It’s such an intimate, personal part of ourselves, and yet it’s also so visible to others, speaking plainly (and oftentimes loudly) about things that we’d rather not share with just anyone: our diets, our sleeping habits, our feelings, our fitness, our cosmetic routines, and even our general success– or failure– at being a decent, healthy human being. (Right?)
Everything is revealed through the skin; absolutely nothing is kept sacred.
I have had various skin ‘issues’ from puberty onward, ranging from acne to rashes to rosacea. All of these conditions were agonizing to me, even though I scolded myself for making a big deal out of them, and even though I tried to keep everything in perspective (i.e. acne is not cancer, red cheeks are not MS, and Think of the children who are starving in Africa!, etc.)
For a (very) long time, I was willing to try anything to clear my complexion for good.
As a sixteen-year old girl with a liberal smattering of acne on my face, I enthusiastically filled my first prescription for birth control pills, opting for the heavy duty brand that promised an end to acne as one of its most beneficial side-effects. (Who cared that this particular brand was later found to be way more likely to cause blood clots in otherwise healthy young girls? At the time, as long as I didn’t have pimples in my T-zone, I was happy.)
Then, as a nineteen-year old young woman, I was (reluctantly, but in retrospect thankfully) forced off the pill when I bled for three weeks straight, despite taking my regular dosages of estrogen and progesterone faithfully. My body said: ENOUGH. Shortly after discontinuing the pill, my angry complexion– which had been held at bay for the past three years, as promised, by the Ortho-Janssen company– resurfaced in a bad way, sprinkling red and painful sores all over my face, with new ones cropping up daily.
I was embarrassed to be photographed, and I was mortified that my skin had to be witnessed by every customer I encountered at the natural foods grocery store where I worked.
I felt like such a bad ambassador for organic foods, reverse osmosis water, and paraben-free skincare, with pimples running rampant over my face– not even confined to the T-zone anymore, those bastards! So I started trying “alternative” remedies, ranging from creams and cleansers to tea tree oil and a chocolate-free lifestyle. I made face masks out of raw egg whites, stopped wearing makeup, and tried to predict and manage future skin flare-ups based on the moon cycles (<– I’m not making that up.) Occasionally, I’d see a slight decline in new sores and I’d get all excited, but I was never able to pinpoint why the sores were disappearing. And because I wasn’t certain what was really working and what was simply useless voodoo when it came to my skin, I continued on indefinitely with a complicated skincare-slash-diet-slash-exercise-slash-sleep-slash-detox-slash-magic routine.
Then came Accutane.
Nothing seemed to be working when it came to my skin, and having a face full of acne was wearing away at my psyche. So I decided, “Hey! Why don’t I take that ridiculously expensive and positively caustic drug, Accutane, for a 3-month period of time? All I need to do is get my liver tested every month to make sure I’m not poisoning myself, look at a few pictures of deformed babies to scare me into celibacy, and promise my doctor in writing that I will never, ever get pregnant on Accutane– that’s no big deal!”
And on that drug I went. Accutane was a horrifying and yet a strangely mesmerizing drug to be on. Let me be clear: it is a brutally potent pharmaceutical, causing extreme dryness in the skin and essentially burning away acne from the inside (liver) out. My skin peeled constantly and deeply, causing my lips to bleed non-stop. I’d see a tiny flake of skin near my cuticle, pull on it a bit (because that’s what you do, yes?), and then I’d end up with deep gashes surrounding my fingernails and my fingers in bandages to prevent further skin erosion. I’d open my mouth to eat or speak, and the corners of my lips would inevitably crack open (again), never healing in between wounds. My hands developed ugly rashes on the tops, requiring me to slather them in that awful horse-hoof cream and then to cover them with cotton socks overnight.
My skin was clearing up. Every day, as a new layer of skin would flake or peel off in the most dramatic and/or disgusting fashion, I could see (or at least I could imagine) clear skin coming up. It didn’t matter how awful the drug was otherwise, how much it cost me (physically and financially) to be on, how damaging it could be to my liver, or how much it literally hurt me to eat, speak, shower, sleep, or come into contact with anything or anyone.
I wanted clear skin– at any cost— and Accutane was providing that for me, slowly but surely.
After three months of agony and hundreds (or perhaps even a thousand?) of dollars spent on that drug (thanks, parents!), I have to admit that my skin looked pretty effin’ hot. My confidence surged. I started living my life like I imagined every woman with clear skin should– happy! Always laughing in delight at something! Oh, look– puppies! Haha, my skin is so perfect and my life is so perfect to match! Shallow, yes. A bit contrived, yes. But I loved every, single minute of having perfect skin. I did.
Until… it wasn’t perfect anymore…
I’ll be writing more about my Perfect Skin Quest in next week’s post, and then I’ll share what this whole journey has taught me. Hint: it has nothing to do with creams, cleansers, salves, or even with eating and avoiding certain foods whatsoever.