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Adult Acne - how I fixed mine super quick!

Updated: Feb 2, 2019

Not one of our ‘usual’ blogs, and a bit petrifying to upload, but I’m hoping by sharing, it might help someone else suffering with ‘adult acne’.

While adult acne may get points for alliteration, that’s about the only positive I can think of. And let’s be honest… that’s not much of a positive really.

Earlier this year I (Charlotte) started getting hemiplegic migraines (migraines with aura) and as a result, had to farewell my beloved contraceptive pill Diane. (If you suffer from migraines with aura you shouldn’t take a combined contraceptive pill as it increases your risk of stroke). It sounds silly but I felt like I was saying goodbye to a lifelong friend. Diane and I had hung out every day for more than a decade. (Disclaimer – I started taking the pill when when I was pretty young due to my endometriosis). I knew Diane was responsible for my clear skin, and as I was saying my farewells I thanked her for giving me relatively clear skin for the past 10 years, including on our wedding day (Jan 2018).

Unfortunately, when I came off the pill, my skin wasn’t too happy and started breaking out horrendously. More populated than Sydney, my mouth/chin/jawline area became a pimple paradise. The same spots would break out repeatedly (I called these boomerang pimples) and I started getting really big, inflamed pimples on my neck which I’d never had before. They were super swollen and sore and if I accidentally bumped them or brushed them, my eyes began to water almost instantly. Yes I was a 26 year old girl crying because her pimples hurt.

Not surprising, my confidence started to take a hit and I refused to leave the house without makeup on. I felt like I looked dirty. It sucked. It really sucked. After a few weeks of getting increasingly frustrated, Googling remedies non-stop and then resorting to wearing more and more concealer I decided my skin just wasn’t going to fix itself. I booked in to see my doctor and tried everything - different antibiotics, face and skin products and Epiduo (a prescription topical gel). Epiduo contains two acne-fighting ingredients – adapalene (which basically prevents your pores from becoming blocked/future break-outs happening) and benzoyl peroxide (which fights the bacteria that creates acne breakouts). I used this for six or so weeks and saw no results other than super duper dry and sensitive skin/lips and of course, a set of newly bleached towels (including my mother in law’s). I remember sitting in work meetings with really dry lips, and trying to work out how to apply lipbalm without hurting all the pimples spread across my lips. And I could feel my colleagues trying not to stare at them, but it was too hard not to. I couldn’t even blame them. It was like I was wearing a glittery shade of ‘Acne Galore’ in swollen, inflamed red.

Plastering on the foundation and concealer:

Eventually, the doctor’s last recommendation was Roaccutane (prescribed by a dermatologist). And while I have seen absolutely amazing results with Roaccutane, It wasn’t something I personally was keen on. James and I had already decided we wanted to travel this year (2019) and in our eyes, we thought it would be too difficult to constantly avoid- sunlight if we were living in Vinnie (our kombi van). Plus the other side effects..

So as one last scratch on my seemingly unlucky scratchie ticket (definitely a saying), I decided to try a dermal therapist in Perth. I had seen Karen Bowen before for milia removal, and heard she was incredibly passionate about treating acne. I booked in for an initial consult at Karen Bowen and in this, we discussed my skin concerns and the products I was currently using. Much to my dismay I learnt that while all my pretty Clinique products were lovely on the surface they were doing absolutely nothing for my skin. As a result, I switched from using a cleanser, toner, serum and SPF moisturiser to an acne specific cleanser, anti redness/inflammation serum, pigmentation serum and enzyme repair lotion (with SPF in it).

It was also strongly recommended that I have 3-4 treatments of the (aptly named) ‘acne package’ which Karen had customised for acne sufferers. I was told the acne treatment comprised of four components (all in one session):

  1. Radio Surgery – a tiny sterile needle that transmits a high energy current into the plugs to pull them out;

  2. IPL – to remove scarring and redness;

  3. Medical medium depth peel – to remove the outer layers of skin; and

  4. Bioptron medical light - to promote healing of the skin.

I’m not going to lie I left the clinic feeling a bit low. It was unrealistic, but a teeny tiny part of me was still hoping that perhaps changing my cleanser or moisturiser would be enough to give me my old skin back. I think I’m forever an unrealistic optimist. After thinking about it for the next few days, I decided to take the plunge and book in with Karen herself the following week. What did I have to lose? Only my boomerang pimples really.

If I used two words to describe the first treatment, I would use ‘emotional kamikaze’. Rollercoaster doesn’t really cut it here. Karen was more patient, caring and empathetic than I could possibly articulate, but I really struggled. I found the radiosurgery really painful. Essentially, radiosurgery involves cauterising each of your pimples (both ones that you can see on the surface and those that are still forming under the skin). It felt like the process took all of eternity and with every spot that Karen zapped, I got increasingly exasperated that I had to have this done. After Karen finally finished the radiosurgery (and I had survived), I just lost it and burst into tears. And unfortunately, it wasn’t even those pretty black and white French movie style tears, but more the hysterical tears where you sound like a drowning horse frantically trying to neigh. I think everything just built up inside me – I got uncontrollably frustrated that at 26, my skin was so bad I had to resort to zapping it. Karen was unbelievable, calming me down and telling me to take as long as I needed.

