I Have Adult Acne, And I've Learned To Accept It

by Rachel Garlinghouse
Originally Published: 
Courtesy of Rachel Garlinghouse

I don’t remember the first time I got a zit, or as my mom called it more properly, a pimple. But I know it was a long time ago—and I’ve never outgrown my acne.

Here I am, 37-years-old, and I still have “pizza face.” There seems to be no rhyme or reason to it. The outbreaks aren’t limited to my PMS week or summer when I tend to sweat more while playing outside with my four kids. I’ll go to bed one night, and wake up the next morning to raised, red spots.

The worst was the year before my wedding. I was a full-time college student and working three—yes, three—part-time jobs. I hardly had time to sleep much less have a social life, bound and determined to get my diploma without a mountain of debt. I chalked the acne breakouts to stress.

I decided to visit a doctor on campus, leaving my appointment with tubes of cream and a generic printout on skin care. It didn’t do much except land me a big pharmacy bill. I had little time to think about ways to remedy my pimples—instead covering them as best as could with foundation.

I’d find pimples on my chest, my back, my upper arms, and of course the most obvious, my face. It was embarrassing to be well past puberty but still walking around with the embarrassment of a splotchy, bumpy face. I didn’t have the cash for expensive skin-clearing systems like exfoliating tools and three-step solutions that could be mail-ordered.

My acne came and went all throughout my twenties, and now to the almost-end of my thirties. I’ve gone to the dermatologist—but it’s an expensive crap-shoot. I’m not excited about slathering products on my skin that contains all sorts of ingredients I cannot even begin to pronounce or taking a gamble with pills that have the potential to make me go crazy—literally.

I’ve explored the more natural skincare lines—many of which contain willow bark and beet root. Sounds good, right? But they all smell a lot like licorice—yuck—and did very little for me other than stain my pillowcase.

Instead of slathering on product, I decided to go the opposite route. Less is more, or something like that. I used plain old bar soap—a tea tree citrus. I skipped any foundation or powder—trying to keep my skin as cleansed as possible at all times. This also rendered no remarkable results.

Yes, I’ve changed my pillowcase every other night, kept sunscreen on my face—as well as off, tried more moisturizing and less. I made drastic dietary changes—completely eliminating dairy, then gluten, and then meat. This has left me with clearer skin—not totally clear—and hungry. Sometimes a girl just needs a cheeseburger.

Of the few times I’ve reached out for help—either in person or in online mommy groups—I get a slew of messages from MLM ambassadors. They’ve got just the thing, they promise. I’ve been offered shakes, supplements, essential oils, and skincare lines. All I hear is cha-ching.

When I politely refuse their offers, they probe. What’s my skin type? Dry? Oily? Combination? How’s my t-zone? Have I considered ditching sugar and replacing it with bison?

Their questions leave me bewildered. Mostly because I wonder when they managed to become dermatologists—and if so, why they aren’t practicing as such instead of trying to sell me a sticky gel in a bottle for $29.99 plus free shipping. Insert eye roll.

I’ve done the work. As a type 1 diabetic and breast cancer survivor, I have labs drawn regularly. Everything comes back nice and normal. There are no red flags that tell me why the hell I’m a grown-ass woman who looks like she could be a model in an acne infomercial.

Now that I have two tweens who are experiencing their first breakouts, it’s really odd to have this trait in common with them. I remind them to wash their faces in the morning and keep their hands—which have natural oils as well as germs—off their skin. I’m left to wonder, once again, why I’m dealing with pimple popping when I’m closer to fifty than twenty.

I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about my acne or trying to fix it anymore. Is it annoying? Absolutely. Is it embarrassing? At times. But with four kids and a job and a house to take care of, I do a lot of wash-and-go. Sometimes I’ll apply color-correcting foundation to my face to be more of an adult. I don’t fixate on my zits like I did twenty years ago when a zit popping threatened to ruin my life.

Yes, there are remedies everywhere—that make lofty promises and cost a pretty penny. But I’m not interested. My top-knot wearing, make-up free face is okay with me. I’m not here to save face.

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