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Out, Spot!

WebMD Commentary from "Marie Claire" Magazine

By Ariel Levy
Marie Claire magazine logo

One morning when I was in seventh grade, my mother asked me if I thought I needed to stay home from school. I wasn’t sick, and it wasn’t a snow day. But I did have a pimple the size of a softball on the tip of my nose. My mom may be the least vain woman in America. She never wears makeup, never colors her hair, and the only time I’ve ever seen her in heels (little ones) was at my wedding. When she had breast cancer, she got a double mastectomy and had to convince the doctors she didn’t want implants. (They insisted that living without breasts would be too traumatic for her, but they didn’t know my mom.) So when the least vain woman in America suggests you look too ridiculous for public viewing, you know you’ve got a problem. I stayed home for two days.

I got some doozies in my teens. I’ve never had those vast, lavalike swaths of acne you see in the “before” pictures; mine was more of the single shining-star variety — one angry, tenacious monster at any given time. It was humiliating to walk down the halls of Mamaroneck High School with an enormous pimple on my cheek or my chin or my forehead, but at least I had the consolation of knowing I wasn’t the only one. Besides, in my teens, I was insecure about so many things. Zits were just a drop in the bucket.

To my mother’s horror, I turned out as vain as they come. I spend more on my clothes than she would probably spend on furniture, and I own enough shoes to start a small boutique. But it’s sort of preposterous walking out of the house in some expensive outfit with a fabulous bag when I have a honking red zit on my chin. As my peers are starting to talk about Botox and their first gray hairs, I am still afflicted with acne, the plague of a teenager. I would describe myself as a confident person, but when I’m interviewing someone important for my job, or going to an elegant restaurant, or giving a speech, or doing any of the other things that I feel lucky and proud I get to do in my adult life, having a major zit is an unwelcome reminder of my awkward adolescent self. And if I had a sense of humor about acne when I was going through puberty, I’ve since lost it. Will I be 80 years old with white hair, a Chanel suit, and pimples?


I’ve tried everything. In high school it was Noxzema and Clearasil; in college Clinique astringent and Umbrian clay masks; in my 20s I used ProActiv Solution, which did help for a while, but as always, the zits came back. I went to dermatologists a few times, but they never offered any real solutions. The topical treatments they gave me were so itchy and unpleasant that I never stuck with them. And when it comes to cortisone injections, I’ve never been able to commit to the expense and hassle of going to see a doctor for a shot every time I have a pimple. (I’d be going every day.) I have always been unwilling to try Accutane or any oral antibiotics prescribed to treat acne, because the side effects are too severe. I knew a girl on Accutane whose mouth was all dry and flaky; one imagines she was dry all over. No thank you. As vain and as much of a shopaholic as I am, I suppose in some ways I am still my mother’s daughter. When it comes to spending time and getting hurt, my vanity wanes. But I have finally grasped that all the hours and dollars I’ve spent over the years shopping for products and applying concealer and, yes, picking my zits are adding up — to nothing. It’s time for a new solution.

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