Brittany McKertcher, (32), a nurse in Alberta has had a 20-year struggle with acne and continues to experience the condition.
“It’s still an ongoing journey in my 30’s,” she says. “Things have been frustrating and difficult with acne. I started having symptoms at around 13 years old. There was a lot of surface acne with pustules and also cystic acne, deep bumps under the skin that were painful. I really struggled with my hormones.”
Brittany adds: “At that time I did not seek medical care for it. I was just trying over the counter things like different face washes and topicals that would hopefully help heal the acne. I searched hard to find a makeup – a foundation – that would cover it and not leave my skin too dry. The deep bumps under the skin were not as coverable because you could still see them in the mirror even though I had makeup on.”
The impact on her young teen life was considerable. “I did not have any clear days of healing. The acne completely affected my self-esteem where I would not want to go swimming or in hot tubs or things like floating on the river. I did not want to do anything that would compromise the makeup on my face and expose the acne.”
As a very active teen, acne was often on Brittany’s mind. “During gymnastics, I had to bring my makeup with me to cover up if I was sweating. It didn’t help that at high school, I seemed to be the only one with serious acne…”
Within a year, she saw her family doctor and started on the first of numerous treatments – prescription topicals. “These did not make much of a difference. I was then put on birth control for my acne at a very early age, about 14.”
Treatment continued with a dermatologist. “I’ve been on a whole bunch of antibiotics and ended up on Accutane within a couple of years. It went OK but I was extremely dry. I had nosebleeds, needed a humidifier and would use a really thick body cream on my face… even my eyes were dry.”
While her acne improved to a degree, treatment then turned back to birth control pills and the new addition of spironolactone. “I found those were the most helpful treatments that I experienced,” she says.
Brittany’s acne continued into her twenties and throughout her university years. “After university, I stopped taking the pills and switched to an IUD and that was the worst thing. It caused me to break out and I had to return to regular birth control.”
She says the emotional impact of acne has been greater as an adult. “As a teen, everything seems like the end of the world and I felt self-conscious. But you’re kind of expected to have acne and you hope to grow out of it into adulthood. The acne has taken a bigger toll on me as an adult. All my friends do not struggle with acne at all and I still feel like it affects me – that is so hard. When I look in the mirror, that is all I see.”
About a year ago, Brittany did a round of a new formulation of Accutane for about 8 months. “The results were really good. I occasionally broke out during certain times of the month but I had good coverage after that.”
“Things went downhill come our wedding when a different type of makeup was applied. I broke out everywhere, including my eyelids. I now have body acne. It is sort of improving. But all treatments are on hold now as we hope to start a family.”
Throughout her long struggle with acne, Brittany tried many, many different face washes, over the counter acne treatments and other skin care products. A big regret is the considerable amount of money, time and effort she put into acne skin care – without results. “Looking back now, I know those products are not going to help with cystic acne.”
To those who are struggling with serious acne, she says: “Try to see your GP sooner and get a referral to a dermatologist if you need that. It’s not a one-size-fits-all in terms of acne treatments. Once I worked with my dermatologist, we found a combination that worked. Get on something before you have scarring. I’m really thankful that I did not end up with acne scars. It’s really hard to not pick your face though – don’t do it, which I should take my own advice.”
Brittany is looking ahead to a time when her acne is under control. “My ultimate goal is to have clear skin. It’s tough where I am. Hopefully I won’t have to take medications forever. I hope there’s more research into treatments for acne.”
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