My Skin History: Acne, Stress, and Feel Bads

When I was younger: no responsibilities, no stress, and baby smooth skin!
Warning: this is a very text heavy post. Haha. It probably doesn't need to be this long, but whatever, you're all gonna hear about my skin woes from beginning to now.

tl;dr- 1) my skin was pretty bad, but now it's pretty good. 2) stress sucks and might be the reason you're breaking out. 3) it might seem like you're never going to achieve clear skin, but it is possible and i hope you find what works for you! 4) what works for someone else might not necessarily work for you. in my experience, there is no such thing as a "cure." just try to nuture your skin and it will heal itself. i love this skin&tonics blog post about the moisture barrier. 5) bad skin can make you feel worse about yourself, which is a vicious cycle. try to be optimistic and don't let it stress you out even more. it can and will get better. treat yo'self (to a nap or a massage)! 6) maybe see a dermatologist! 7) asian skincare was a revelation!


While I was going through puberty, I didn't break out much. And I'm pretty sure that I had pretty "clear" skin when I was in high school. I used to get a pimple (or two! or three!) every month, but I think most people are that way (darn hormones!). If you don't, then you are truly #blessed. ;)

It wasn't until I started college that I started breaking out. I was majoring in engineering and I was overwhelmed from the very first semester! These breakouts would come and go throughout the five years it took for me to graduate. I amount I felt stressed out depended, more or less, on my coursework and whatever life circumstances were happening. And I didn't really know how to manage it at the time except for just pushing through and hoping for the best. (So much crying! So many existential crises!)

I remember feeling super awful whenever my skin would get bad. I would wear foundation to cover it up and sometimes I wouldn't even want to leave the house because I felt so bad. Typing that out just made me sad. Haha! The worst part about it is that I think some people assumed that I was using crap products or not washing my face or something intentional. I tried everything. I would research on the internet about "cures." The thing is that everyone's skin is different. And what works for one person won't necessarily work for another. (Cut out dairy! Apply tea tree oil or honey or apple cider vinegar or this miracle ingredient! Use this ONE brand of products! Make a blood sacrifice to the skin gods!). Sometimes it felt like I was pretty much doomed/cursed to live a life with acne. Or that maybe it was just the way my skin was due to genetics. Thanks, Dad! :) In retrospect, I should've probably seen a dermatologist, but you know... lack of insurance and money. *woo, college!*

I postponed graduating in the Spring of 2009 to Summer 2009 so that I could go to a summer study abroad program in Korea at Ewha Women's University. Best decision ever! The actual program was 6 weeks long and I basically learned a lot, met a lot of cool people, and had a great time. Amazing experience. Except I had super angry skin from the previous semester ("omg omg omg am i gonna graduate?" psa: don't take the weed out class of another major during your last semester!) and I just felt like a major potato compared to the majority of people I was surrounded by. I remember someone saying, "The humidity is breaking me out! My skin is so bad!" Please don't talk to me about that when your skin looks perfect to me. ;( I actually tried looking for pictures from that time, but the only ones that I uploaded to Facebook were ones that didn't zoom in on my skin. That actually makes me sad because I had such a great time and yet I didn't really feel comfortable enough being in pictures to document it.  Actually, I'm sure there were pictures, but I probably didn't upload them because I was embarrassed.

My cousin, auntie (이모), and my mom. Y'all, my 이모 is older than my mom.

Anyway, I was just amazed by how great everyone's skin looked. Seriously, goals. I wondered what everyone's secret was. Even my family seemed perplexed by my skin.  My friend's aunt took us to a mall during our first week and I remember buying skincare from The Face Shop's acne line. I was like, "Korean skin gods, please bless me." Haha. Spoiler Alert: it didn't work! But back then, I didn't really know what I was doing. In hindsight, I shouldn't have expected something to work just because it's "targeted" towards people with "trouble skin." Because, like I said earlier, it probably works for some, but not everyone is going to get the same results, depending on individual skin types, sensitivities, and such. Didn't stop me from continuing to use the products though because I just didn't know better and I wasn't in tune with my skin. It was hard to tell what was working or not. And also, it was probably a little bit of denial. "But it's Korean! It's going to help!" Not necessarily.

Me in NYC, circa 2010 (taken from FB). Sorry for the poor pic quality. You can kind of see the cystic acne on my cheeks if you look closely. BUMPS GALORE!

Fast forward to after I came back from Korea and started working. I had a super stressful job working at the shipyard as a testing and work controls engineer. Basically making sure people working on boats didn't die. This is when my skin went totally out of control. Like, rock bottom. Cystic acne that covered my cheeks and hurt. But I finally had insurance and money, so I saw a dermatologist (Complete Dermatology in Wahiawa, HI). Eric Yukumoto isn't an actual dermatologist there; their website says he's a physician's assistant, but he was super amazing and understanding (and omg his skin was so perfect). We tried out different topical prescriptions, which seemed to be working after we narrowed down what was working for me. But progress was slow. Eventually he prescribed an oral antibiotic (solodyn/minocycline). Omg. It actually worked and after 3 months on it I finally had clear skin. Which was crazy to me. I think that I needed to know that, yeah, my skin could be clear, that it was possible.

After that, I was only using Retin-A (tretinoin) to address post inflammation hyperpigmentation and some scarring... Until my prescriptions ran out and my insurance was like, "nahhh, we're not approving you to get more because." Whatever.

I enjoyed many, many glorious months of clear skin. Until.... BOOM! Work got super stressful again. I'm talking working the midnight shift (vampire status), 7 days a week, for an extended period of time (a couple months). I broke out again. Even though it wasn't as worse as my rock bottom, it still felt crappy. Around this time I realized that stress was probably the number one cause of my break outs. It doesn't matter if I treat my skin like a queen, using $200 creams and other expensive products. If I'm stressed out enough, I will eventually break out. It is such a obvious thing to me NOW, but I had no idea that stress could affect my body in that way. And I think everyone reacts differently. My body just so happens to freak out and my inflammatory response leads to lots and lots of pimples.

So, how do I manage my stress these days? Yoga, meditation, and just deciding not to give a f*ck. It's a lot easier for me now though because my current job is not as stressful and I have a better work-life balance. Plus, no one's life is in my hands and we're not pressured to meet a deadline to get boats back to the fleet. I mean, I'm not saying that my current job is completely stress-free, but I will calm myself down by doing breathing exercises in my cubicle. It probably sound like I'm a major weirdo, but it works for me and my wellness is more important than people wondering why I'm breathing so loudly.

I still get hormonal pimples around my period (mostly around my chin and jawline). I don't know if I'll get ever get rid of those. I also, unfortunately, still have some residual scarring. I'm also not sure if I'll ever get rid of that completely. We'll see! I'm actually not too worried about it because, honestly, I'm just happy that my skin is, for the most part, clear. (Minus those pesky closed comedones). Right now I'm focusing more on addressing post-inflammation hyperpigmentation and skin texture/dullness. I just got into "Asian/Korean skincare" and I learned so much in the past couple months. I'm currently using all my old high-pH cleansers to only clean make-up brushes and not my face because I'm now living a low pH life. Haha. I am already noticing that my skin is feeling more hydrated, looks more "radiant," and the texture is slowly improving. But I still have a long way to go. So thankful for the knowledge that Asian beauty bloggers and /r/asianbeauty has bestowed upon me thus far. Y'all are the real MVP.


Does anyone else have/had skin troubles like me? What worked for you???

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