I remember vividly sitting at one of those little desks in elementary school with a book propped up to cover my face, cowering from the jeering look from a classmate who commented on the growing pimple on my face. Did I mention that I was in the fourth grade?
As I blossomed into a teenager, my skin got worse, as did the taunts. One time, in French class, one of the boys asked how to say "pimple" in French. The teacher told him, and he proceeded to tease me about my complexion, in French. I knew then that I'd need to grow thicker skin (ha), and that the years ahead were going to be torturous. I'd wake up every morning to inspect the new growths on my face, and, for the most part, my oily skin didn't disappoint. Acne ran in our family: My mother had suffered from it, as had my grandmother. Their tales of how it would "get better with age" didn't help much, as I was mired in my own zit-ridden version of "My So-Called Life." My parents begged me not to pick at my face, advice that I, ever the rebellious teen, ignored. As a teenager, what could be worse than showing up at prom with a big, juicy zit?
I was a skincare company's dream customer -- I'd try anything under the sun to cure my acne. My cabinets were full of SeaBreeze, Neutrogena, Clearasil -- anything that might stem the tide of more pimples. One year I asked for a trip to the dermatologist for Christmas. I went, and he put me on Retin-A and antibiotics -- with lackluster results.
I resorted to camouflaging my skin with makeup. At one point, my mom begged me to tone it down; she said the bottom half of my face was a different color from the top half (my chin was a veritable war zone at the time).
My skin woes continued in college, and then on into my 20s. By that point, I was living on my own in New York City, with my own health insurance and the freedom to see whichever doctors (in-network baby!), whenever I wanted. I paid a visit to Dr. Kenneth Mark on the advice of my colleague at JANE magazine, and he changed my life.
Dr. Mark suggested a course of Accutane, the oft-maligned prescription drug that was pulled off the market in 2009. After a pregnancy test confirmed that I was not with child (Accutane causes severe birth defects), I started the regimen. I was on the medicine for three months, and every month, I'd go in to visit Dr. Mark, he'd give me a pregnancy test, check my cholesterol (it can cause adverse reactions to cholesterol levels), and once I was deemed clear, prescribe me another round of the medication.
I had some negative side effects; dry skin being the worst. On the plus side, I rarely had to wash my hair because my hair was never oily, and my pores just about disappeared. But the best result was exactly what the medication promised: I was rid of acne.
Ten years later and I have never suffered from the debilitating pimples that plagued me as a teenager. I have had a few flare-ups (mostly during pregnancy -- I don't think there is any medication strong enough to fight those hormones), but other than that my skin is literally clean and clear.
These days, I could care less about pimples. When it comes to my skin, my sole concern is protection from the sun. All that stress and worry from my teenage years has evaporated, only to be replaced by worries about my kids, job stability, bills and the health and happiness of my family. My mom asked me the other day if I feel pretty, to which I laughed and replied, "Who the hell cares?"