I Was Prescribed Tretinoin for My Acne and Here’s What Happened

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I feel like I should start this piece off with a disclaimer. Fair warning, y’all: There will be foul language, nasty in-depth descriptions, and raunchy-ass photos coming atcha.

This piece has really been a long time coming. I’ve always struggled with acne on and off throughout my life but have rarely spoken publicly about it because—let’s be honest—it’s just plain gross. But instead of hiding my issues and pretending they aren’t happening, I wanted to put it all out there for you peeps because a) I know there are some of you going through the same issues as I am and I think this will make you feel more comfortable and knowledgeable after reading and b) I think it’s important to show you all what I’m hiding behind the mask of full coverage foundation I wear on a daily basis.

This is really the most vulnerable I’ve ever been. When I first started dating my boyfriend, I bought a sleep-friendly BB cream to wear to bed because I was afraid he’d see what my real face looked like (that is, until I was comfortable enough not to). The only people who have seen my skin sans makeup are him, my parents, and maybe a couple of my friends—maybe.

In high school, I had typical teenage acne—little whiteheads that would come and go. After I graduated, my skin started to get a lot better and up until this past fall, I was the happiest I’ve ever been with my skin. That was until this fall.

For some reason, my skin decided to go all buckwild (I’m talking Snooki-Jersey-Shore-2009 crazy) on me. I spent the first few weeks of insane breakouts wondering where I went wrong. Did I use a new product that broke me out? Was I eating differently? What the hell could be bringing this on all the sudden? I thought I had finally outgrown it.

(Related: How Overcoming Acne Gave Me The Confidence To Stop Wearing Makeup)

I waited about two months before I called the dermatologist (which I had never been to prior) because it got to the point where I would get out of the shower and literally break into tears when I looked into the mirror. I couldn’t consider myself attractive whatsoever and it’s taken a toll on my self-confidence, happiness and relationships. From about September until November, I legit caked makeup onto my face until I couldn’t see anything but the mounds underneath. Hey, at least it was better than giant red elevations all over my entire face.

My dermatologist took one look at my skin, said “Yup, you have severe acne,” and prescribed me with Doxycycline (a pill to help with acne inflammation) and Tretinoin (a topical cream that is to be applied at night to help speed up cell turnover and unclog pores).

I had a little cry in the car and then put on my big girl pants and decided it was something I was just going to have to do to get over the shitty time in my life. I went back and forth about the Doxycycline since it’s an antibiotic you take twice a day that can make you have severe diarrhea, dizziness, yeast infections, and many more wonderful side effects. I decided that I would start off with the Tretinoin, see how that went and then hop on the Doxycycline if need be.

Week 1

Week1

Well, if you haven’t left your computer to go vomit yet, congrats. Welcome to my life 24/7 looking like a creature that just crawled out from under a bridge and hasn’t seen daylight for ten years. This is me before I started the treatment. As you can tell, I’m super thrilled about my looks and couldn’t be happier (that is, if today were Opposite Day).

For the Tretinoin, I was given the instructions to start applying a pea size amount of the cream onto my entire face every other night for the first week. Then after the first week, I could start to apply it daily. I was also told to use a gentle cleanser, skip my glycolic night serum while on the treatment and to use a moisturizer for skin that is more on the dry side.

I did a lot of research and tried to find as many other experiences that people had with the prescription and it made me fearful for what was about to happen this week and next. Many people told horror stories (the kind that keep you up at night quivering under your covers) about the first two weeks on the Tretinoin and referred to what I would be experiencing in these weeks as “The Uglies” (you know, itching, burning, peeling, redness and irritation). Sounded like fun.

I started the first night that I got the cream and applied it to my entire face like I was instructed. It’s a pearly, white cream that comes in a boring tube and has no smell. After applying, for some reason I was expecting it to burn or sting but nada. It just felt like applying a moisturizer.

After my first seven days of using the cream every other night, I hardly noticed a difference. By the second use, I did see some whiteheads coming up to the surface which I’m assuming is because of the cream purging my system. Unfortunately, I’m not seeing any improvement whatsoever but fortunately, I’m also not experiencing “The Uglies” in full force just yet.

Week 2

Week2

This week just plain sucks. THERE ARE LEGITIMATE MOUNTAINS ALL OVER MY FACE. What the eff is even going on? I honestly cannot even believe that my skin looks this way. As if the increased acne wasn’t enough, this dry skin shit is for the damn birds.

Aside from new breakouts appearing on the daily, my skin is so incredibly irritated and sore. The other night I woke up at 3am in such pain from my face rubbing against my pillow that I stayed up for hours trying to fall asleep again.

New Years Eve was this week too. After taking literally two hours to do my makeup, I headed into different lighting and didn’t even want to leave the house anymore because I could see my makeup clinging to literally every single flaky piece of dry skin. Plus, no concealer in the world could 100 percent conceal the giant mountains growing on my face. This stuff is effecting my self-confidence for sure. At this point, I really would be more comfortable just crawling up under my covers and not moving for the next six weeks. Is that an option…?

Week 3

Week3

Well, I’m definitely not as depressed as I was last week. My skin isn’t in as much pain as it was last week either. Yes, as you can see I still have blemishes, but I’ve noticed that when one pops up during the day or is starting to, after I use the Tretinoin at night, it’s basically gone by morning which is nice.

I’ve avoided using any harsh masks (which makes me so bored with life because that’s usually my weekly excitement). I opted for the Peter Thomas Roth Blue Marine Algae Intense Hydrating Mask this week since it’s hella cooling and soothing on my busted, dry skin.

