This is a photo of my face, right before an annoying little monster called Perioral Dermatitis decided to permanently vacate a large portion of it. The non life-threatening, yet self-esteem butchering skin condition started out as, what I thought was, sudden adult acne. I would break out in sore, itchy patches of red bumps that would reappear in the same spot every couple of days. Eventually, the breakout traveled down my chin, and around to the other side of my face, taking up my chin and cheek area - almost like a beard. This went down mid-summer 2016.
During this time I had a lot going on in my life; I was working a job with all men, and even though I knew they weren’t judging me - I felt embarrassed to come to work everyday with angry spots on my face. I remember a lot of mornings, sitting on the train, distracted by the throbbing pain on my face, begging myself not to cry in public.
My boyfriend and I were also travelling for his sister’s wedding and my skin definitely did not want to cooperate, even for the special occasion. For a shy person, meeting new people is already nerve-wracking, but doing so looking like the ‘before’ picture for a Proactiv campaign doesn’t exactly boost my ego.
I ended up taking a seasonal job at a Natural Wellness store when I had returned from the trip, and this is when my clear face decided we were never, ever, getting back together. Here I am, trying to give my best skin care advice looking like I just devoured a salad made up of poison ivy and insulation, putting on a fake smile while I feel what little confidence I had melt with the snow.
Christmas rolled around, then New Years, and then my 25th birthday - all occasions where a mirror pep-talk was required before stepping out into public, telling myself there are people out there who have it a lot worse.
I finally saw my Doctor, who didn’t look at my face for more than 10 seconds. She gave me 3 months worth of the Birth Control she had in her drawer, informing me ‘it’s probably hormones’ and ‘the birth control will certainly clear things up for me.’ I was stoked to think I finally had an answer, but deep down I knew there was something more going on. At 24, you don’t just develop severe, reoccurring acne out of nowhere - and if you did, surely any Doctor would refer their patient to a Dermatologist. Nevertheless, I followed her orders to take the Birth Control for 3 months to see if anything changed, and things did change. It got worse:
During these 3 months, I took a trip to Mexico and landed a new job, so you could say my stress level decreased enormously. The rash still continued to take over my face, so I tried different methods, like using Frankincense, coconut oil - anything to calm down the appearance of the bumps, but nothing worked. In March, I had the amazing opportunity of speaking at my college program’s grad panel and the morning of, my face was very bad. I held in my tears as I caked makeup on my already peeling, irritated skin, and told myself it wasn’t that bad. While I was there, I couldn’t look anyone in the eye. I felt bad for anyone who had to look at me. I felt like a freak, and I couldn’t hide, because it was on my face.
Finally, my WebMD obsession paid off - and I realized the horrible ‘acne’ I was experiencing might actually be a deeper issue. I went to the walk-in by my house, and this time straight up told the Doc on duty that I needed to be referred to a Dermatologist. The Doctor was quick to tell me I needed special medicine, and was surprised that my first Doctor didn’t refer me to a Skin Specialist right away.
A few days later a received a call with my appointment and I was so happy to finally be seeing an expert. In the meantime, I researched every probable cause for the surprisingly common condition. I gave up fluoride, sodium laurel sulphates and dairy products, as well as eggs. Even though I only used natural products on my face, I stopped using anything but water. I brushed my teeth and shaved with coconut oil and used an all-natural deodorant. The only thing this process did was lessen the amount of bumps that looked like cystic acne, the patches that looked like hives was still very visible, especially after the shower or after I wash my face with water.
After a short trip to the dermatologist and a hefty pharmacy bill, I was diagnosed with Perioral Dermatitis (yes, my speculations were right, for once!). I was prescribed a 6 week duration of Doxycycline antibiotics and Differin, a topical cream. It's been a few days, and though I am happy I have an answer, it's still hard to look in the mirror.
I am incredibly hopeful, but also very nervous. I am hoping with all that I have that the condition will heal. I am going to be documenting my healing process - but in the mean time, I am curious about your story. Have you ever had Perioral Dermatitis? What helped you?