I flung open my front door and strutted down the street, my head held high.
I could almost hear a gospel choir belting out ‘Proud Mary’ as I walked.
My first day back at the office after four months working from home during the 2020 lockdown: yes, today was the dawning of a revolution!
Lockdown had taught me many things (mostly how much I can’t stand my husband), but above all, it had taught me to ditch my reliance on make-up.
Four whole months had passed since I had subjected my skin to its usual, detrimental make-up ritual. I had spent my days fresh faced and make-up free, even braving naked Zoom calls (*naked skin, that is. Not full naked. I don’t think the solicitor conducting our house move would have appreciated that. Then again, he probably didn’t appreciate my adult acne, either...).
Adult acne... What adult acne?! Lockdown had been eased, and so had the paranoia surrounding my skin.
So this was it... I was about to go into work without make-up for the first time EVER.
I felt empowered.
I felt sassy.
I felt like Bridget Jones when she tells Daniel Cleaver that she’d rather take a job wiping Sadaam Hussein’s arse.
“Everything okay, Cara?” My male boss asked as soon as I arrived at the office. He peered at my face inquisitively.
“Yes, fine... Why?”
He simply gestured to my chin.
“Oh, this?” I replied, portraying my falsest laugh. “Just a few spots.”
... Just a few hundred angry red cysts.
“It’s not stress related, is it?” My boss enquired gently.
“No, it’s my hormones. I have really high testosterone,” I said defiantly.
“Oh! Oh... Sorry! Sorry! I was just worried that you were stressed, that’s all! Your hair has got really long, hasn’t it?”
I resisted the urge to offer my boss a spade to assist him with the hole he was digging.
And that was that. My balloon of self-confidence deflated.
Asking me to write a beauty blog is like asking a vegan to put together an ode to abattoirs. Seriously – when it comes to all things beauty, I’m what one might call a ‘minimalist.’
My trusty make-up bag consists of just six items (all which I’ve sworn by since year 9): foundation, concealer, eyebrow pencil, mascara, Nivea lip balm, and a blunt red lipstick.
I’m not one of those girls who experiments with make-up and enjoys the whole saga. My idea of experimenting with make-up is buying an apple flavoured Chapstick instead of the original.
I mean, it’s a wonder that I’m not still on the Dream Matte Mousse bandwagon, to be honest.
So, with the above in mind, I’d just like to clarify that this isn’t a ‘beauty’ blog as such. If you’re looking for tips on how to achieve the illest eyeliner flick, or the perfect Insta contour, then I’m sorry, but you’re going to be disappointed.
If, however, you’re after 10 minutes of pure drabble about pesky hormones, adult acne, and a £6 miracle worker - read on!
This is going to sound like a massive cliché, but I never had spots as a teenager. I was extremely lucky, and extremely smug.
In 2019 – at the grand old age of 25 – I suddenly started to develop painful cysts down the left hand side of my jaw-line and neck.
Alas, we’re not talking your bog-standard squeezeable little pests that usually disappear overnight after a few half-arsed seconds of micellar water. No, these were full blown under surface, demonic PLANETS.
Alongside this, I also started to suffer with a whole host of other hormone related symptoms, including the onset of extremely painful periods. My microwavable lavender scented teddy bear just wouldn’t cut it anymore. Every month, I was in severe agony, so much so that the pain literally winded me and made me feel as though I was going to throw up.
I underwent various medical appointments with both my GP and two different dermatologists.
I was put on countless courses of antibiotics, which made no difference whatsoever.
The cysts began to spread across my chin, and even started to cover the other side of my jaw too.
The months passed by, and my Christmas wedding approached at a rapid rate. I was in despair.
Eventual blood tests revealed that I had high levels of testosterone (male hormones).
Two months before my wedding, I was diagnosed with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS). It completely shattered me.
The parting words from my doctor upon discussing the fact that weight gain is a common symptom were, ‘Just watch what you eat.’
Great. Just what every ex-anorexic dreams of hearing...
I had an examination on my ovaries in January 2020, which came back clear, and my doctor withdrew her diagnosis of PCOS.
In May 2020, I was referred to a different dermatologist. He delved deeper into my medical history, and finally, somebody was able to give me some answers.
While suffering from anorexia, my menstrual cycle had been absent (a common side effect of extreme weight loss in women). My dermatologist was able to establish the link between my cycle restarting and my skin taking a nosedive.
He explained that after years of lying dormant due to my missing cycle, my hormones had changed.
While I may never have suffered from spots in my teens, the hormones and their various levels I was in possession of back then were very different to those I was now experiencing.
You only need to type ‘acne cures’ into Google, and you’re sucked into the weird and wonderful world of people’s strange remedies.
