From Dan: “My own experience with acne treatments.”
I think it would be helpful for me to chronicle my acne treatment history prior to discovering The Regimen. I wish someone had shared their mistakes with me when I was younger.”– Dan Kern, Acne.org founder
My first lessons
I figured out that the constant scrubbing was getting me nowhere, so I lessened it to 3 times a day. I continued with the 2% salicylic acid acne treatment. My skin still did not improve much at all.
I started getting acne at 11 or 12. At the first sign of breakouts I began washing my face many times a day with a washcloth and Ivory soap. My skin reacted with many tiny pimples, largely along the top of my forehead. I decided more was needed. I kept scrubbing my face raw, but added in Stridex 2% salicylic acid pads. The salicylic acid did very little.
After seeing a few commercials (no, not Proactiv, that didn’t even exist yet in those days), I decided to switch to “Oxy10” brand 10% benzoyl peroxide acne treatment, and also decided to start washing just twice a day. To my surprise, my skin did improve on the Oxy10 and twice daily washing. I was still using a washcloth and Ivory soap at this time. I continued on this regimen for a couple of years but never had a day without at least a few zits.
My dermatologist experiences
My skin still plagued me, so I asked my parents to take me to a dermatologist. This began my long experimentation with prescriptions. The first dermatologist put me on tetracycline antibiotic pills. I faithfully took them as prescribed but experienced absolutely no clearing of my acne. After seeing no improvement, he switched me to doxycycline (another antibiotic), but this also did nothing. After a few months of no results I added the benzoyl peroxide back in to my routine and my skin improved somewhat, but I was still breaking out daily. Back to the dermatologist I went. He prescribed Retin-A (tretinoin), and asked that I stop using the benzoyl peroxide while my skin got used to the Retin-A. He warned me that my face might get worse before it got better on the Retin-A. My face got a lot worse, but my research now tells me that it was more likely the discontinuation of the benzoyl peroxide than the introduction of Retin-A that sent my skin back downhill. Back to the derm I went. He advised that I add back in the 10% benzoyl peroxide and try a higher percentage Retin-A. My skin got slightly better, but my acne remained persistent.
After little success with my first dermatologist and with my skin still a mess, I turned to the books and read everything at my local library and school library on acne and skin care. I learned to wash gently and only twice a day with bare hands. Beyond that I found little consensus. As it turns out, scientists and researchers didn’t know a lot about treating acne. This was a sobering realization.
I had been faithfully using Retin-A for a couple of years at this time and came to realize it was doing little for me, so when I went to college I dropped the Retin-A and continued with twice daily washing with bare hands, followed with a light coating of 10% benzoyl peroxide. My skin became somewhat manageable, but the mirror met me with zits every morning. My back also began breaking out, sometimes with painful nodules and cysts. Back to the books I went at my college library. I read a book that advised using a large amount of 10% benzoyl peroxide to dry and flake the skin, revealing clearer skin underneath. Eager to try anything, I jumped right in. I started loading 10% benzoyl peroxide on my face. Up to this point, no book or dermatologist had ever mentioned moisturizer to me. My skin dried up terribly and peeled badly from the increased amount of benzoyl peroxide I was using. I was embarrassed, but I was hoping my skin would become clear soon just like the book told me it would. My skin did improve somewhat on this method, so I continued, but I was so flaky it was truly an embarrassment. Finally one day an acquaintance had the guts to confront me outside the University cafeteria. “What’s wrong with your face? It’s so dry,” she asked. I realized I needed to do something else.
Accutane (isotretinoin) – my saviour?
