25 May 2009


The content of the following post is very honest and possibly disgusting, especially for those of you who have never suffered with the same problem. My usual reaction to potentially embarrassing personal problems is to ignore them and thus not allow myself to be embarrassed, but I've decided to gather my thoughts on this subject. Thank you for your understanding.


I remember a boy asking me why my nose was all shiny when I tried putting Neosporin on a zit to make it heal faster. Or all the times someone asked me if I had bumped my head. I can't forget the times I've been told my face was bleeding, and the times that I've sat in public with a strategically-placed hand that was supposedly supporting my chin really putting pressure on a bleeding zit and then later rubbing a moistened finger there in hopes that there wasn't blood smeared on my face since no mirror was nearby. What about all the times I mentally berated myself for not having any cover-up on me? Or the airport security asking if they can take samples of my benzoyl peroxide?

I have zits. A lot of them. Enough to make a humiliated adolescent kid hide from people. And it's a daily part of my life. One zit's getting ready to surface while another painful, underground, never-to-surface one on my chin is making smiling painful, while another is finally fading into a scar, and another is plaguing my lip, and yet another is going for round two, which is even bigger than round one if you can believe it--and on my crooked nose that already sticks out enough to bring attention to it. Zits. On my face. On my neck. On my shoulders. On my back. On my chest. (Yes, wearing swimsuits is a nightmare.) Nary a picture goes through my iPhoto without me wishing I could edit all the blemishes out.

I've had this problem since I was around 12. That's half of my life now. These zits aren't going away; they are something I have to live with.

I have used annoying creams that bleach everything they touch (great for pillow cases and pajamas and shirts and scarves and for that nice bronze look you were hoping for) and the gels that you have to refrigerate (let me tell you, putting that gel in your fridge where your roommates can see it is a really great feeling). I have tried the medicines that upset your stomach no matter what you do, the ones that you have to take on an empty stomach and two hours before eating, and those that can make your teeth turn yellow. I have tried toothpaste, aspirin, heat packs, ice packs, face scrub, Cetaphil, over-moisturizing, over-drying, no chocolate (though it wasn't for that reason), and everything else you can suggest.

Though the medicine I've been on for a while now has taken me from a hideaway teenager status to a cover-up user teenager status (and back to the hideaway if I quit for even a few days), the fact of the matter is, nothing really works. Some dermatologists don't believe you when you say you've used the cream regularly. Some refuse to say the words "zit" or "acne" and change all of your sentences to include the replacement word "complexion." One dermatologist (who must have known it was hopeless) suggested that I marry someone with good skin so that my kids could have hope. But doesn't that make you feel sorry for the dope who gets stuck with the girl with the bad skin? And how does said girl secure and not scare away fabulous-skinned guy?

Paradoxically, the obvious and distracting redness that is all over doesn't stop people like me from playing with zits. They itch. They hurt. They ooze. They peel. They stick out.

So this has brought me to debates with myself. To pop or not to pop? I had one friend who claimed that she had never popped a zit in her life, and she had fabulously clear skin from what I could see. Another friend had horrible acne in high school and it was absolutely disgusting to see the biggest, ready-to-pop white heads you've ever seen that didn't get popped. I always wondered what happened to them--would they eventually pop themselves, or does the body very slowly re-absorb the goop (while everyone else is grimacing)? I've thought about these two friends' examples a lot. But I'm not either of those people.

I wish I could at least find the happy medium. The happy medium where I only pop the ones that are in danger of disgusting other people with their whiteness or blackness. (And supposedly those ones will get better faster if they're popped.) This happy medium would also involve completely leaving everything else alone to do whatever.

I have put signs on my mirror. I have tried to stop myself every time my fingers go to my face, shoulders, back, or chest. I have bribed myself with great awards and set daily goals. But half your life is a long time to have a habit. And when I compare this habit with addictions, I find that yes, picking zits is my unhealthy way of dealing with life. I pick more often when I'm stressed, and when I need to think, I pick without noticing.

I think I'm going to keep trying to quit. Maybe a public announcement of this goal will motivate me. So, people. Give me some advice. Spill the beans about zits.


