My Battle With Acne
By Nikki Yeh
When I was a teenager, you probably could’ve taken a pencil and played connect-the-dots on my face. For six years, I experimented with countless products that swore to banish my acne for good. I fervently rubbed on concoctions of teen-marketed cleansers, toners and lotions. I also went the DIY route, scrubbing my face with a blend of oatmeal and witch hazel, then dabbing the breakouts with tea tree oil. Finally when I was 17, I visited a dermatologist and I was prescribed Stievamycin and T-Stat, which didn’t heal my fickle complexion. And when that didn’t work, I got the go-ahead to swallow that beacon of pimple-fighting hope: Accutane.
Flash forward 12 years and I was sailing the ocean of clear complexion … until I got pregnant.
Knocked up with zits
It was my second trimester and I was finally rid of morning sickness. First, I found a few whiteheads around my temples and thought, “Ah, no biggie, I’ve had worse.”
But the worse happened. Deep red bumps and boils sprouted above my lips, under my chin and along my jawline. The pimples were so intense, they felt like they were throbbing heartbeats. Many expectant moms follow the ritual of posing for pregnancy portraits. I, on the other hand, was so self-conscious, taking pictures was out of the question. I felt like a gawky teenager again as the voices of yesteryear crept into mind:
“Whoa, those are a lot of zits happening.”
“Are you aware tomorrow is picture day?” (I know, kids can be so cruel.)
After all these years, why did acne erupt during my pregnancy? Blame my hormones. According to Dr. Lisa Kellett, “Hormones are needed to be able to not reject the baby – you have to be able to nourish the placenta, which is where the baby gets nourishment.” These hormones may also take a toll on your skin. “What happens is that you have different levels of hormones circulating, which is why “some women’s acne [during] pregnancy gets better and for some women, their acne during pregnancy gets worse.”
Although I received impressive prenatal care by my OB/GYN, a dermatologist could’ve shed light on my pregnancy acne. According to the American Pregnancy Association, there are prescriptions that should be avoided during pregnancy, including Tetracycline, Retin-A and Accutane. At the time, I just washed my face twice a day; I thought that was all I could do without adversely affecting the fetus. But if I consulted a dermatologist during my pregnancy, I could’ve considered other treatment options. In fact, a dermatologist “can design a management plan for you during pregnancy, which is considered safe and will help [acne],” explains Dr. Kellett.
A safe acne treatment for an expectant mom, which is verified by Motherisk, a resource for pregnant and breastfeeding women by The Hospital for Sick Children, is a topical benzoyl peroxide. “I recommend a benzoyl peroxide in a gel moisturizer,” says Dr. Kellett. “For most women, especially people with adult acne, I don’t recommend the treatments you would use on adolescent skin, as they tend to be too drying. So a gel moisturizer is a better formulation for the benzoyl peroxide because it’s not as drying.”
Acne even after baby
On November 6, 2010, my healthy baby girl arrived. Between learning how to breastfeed and function without sleep, I hoped my pimply skin would recover. Boy, was I wrong – enter post-pregnancy acne. Once again, credit goes to those wonky hormones. Especially for nursing moms, it does take awhile for hormones to go back to normal post-pregnancy, describes Dr. Kellett.
When you visit your dermatologist for post-pregnancy acne, you do have wider-ranging treatments to choose from. “You can be a little more aggressive [in treating acne] because you’re not worrying about giving something that’s not great for the baby,” describes Dr. Kellett. (However, systemic medications including Accutane are still off limits for nursing moms.)
In her clinic, Dr. Kellett recommends a number of non-invasive treatments that are safe for breastfeeding moms. These include silk peels and light treatments such as blue light and Intense Pulse Light (IPL). New moms may want to also treat scars resulting from pregnancy acne. In this case, Dr. Kellett recommends a profractional treatment, which utilizes a laser microbeam to mend acne scars.
So now that my baby has grown into an active toddler, I occasionally reminisce the “should haves” and “could haves” of my pregnancy-related acne. But you know what? That was then, this is now. Now, I can use these facts to recover my current complexion (which, by the way, has vastly improved but continues to have its “moments”). And if I become preggers again with massive breakouts, I’ll know how to go about treating acne. Maybe I’ll even get that pregnancy portrait taken. Perhaps just like how Jessica Simpson posed here for Elle magazine last spring…
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