For a long time, I was one of the lucky ones, the rare breed of American teenager that, despite a steady diet of greasy Burger King drive-through and a penchant for eating chocolate late at night, somehow managed to escape the clutches of pubescent acne. I knew that I was lucky, and other people, even strangers, would remind me of it, too — older women stopping me in public restrooms to tell me what beautiful skin I had, friends with pimple-ridden faces asking me what I did to keep it that way. Nothing, really, I'd say, smugly. I guess I'm just lucky.
Here's the thing about luck: Sometimes, it runs out. One night, shortly after my 20th birthday, I went to bed with clear skin and woke up in the morning to two cysts on my chin, side-by-side, so red, painful, and hot to the touch that I thought I'd been bitten by a spider while I slept. But a visit to the dermatologist, who then referred me to a gynecologist, confirmed that there were no spiders, just a hormonal-disorder diagnosis, a prescription for Epiduo, and the recommendation that I do my best to follow a simple skin-care routine to help keep it clear.
What was once an afterthought quickly became an obsession — a years-long process of trial and error, of trying to find products and ingredients and tricks that might lead me to skin salvation. And yes, this is my story, but it's also the story of everyone else who's ever found themselves completely blindsided by adult acne. Saying that someone "suffers" from acne might sound like a hyperbole, but the psychological effects of acne are very real, and well-documented. (Hell, even Salma Hayek said her severe breakouts made her depressed.) It becomes a part of your life, a part of you, all you see when you look in the mirror.
But while there may not be a single magic pill for curing acne, there is a place where sufferers can go to talk (or rather, type) it out: Reddit's SkincareAddiction forum. With over 375,000 subscribers, it caters not just to the perpetually problem-skinned, but to all skin-care enthusiasts, and anyone who wants to know what that rash might be. It's a community and a resource, both personal and educational, the place to go when you feel like screaming into a void about how bad your skin is and also when you just want to know how your vitamin C serum might interact with your sunscreen.
Until recently, I was what one might call a long-time lurker of /r/SkincareAddiction (or ScA for short) — an outsider who read the information in its threads and indexes, learned the acronyms and knew the difference between blackheads and sebaceous filaments, but didn't actively participate in the conversation. Even as someone who makes a living trying out the latest and greatest in beauty, I discovered new products, picked up on growing trends, and silently applauded the before-and-afters of people who, after years of battling with their skin, finally found a Holy Grail routine that worked.
And then, on a Sunday afternoon when I'd been feeling particularly doom and gloom about my face, I decided to sign up for an account and jump right in. I abandoned the lineup of prestige products I was using — which clearly weren't doing the job — and asked for Routine Help, writing a characteristically long-winded post that detailed my skin type (sensitive, reactive, blemish-prone, oily but dehydrated), my current concerns (redness, inflammation, hormonal breakouts), and what I actually wanted my skin to look like (bright, glowing, virtually poreless "glass skin"), even though technically no one asked me. It was one of the best things I ever did.
Ahead, some of the products I picked up on my SkincareAddiction vision quest — and what they taught me about how I should really be treating my skin.