Hi! Thought I would get some feedback from all the great minds here. Despite having acne since I started college, I still feel confused on what to do most times. lol I am now 34 and it depresses me to have to deal with this. I know it is fairly common, and all you guys here show it isn't just a random problem, but seriously, I rarely see people my age with these problems. Maybe they are experts at covering it up. lol Anyhow, a little background on me. Like I said I got acne in college. The years up to that point my face was nice. no problems other than oiliness, but never had any acne. I was blessed! After school every day I would wash my face with Noxzema and every friday night I would steam my face, apply some st ives blue clay (It was in a blue plastic container but I never see it any more). When that dried, I would use an old toothbrush and "brush" the clay off my face. lol I do NOT know how I came up with this, but i guess it was exfoliation. To say the least, my skin was not sensitive. In college I only got mall bumps, which I would attribute to the whole change of environment and stress factor. I met my husband and we married 2009. 4 months later I became pregnant and from then on my skin was problematic. I swear pregnancy somehow screwed me up, whether through hormones or something. lol But, I was 20 at the time, so maybe it was just adult onset. Anyhow, the spots would be more numerous than i liked, but they were not nodules or anything. After having my son, my skin went through cycles. I would still have spots, but nothing severe. Looking back on pics now, you can't even tell. They were easily covered. Probably two years later I started getting really bad areas. I remember once I had this cluster of bumps just below the tip of my mouth. It was painful, swollen and oh man when it popped it excreted amounts that horrified me. But, it healed with no scar or mark. I would get nodules or cysts (still not real sure the difference). They were painful bumps that would sometimes just engorge. I would put hot compresses on them and they'd come to a head or some would deflate and just disappear. But I didn't get them all the time..mainly just small bumps that would be inflamed but would come to a head within a few days. Several years ago, maybe 4 I got fed up with having acne..any type! I was always having spots it seemed, al though they were not always nodule type. Always inflamed, though. I don't really get blackheads or whiteheads..just acne that i think would be a typical mild type if it just wouldn't inflame so much! This is the time I started reading about the gluten and acne connection. So, I cut out gluten. After a month, I didn't notice much difference. So the next month, I added dairy to the list of avoided foods. After a month of that i didn't notice a difference. (that would be two months gluten free and one month dairy free) However, I did notice a difference in my female cycle! That first period after cutting dairy..wow. Normally my length is 3-4 days. That period after dairy free--it lasted an entire week! It was freaky! Now, i don't know what is in the milk, but that convinced me enough that something was indeed in it! Now, to be clear my cycles are always extremely regular. I start on the same day every month, unless I am stressed and it makes it late. But it is very predictable. And it always lasts 3-4 days. I still started on the correct day BUT it lasted 7 days. I just really don't think that was coincidence. Did any other girls who went dairy free notice any changes?? Needless to say I didn't stick with the whole dairy and gluten thing. I do eat less processed foods, sugar and whatnot. I eat whole wheat products, veggies, fruits. The last several months to a year I haven't had continuous nodule type acne. Just inflamed spots. I haven't noticed any cycle to it, like only happening hormonally or anything. I started using Skintactix products which I liked. An antibacterial cleanser, a glycolic exfoliater gel, then a green tea "mask". Really the mask was clay, sulfur, green tea and other stuff. But it soaked up the extra oil on my face and the green tea helped block DHT I guess. I like this regimen, but it didn't clear me 100% Last year I decided i would start on retinol. Maybe I should point out that I do not insurance, so a trip to a derm is not in my budget. I heard that prescript A was great on acne, so my idea was to try it out drug store style. Besides, I never used retinoI and wanted to start out low and slow to make sure I could handle it. I bought a product from neutrogena. The next morning after the first use, my skin flaked. I found this promising. I kept up with it using every few days, working up to more. I did 2 days with the retinol, one day off. Some times on the day off I would use a glycolic cream (from sugar extrac and rhubbard and papaya I think--It was Reviva Labs, 10% glycolic). I could tell my skin was clearing, and the pores looked a lot better. I have always had large pores and oily skin. I noticed my pores were looking like they were smaller. I was happy! I also started steaming my face for 15 mins 2x a week. Now, I would still get inflamed mini nodules (like regular acne but inflamed and swollen bumps bigger than reg acne, but would come to a head). I thought, ok, if I have worked up to using the OTC very regularly without a prob, I might get even better results with a better concentrated formula. I bought Skinceuticals .3% (that's point 3 lol) in