I’m having a hard time believing that in just a couple weeks (maybe) I’ll be acne-free. Trust me, I’m praying it’s true but at this point in time, I just don’t see it happening. Welp, better luck next week, right?

Week 4

Week4This week was way less depressing than last week. My skin is definitely still dry and a bit flaky, but there’s no doubt that things are looking up for me. It may have something to do with the fact that I changed my nighttime moisturizer.

Prior to this week, I was using the Ole Henriksen Sheer Transformation at night but I switched over to using the Eve Lom Brightening Cream. This cream must be providing me with more moisture during the night because I also stopped waking up with a puddle of oil in my t-zone. Not to mention, this night cream has brightening ingredients in it so my acne scars are fading as well. Things are really looking up!

Week 5

Week5

Hallelujah. Something tells me that I must be over the shitty phase of this treatment because I’m feeling the best that I’ve felt in weeks. I did get a facial this week, so I’m sure that contributed to my feelings towards my skin. She used a very mild peel and I am so impressed. I have maybe one pimple on my face at the moment, so I’m really just focusing on getting rid of these acne scars that I’ve obtained in the past few months.

Obviously by looking at the photo above, you can see that my skin is nowhere near perfect, but the fact that I’m almost pimple-less is a straight up miracle. I really can only see it getting better from this point on!!

Week 6

Week6

Well, this is the first week I have somewhat of a smile on my face, so I guess that says a lot about how I’m feeling. Like I said last week, things are really looking up. Yes, I’m still breaking out here and there, but it’s absolutely nothing like it was when I first started this treatment. Plus, if I do break out, I’ll pop on my Tretinoin before bed like usual and by morning, it’s basically gone. This stuff has really been doing wonders for any type of acne that I’m experiencing from whiteheads to more cystic breakouts. I can’t say I’m feeling 100 percent, but I’m definitely at a good 85 percent in terms of where I want my skin to be.

Week 7

Week7

This is the first week that I’ve been back at the gym since the holidays (stop judging me, okay?!) and that may have something to do with how my skin looks. I’m experiencing a few more breakouts than I did last week, but in the areas where I’m not breaking out, I feel like my skin is looking more and more healthy. With only one more week to go on the introductory period of the Tretinoin, I’m—again—the happiest I’ve been throughout the treatment. It seems to be looking up more and more with each passing week. I’m trying to better my diet and drink a ton more water, so I know that’s helping too. As I’m seeing breakouts subside, now the acne scarring is starting to really piss me off. While it sucks to still have the scarring, at least this can easily be covered up with some concealer and it’s not really a texture issue that you can see through makeup, just pigmentation.

Week 8

Week8

I did it!! Eight weeks of applying this shit to my face every single night (and not forgetting even one night!). Through all the sensitivity, redness, flakiness, peeling and lots of tears in between, I am finally almost at the point of being acne-free. I know that in the image above, you’re seeing lots of spots on my face. Luckily, these acne scars are incredibly easy to cover up and my next project will be to get rid of these. I feel like I’m at the point where I can go out of the house to run errands and not wear a full coverage foundation which was what I’ve wanted since this acne started.

This was actually the first time in 8 weeks that I looked back at the photos I took on weeks one and two. I remember it being bad, but holy shit. I can’t believe I even left the house with skin that terrible. It makes me even more impressed with the Tretinoin.

As for my Tretinoin, I’m not sure that I ever want to stop using it. It’s truly worked wonders on my skin. In just two short months, it’s made my skin the best it’s been since my breakouts started in August/September. I can’t wait to see how it works for me in the next few months. My dermatologist also mentioned that it should help with the acne scarring, so even when my breakouts completely subside, I’m going to continue usage to get rid of these scars. This week I also have my second facial.

I believe that with monthly facials, daily usage of my Tretinoin, continuation of changes in my diet and my increased water intake, I should be on track to get my old skin back in just a few months and I really couldn’t be any happier about it.

A Rundown of Products

Before I started my treatment, I was using the REN ClearCalm 3 Clarifying Clay Cleanser. Since it does contain some strong ingredients, I chose to switch cleansers to something super gentle: First Aid Beauty Milk Oil Conditioning Cleanser. I used that for a while, but sometimes just felt like it wasn’t getting my skin clean enough after having a full face of makeup on during the day. So, I switched to the Glossier Milky Jelly Cleanser and I haven’t looked back since.

For a toner, I wasn’t using one until about Week 6 when I was sent the Pixi Beauty Glow Tonic and couldn’t resist trying it even though it did have glycolic in it. After the first say using it, my skin looked incredible so I’ve been using that for the last two weeks and I’m in love. This is another product I never want to delete out of my routine.

As for moisturizer, I needed to use something that was seriously hydrating. Since I had more combination skin before my treatment, I was using the Ole Henriksen Sheer Transformation. I needed something with a bit more hydration, so I opted for the Eve Lom Brightening Cream which is my absolute holy grail product. It’s helping with my acne scarring so much and definitely gives me all the hydration that I need.

When my skin was shockingly dry in the first few weeks of the treatment, I opted for the Peter Thomas Roth Algae Intense Hydrating Mask about twice a week and that helped a lot. Now that my skin isn’t too dry, I’ve been using that maybe once a week and I’ll pop of a bit of the Glamglow Supermud Clearing Treatment on any blemishes as a spot treatment 1-2 times a week.

Has anyone else had any experiences with Tretinoin (or even Doxycycline)? Let’s talk about it in the comments below!

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