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Everything I Did To Calm My Acne-Prone Skin a Week Before My Wedding

Anna De Souza

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Health & Fitness

Anna De Souza is a digital and broadcast journalist covering fashion, beauty, technology and lifestyle. 

When not meandering the cobblestone streets of Old City, Philadelphia or sharing sharp cheddar with her best friend, Lella, you can c...

How I got clear, acne-free skin for my wedding

The seating arrangement finalized, our Spanish tile favors stamped, the only thing I hadn’t tended to for my wedding in San Juan? My skin. And when I finally ran smack dab into a mirror, about 9 days before my wedding, I really feared it was too late for such a big intervention.

I've struggled with acne and scarring nearly my entire life and slathered everything short of Accutane to keep it in check. (I did fill out paperwork and get the initial blood test, but the oversized booklet stamped with bright red warning symbols on nearly each page can truly put off an adventurous gal, even during desperate times.) 

Enter over-the-counter and prescription potions, light therapy, photodynamic treatments, CO2 ablative lasers, spironolactone. Sure, weaning off spironolactone two months before the wedding (we want to start trying for kids soon) was probably a decision to file under "nah, wouldn't do that again." For years the side effects had my extremities frostbitten from low blood pressure and I was tired of feeling dizzy and blurry every time I would stand up too quickly.

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You can probably imagine that growing up as a teen wasn’t exactly easy. My skin was the fodder of schoolyard bullies. It was the first and only thing they could and would see, and the fixation doubly warped my own sense of self-confidence for years to come. Quite unfortunately the dermatologists I consulted with did nothing to alleviate the physical and emotional damage being inflicted every time a new blemish came to the surface.

Surely if I could live my life over again I’d become a dermatologist myself. While the overhead of medical school time and bills is certainly daunting, years ago I instead dove right into the world of beauty reporting. I’ve since partitioned my face into quadrants in order to test as many products as possible. Vitamin C serums, more please. Any overnight cream with slick silicone, absolutely not! If a product worked for my skin, let's agree that we can pretty much green-light it for 90% of the population. My bad skin gave me a reporting edge. Too bad wedding planning, work and my personal responsibilities had me failing to heed my own advice of sticking to a sound regimen and consulting with a dermatologist on a more routine basis. That's life, huh?

I knew time wasn’t on my side, and that running around town to get several opinions wouldn't be an option. Instead I clicked over to RealSelf’s Ask a Doctor forum where I’d be able to quickly survey a landscape of suggestions from area doctors.

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Three board-certified dermatologists chimed in, this was getting exciting! While Dr. Michelle Green asserted there wouldn't be enough time to recover from lasers such as Fraxel or eMatrix or even a strong peel she recommended a special pigment protocol of Retin-A cream at bedtime and a hydroquinone in the morning. This would address my oily acne-prone skin and begin bleaching out hyperpigmentation. She did recommend a light chemical peel, just enough to give impart a glow without causing any irritation before the "Big Day.” I was initially skeptical of starting Retin-A, especially given my experience of it making skin worse before making it better.

I stopped in my tracks when dermatologic surgeon Dr. Joel Schlessinger advised no medical intervention whatsoever. Yes, nothing! "While there are many products and regimens out there to help with skin issues like you mention, I am not a fan of changing things one week before a wedding.” He noted, “there simply isn't any time to pivot if things go wrong." He recommended new makeup, a mattifying moisturizer, avoiding dairy and going cold turkey on any protein supplements as they can contribute to acne.

Dr. Sejal Shah, founder of Smarter Skin Dermatology, on the other hand, recommended a vitamin C serum and hydroquinone, an at-home light device, and either an in-office Picogenesis or a Clear + Brilliant treatment. The Clear + Brilliant is affectionately referred to as “baby Fraxel” and while it doesn’t completely address dramatic concerns, it improves skin tone, texture and clarity by creating micro-injuries that jumpstart the production of collagen and calms down sebaceous glands by drying up the oil under the skin. Plus, the only downtime is a rosy pink glow for one or two hours post-procedure, I was all in! Even if makeup applied smoother on my wedding day, that would be benefit enough. While there was a bit of a pit in my stomach considering what might go wrong at this last-minute stage maybe I should just get that mattifying moisturizer? I made an appointment with Dr. Shah, with exactly one week to go before my wedding. Wish me luck.

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After 20-minutes of a topical numbing cream, we were ready to 'roll' - literally! The Clear + Brilliant laser is rolled over the skin, three to four passes per section. Suffering from several active cystic blemishes, acne scarring, large pores, unbalanced skin and hyperpigmentation, I must say those butterflies of dread faded to the excited at the prospect of it working out. “At the end of a week everyone feels their skin looks so much better,” Shah reassured me.

The 15-minute procedure was quickly over and I iced for an additional few. My skin was slightly flushed and for the next few hours felt warmer, as if I was sitting poolside at a Bahamas resort. Later that night I put my fingertips to the surface of my skin. It felt soft, as if I had exfoliated pretty thoroughly. The cystic blemishes were beginning to flatten! I couldn’t believe it.

As described, the second and third day in, skin begins to slough off. There is a fine-grit sandpaper feel to the surface, but it doesn't necessarily rub off on your fingers. If you looked very close I mean, super close, you could see tiny little black dots, evidence of the lasers columns of heat that were driven into the skin. These microscopic little wounds were healing, and in the process topping off fresh collagen, giving skin a bouncy new texture. Or maybe I had some micro-swelling. Either way, I looked plump and I liked it. I reluctantly applied makeup over the rougher surface and was shocked at how good it looked and for hours on end! The laser had temporarily slowed down my oil production and my foundation, bronzer and blush didn’t crease, move or fade. I was already feeling optimistic about the week’s end result.

Over the course of the next few days I could see that hyperpigmentation was beginning to dissolve, pores and acne scars were tighter and the overall texture was becoming more refined and even. I could apply a makeup and concealer with a lighter hand and didn’t have to pat down creased foundation lines with the gentle tap of my ring finger to smooth things back down around my smile lines and upper cheek.

Wedding day was finally here! After helping bridesmaids with their makeup, I applied Roloxin Lift Instant Skin Smoothing Mask for 15 minutes to further shrink pores temporarily. After rinsing off with lukewarm water I dabbed on Hourglass Veil Primer and Bobbi Brown Skin Foundation Stick and a few minutes later stood back. I did have a glow!With nary a blemish in sight, I was instantly in a better, lighter mood. I was ready for the altar.

It's been two weeks since the procedure and my skin keeps improving. Not a breakout, an overall even-toned complexion and pore size that has remained steady. Oil-production has begun creeping back but doesn't compare to pre-treatment. Shah recommends a series of Clear + Brilliant sessions for best results, and given this before and after, this may become my go-to before a special event. Turns out you can go against all sound beauty advice and prevail!

While wishing for better skin has been a daily repertoire my entire adult life, I've begun to better accept it and not hold it as a crutch. Hey, one might appreciate honest testing and reporting from a gal who has truly been there!

How I got clear, acne-free skin for my wedding
Image: Anna De Souza

Before and after Clear + Brilliant with Sejal Shah, MD.

How I got clear, acne-free skin for my wedding
Image: Anna De Souza

A quick snap on wedding night!

How I got clear, acne-free skin for my wedding
Image: Liz Smith/SheKnows

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