Author Christina Patterson reveals how she finally defeated adult acne

Relieved: Christina Patterson had been struggling with acne since she was 13

Relieved: Christina Patterson had been struggling with acne since she was 13

The doctor looked down at his notebook and sighed. 'In that waiting room,' he said, 'I've got patients with real problems. What exactly do you want me to do?'

I swallowed, but my mouth was dry. I cupped my fingers round my chin.

I couldn't stop touching the deep, red, painful lumps there. Please, I wanted to yell, just make them go away.

When I saw that doctor I was feeling desperate. It was part of my job to go on a stage and present public events, but a few weeks before, my face had exploded with throbbing red bumps that developed into giant yellow pustules.

I plastered my face with foundation, but some of the pustules burst and encouraged new crops of yellow lumps, like mushrooms springing up after rain.

I was 34 and had been struggling with acne, on and off, since I was 13.

I first felt a sprinkling of tiny bumps on my forehead at the same time I started noticing boys. I was prescribed antibiotics and used all kinds of lotions, none of which worked, and even tried giving up chocolate, which didn't make any difference at all.

Acne is embarrassing and upsetting as a teenager, knocking confidence at just the time you're trying to summon some up. But it's even worse when you're an adult.

I was working in a bookshop as a 23-year-old when the scattering of normal spots on my face suddenly burst into a mass of red lumps that seemed to pulsate under my skin. I was referred to a dermatologist, who put me on Roaccutane, a drug that shrinks the oil glands, helping stop pores becoming clogged with oil and inflamed with bacteria.

Every time I looked in the mirror, I felt sick. Acne was the first thing I thought about in the morning, and the last thing I thought about at night as I slathered ointments on my sore, weeping skin

 Every time I looked in the mirror, I felt sick. Acne was the first thing I thought about in the morning, and the last thing I thought about at night as I slathered ointments on my sore, weeping skin

It was meant to be a miracle drug, and I waited for that miracle to happen to me. Instead, almost every pore on my face seemed to turn into a red lump, which turned into a multi-headed pustule. Soon, there seemed to be more pustules than normal skin.

Every time I looked in the mirror, I felt sick. Acne was the first thing I thought about in the morning, and the last thing I thought about at night as I slathered ointments on my sore, weeping skin.

My doctor referred me to a specialist hospital for skin diseases, where I was blasted with ultra-violet light while standing in a metal box like an upright coffin.

It burnt off most of the spots, and quite a bit of the skin. For about a year, my face was much better, but then the spots came back. I tried more antibiotics. I tried homeopathy. I tried acupuncture. I tried Chinese herbs. I saw a nutritionist.

Many people think acne is a teenage problem that passes, but it isn't. 'Half the patients I see are adults,' says Professor Tony Chu, a dermatologist and founder of the charity Acne and Rosacea Association UK.

'I see patients in their 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s and 70s. I had one patient who was 85 and fed up with being told she would grow out of it.'

There are, he explains, two major causes of acne: hormones and stress. 'If you're under stress,' he says, 'the adrenal glands start pumping out not just adrenaline and cortisol, but a lot more male hormones.'

It's these hormones that cause the changes in oil production and the blockage in the pores.

A former acne patient himself, Professor Chu knows more than most about the distress it can cause. Many of the patients he sees have been put on antidepressants. Some are suicidal.

When my acne was at its worst, I came pretty near to it. Sometimes it felt like too much of a challenge to walk down the street.

Claire (not her real name), 54, knows what that feels like. We worked together years ago, and both felt huge relief when we opened up to each other about our lifetime of secret acne shame. Hers started the summer she was 14. 'The boys in my class called me Pizza Face or Gangrene,' she says. 'Strangers would stare at me. I felt deformed.'

No wonder she spent most of her adolescence on antidepressants.

Christina Patterson is the author of The Art of Not Falling Apart

Christina Patterson is the author of The Art of Not Falling Apart

Like me, Claire was

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