Broke With Bad Skin, UNTIL …

by Elyse Toribio

Back in December I saw a dermatologist who was listed on my insurance’s site as an in-network provider. I was feeling terrible and gross about the sudden, constant angry breakouts on my cheeks and I also had a weird tan on my stomach from the summer that had never quite faded. The tan didn’t bother me, but I felt like had to go in there with a somewhat serious concern; I was sure the the doctor would size me up and down and make a snide remark about how there are people dealing with melanoma out there and couldn’t I just drink more water and moisturize?

The doc came in for a full body check, told me the tan would fade slowly and that yes I did indeed have acne. When she asked her next question — “What products do you use?” — I was ready. I knew she was expecting me to list a string of cheap makeup products and bad hygiene habits, but no.

For more than a year I’d been experimenting with different skin health regimens, giving each a few weeks’ chance to prove itself. I was loyal to LUSH for awhile: I used their tea tree toner water ($10) religiously, and a spot on treatment for blemishes ($13). I used their moisturizer ($42) that was way too thick and I quickly abandoned, and an herbal facial paste ($13+) as a wash. It worked well, but it was too expensive.

Then I read about the magical benefits of the Oil Cleansing Method and began rubbing combinations of different oils (castor, almond, jojoba, tamanu; $40 total) into my face every night, then gently wiping it off (with the rest of the dirt and makeup) with a warm, damp microfiber washcloth. It worked, but without a proper scrub I now had a minefield of blackheads to deal with. Plus, it added 10 minutes to my nightly routine and mixing oils was the last thing I wanted to do after a night out, so I often resorted to makeup removing wipes ($6), which left me feeling greasy and unclean.

I added a weekly charcoal and black sugar exfoliating mask for the blackheads ($4) and tea tree oil ($14) as a spot treatment for the really big bubbos on my face. The mask softened my skin and helped with blackheads, but didn’t do much more. The tea tree oil smelled awful but helped with the redness and swelling.

Finally I went with the dermatologist recommended basics: mild, non-comedogenic face wash (Cetaphil; $5.99), toner (Thayer’s Cucumber Witch Hazel with Aloe; $8), AM moisturizer (Cerave $10) and a PM moisturizer (2–3 drops of rosehip oil; $10). This proved to be a great combo. My entire face cleared up — all except for my fat little cheeks which were worse than ever. For some reason, all my pimples were popping up in a perfect straight line, and I traced them with my finger when I looked in the mirror, feeling worse than ever.

I changed pillowcases every few days, tried my hardest not to touch my face and drank so much water I was competing with the pregnant lady at work for most bathroom breaks. Still nothing. I gave up and, defeated, scheduled the appointment. I relayed this all to the doctor and when I could see her trying to find a different culprit I added that I also used Neutrogena makeup and washed all my brushes regularly.

Hormones carry most of the blame, she said, but there are other factors. My hair, for one. She gestured toward the mop of curls on my head and suggested I stop using hair products — gels, mousse, hairspray, etc. — because the oils could be seeping down onto my face. Sure, blonde lady with nary a strand out of place. Okay.

She wrote a prescription for Epiduo, gave me samples and a prescription and scheduled a follow-up appointment for mid-January.

Five days later I tossed the remaining samples in the trash. My skin burned and my face had dry patches all over after only a few nights of use. I hadn’t even gotten to fill the prescription, but it’s lucky I didn’t: insurance rarely covers the topical cream, and it would have cost me $300 per refill. If I ever stopped using it, she warned, my face would go back to the way it was now. Forget it. I stopped using the Epiduo and for the next week or so focused on getting my skin back to it’s normal awfulness. I carefully applied moisturizer and splashed water on my face whenever I could. Everything felt chapped all the time, and the one time I wore makeup, the dry patches around my eyes combined with foundation gave the impression that I had terrible crow’s feet.

Two weeks later I opened a Secret Santa gift and found a Clarisonic Mia. It retails for about $99, and as far as I’m concerned the Rx stuff can suck it. I use it every other day with the Cetaphil face wash, and after that I still use the toner, Cerave (morning) or rosehip oil (night; it helps to fade old scars). As an extra precaution, I wrap my head in a bandana before bed so nothing gets on the pillows. I haven’t had a breakout since Christmas and my skin is actually glowing.

I’m excited to start the year not feeling super self-conscious about my skin, though I did feel like a dope for spending so much on experimenting when the simplest and cheapest method is the one that ended up working best.

But the story wouldn’t be complete without a nightmare health care story. Christmas Eve I came home to a bill for $120 from the dermatologist’s office. On top of the $40 co-pay I’d charged to my credit card the day of the appointment — I was told the practice was actually not in the preferred network so the co-pay was doubled — I was stuck with the difference that my insurance wouldn’t pay. That’s $160 I spent to vent about my helplessness when I could have just done that for free to lovely commenters.

Support The Billfold

The Billfold continues to exist thanks to support from our readers. Help us continue to do our work by making a monthly pledge on Patreon or a one-time-only contribution through PayPal.