Yep, I tried it all! I even went as far as slathering freshly squeezed lemon juice all over my face, which nearly resulted in a trip to casualty (the BUUUUURN!). Looking back, I’m sure somebody must have suggested that particular tip in sarcasm.
I was getting seriously fed up of spending hundreds of pounds on various products that other people were convinced by, for them to have no effect on me whatsoever.
In September 2020, I sloped dejectedly back to my dermatologist and asked him for the prescription for Spironolactone that I had been putting off. Spironolactone comes with undesirable side-effects, but I was so fed up with the worsening state of my skin that I was now prepared to give anything a go.
My dermatologist warned that the long-term tablets may not cure my acne, but they would certainly work in suppressing the testosterone and levelling out my hormones again.
I would need to undergo regular blood tests to monitor my levels of potassium, and would need to take extra care with my kidneys. The prospect sounded such a hoot...
I didn’t have time to take my prescription to the chemist immediately after my appointment, but planned to go the following week, after my birthday. I never actually got to the chemist. I never started my Spironolactone journey.
In an incredible twist of fate, during that week, one of my work friends came to my rescue and literally turned my skin right around!
Enter Carbon Theory charcoal soap!!
My work friend knew how much my skin was getting to me, and had seen something on Instagram about the benefits of this little £6 bar of life-saving joy. She very kindly ordered me some and gave it to me for my birthday.
I had a cupboard full of useless products at home, but thought I might as well try one more.
Oh my God... The BEST thing I have EVER done!!
For me, this thing has been an absolute God send.
I’d been using a well-known product called Aztec Secret Indian Healing Clay for a few weeks, but it didn’t seem to be doing a great deal. And then Aztec met Carbon Theory, and wow, the two have literally become like the Ant and Dec of my bathroom cupboard!
Every night, I apply the clay to my face and leave it on for an hour or so. (This duration isn’t recommended, BTW. The tub states 10 minutes, tops, but my acne is particularly angry, so I can get away with longer. If you have sensitive skin, please don’t exceed 10 minutes.)
The clay makes your skin tingle like mad, and the first time I used it, I started running laps of my living room in a bid to take my mind off it.
... Really selling this, aren’t I?!
Honestly though, it’s just the product doing its thing. Ride it out! (Unless you feel like you might be having some sort of reaction, then by all means, wash it off immediately and please don’t hold me liable for any damage.)
Once my time with the clay is up, I simply lather the Carbon Theory soap between my hands and use it to remove the mask.
My skin feels beyond clean and replenished.
^ A very attractive Aztec Clay selfie... *Eye rolling emoji*
In the past, my cysts were just that: cysts. They never came to a head, instead opting to stubbornly swell in dimension under my skin. Now, the combination of the clay mask and the charcoal soap mean that my cysts always come to a head, and eventually dissipate.
So much easier to manage and indeed conceal than huge, freakish lumps!
I have now been using my little self-discovered dream team for four months, and my skin has improved beyond belief. The difference these two products have made to my self-confidence is outstanding. I hardly give my acne a second thought nowadays, because it’s so unnoticeable, even to my very own critical eye.
In addition to this, I feel I may have also inadvertently found a helping hand for my acne scars.
While at my Mum’s a few weeks ago, I spotted the teeny-weeny bottle of Drops of Youth.
Now, I’m 27, but often get mistaken for an 8 year old, so I’m not too sure what possessed me to try it, but I did. Maybe it was The Body Shop logo that lured me in – I’ve been a fan ever since my Mum bought my favourite turquoise butterfly hairclips from there when I was 6 years old. I wore them every single day for about 3 years, convinced that I was a dead ringer for J-Lo.
(Don’t be fooled by the rocks that I got, I’m still, I’m still Cazza from the block...)
ANYWAY, I went to bed, expecting to wake up looking like a foetus. I didn’t, of course, although I do have to admit that my skin looked somewhat ‘dewier’ and brighter.
The thing that did strike me, though, was the difference to my acne scars!
I’ve never even bothered attempting to make a start in eradiating my acne scars, because up until recently, I still had far too much live acne to start messing around with yet more products. The last thing I wanted to do was aggravate my skin and end up back at square one.
But, despite only having used the tiniest amount of Drops of Youth on a one-off occasion, even I could see the difference! The purple-ish scars had dulled ever so slightly.
I did what any top daughter would do... And pocketed the bottle!
I know firsthand how irritating it can be when people swear blind by certain products, which then prove to offer no bearing in the slightest to your ailment, but I felt compelled to share my ‘skin journey’ all the same. Trying to prise answers out of GPs and dermatologists can be a real slog, and at times, downright depressing, too.
If my story or recommendations help one person to feel more confident, then I’ll know that sharing images of my volcanic skin will have been worth it!
^ A WEEK'S difference, using a combination of Aztec Clay & Carbon Theory soap.
Cara Jasmine Bradley ©