Tuesday 21st May 2024

The true cost of acne

It’s the day of my big birthday bash, so of course I’ve woken up with a crater on my face so big Neil Armstrong could’ve landed on it.

In a panic, I run to Boots and buy everything in sight that professes to rid my skin of this horrible disease that is acne: cleansers, scrubs, toners, acids, and even a face mask that froths with bubbles the longer you wear it.

After throwing a concoction of aloe vera, tea tree oil, and jojoba on my face, I wait for the angry, throbbing mass to calm down before smothering on a variety of concealers, colour-correctors and foundations. After 45 minutes of solid spot-reducing work, I realise it actually looks worse. *Sigh*

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Ever since I was 13, I’ve struggled with terrible acne. I’ve endured a 14-year battle with blackheads, hormonal cysts and the fatal scarring that comes with them. Unless you’ve had it, it’s hard to understand the low self-esteem, teasing and tormenting that comes with it, and I know I’m not the first to say that I’ve tried everything.

As a teenager, I’d read columns in girls’ magazines with ‘top tips’ on how to treat my spots: toothpaste, sudocream, vodka – you name it, I’ve tried it. Once I even snuck into my mum’s bedroom and squirted Chanel No. 5 all over my face (that would’ve been an expensive habit to keep up…).

I’ve endured a 14-year battle with blackheads, hormonal cysts and the fatal scarring that comes with them.

And as for the medical advice, I had numerous doctors appointments, I was handed various prescriptions, and I went home with a new cream feeling ever-so-slightly more hopeful than 20 minutes earlier.

Those with acne will tell you that they’ve bought every product on the market in order to get rid of their spots. Up until recently, I was committed to a twelve-step skincare routine (morning and night) that involved me taking a spongebag the size of a suitcase everywhere I went.

Every month I spent an absolute fortune on products I’d read about on blogs, seen influencers apply on Instagram, or watched flawless-skinned models use on the TV. I’m talking hundreds of pounds on products that weren’t doing anything to my skin apart from making it smell nice.

I spent £50 on an oil with plant extracts that claimed to calm the redness. I splashed out on a £60 acid that was so strong I could only use it once a week. And I’m embarrassed to admit that I purchased a low-percentage retinol that did slowly improve the scarring, but certainly wasn’t worth £80 (think how many Nandos I could’ve had!).

The routine was costing me a large chunk of my monthly salary and having minimal effect, so after calculating my monthly skincare outgoings I decided enough was enough.

Unless you have skin so flawless you look like Beyonce, 99% of the time, these products are likely to do you more harm than good.

I bit the bullet and I booked myself in to see a private dermatologist. I stopped spending and saved for the £395 consultation fee. Yep, £395. For one appointment. But I can tell you now, it was worth every single penny. I received professional medical advice, a handout clearly stating what I could and couldn’t use on my skin (including cosmetics) and three words that have carried me through every Boots I’ve walked in since: ‘people love products’.

People will always have problematic skin, and so people will always buy products advertised to ‘cure’ it. But the truth is, unless you have skin so flawless you look like Beyonce, 99% of the time, these products are likely to do you more harm than good.

After starting my new two-step regime (cleanse and moisturise), I saw the dermatologist a further three times. My skin improved drastically and I stopped using the oils, serums, toothpaste and vodka.

Despite the whole process costing me around £2,000, in the long term I’m confident I’ll save thousands. Every time I’m tempted by a facial, a bubbling-face mask, or the latest skincare trend, I remind myself of those all important three words and the temptation is gone.

Not only do I save myself the hassle of storing hundreds of bottles in my bathroom, I’m also saving myself hundreds of pounds. I refuse to bow down to marketing when I’ve paid for professional medical advice from a medical doctor who has a PhD in skin.

It’s so easy to buy into the idea of a serum that will ‘minimise pores’ or a seaweed mask that will give you ‘a new lease of life’, but really you’re just wasting your money and boosting the high street’s profits.

If you really want to eradicate those blackheads, fade your scars and calm the redness, stop spending money on products that probably won’t work and get some medical advice. We need education, not products, and that’s why I’ll be drinking the vodka from now on, not cleaning my face with it.

Emma Real-Davies

Presenter, podcaster and writer, Emma is struggling with freelancing, struggling with being sustainable and struggling generally.

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