescribed a regiment of washing my face twice a day with a special cleaner. One, Dr. Clearskin told me "looked like my skin could probably handle." Why is that Dr. Clearskin? Because it is so obviously pocked? So hideously deformed by mountains and craters that it looks like the cover to my eighth grade Earth Science textbook? Is that it Dr. Clearskin, is that it? She quickly provided a reason saying that unlike her skin that was "so sensitive," mine would be able to handle a higher dosage of the active ingredient. Perhaps if she went out in the daytime her skin would be able to handle it. Anyway, I also had to apply a cream and take a pill at night. One small side effect though for the pill, according to Dr. Clipboard, longterm use of an antibiotic could cause a yeast infection. So, and I quote, "call us if you get a yeast infection." I could only imagine the horror of going through the receptionist. "You have a what? This is a dermatology office, the gyno is down the hall." Ugh. Bad skin and a yeast infection. Could it get any better then this?

Two-hundred and twenty-two dollars later--apparently the health insurance industry doesn't recognize the long term damage, physically and emotionally that adult acne causes--I had my face clearing trio of creams and meds to take on the challenge of clear skin. Maybe I could have skipped the dynamic dermatological duo of Dr. Clearskin and Clipboard. I could have hit the local Stop and Shop and bought Proactive right out of the vending machine. Jessica's skin looks lovely, Vanessa Williams shines on Ugly Betty. For 19.99 and hundreds of cotton balls, I could have the same results and I would still have my hand towels. Apparently benzoyl peroxide dyes things. It says so right on the packaging. "Avoid contact with hair, fabrics or carpeting as benzoyl peroxide will cause bleaching" Carpeting? Who washes their face then dries it on a rug? Well, I can't avoid contact with fabrics. When I wash my face I have to dry it. I am trying to be green people, I can't use paper towels, but everyday, little by little, the color starts to fade from my face clothes. A small spot appeared on my body towel, the hand towels have started to fade, and I stare at the mirror scrutinizing the progress on my face. The mountains have flattened but you can still see where they stood, my rugs (thank God) have been spared the slow spotted infection that has infiltrated my linen closet, the receptionist at the dermatologist has yet to hear my embarrassed stammer of yeast infection explanation, and as I wash and slather my skin everyday I am finally at a place where I have hope.

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