(Audio or text only clips) Hester had cystic acne which became quite severe during her gap year abroad at age 18. Her acne was very painful and left some scarring. After several years of trying a range of prescribed treatments, her acne cleared with a 4 month course of Roaccutane.
Hester had acne between the ages of 15 and 20, in addition to some occasional spots during primary school. It was whilst she was on a year abroad when she was 18 that her acne became particularly difficult to cope with. She had cystic acne which was very painful and mostly affected her jawline, though she has also had some spots on her back and chest. It was sometimes an uncomfortable experience showing doctors the acne on her back and chest, so Hester preferred to have her mum there for support and to ask questions about the treatments. Hester’s acne was very tender, making it difficult to use make-up or have clothing/scarves touch her face. She used to sleep on towels over her pillows as often her spots would bleed at night and stain the bedding. She often took painkillers in order to sleep at night because her skin hurt so much.
At age 15, Hester first decided to see her GP about her skin. She was nervous about this appointment initially but her GP reassured her that she had done the right thing by seeking medical treatment. Hester took oral antibiotics for two and a half years but had to stop when these started to upset her stomach. She used prescribed topical creams which dried out her skin. Hester also bought various products from shops, such as face washes and concealers, and tried natural remedies like drinking aloe vera juice. Hester’s acne became particularly severe at age 18 whilst in South Africa during her gap year. When she returned to the UK, she saw her GP and took antibiotics, topical creams and the contraceptive pill. At age 20, she asked about a dermatology referral but because of the long waiting list her parents paid for her to see a private dermatology consultant. She was able to transfer to being an NHS patient and took a 4 month course of Roaccutane (isotretinoin) during her first year at university. The treatment made her skin, throat, eyes and hair very dry, which meant that Hester had to make some adjustments such as using eye drops and a moisturiser often. Hester was very anxious about her acne returning after she had finished the treatment, but finds that Sudocrem works well for an occasional spot.
Hester says there have been times when she felt quite defeated and very self-conscious about her skin. It was particularly hard during her gap year in South Africa as she would often be approached by people commenting on her skin and trying to sell her products. She didn’t like the attention as it made her feel vulnerable and just really exposed. Hester says that her experiences with severe acne have cast a shadow over the entire memories of all the amazing things she did on her gap year. Having acne lowered Hester’s self-esteem and she remembers feeling ashamed of how she looked. This had a big impact on potential romantic relationships as she found she couldn’t hold eye contact. Since being at university, Hester has met other people with similar experiences to her own whom she has talked with. She also found some websites about experiences of acne which she found reassuring and helped build a better picture of the different treatments.
Hester’s advice to other young people is to know that acne is a medical condition for which there are prescribed treatments. She encourages doctors to be aware that young people may feel very embarrassed and unfamiliar with medical environments. For Hester, it was not only that her acne was painful and made her feel self-conscious but also that the trial-and-error of finding a successful treatment for acne was emotionally draining. She says her experience with her main dermatologist was really positive because he was very sympathetic and gave her lots of opportunities to ask questions.