  1. So I guess nothing has changed since you've been in Germany? The water is supposedly harder in France, not that I understand what that means . . . but I have very blotchy reddish skin on my face, and it seems better here, calmer. Maybe diet changes have an influence, I eat "better" here, less processed, lots of tomatoes which are apparently good for the skin. I've also been using the aveno oatmeal cleanser (brought over from the states), I've decided oatmeal is the greatest thing ever. I don't wash it everyday, it gets too dry, so that's another thing that helps. Though it's doing nothing for my gigantic pores. Gigantic. Which is apparently a genetic thing, so woohoo, no chance of changing that.

    I never really popped unless they were the gross ones. The back ones really were the worst, I totally understand and sympathize with the swimsuit pain. Good luck with your no popping goal! It only takes two weeks to break or make something a habit, so just get through 14 days and you'll be good.

    Everyone has their normal but embarrassing body problems, you're very brave to share!

  2. whenever i'm stressed i break out. i always thought it was just the stress, but i've recently realized that when i'm stressed (studying, writing a paper, etc.), i rub my face a lot. a lot... so all the oils from my hands go to my face, create zits and blackheads, and of course i would pick them. i always pick them and i have scars to prove it.

    i read somewhere that if you're careful never to touch your face (unless you're washing it, obviously), it makes acne better. one of my friends has struggled with back and chest acne as well and has been to dermatologists to try to fix the problem. i remember her using proactiv successfully.

    have you ever tried birth control? i've been on it for a year and a half and have gotten less zits since starting it.

    what a frustrating problem. BUT i can tell you honestly that i have never thought you had an acne problem. i've never even noticed. there are definitely a few people that i think of from back in high school and i just hurt for them because it looks like it hurts so bad and would be so frustrating. you were definitely never one of those people.

  3. I used to have plenty of acne but once I started birth control it got 200 times better.

  4. I have never used it, and maybe you have, but I hear that ProActiv really is as good as they say. Maybe? Or I know someone else that puts anti-bacterial hand sanitizer on her zits a few times a day and they're gone within a day or two. I liked your honesty.

  5. I agree with the anonymous comment. If you've never tried birth control, you should start using it if you can. I was breaking out a lot last year and last August I started taking Yaz, a form of birth control, and it has done wonders. I had been to the dermatologist a few times and tried the annoying pills where you have to wait to eat and I tried several creams-including the fridge one and none of those things helped my skin. Last summer I decided to ask my regular physician about my battle with acne and she suggested I go on Yaz. Since I started taking it, I rarely get zits. If I do, it's usually when it's that time of the month, but they are small and easy to cover up with concealer.

    Anyway, if you are able to try birth control, I would go for it! Oh and another bonus about it, it makes girl time each month shorter and lighter! :) Good luck, Glaus! Love ya!

  6. i have to agree with the birth control advocates. another added bonus (since we are being all honest and open) birth control= bigger boobs.

    really, it is a win win.

    oh, except yaz made me nuts. like everything else you sort of have to go through a trial-and-error phase to see which one works best for you. but still! less zits, nice chest.

  7. I love this topic. And I also think you are brave!

    I am a zit-popper. I can't stand heads of any color or size, on anyone. So if zits appear on my face I pop them as SOON as possible. Even though I know that sometimes this procedure makes the healing process go slower.

    I am lucky in my family, because so far I'm the only one (of 8) who hasn't needed acne medication. I don't get a lot of zits, mostly just blackheads in my ears (GROSS and painful) and the once-or-twice-a-month boil. Boils are nasty. They fester for days, and often have more than one head, and popping them is really disgusting but oh, so satisfying. For me anyway.

    BUT I have noticed that in stressful times -finals, relationship drama, etc.- I get more zits/boils than usual, especially around my mouth. Maybe from the oils on my hands?

    Birth control (two kinds so far) has not helped my acne...nor my mood, my relationship with my husband, etc. etc. But hey, to each her own.

