The Acne Battle Continues

I wish I could tell you my skin was smooth and bump free. I dream of the day when I can say that. But today is not that day. In fact, the last two weeks have been the worst outbreak of adult cystic acne I have ever had.

So bad I almost considered canceling my speaking gig at Ignite Boulder #13 last night.

I mean, speaking in front of nearly 1,000 people when your face looks like this is pretty intimidating.

But my friend Kath asked me to speak, and I wasn’t going to let her down.

And more importantly, I wasn’t going to let myself down.

Although I still did, every time I felt compelled to tell people at the after-party about my acne. Like I had to tell them that *I* knew it was there, just in case *they* thought *I* didn’t know it was heinous.

Ridiculous behavior.

These people are my friends.

But when you look down and see half your face has flaked off onto your jacket, you can’t help but feel self conscious.

So, where do I go from here?

I have been trying various new treatments since the last time I talked about this.

It was very nice of the folks from TRIA to send me their blue light skin clarifying therapy system and I really do think it was helping – but the battery life died so quickly on TWO of them, that I can’t say that I would recommend it.

I then did some more googling and found the Zeno Heat Treat, which I bought myself. I also think that one does help by killing the bacteria on new cysts – but again, the wand is very finicky about battery life and seems to shut-off randomly of its own accord. But at least this one takes double-A batteries that can be easily replaced with recyclables. But still – flaky.

Seriously, wand makers!?!? What is the deal?!?! How hard is it to make one of these things that actually works?!?!?

Let me know when you have that all figured out.

So, I continue with my face washing… (my personal favorite is the AcneFree Sensitive Skin System – but the main point is, my skin clearly does well with salicylic acid). That system includes a mild moisturizer, which is key, especially here in Colorado. I also continue with Atralin, a Retin-A, which helps the skin rejuvenate itself and minimize scarring from all these cysts. Although it also causes even more dryness (and all those skin flakes I saw on my shirt last night). Which necessitates more moisture, and the cycle continues. Yay.

Sometimes this feels like a full-time job.

THEN we move on to the oral meds.

Right now I am trying spironolactone – which although technically a diuretic (extra trips to the potty, double yay!), it also suppresses male hormones in women that can cause acne. It is also usually used as last ditch effort before you bring out the big guns – ACCUTANE.

Yes, ACCUTANE, which causes MAJOR birth defects. Yes, ACCUTANE, that you must provide two clear pregnancy tests before taking the drug. Yes, ACCUTANE, that you must promise to be on two forms of birth control for. Yes, ACCUTANE, that causes depressive symptoms and possible suicidal thoughts.

That one.

Triple Yay.

Although, my doctor says that most of her patients get HAPPY on ACCUTANE because their face FINALLY freaking clears up.

Let’s just hope we don’t have to go there at all.

This article has 40 comments

  1. Jerry Deese

    Justin Bieber says that you should try ProActiv. C’mon, how can you go wrong listening to the Bieber??

    Come to the dark side, be a Bielieber!!!

  2. Michelle M

    I used Spironolactone for a few years and it really helped me (it took about a month to really become effective)! However, I started wondering how happy my liver/kidneys were with me taking medicine everyday, so I weened myself off and currently I am not taking anything. The acne is back again and I am missing the clear skin I enjoyed on the Spiro. I took up to 100mg a day (it took some adjusting to finally find the right dosage and I was able to reduce the amount over the years to 50mg and then 25mg and still have good results). What dosage are you on? Maybe it needs some tweaking?

  3. Nature Deva

    Can I ask if you do any herbal remedies for your liver and also blood cleansers? The liver is related to cystic acne. Herbs like milk thistle seed extract, dandelion root, oregon grape root, burdock root, yellow dock root, etc really help and there are blood purifying herbs and even some tea blends that help to clear this up like a “Daily Detox” tea blend you can get at Vitamin Cottage or Whole Foods. You can also find a tincture blend to help your skin at those 2 stores, too.

    Sugar and dairy products are also a big culprit in break outs like what you have now. Eating some kind of greens every day – either salads or sauteed or steamed dark leafy greens also helps plus lots of water to flush your system. Breaking a sweat working out helps to flush toxins out so they don’t have to come out on your skin.

    I feel your pain and am so sorry you have to go thru this! The best make up that actually helps the skin and is non-toxic are the mineral makeups which will help hide the outbreaks and help the skin at the same time. Best 2 brands are Bare Escentuals and Pur.

    Good luck and I hope you will try some of these natural remedies before going to Accutane!

  4. Tisha

    I did Accutane 16 years ago. I still get blackheads a pimple about 2 x a month but no more cysts. It was such a relief when I took it. Your dermo is right – no depression I got super happy.

    i hope it clears up soon and you don’t need it!

    Good luck!

