I’ve Struggled With Severe Acne for 20 Years, and This Is How I Finally Beat It


(Image credit: @indyabrown)

Some people are blessed with genetically clear skin, but consider me not one of the lucky few. My acne started to rapidly develop since early adolescence–from the tender age of 10, I've dealt with consistent bouts of painful cystic acne along with clusters of whiteheads and pesky blackheads. Before I knew it my acne had progressed into blemishes and spots along my back and chest. Picture day (especially in middle school) was an event I had thoroughly come to dread and scared of revealing my acne scars, I regrettably vowed to never wear backless tops again.

From over-the-counter topicals like Proactiv to prescription antibiotics like Clindamycin, I've tried it all, with no real sustainable success. While acne tends to balance itself out over time through hormonal changes, that was never the case for me, so I took the plunge and went to a dermatologist to start Isotretinoin (or commonly known as Accutane) treatment. Within months the frequency of my breakouts drastically improved and I finally understood what it felt like to not feel self-conscious about walking outside sans a full face of foundation. 

Although Accutane did much to improve my skin–and the entire process was no walk in the park– I still experience breakouts if I'm not careful. Excessively oily skin is in my DNA, so it's a daily battle to keep my skin's rampant oil production under control and in check. Over the years I've used and tested out hundreds of products before finally discovering my favorites and go-tos I reach for when my acne once again rears its ugly head. From cleansers to toners, spot treatments, and more, I'm sharing the products that helped to transform my skin. Because melanin-rich skin requires a little extra TLC due to the increased severity of hyperpigmentation, I consulted with Elyse Love, MD, FAAD, a New York-based board-certified dermatologist for more tidbits on treating acne for deeper skin tones. "Treating acne in darker skin tones requires thoughtfulness in products used and patience from the patient," Love explains. There's a lot of great recommendations ahead, so get comfortable and keep scrolling.








Spot Treatments

Light Therapy

If you're seriously at your wit's end with your acne-prone skin, and if you take anything away from this list, let it be blue light therapy. With the exception of Isotretinoin, nothing has dramatically cleared my skin as much as blue light treatments. A newer, innovative acne treatment available on the market, it's not something I've notice jolt entirely into the mainstream just yet. After hearing about it from a publicist friend, I too was dubious until giving it a go a few years ago. Now it's seriously one of the most critical parts of my routine. Thanks to the antimicrobial powers of blue wavelengths, the emitted light effectively kills several types of pore-clogging bacteria. After one session my breakouts shrunk literally overnight, drying them out and making them much easier to treat with topicals. It's not super convenient because it does require you to sit idly with a ton of blinking lights on your face, but it's truly worth it. I'm a fan of Dr. Dennis Gross's mask-like device, but there are plenty of other affordable and equally effective options out there.



But, if your acne-prone skin could use some extra hydration, might I recommend the below? Heavy moisturizers tend to throw my oily skin out of wack, in turn producing more oil and more breakouts, however, Belif's Moisturizing Bomb and CeraVe's Ultra-Light Moisturizing Lotion delicately quenches the skin.


Next up, Dermatologists Agree: This One Treatment Is the Key to Tighter Skin.

Fashion Market Editor

Indya Brown is a fashion editor, stylist, and writer living in Los Angeles. While going to school at Columbia University in New York City, she got her feet wet in the fashion industry interning at Elle magazine, Harper's Bazaar, and New York magazine's The Cut. After graduating in 2016, she joined The Cut as a fashion assistant, eventually working her way up to fashion editor. There, she worked on a multitude of projects, including styling inbook feature stories for New York magazine's print issue, writing and pitching market stories for The Cut, and serving as fashion lead for The Cut's branded content. While New York has been her home for over 10 years, she moved to Los Angeles in the midst of the pandemic in 2020 for a new chapter. Now she is a fashion market editor for Who What Wear, focusing on emerging designers, rising trends on and off the internet, interior design, and BIPOC creatives and brands. Aside from her duties as a fashion market editor, Brown is also a freelance stylist and writer, working on national print and video commercial campaigns for Sephora, The Independent, and Cadillac. Her bylines also include Harper's Bazaar, Vox, and The New York Times. But once the computer goes down and the emails turn off, she's likely eating her way through Koreatown, hunting down vintage furniture, scoping out new outrageous nail designs to try, or taking a hot cycling class.