My Childhood with Acne
When I was growing up in Houston, I had terrible acne. I remember, I was told that acne was normal and I would grow out of it, so I shouldn’t worry about it. When it got worse, I was taken to an acupuncturist who put needles in my face and all over my body. On the next trip, he performed “cupping”, which involves creating a suction under a cup to improve circulation and cure “stagnation” in your body. This left me with multiple red circles on my back, but the acne remained. Next, I had to eat awful tasting roots and herbs that were supposed to “cool” my body, since the excessive “heat” in my body was causing the acne. Needless to say, my acne didn’t improve.
On my own, I tried all the over-the-counter medications, but none of them helped. While in high school kids would bully me, calling me “pizza-face” and “zit-face”. I remember one time, my brother told me, “You really should get rid of your acne. What if a girl actually wanted to touch your face?” Ouch. As if having a girl friend could have been a possibility…
From childhood to college, my acne continued …
It wasn’t until college that I saw my first dermatologist at a University health clinic. At first, he tried topical creams and oral antibiotics, but these didn’t work. I was devastated. I often felt depressed and hopeless. While other college freshmen went out socializing, I was too shy and embarrassed to go out.
The one thing that finally changed my life was that I was prescribed, Accutane (isotretinoin). It was a six-month course of medication that must be carefully monitored by a dermatologist, but can totally change the composition of your skin. It works by shrinking sebaceous glands permanently to reduce sebum production, and thus reduce the formation of micro-comedones (precursors to acne). I suffered through 6 months of extremely dry skin and chapped lips. However, the end result was NO MORE ACNE.
Not having active acne gave me a new outlook on life. I became President of the Chinese Student Union, coordinated a nine university dance event in San Francisco, volunteered at UC San Francisco Hospital, and finally had a girlfriend. I graduated at the top of the class and got into medical school at Baylor College of Medicine in my hometown of Houston.
At Baylor, I rotated through all the different specialties, as required by the medical school curriculum. However, before I did my dermatology rotation, I already knew that dermatology was the field that I wanted to go into. I had experienced first-hand the impact that a dermatologist could have on the self-confidence and self-esteem of a young person growing up. I wanted to be that dermatologist helping others.
As an adult, I still live with the consequences of my acne. This is why I don’t like Acne.
I have never stopped feeling the effects of having severe acne earlier in life. I still have significant acne scars that are painfully visible to this day. On some days it looks better than others, but just when you start feeling confident about your appearance, you see your skin under harsh fluorescent lights and your heart sinks. If you have acne scars, you know what I mean. As an adult, people still notice the acne scars, but the comments are more subtle but equally hurtful. Even in dermatology residency, a colleague once told me, “Wow, you are so smart. Everything always comes so easily for you. But, I feel bad for you. At least I don’t have acne scars like you.” I guess bullying doesn’t end in childhood.
I founded wipeoutbullying.org to help create a safe and empowering community for people who may feel bullied due to their skin conditions. In my experience, bullying can happen to anybody and often occurs due to a lack of understanding. Wipe Out Bullying is an empowering platform and resource to help people find ways to understand their differences, and overcome any challenges they may face.
As a doctor, I consider everybody who visits my site a patient. I hope you leave this site feeling more informed and better about yourself, the same way I hope my patients feel when they leave my office.