Like a right of passage, I accepted my acne in high school. But the ritual was growing old by the time I reached college. My mom went with me to see a dermatologist the summer before my junior year. He swung through the room, muttered a few words about “the patient” into an audio recorder, and left me with a prescription for Accutane. I took it for a few weeks, but the warning label scared me. I was on my way to study abroad in Senegal, West Africa. How could I avoid sun exposure while living on the edge of the Sahara?
I stopped taking the pills soon after my arrival in Dakar. Amazingly, my skin cleared up completely for the rest of the year! I marveled at Accutane’s impressive acne-busting power. Little did I know, the real reason my acne vanished had nothing to do with the medication.
My acne made a comeback along with my return to the States senior year. That’s when I first tried Proactiv. I continued using similar benzoyl peroxide products off and on for the next ten years. They didn’t clear up my skin completely, but it was improved to the point where I could get away with a good makeup job (most of the time, anyway. I still have my fair share of embarrassing acne situations –another post altogether).
Ironically, it was another study abroad experience that brought my acne story to its climax. This time, I was off to language school in Tunisia, North Africa, another mecca of Saharan sunshine. After a routinely gorgeous day at the beach in Hammamet, I stopped into a hotel restroom to freshen up. That’s when I first noticed it. A dark shadow on my upper lip. No, I’m not talking about a spontaneous eruption of facial hair. At least facial hair can be plucked. This was an actual alteration in the pigment of my skin. I panicked. Is it skin cancer? Is it permanent? Do I have that Michael Jackson skin disease in reverse? Will it spread over my entire face? As if looking like a mini-Hitler wasn’t bad enough.
A quick call to some doctor friends back in the States revealed that I had developed melasma, a skin pigment disorder brought on by hormonal imbalance. More common in pregnant women, several factors can induce melasma, such as excessive sun exposure (check), the use of products containing benzoyl peroxide (check), and hypothyroidism (didn’t figure out I had this one until a couple years later. Not coincidentally, fluoride is shown to depress thyroid function… Oh yeah, check).
I stopped using benzoyl peroxide and after several LONG months, the melasma faded away. From Tunisia, I was off to Scotland for my Fulbright year at St. Andrews. Again, my acne cleared up completely. Finally, at thirty years old, I thought I had my skin all figured out. But for those of you who are familiar with the CI blog, you know my acne troubles didn’t end there. My cystic acne returned worse than ever after my return to the States, and this time I couldn’t treat it with my go-to move. Every time I applied benzoyl peroxide to my skin, the dreaded melasma would start to rear its shadowy head. That’s when I made my first appointment for a lymph drainage session at the Upledger Institute, where my therapist helped me identify fluoride as the root cause of my lifelong struggle with cystic acne.
If the melasma hadn’t forced me to stop using benzoyl peroxide, I might never have figured out that I have fluoroderma. My long history with cystic acne taught me that acne isn’t a problem that should be covered up with medication (and neither is cellulite, for that matter). It’s a sign that something is “off” in the body. If we try to treat acne with a band-aid cure, we miss out on an opportunity to experience true healing.
*This post is a part of Fight Back Friday hosted by Food Renegade.
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