  8. Okay...wow...sadly, I so relate to everything you have said. I have had lousy skin since the age of 10 or so. I have taken all sorts of prescriptions, used all sorts of creams, gels, etc. I cannot stop popping. I do try to use a comedone extractor (yes! there is a medical tool for this) or a hairpin (not a bobby pin). They are more gentle on the skin. I try to leave my zits alone yet it is very hard. Aging skin scars more easily. No fun for this middle-aged lady who thought she would out-grow her acne.
    The pill didn't help me. I had cystic acne so I have taken two courses of acutane, which is not fun! The second was not worth it. The first made my skin beautiful for the first time in thirty years! Alas, after a little more than a year of finishing the course, my acne is back. Thankfully not the cysts. (a few I had to have removed by incision with stitches) I do know people who have had permanent success with acutane. I wash with Dove soap in the morning, use benzoyl peroxide under my make up, wash with cetaphil at night and apply retin A before bed. Summer is especially hard.
    I have not noticed your acne either. We are always much more sensitive to what we perceive as our own flaws. I did, in fact, marry someone with beautiful skin and two out of five children have his skin. By the way, he has always loved me, zits all over and all!

  9. I think this being open and honest thing is nice, though I have to laughingly say that I was told by a boy this week that if I want to find a boyfriend, I should remove this post from my blog. I'm not going to. It seems to have stimulated a nice discussion. To answer some questions, no, I've never tried the birth control thing, though I've heard that before. Truthfully, I don't really want to try it because of two reasons: one, in Germany that might imply I'm sexually active which I don't believe in being before marriage, and two, the emotional craziness I've heard about when someone is going on or going off sounds horrible. Allison, never really had a problem with girl time, so I don't have to worry about that. And Stephanie, sorry, I don't want a bigger chest . . .

    I remember thinking I should try Proactiv once and never getting around to it. Is Proactiv one of those things you have to do for the rest of your life (in other words, there are no lasting results?)? I just looked online and the American website has Proactiv for so much cheaper than the German one, even considering the currency exchange and even with shipping, but it won't let me order from America. Plus, there's no trial package on the German site. How ridiculous.

    And oatmeal? I have no idea how that works. I'll look it up. Maybe one of those would help . . .

    I guess what bugs me the most, though, is the lack of control I have. Why can't I stop? I mean, even if the zits stay, I would like them to do their own thing and not to contribute to their redness and scarring. I'm going to try to do better. We'll see what happens! WIsh me luck.

    Thanks, everybody!

  10. Well, being that I contributed to you and your siblings "complexion problems" and that we have tried everything under the sun and spent probably thousands of dollars in the process, all I can say is "have you tried Windex?" Actually though, out of the six schlubbies in our family, at least you don't have it the worst. That dubious honor would be a three-way tie between your brothers and youngest sister. But I think you're all beautiful - inside and out. You also got the popping gene from me - sorry!

  11. This is hilarious Michelle :) I'm 35 and my skin in just now getting better. It took till my mid 30's! And like you NOTHING worked. I've seen the best dermatologists. Everything. Funny thing is I was always insecure about it but my God brought me a husband that suffered from the same thing! God is TOOOOOOOO funny! I had no reason to worry!

  12. The birth control my dermatologist placed me on was an awful mistake - for me. It is what spurred my adult acne (the kind that never surfaces but sticks around for the party). I've been using Proactive and my acne isn't under control completely, but it definitely has helped. Although, I believe most things would work if used like the system with Proactive - wash, use a gentle exfoliator, tone (the same thing as washing, but gets rid of additional dirt left behind. Use something mild with less alcohol), and then moisturize (something with benzol peroxide or that other acne medication).

    I've noticed that my skin does horrible things when the seasons change - fall to winter and spring to summer. And yes, picking never helped anyone. It's satisfying in a sick kind of way though - and I would take a guess that more people do it than you might think (i.e. the comments on your blog). It helped me to wash my face before my shower by covering it with cetaphil and then wiping it away with a towel (using no water) and then cover it in a moisturizer. My skin is sensitive and the dry air of Utah + the hard water wasn't helping it. It seems anything considered "gentle" or containing "botanicals" have always helped my skin after a few weeks. I don't know if your skin is the same way, but I hope if you try any of these things it will help! Good luck!