I went back to the University library scouring for any new info they may have received. I read about Accutane (isotretinoin) in one of the new scientific dermatology books. “Dramatic and permanent improvement,” it glowed. Why had no one mentioned this to me before!? I practically ran to the local dermatologist to ask for a prescription. My new dermatologist told me Accutane was the acne treatment of last resort and we had other things to try first. She put me on clindamycin and sulfur and asked that I quit benzoyl peroxide. I did as requested. My skin plummeted to levels I had never seen. I didn’t want to leave my room. By this point, I also had acne on my back that was bad enough that I would never consider removing my shirt for anyone, even in front of my roommate. At my low point, I would not look at myself in the mirror. I just kept the light off in the bathroom. (I know, poor me, boohoo)
One look at my face after the clindamycin and sulfur and my doctor was convinced to put me on Accutane. She prescribed a relatively low dose. Within 2-3 weeks my face was absolutely, completely clear. My back was clear within a month. My skin became perfect, and that is not an exaggeration. It was a beautiful experience. I became “popular” for the first time since my acne erupted in middle school. I had a great time going out with friends, speaking to people without averting my eyes, and confidently living my new life.
Toward the end of my Accutane treatment I awoke one day with a small whitehead. This was a sign of things to come. As soon as I went off Accutane, my acne returned. Luckily, Accutane really helped my back acne and it did not return with a vengeance, but my face began breaking out once again. My acne, while somewhat lighter than before, was again an ongoing daily visitor.
Back to the basics
I decided to try what had worked before. Over the years it had become obvious that benzoyl peroxide was the one medication that always worked, at least somewhat. I went to the store to buy some and spotted “Exact” brand 5% benzoyl peroxide. It claimed something along the lines of, “all the effectiveness without all the dryness.” I tried it, and my acne lessened. At this point I also added moisturizer to my routine. My skin was extremely dry on Accutane so I became accustomed to using moisturizer. For the next couple of years I stuck with twice daily gentle cleansing, 5% benzoyl peroxide, and moisturizer. The zits never subsided completely, but things were certainly better than they had been in high school and college, so I was content with that.
Even though I only had perhaps 3 zits on my face at any one time at this point, which was heaven in comparison to what I previously lived through, I couldn’t help but keep experimenting. One day I decided, “What the heck, I am going to use a lot of this 5% benzoyl peroxide. The worst case scenario is I will waste some money.” I loaded on probably ten times the usual amount, keeping in mind to be gentle with the application. The sheer amount of benzoyl peroxide helped me to apply it even more patiently and gently. My skin cleared up completely within days. I figured it had to be a fluke. But my skin stayed clear, day after day, week after week. It wasn’t a fluke.
Sharing my success
Right around that time a friend of mine recommended a book called The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success by Deepak Chopra. I wouldn’t say I was a deeply spiritual person at the time, but I decided to read it anyway. After reading it, I remembered how much I do love helping people. In the book, Chopra tells the reader to ask himself, “What is your unique talent and how can you use it to help people?” Well, up until then I didn’t think I had many truly unique talents, but now that I cleared up my skin I did have something worth offering. I posted my newfound regimen on my free Earthlink homepage that I got for choosing Earthlink as my internet provider and the responses started coming in droves. It appeared that this same regimen worked for just about everyone who tried it and followed it closely.
With further research at the UCSF medical library I learned that 2.5% benzoyl peroxide is just as effective as 5%, so I hesitatingly switched. Just like the medical studies said, my skin stayed clear and was less dry.
As I continued to read success stories that people emailed to me, I decided more people needed to know about this regimen so I bought Acne.org. Continually asking myself how I can help people led me to make a larger size 2.5% benzoyl peroxide and more recently a cleanser, moisturizer and a 10% glycolic acid. It feels great helping people avoid the aimless experimentation I had to go through for so many years.
The latest things I’ve learned
In the past decade or so, as more research has been published, the picture of how to calm acne from the root using diet and supplements is starting to come into focus, so I’m now sharing those clues as well. From what I can tell from the hard science as well as anecdotal reports–and even my own experience–it looks like limiting carbohydrates and taking supplements (i.e., fish oil and zinc) may help prevent acne.
Also check out what products I use on a daily basis and what I wouldn’t personally be without.