  5. Everyfann

    OUCH Aimee!!!

  6. Lisa

    Stupid question — have you tried Proactiv? I know that sounds crazy, “Hey you’ve done all this stuff, but have you tried that thing on the informercial?”, but I’ve used it and found it really does work.

    Interesting about the chlorine in the water. I’ve heard filtered water is better for skin and hair, but I didn’t think about skin sensitivities. My daughter has eczema, wonder if that would help her.

  7. Aimee Greeblemonkey

    I have *not* tried Proactiv and I actually thought it was the same salicylic combo that most of the cleanser systems were. I swear the last time I looked at the ingredients it was, but I just went and looked and it was not. Maybe I should try it. But in general, I don’t react to benzoil peroxide all that well, so I am bit hesitant. Maybe.

    But – seriously – thanks for all the suggestions – I will check them all out – keep em coming!

  8. Aimee Greeblemonkey

    And Jerry, the Bieber reference cracked me up!

  9. Alexis Anzalone

    I feel your pain, literally. Right now I am on Atralin, a prescription nighttime face wash, doing microderms every 4 weeks and on Solodyn. I wish I could say this was the magic combo, but it isn’t. The microderms are helping though and I am also using a vitamin-C serum from the spa that seems to help smooth things out. I too have thought about Accutane (was on it about 15 years ago) but am afraid.

    Thanks for starting this dialogue…wishing you the best of luck. Lets keep sharing information.

  10. Nat

    How terribly frustrating… Accutane… oooph scary..

    Wish I had some advice.

  11. Rick Ramos

    Chlorine is very bad for your skin. We need it to treat tap water, but not in and on our bodies. Using a shower filter to remove chlorine and other impurities from your water can help. I have grody eczema around my face from time to time and a shower filter makes it go away without using any drugs. I have seen it work with adult acne too.

  12. the slackmistress

    I did Accutane. For the most part, it cleared up my skin (I get a few whiteheads around my period, and the VERY OCCASIONAL cystic acne. But like, a bump. One.)

    It’s a PITA and a huge tradeoff for the pain/discomfort. Also, when I did it the standards in place were a TINY bit laxer than they are now.

    They put a picture of what the birth defects will look like on the back of every pop-out tab for the pills.

    Anyway, if you want more about my personal experience, feel free to email.


  13. Hannah

    For acne and for diabetes, you might want to look into what the good folks at suggest.

  14. acethehappywife

    I was gonna call you about this but here goes….Ok, I will try to give you my thoughts.
    I did accutane in high school. It worked for the most part but I would save that as a last ditch effort.
    I also have given up on the dermotologist.
    I however, have found the most amazing estetchian (sp) that has taught me a ton and has seriously cleared up my skin in an amazing way.
    Jessner Peels or chemical peels and laser treatments. I am not lying when I say that I went in there with some major breakouts and after the laser, they were gone with in hours. Totally gone the next day.
    In a combination with the right products, my face has looked better than it has in years.
    Don’t do the pro active – benz proxide dries your skin. The main objective is to hydrate your skin.
    DermaQuest and SkinCeuticals and Image md are three really awesome face product lines.
    Salicylic acid is your friend.
    Ok, I could go on and on but it is a full time job.
    If you want some specific product recommendations. I can give them to you. I am crazy about products…and have tried a ton.
    I can ask my estetician (sp) for exact type of laser you need so you could look for someone by you. I think you should try the laser…..

  15. Melanie

    I totally get your frustration.

    A year or so ago in preparation to go on Accutane, I started birth control. My OB suggested Yaz since it is helpful in clearing up acne. She was SO wrong.

    I ended up with blood clots that went from my hip to my ankle and a pulmonary embolism. Obviously I survived, but sheesh….you’d think they’d let you know they might kill you with the treatment.

    I never got on Accutane because I can’t take BC pills anymore. I went through giving myself twice daily injections and 6 months of coumadin (the devil drug) treatment to clear up the clots. All’s well now, but I wonder if I shouldn’t have tried a more natural approach first.

    I’m trying to cut out sugar completely. I notice flare ups from sugar. I’m using a Nano Cyclic soap and witch hazel as a toner and it’s sort of/kind of under control.

    I guess I’d rather have imperfect (understatement for me) skin than miss out on everything else this world has to offer.

    It sounds overly dramatic, but seriously…blood clots….going through my lungs? Helllllo?

    Also, just know we are all imperfect. : )

  16. Kath

    I am so so so glad that you DID your preso! I loved it…but not as much as I love you!

    I’ve only known 2 friends that took Accutane and it worked wonderfully for them. They were both really depressed BEFORE Accutane and took it as a
    last-ditch attempt…then wondered why they waited so long.

    Neither were in ‘having sex mode’ so the monthly pg tests were a waste of money, but otherwise they were happy campers.

