THE BLOG

Acne Is a Four Letter Word

07/04/2014 15:38 BST | Updated 07/06/2014 10:59 BST

When Emma Watson tweeted an image of herself at the premiere of her latest film Noah, with the caption 'I did NOT wake up like this', accompanied by a photo of the contents of her make-up bag, I was comforted. It was an honest reminder that without their plethora of plush products and professionals to apply them, celebrities are just like us. But a closer look at the star's cosmetic 'confession' box (a foundation, a primer, some dry shampoo and a few other 'essentials'), and I realised she wasn't really just like me - and the millions of other adults still living with the legacy of teenage acne.

As teens most of us experience a bout of adolescent spots (I myself was the poster child for teenage acne from the ages of 11-16). And even well into our twenties, the odd spot around that time of the month is just one of the many delights God granted women when he invented pre-menstrual tension; mildly irritating, and not what you want coinciding with a first date or a job interview but let's face it; there are worse things in life than a couple of imperfections, right?

What happens though when the problem isn't going away? What happens when, with every passing twenty-something (and dare I say it thirty-something) birthday, the battle just keeps on raging? According to NHS figures, one in five women between the age of 25 and 40 suffers from adult acne. And much as I am loathe to admit it, at the ripe old age of 28 and still suffering from chronic breakouts, I am one of them.

I am aware that 28 isn't actually old. But it is too old, embarrassingly too old, for this to be something which is still a daily concern. For a long time I felt alone in my plight. This isn't something any of my peers experience, so it's hard for them to relate to. I can't exactly blame them for this but, as any fellow problem-skin sufferer will know, talking about it with people who don't get it doesn't help. No matter how well-intentioned, comments such as 'Oh, it's all in your head!', and 'No one else notices but you!' do little to ease your mind about the painful, and very visible lumps currently lodged on your cheek, which no amount of over-priced concealer or medically-prescribed cream will hide from public view. 'No - It's NOT in my head, you want to scream, 'it's on my FACE?!' These are probably the same friends who come close to mental breakdown over a monthly, microscopic pimple that mars their otherwise crystal-clear complexion, pointing to the rogue dot on their chin and bemoaning how ugly they feel. 'Marvellous,' you think, 'if you're ugly, I must be Quasimodo's less attractive sidekick.'

I am, however, most definitely not alone here. The more obsessively I research it, the more I realise that this is a much wider problem than I had imagined; one which seems to have become much more acute in recent years. There are thousands of women out there just like me in their mid to late twenties, desperately searching for a cure, who are probably too embarrassed to even refer to the problem as acne.

One of the biggest frustrations with the condition is the difficulty in identifying its causes. If it's no longer the grease-ridden product of puberty, then what is causing it? Is it stress? Hormonal imbalances? Genetics? Lifestyle? Diet? Overuse of spot-targeting products (known as 'cosmetic acne')? All, or none, of the above? The confusion is only compounded by the infinite number of skin products available on the market today, not to mention those picture-perfect celebs that make cruel and empty promises to you as they advertise the latest 'breakthrough' skin product from the safety of their digitally enhanced, professionally-lit complexions.

There are so many popular theories on curing spots it breaks me out just thinking about it. Some people swear by avoiding dairy, others wheat, more still by cutting out all sugar and processed food and following a rigid, Madonna and Gwyneth-style macrobiotic diet, which essentially involves eating raw vegetables and hemp. Most beauticians wax lyrical about using only organic, paraben-free products and 100 % mineral make-up, (incredibly expensive and largely ineffective), whilst GPs write you a prescription for the contraceptive pill (which, in my case, caused depression and is now no longer prescribed due to its association with liver damage), and send you on your merry way. Or worse, you're prescribed a useless antibiotic gel which makes your skin so dry that it cracks like tectonic fault lines (one debilitating skin condition is quite enough, thanks), meaning, of course, that you then have to go out and buy six new products to combat the dryness. The whole process is relentless, exhausting, and mainly just makes you want to rip a layer of skin off and start again.

Every magazine, not to mention every mother, tells us that our twenties are the years we are supposed to enjoy our pure and radiant young skin before we have to start worrying about things like wrinkles and age-spots. So I'm always baffled by twenty-something celebrities who, with otherwise perfect skin, choose to inject their faces with potentially lethal substances (we still don't know the long term effect of Botox), and invasive procedures to enhance their complexion (think Kim Kardashian and the infamous 'vampire facial', which involves drawing out the patient's own blood and injecting it back into the face), or why girls with flawless skin - I mean not so much as a pore in sight - mask themselves in foundation so thick it may as well have been applied with a paint roller. Why?? If I had no skin afflictions, I would leave the house with nothing but a slick of lip-gloss and maybe a coat of mascara (at a push).

Controlling problem skin is not only costly (think about the monthly expense of facials, treatments and products), but incredibly time-consuming. When you add it all up, hours, days, weeks at a time are spent prepping, concealing and treating problem skin. There are militant regimes and daily habits to be observed, specialist cleansers, moisturisers, serums, masks, primers, foundations, concealers to be applied. Even with a generous income and a team of health and beauty specialists on tap the problem can still persist - just look at Cameron Diaz; at 42, and with a net worth of ninety million dollars, Cammy is still waging war against inflamed skin and persistent breakouts.

Then there's the angst induced when you are abroad or Boots has shut and you can't get hold of your faithful product - the only one you know will exterminate that impending breakout, threatening to ruin the week. Worse still, is when an impromptu sleepover with a new boyfriend occurs; not only will he see you without make-up on, you'll have to either sneak out at 4 am or leave with a scarf wrapped around your head to avoid him seeing your pubescent skin and worrying that he might in fact be dating a fourteen year old.

On top of all of this is the thrashing you self-esteem takes. It doesn't exactly do wonders for your confidence when your face looks like the before-picture on a Freederm ad. It's also hard to avoid feeling that it's all your fault, that you mustn't be eating the right foods or you're not being positive enough. You end up feeling incredibly guilty with every glass of wine, sugary treat or crisp you consume. But then you have friends with cherub-like skin (the kind that looks like it has its own in-built studio lighting system) who drink, smoke, eat takeaways and chocolate cake, yet have never had so much as a blemish in their lives. (Not that I'm bitter of course).

There's no quick-fix for adult acne, and sometimes the struggle to combat the symptoms are so stressful and time-consuming that it can feel like a full-time job. On the whole, my skin is the best it's ever been. And after all the tears, the self-loathing and the thousands of pounds spent on laser therapy, acupuncture, treatments and products, I am starting to learn that the best cure is letting go of the worries and realizing that there are, in truth, a lot more important things in life that a few imperfections. And you know what? If Cameron Diaz is anything to go by, they definitely aren't a deal-breaker.