Fifteen years ago, I developed a heat rash – as I did most summers as a child. Fifteen years ago, I also started my period. My mom took me to the doctor when, during the winter, the heat rash didn’t disappear despite the leafless trees and the snow beginning to fall.
Eleven year old me was diagnosed with ‘Infection of the hair follicle’, otherwise known as ‘Folliculitis’. The doctor skipped past simple, hormonal (remember – period?) acne, due to the amount of raging, puss-filled bumps covering my face, chest, back and upper arms. I simply heard the word ‘infection’ and felt immediately dirty. I then vividly remember the doctor asking me, “Does it make you feel embarrassed when you have to get undressed in P.E.?” I thought back to how I had to unbutton my school shirt and slip my P.E. polo over my head – shirt still covering my back – and perform an expert manoeuvre to cover not just my back fat, but my infected skin, too. I replied, “No, not really.” “It should disappear by the time you’re about fifteen,” she said.
My doctor prescribed me with antibiotics (a form of penicillin, two, twice daily) and a cream that quite literally burned my skin to remove the problem from the outside (wash infected area with plain soap and water, then apply twice daily). I couldn’t bear the cream after it formed painful cracks in my skin (picture the cracks of a desert), then started to flake off. The flakes would give way to smooth, perfect skin, which after a couple of days would make way for more spots. I took the penicillin, two, twice daily, for around seven years. I eventually became immune to their effects, as well as weak dosages of penicillin for other infections. One year I needed penicillin for tonsillitis; the doctor took one look at my medical record and prescribed one of the strongest doses. So in short, though oral medicine is not widely used for folliculitis, for the majority of my teenage years I took the drug to no great effect.
Age sixteen, school prom: a major pressure to not only find a suitable dress, but also to look good in it. Two weeks before prom, I visualised where my dress cut into a ‘V’ down my chest and how much of my arms I needed to conquer. Morning and night, I went through the same routine as eleven year old me of washing (scrubbing mostly) my skin that would be on show and applying this cream that would ultimately attack my body again. Much to my relief, most of my spots and blackheads disappeared for prom. Boy, was I glad to not have to scrub my skin the morning after. The spots soon returned.
Getting intimate with boys meant not removing my top, no matter how much they asked.
Age eighteen, my first holiday to the Caribbean. I looked at the other smooth, tanned girls on the sunbeds and wanted to be them. By eighteen I had realised that sun exposure helped to burn spots away. I hopped onto a sunbed with no protection, dipped into the pool, then back onto the sunbed, soaking wet as I knew that water also helped with tanning. Repeat. Repeat. I spent the next day in bed with sunstroke and huge blisters across the top of my thighs and across my belly. It’s okay though, I thought, my spots will disappear and it will eventually turn into a tan.
Fast-forward to 2018. My skin is not half as horrendous to what it was. Over the last fifteen years, I’ve tried and tested every drugstore brand aiming to combat acne, from Neutrogena to Clearasil, Simple to Clean and Clear. I’ve tried Tea Tree oil, seaweed, cucumber, rose oil. Toothpaste. Sudocrem. Savlon. No moisturiser to light moisturiser to Hemp moisturiser. Currently I’m washing my face with water and nothing else, which is what prompted this blog post as I’m feeling destined to never cure this infection/adult acne/whatever this has turned into. I’ve tried to flush my body with water and steer clear of dairy products. I’ve tried regular exercise and cutting down on carbohydrates. I even had a baby and that made zero difference to the condition of my skin.
I have combination skin, in that patches around my nose and eyebrows become dry and flaky if I do not moisturise daily, with oil and spots surrounding these areas. The front of my scalp is always heavy with dandruff now – another symptom of infected hair follicles – despite using pretty much every anti-dandruff shampoo on the market, as well as a prescribed anti-fungi shampoo. It doesn’t shift, gets worse in the summer and makes me avoid visits to the hair dressers. I get shaving rash and in-grown hairs, which in turn create giant spots that I constantly pick at to release the hairs… not great, I know.
I’ve literally envisioned bathing in bleach to fix this. I wouldn’t, of course, but when you’re finding spots on your calves, ears and fingers, it starts to feel a little impossible. I’m 26 in four days and I feel like a kid. Make up never sits just right and my nan constantly picks up on how bad my skin is, which makes me feel great. (What else are old people for but to be brutally honest?)
To wrap this up, I’d like to make a promise to myself: to start a skin journey. An affordable one, obviously. I’ll research, I’ll drink water, I’ll avoid anything that puts my skin in further jeopardy. If you’re along for the ride, welcome! 😉