  17. snapshot5

    Do you go to the chiropractor?
    My son was having normal break outs like most teens, we started seeing a chiropractor for other reasons— and low and behold! he is doing better.

    I have had the cyst type break outs off and on the past 4. The whole thing is exhausting! The embarrassment- the time involved trying to LOOK presentable to the world… it can be so depressing.

    Strangely- my dermatologist gave me a Valtrex tablet for a break out last year. It helped!
    I am not at all HUGE on prescription drugs. I feel that we don’t look at what is causing our health issues-
    In America it is all about money and how much of our money can be spent towards the drug companies.

    There has to be an underlining reason to the cyst type acne.
    It is so painful and frustrating.

    I hope you find some answers!

  18. Momo Fali

    The first thing I noticed when I looked at that picture was your glasses that I long to find for myself.

    Accutane sounds scary. Really scary. I’m going to keep my fingers crossed that you find something else.

  19. Floody

    I have some understanding of what you are going through. I still get breakouts at 41, and it`s frustrating to say the least.
    I use tea tree oil on the breakouts and just wash my face 2x a day with hot soapy water, and moisturize as well.

    Nice to meet you BTW. Love your art.


  20. Suzann

    I have had brilliant luck with a completely sugar-free diet and only a water/baking soda solution and apple cider vinegar rinse. I guess I was allergic to all the “miracle treatments.” Try going natural and see what happens.

  21. Tanya

    Not sure if you get a product called Zinplex ( by you…but it worked wonders for me….I haven’t used it in a couple of years either and my skin is still fine. But the crux of the matter is to increase your zinc intake – which we should all do anyway.
    When you start use the face wash as well as the supplements.

  22. Leslie

    I did a cycle of Accutane nearly ten years ago. I’m not a fan of medication or even vitamins for that matter.

    I know Accutane scares people and my dermatologist was convinced I would have a bad reaction because of all my concerns but in the end it’s a miracle drug and I would do it again if I had to.

    Good luck!

    PS: Love love your photos of NYC!

  23. JeremyTanner

    Never stay at home on my account. Love your face whenever we get to see it.


  24. Sizzle

    I can remember when I was 20 and I got the chicken pox. I was mortified that my face had all these red scabs but I had to return to college classes. I wore a baseball cap and felt the need to explain to anyone who looked at me that I was recovering from chicken pox. That need to explain, to say “I don’t always look like this”, was huge. And that was just a few weeks of my life so I can imagine that it’s frustrating and disheartening to face this on-going. I think it’s just further testament to how awesome you are that you blog about it and share information because you’re not the only one going through this. I think you are beautiful no matter what.


  25. Heyo

    Thank you, Aimee, for writing about this and for your comments, Tanya and Nature Deva. I hit my kitchen after reading this last week and made a salad and popped my daily vitamins that I’d forgotten for a couple days. One or two days later, my skin had calmed down. Really. I’ve had skin trouble forever with the absolute worst of it when I lived abroad. This post made me realize, “Yeah, I wasn’t really hitting vegetables or zinc much in those days.”

    As long as we’re swapping success/fail stories:
    -Accutane worked while I was on it
    -I’m pretty sure Proactiv only works ’cause it requires a regimen
    -apple cider vinegar impacted my pH, but I quit ’cause of known effects on tooth enamel and esophagus
    -Neutrogena On the Spot is good
    -Biore Ice Cleanser is good

  26. michelle


    As someone who suffered cystic acne for years, I feel your pain. I mostly got them along my cheekbone area, but sometimes forehead and chin also. I think I’ve tried everything listed in your comments, except for Accutane. Some of it improved my skin in ways but never really rid me of the big, cystic acne. What did finally help me is a form of birth control called Diane-35. I had to order it online and it shipped from Canada or maybe Australia (can’t remember, it’s been years). Cystic acne is caused by hormones and in hindsight I feel like I really drove myself insane with all the skin treatments and dietary adjustments and, frankly, the guilt and nagging feeling that I was doing something wrong. Anyway, once I was on the pill, it all cleared up and I didn’t need anything else but a gentle cleanser. Seriously, even if I accidentally fell asleep at night without washing my face, I wouldn’t get acne. I stayed on the pill for 2-3 years the first time. Acne slowly returned when I came off – but not quite as bad – so I went back on it for another ~2 years or so. I’m off now and occasionally get a big one, but nothing I can’t deal with.

    Funny story, when I first moved to CO and saw a new derm, she took one look at the cystic pimple on my face and said, “oh, that’s cystic, there’s nothing you can do about that.” Meaning, it’s a hormonal issue, not a skin issue. Ha. Could’ve used some of that honesty back home where my derm had charged me thousands over the years :/

    Anyway, best of luck with it 🙂

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