I Didn't Think My Acne Was Bad Enough to Visit a Dermatologist—Here's What Changed My Mind

For almost a decade now, I've been struggling with acne.

I first noticed the inflamed marks popping up on my face when I was around 14 years old. It felt like the end of the world. My skin had been clear and perfect up until that point. Although the marks were few and relatively unnoticeable, my self-esteem immediately took a hit. Whether it was one zit, or five or 10, I felt like all people could see when they looked at me was my acne.

If only I had known how good I had it. While most people's skin clears up after the annoying teen years, mine only got worse. What started as a slight problem with acne evolved into some pretty noticeable breakouts. While my skin never developed painful cystic acne, I always had a steady outcropping of zits along my chin and forehead. Still, anxious and embarrassed as I felt about my appearance, I didn't think I needed to visit a dermatologist. Here's why I eventually changed my mind.

I went to a dermatologist once during my teen years at the urging of my mother. Tired of my constant complaining about my skin and my requests for more and more acne products, she decided to take me in. I immediately deemed it a waste of time. The doctor prescribed me some kind of retinoid along with instructions to use it once a day. It didn't make a difference.

Nothing noticeable changed in my skin, probably because my acne wasn't all that bad at that point. The retinoid did nothing to clear up the few bumps that plagued my complexion, and I decided that the embarrassment of having a doctor examine my makeup-free face wasn't worth the minimal to nonexistent results. When my retinoid ran out, I didn't ask to go back.

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For a few years, I managed to keep my skin under control with over the counter products. I found a few I really liked and, although the occasional pimple would still mar my complexion, I felt pretty good about myself. Right before I graduated from college, however, everything changed.

In the second half of my senior year, my skin decided it was no longer happy with our arrangement. I washed my face morning and night, and religiously followed my beauty routine, but it didn't seem to matter. The products that had worked so well for years weren't making a difference anymore.

I started to develop pustules along my chin and around my mouth that were not only inflamed and gross-looking, but also really painful. I was fully aware that you shouldn't pop a zit and most of the time I was able to abstain, but many of the bumps really hurt, forcing me to pick at them simply to stop the pain.

I immediately altered my beauty routine, switching between natural products I had been using for years, to more chemical products that had good reviews, and back again. I changed one thing at a time, hoping I would find the problem within my system and be able to solve it to get my skin back to looking happy and healthy. Still, the bumps stayed.

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I decided it was time to take my routine seriously. I spent hours researching types of acne, what could treat each form, which ingredients to focus on, which ingredients to avoid and which products were most effective. I wasted hours upon hours familiarizing myself with acne and establishing the products I would try next time I visited the store.

Over the course of the next few years, I tried every product imaginable. I tested out chemical-laden systems like Proactiv and Murad—nothing changed. I tried a comprehensive Korean beauty routine with some of the most well-reviewed products available—it didn't matter. I switched to all-natural solutions to give my skin a break from the chemicals—still, the bumps stayed.

In fact, as I tested out beauty product after beauty product, my skin only grew worse. The pustules around my mouth were joined by a range of bumps along my forehead. These bumps weren't inflamed or painful, but they still created an uneven texture to my skin that just wouldn't go away.

While dealing with my stubborn acne, my self-esteem dipped lower and lower. I struggled to make eye contact with people, for fear that I would only see them staring at my acne. I hid my bumps under makeup, but I was no expert, so I knew the marks were still visible. I tried to ignore my constant preoccupation with my complexion, but I could feel my confidence taking a dip as my skin refused to improve.

Although I was frustrated and insecure about my acne, I still felt like I shouldn't visit a dermatologist. Why, you ask? The reason is so silly.

Although my breakouts felt like the end of the world to me, my online research firmly established my acne in the "mild" to "moderate" category. No matter where I looked for help, each new website informed me that my acne was nowhere near as bad as it could get. I felt ridiculous heading into a dermatologist when my skin bordered on mildly broken out. Besides, I kept reminding myself of the ineffective treatment of my youth. If none of my many products were working, what could a dermatologist really do for me?

Underlying that stubbornness, however, I was also embarrassed. I didn't like the look of my skin and I was terrified to have someone else, even a doctor, examine it. It felt like some kind of failing on my part, even though I knew I had tried everything in my power to keep the breakouts at bay.

Lastly, I was a little nervous about what the dermatologist would prescribe. I had friends who had gone into the doctor for their acne and left with a prescription for some pretty hefty antibiotics that basically controlled their life for six or more months. For them, it was worth it to get rid of the acne. For me, however, the mood swings and other dangers of the medication were far too terrifying to risk, especially for a mild hypochondriac like myself.

However, my friends and I would often talk about their dermatology experiences. They explained again and again that it was worth it to talk to someone with professional knowledge, even if I didn't decide to use their treatment. I listened to their reasoning, but I always brushed it off. After all, their acne was worse than mine. Surely I could fix it myself, considering it was only mild.

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One day, when having a seriously emotional moment about my skin, it finally clicked in my head. While the dermatologist might not be able to fix anything, they certainly couldn't make it worse. I tried everything in the book to make my skin better, what would be the harm in asking someone else for their opinion? Even if my acne was medically considered "mild," it certainly wasn't mild to me. It was affecting my everyday life, causing me to spend hundreds of dollars on products that didn't work and ruining my confidence.

For goodness sake, I was literally in tears over my skin! That's anything but mild.

Finally, I put my stubborn opinions aside and booked a dermatologist appointment that same day. And you know what? My skin didn't improve right away. The doctor prescribed me a similar regimen to what I had in my youth—a retinoid for nighttime and a topical antibiotic to accompany it. Although the combination cleared up the bumps on my forehead, the pustules stuck around. I felt disappointed and concerned, but it was also the first improvement I had seen in months. I decided to stick with it.

Over the last year, I've visited the dermatologist fairly regularly. Each new visit has come with small adjustments to my routine to make the products more effective. And, painfully slowly, my skin has improved. Is it perfect? No. While many of the bumps have cleared up, I still deal with small bouts of hormonal acne, as well as dryness on my skin due to the intensity of the products. But looking at my skin without makeup doesn't feel like the end of the world anymore. I feel happy and hopeful that I'll find the exact routine I need to keep my skin clear and glowing consistently, which I certainly didn't feel before visiting the dermatologist.

And you know what? Not a single doctor made me feel bad about my "mild" acne. No one made me feel dumb for seeking help, even though other people had it way worse with their skin problems. They simply prescribed me products that worked for my situation, with no additional commentary.

I wasted so much time worrying about whether my acne was bad enough to visit a dermatologist when it really didn't matter. If the breakouts are affecting how you feel or act, they're bad enough to seek help. Don't white-knuckle it and try to solve all your problems on your own, and definitely don't rely on the internet for all your acne advice. It's always better to talk to someone who knows about these things, and who just might be able to give you the help you've been searching for.

After all, what do you have to lose?


Struggling with cystic acne? Click HERE for how to get rid of it, according to a top dermatologist.