I was 11 years old when my mother looked at my face and told me that "I inherited Daddy's skin." Unfortunately for me, that meant a starry constellation of whiteheads across my chin and zits along my cheeks that left hyperpigmentation as souvenirs. I was probably the only fifth grader at my elementary school taking an oral antibiotic and applying a nightly topical cream just to keep the cystic acne at bay.
My skin was enough of a concern that I started Accutane, a strong retinoid used to treat severe acne, at 14. Accutane works by squelching oil-producing glands in the skin. (It's great for excessive oil responsible for pimples but terrible for skin hydration.) During my cycle, I felt like a lizard constantly shedding off dry skin patches on my face. My lips were chapped to the point of bleeding, which made attending french horn camp oh so fun. Still, it felt worth it when I no longer had to deal with painful pimples sprouting from my sebaceous glands.
Accutane banished future breakouts, but my skin bore scars of an ugly past. I was still dealing with hyperpigmentation, and the section under my lips was always in danger of flaking off no matter how much moisturiser I used. However, the worst scar of all was my terrible self-esteem and battered confidence. I spent years avoiding photos or mirrors because I didn't want to see my terrible skin. Even though I knew the coin-size pustules were pretty much a thing of the past, I still felt deeply unattractive and self-conscious.
Someone even told me I "looked dewy" — the ultimate compliment for a girl who once smiled and felt her lips start to bleed.
One day, I impulsively purchased CVS's Charcoal and Black Sugar Dual Action Scrub Facial Mask ($4), which was one of many mask sets now being sold at the drugstore. The instructions were simple enough: spread the sugar crystals over a clean face, then rub the crystals in and rinse off after seven minutes. I started using the scrub the recommended two times a week and made a point of listening to relaxing music or podcasts during the waiting period. I didn't really think the scrub would do much of anything – it was inexpensive, and I mostly bought it so I could pretend to be Mia during the makeover scene in The Princess Diaries.
Then, something strange happened: my boss complimented me on my skin. That never, ever happened. The only time people bothered to comment on my skin was when they were offering unsolicited advice about face-wash brands. Little did they know, I hadn't skipped washing my face morning or evening since the sixth grade.
When I forced myself to look in the mirror, I realised my boss was right. My skin actually did look better. The charcoal combined with the sugar exfoliant cleared off impurities and dead skin, so my tone was starting to even out. Once I started applying masks with hyaluronic and salicylic acid, my skin stayed clear and moisturised. Someone even told me I "looked dewy" — the ultimate compliment for a girl who once smiled and felt her lips start to bleed.
Nowadays, I'm proud to say that I have a much better relationship with my skin and self-confidence. My skin isn't perfect; I occasionally get zits and am working on reducing some "ice-pick" scars left over from a past viscous breakout. However, now I know what I can do to help my skin look its best. And as much as I love my 10-step skin-care routine, my first tool in repairing my shattered self-confidence was a $4 drugstore mask.