There are collections of expressions that promise hardships for those lucky few who never seem to suffer. I suppose we should feel guilty for hoping the bottom drops out of their seemingly eternal happiness, but instead, we manipulate our thoughts. Rather than hoping “she’ll get hers one day,” we secretly pray that God will humble the proud. As if that’s better.
And I was one of those girls who had it all. Yes, I lived through my teenage years with…clear skin.
In junior high, girls in homeroom would stare at my face and announce that they hated me (just kidding!). Girls in high school asked why I never had a blemish of any kind. The truth is, I don’t know. I wore the worst makeup on drugstore shelves, and I rarely washed it off my face at night. I don’t remember drinking gallons of water, and I don’t remember using any special lotions or potions.
But then, as the promises promise, life changed after Senior Week in Myrtle Beach, S.C. Simply put, my face exploded.
My luck, and a bottle of Coppertone Dark Tanning Oil, had run out.
Speaking of the South, there was nothing more difficult than being the daughter of a woman who practiced perfectionism like medicine or law. She had four strict rules: Don’t get fat. Don’t slouch. Don’t talk back. Don’t get zits.
I followed rules one, two and three, but the fourth rule was almost impossible. My mother, God rest her old soul, was convinced that problematic skin was connected to problematic behavior. To some extent, my mother was correct: I didn’t take care of myself while on vacation. If you’ve seen the movie, Shag, then you’ll be reminded of what senior weeks were like along the Grand Strand of Myrtle Beach. No Mother, we weren’t touring historical Fort Sumter. But the battle followed me home and into a dermatologist’s office.
“I don’t know what’s wrong with her skin, doctor,” my mother said. “She seems to have some sort of allergy.”
The doctor, who could’ve easily fought in the American Civil War, tilted my face toward the morning light of a nearby window.
“Whiteheads. Loads of them,” he said gripping my chin. “I can’t count them all.”
My mother dropped her head in embarrassment.
“You’ve been eating junk and touching your face, haven’t you?” he asked.
Yes, that’s right. I wrung all the grease out of my mother’s fried chicken and smeared it on my cheeks, I thought.
I looked at my mother, who pulled at the clasp on her purse, which was about to become much lighter after a prescription pad of medication was handed to her.
“And stop using whatever you’re putting on your face and get bars of Lever 2000,” he ordered. “Cleanse twice a day.”
After that, we traveled to the Medicine Shoppe in Kanawha City, where I waited for a miniscule tube of Retin-A, a bottle of Tetracycline, and some other type of bacterial killer that could’ve removed mold from the school’s locker room walls. From there, my mother drove to Stone & Thomas and bought another hundred dollars’ worth of cosmetics to cover up the “places” on my face.
By the tenth day, my face was falling off. The pills were causing stubborn zits to turn into full-blown cystic acne. That, too, was promised by the dermatologist. “It’ll get worse before it gets better,” he scowled.
No foolin’. My face itched. It burned. It tingled. It festered. I was too ashamed to leave the house, which might’ve been a good thing considering what happens if a pea-sized amount of Retin-A is heated by the sun’s damaging rays. The “places,” as my mother called them, ached to the touch of fingers dried out from the so-called miracle soap. To this very day, I gag when I smell its “original scent,” which should be no scent at all.
While I was away at Ohio University, and I do mean away in that I never left my dorm room other than to eat and attend class, I dumped all of the products and pills into the trash. How I wish I had that tube of Retin-A now!
By Christmas, my face improved thanks to a new product called Proactiv. I found an advertisement for the three-step program in the back of Parade Magazine, shoved inside the Sunday newspaper. I figured nothing else could hurt — not my skin and certainly not my feelings — so I sent in a money order for $49.99 and waited for the mint green liquid to arrive. It did, and after two weeks of careful application, my skin was as clear as a teenager’s. Well, some teenagers.
The point of this dreadful walk down memory lane is to announce that Proactiv is in our medicine cabinet once again, for mother and daughter. Now that I’m 40, hormonal acne has kicked into overdrive, and I’ve had to change everything about my skincare routine. My hairstylist turned me on to the Rodan+Fields collection of anti-aging products, which seemed to be working wonders until the summer. I simply switched to the Proactiv creators’ adult line of acne treatment, Unblemish, and waited for middle age to settle down. It did the job.
My daughter, now a tween, is experiencing the first few “places” that have popped up on her forehead thanks to bangs that could be used to season a cast iron skillet. What an ugly image, I know, but it’s true. I’ve actually considered washing the child’s hair in Dawn dishwashing liquid to help clarify her changing tresses. If it cleans oil off a duck, then it has to strip overactive oils from a tween’s scalp. But for now, we’re spot-treating her “places” with the formula that fixed my face.
However, I did make one drastic change in the course of treatment. As opposed to getting madder than a wet hen because life isn’t flawless, I’ve found a kinder, gentler way to help my daughter deal with inevitable growing pains.
“Bless your heart.”