After taking a bit of a break and drinking some water, we got back into it and went onto the second step of the acne treatment – IPL (intense pulsed light). I’d never had IPL before, and while this was painful, it was a walk skip, hop and skiddattel in the park compared to the radiosurgery. Karen was great, icing each spot before zapping it, and asking how fast/slow I could handle. The IPL helps with the inflammation and redness so it’s especially great in preventing and minimising scarring.

The third step was the triple medical peel, which to me, felt like I was getting a very rapid sunburn. My skin tightened almost instantly and every movement felt like my skin was on the verge of cracking. Karen put a fan on my face for this part and asked if I could handle the heat as she recommended keeping the peels on overnight (if possible). Still mildly embarrassed from my drowning horse-like breakdown, I was determined to prove the fighter in me and said I could definitely keep it on overnight (thankfully the heat starts dying down quite quickly so you don’t actually feel it at all after a while).

The fourth and final step is the medical light called Bioptron. This was my favourite step – no pain, no product, no nothing. Just you lying down and relaxing under a healing light. The Bioptron is used to promote healing in burns victims and is based on nobel prize winning technology. When James came and picked me up (I had been with Karen for about 3.5-4 hours) I was looking a bit crazy and dishevelled. The medial peel was still on my tear-stained face (it’s bright yellow so you really channel your inner Lisa Simpson) and bits of blood and scab were starting to form from the radiosurgery. Karen gave me strict instructions and told me what to expect – a lot of peeling, flaking, dead skin darkening and crusting which typically lasts for 1-7 days.

Days 1- 2 after first acne treatment:

Days 3-5 after first acne treatment:

On Day 5 of the treatment, I was instructed to use the deep thermal cleanser (this product is absolutely amazing) as it would remove all of the dead skin on my face (last photo above). And oh my blimmin’ hat of all hats, it was mind blowing. My skin was (to me) looking incredible. I was ecstatic. I went to work on cloud nine. I still had marks/scarring from the pimples but there were hardly any bumps. I couldn’t believe it.

Results after the first acne treatment (taken roughly two weeks afer):

While I was still on a high, I decided to book in for my second session. (I scheduled this so it was two weeks after my first session). The second session was a lot better – I needed much less radio-surgery and I think because I knew what to expect I managed the pain much better. Again, Karen was so empathetic, always checking in if I needed a break, if she was going too fast, too slow, if I needed water – anything and everything. Her level of care is second to none. I did think the IPL hurt a bit more than I remembered, but still definitely doable and when we got to the peels, Karen asked if I could cope with an extra medical peel which would further promote healthy skin renewal. I said yes, and afterwards we put me under the Bioptron light once again. I left the second appointment so much happier and positive about my skin. I even napped while I was relaxing under the bioptron. It was magic.

Days 1 - 2 after second acne treatment:

Days 3-5 after second acne treatment:

(definitely flaked a lot more due to the extra medical peel but the results were well worth it).

While I would have been pretty happy with my results after the second treatment, I decided I hadn’t come all this way to half-ass it, and returned once more for a third and final acne treatment. And it felt like it was all over and done with in the blink of an eye. The radio-surgery and IPL were still painful, but I think when you know how worthwhile something is, your tolerance increases. Perhaps like child birth? (but on a completely different scale!!!!)

All together, I ended up seeing Karen for three acne treatments in the space of four weeks and the results were mind blowing. While I still have some scarring to work on, the bumps and pimples are 97% all gone. My main worry was that with my spots being hormonal, they would continue to re-introduce themselves but surprisingly that hasn’t been the case. I don’t really know why, but I’m guessing my plugs were so bad they were causing the same pimples to resurface time and time again? And once Karen cleaned them out, there hasn’t been anything to resurface.

Days 1-5 after third acne treatment:

I’m so grateful to Karen Bowen and the staff at her clinic. The departure of my adult acne has seen the welcome back to my confidence. I’m now able to leave the house without plastering on the concealer and foundation. Heck I’m now able to leave the house without any makeup on. I’m now able to sit in meetings at work and maintain eye contact with my colleagues without them staring at my swollen spots. I’m now ready to spend the year road-tripping.

No make up - the end result:

So if you’re in the Perth area and are suffering from acne (or have any other skin related concerns) I really really highly recommend you pay Karen Bowen a visit. It might seem expensive, but I guess in my opinion, I was willing to pay to get my confidence back.

If you have any questions about any of this, please let me know – I’m more than happy to answer! :)

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