Coping with problem skin – my story

Yet another fantastic piece written for us by a young adult, this time a personal story about coping with problem skin as a teenager. We know it helps to read about how other people dealt with acne and skin issues, and this is definitely a story that will inspire. A massive thank you to our contributor, Ellie, who’s now 23.

Omg! A zit!

Almost all teenagers have spots. It’s a classic sign of puberty. We are barrelled with advertisements about blemishes and how to prevent/treat them, as well as classic pimple scenes in popular culture. ‘Omg! A zit! It’s so big! How am I possibly going to get it to go away for the prom in time?!’ And yet, on almost all occasions, this spot is quite clearly the work of makeup artists, particularly since the rest of the actor’s skin is crystal clear.

Actual acne

What is not quite so represented (if ever) is real problem skin – raging acne all over your face (and other areas, if you’re particularly unlucky) which makes you as red as a tomato. This was what I experienced as a young person.

My acne: the beginning

I say “young person” because, for better or worse, I was not yet a teenager when my problem skin began. Luckily, my Dad had awful acne when he was a child, and so even when I only had a few spots in primary school, my parents knew to act fast. I was taken to the GP multiple times for referrals to a specialist, and was refused on several occasions.

At this stage, it wasn’t quite bad or noticeable enough for anybody to comment.

The dragon phase

Because I was still so young, for a while they tried everything possible before I was prescribed the strong stuff. This meant I had to deal with applying lotions and potions to my face; creams and gels of all kinds. None of them worked. Most of them made my skin incredibly dry, but didn’t actually get rid of the acne. This meant not only did I have a raging volcano on my forehead, I now had dry peeling flakes all around my mouth and chin which made me look like a dragon.

“Why are you so red?”

The dragon phase was possibly the worst for rude comments. Overall, I feel I was quite lucky when it came to people’s perception of my acne (although it’s possible that I’ve erased the worst memories due to trauma). Most people, even in year 6/7, were savvy and polite enough not to mention it.

However, that didn’t stop the few. One girl, despite surely having the puberty talks at primary school, genuinely asked me “why are you so red?”. I have no idea what I replied, but I hope it was something along the lines of “because I inherited raging acne as you can see on my bright red shiny forehead, you fucking idiot”.

The worse were the comments not directly aimed at me, but those I overheard. I genuinely don’t think the speaker intended for me to hear this, but once swimming at school with an open back costume (I had this acne all over my back, too), a girl said “if I had skin that bad, I’d kill myself”. This really sucked at the time, but the older I’ve got the more shocked I am by just how harsh these words are.

Roaccutane (Isotretinoin)

Finally, my doctor said enough is enough, and they decided to put me on roaccutane. At the time, he told me and my Mum to under no circumstances google it, as “you’ll think it will make you grow horns”. Since discussing acne with my peers, I now realise how true this is. So many were terrified to take it, or said they experienced awful side effects. I genuinely believe that because I had no idea how bad it could be, I was absolutely fine (placebo effect at its finest), perhaps apart from very dry lips. On the plus side, I had beautiful, non-greasy hair.

Since I was still young (11-13), I struggled to take tablets (although, bonus, there was no need for me to take a pregnancy test). I dreaded the mornings where I would be greeted with my parents and the pill. Every time I would attempt to take it, giving it my all, and almost every time I would fail. The few mornings where we would shout ‘eureka!’ when I managed to swallow a tablet were few and far between; this meant we usually ended up slicing open the little pill with a knife and squirting the contents onto a spoon with some chocolate spread. Suffice it to say that I could not eat chocolate spread for quite a few years after my course was complete!

Yet I would do it all again. Even though it pained me when my Dad would shout at me, or my Mum would say things like “what if you want to wear a beautiful backless wedding dress one day? Don’t you want to be able to?”, the roaccutane worked. It cured my acne, as well as all the nasty comments which came along with it. I also have little to no scarring since we acted so fast.