Nov 2011. I started using it sparingly again to see how my skin reacted. I didn't get the peeling effect but everything seemed to go well. I was using 10%bp diluted into Derma E vitamin A moisturizer in the mornings. I've spot treated at night with a otc antibiotic gel or the skintactix clay (sulfur). I was still using the glycolic off and on. Plus steaming. I made it though my cycle without spots forming. Like i said I never noticed my acne only occurring during my cycle, but I would tend to get at least one extra during that time, so I would have say 2 at any given point, plus at least one that would show up the week before my period. So, when I had made it through without any forming, I thought ok, finally I am fixing something. Well, Feb 14 marked the third month of the skinceuticals. Last month I broke out in many nodules two weeks before my period. I haven't seen these types in some time! And i mean, many. I had 5-6..beside my nose, on my chin...they lasted until my period. I was so upset but thought maybe it was the retinol clearing out my skin? I have read that you get several months worth of breakouts in a short period of time, so I pushed on. I did try to look at other variables, though. In Jan I started exercising--low impact which is more toning, resistance I guess. I had also started a new condition and I was taking several herbs. I have anxiety which is bad in social situations. I noticed I just produce insane amounts of oil in social situations--which i assume if from the stress. So, I started kava only for going out. Then I thought maybe a stress manager would help so I also got siberian ginseng, gotu kola, andAndrographis. later I researched and found some shouldn't be taken concurrently. So, I stopped them. I stopped the conditioner because i saw it had algae extract in it. This month...a repeat of last month with a breakout 2 weeks before my period. Started with 3 spots 2 weeks before plus 2 spots the week before...so 5 total. And they are still here..dying but and not hurting, but... I haven't used the retinol since Feb 23 (so a week today) because my skin was getting too dry with the bp spot treatments and sulfur. Now my skin is cracked near the corners of my mouth, so I'm just using moisturizer and the OTC antibiotic gel. Trying to get it all back in balance. I am sorry it is so long, but I thought the background may be important. I have some questions: 1. If i didn't get cycle acne before, especially not mid cycle breakouts, can this be hormonal? And if it is, what might have made it so bad when months before it wasn't? 2. Can exercising, with weights cause the breakouts, at least initially? I do a 30 minute workout called Body Electric--it sometimes comes on free public channels. It consists of a few mins of warmup, then a workout that is low impact but does use weights to tone. I use 3lb weights, so I am not doing bulk up workouts lol. It concludes with a few mins cool down. I do not sweat with this, so it is not sweat induced. 3. Can the reaction be from the algae extract in the conditioner? I wash my hair at night and sleep on it. 4. Could be a reaction or interaction between the herbs? I took the herbs in Jan and my first period after that was Feb 2..so the flare ups were 2 weeks before. As soon as i got the flare up, I stopped the pills...so could they still induce a reaction 4 weeks after the last flare up? 5. I also use bentonite clay to help clean out toxins and I drink burdock root tea. I have also taken milk thistle in the last month. Could a cleaning from the milk thistle induce a reaction? I've used bentonite and burdock for months prior with no noticeable problems. I have bought digestive enzymes and probiotics that I have been using the last week or two after reading about the benefits. I also take flax oil and cod liver oil. I'm thinking that since I may have reached a great spot with the retinol now, I should cut back on it. I don't know what a maintenance frequency might be? I really like it's properties as I read it does what both BHA and AHAs do. Plus, I do get these kernels (like sesame seeds) that come out of my skin so I assume I do have problems with cells getting trapped in the pores. Even when my nodules resolve I notice that almost every time a little kernel will come out. A bump will remain, although the acne is gone and eventually the little kernel makes it way to the top. Once that comes out, the spot completely clears up (besides a red mark). Will using this maybe 2x a week or every 3 days be enough to keep the benefits of clearing out my pores? Should I add in a BHA or AHA? I was using the AHA and clearing off the top skin while the retinol worked from the inside. I think I have met in the middle now, so do I need to keep incorporating either of these? I'm grateful for any suggestions. And, if you took the time to read over this, I am so thankful and hope to benefit from your experience and help. I don't want to overdo my regimen..and I seriously think I do exactly that at times. lol Acne just frustrates me so much and makes me desperate. Desperation sometimes makes me stupid. Thanks again for any insight! I feel this is the only place I can talk about it. My hsuabnd is so kind and sweet, but he has no clue about acne. lol Besides, I feel kinda silly/embarrassed discussing it with him. I wish I could go to a derm but without insurance, I can't afford it. Hopefully, once my husband gets his masters we can get a good insurance plan!