The dip before the peak

One of the more upsetting features of roaccutane is that it gets worse before it gets better. It is so disheartening to already have truly awful skin. The fact that you have to accept that it’s going to get even worse is quite terrifying. I was lucky that I had a friend at netball, who was a couple of years older, who encouraged me to preserve because it was all worth it in the end.

And it was. My skin glowed. For years. When I moved schools for sixth form, I would receive compliments from the girls on my skin. I was gobsmacked. What a 180! When I told them I used to have acne, they almost didn’t believe me.

I think my dip was potentially worse than others because of just how young I was. While we did have puberty talks and people were aware of spots and their looming presence in our lives, they couldn’t really understand what it was like to have them like I did because they didn’t yet (and most never would). I often wonder whether I was lucky or whether it was worse that I went through it when I did; even though it was absolutely crap going through it when nobody else was, it also meant I was over it faster. When people were old enough to start thinking about having partners, they were still worrying about their skin, whereas I was through it.

Omg! A zit!

I resented those with perfect skin for a long time, but what I resented more was when they would get a single blemish and moan about it. In front of me. I know teenagers are stupid, but just how insensitive can you be?!

Ironically, I am now this person. I am so far through the other side – I had glowing skin for years after my roaccutane. But I then went through a small patch of experiencing tiny lumps on my skin (what one facialist reckons is leftover oil pustules from my acne days). I actually went back to the doctor about it, but this time they were rather useless. It wasn’t bad enough for the strong stuff, so they prescribed me the creams which I knew didn’t work on my skin.

At this point, I searched “bumpy skin” on YouTube, and a tutorial came up. She claimed at the start that if you followed this routine for six months, your lumps and bumps would disappear. But it had to be for six months. So that’s exactly what I did – I bought almost all of the products she recommended, and substituted those I couldn’t. I always thought my skin was the type that only responded to proper drugs, but it turns out that with some tender love and care, even my less serious post-acne problem skin was treatable, and with affordable non-prescription products.

Skincare: the long game

My friends and I often say, skincare is like contraception: it’s annoying, but you have to try stuff out to find out what works for you. Eventually, pretty much everyone does. Now, we’re reaching our mid-twenties, when our natural collagen will stop producing and we’ll have to start our anti-aging regime instead of our anti-acne routine. I never thought I’d see the day!

And yet, I still get blemishes. Nobody ever completely grows out of having the odd spot. You’ll notice them on parents and grandparents from time to time. It never stops being irritating when you do get one. But each time I do, perhaps I’m lucky that I can remind myself that it used to be so, so much worse.

My current skincare routine (age 23):

Wash with foaming cleanser – I use CeraVe or Cetaphil
Tone – I use Clinique or La Roche Posay
Anti-blemish serum – I use salicylic acid or lactic acid from The Ordinary
Anti-blackhead serum – I use glycolic acid from The Inkey List
Anti-blemish cream: La Roche Posay Efficlar Duo
Moisturiser – I use Clinique or CeraVe on particularly blemishy days


Thank you so much, Ellie, for sharing your story with us. It’s great to read how you stayed strong and positive while coping with problem skin. And wonderful to know your skin is now glowing with health!

Anna x


A little bit about Equipp

I’m Anna, mum to 3 young adults. I set up Equipp with my late business partner Louise (mum to 2). I now work with her husband and daughter. Our mission is to help spread happiness and positivity amongst today’s amazing young people. We believe it’s vital that every teenager is given confidence to believe in themselves.  Telling them how wonderful they are and putting a daily smile on their faces via the cards and gifts they receive from Equipp is integral to everything we design and produce. Have a browse around our collections of birthday and teenage milestone gifts and please do get in touch if you have any questions or would like any recommendation.

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Oh, and we’re raising money for a fantastic teenage suicide prevention charity, Hector’s House, with a donation from every purchase from Equipp.

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