My Acne Story: How I Deal With Acne Vulgaris


My name is Alexis, I’m 25 years old, and I have adult acne. (Aka, acne vulgaris you get when you’re older than 20. Yay me!)

Today’s post is going to be a little different. As a beauty and skincare blogger, it’s all well and good for me to post about products that work for my skin while it’s all lovely and smooth, and my acne is under control. But today, I really wanna show you how exactly how my skincare journey has gone, and how I manage my acne. I’ll include acne before and after photos, including Differin before and after photos plus retin-a before and after photos so you can see my whole acne story. To list it out in full, the treatments (script or otherwise) that I’ve ever tried for my acne vulgaris (what a beautiful phrase!) are:

Lemon Juice, Benzoyl Peroxide, Differin, Tretinoin, Topical Clindamycin, Oral Doxycycline, Lactic Acid

Some of these were really harsh, and some of them helped a lot. My acne vulgaris story starts around when I was 12 and just starting to get pimples, as you do when you hit puberty. The first acne ‘treatment’ (used very loosely here) I ever used was putting calamansi (a type of Asian lemon) on my skin around once a week to help sort out my acne and this is what I did for a few years.

I can STILL remember the sting—this was the most torturous treatment ever, and I can’t help but wonder how much permanent skin damage I actually caused by doing this. This is one of the worst acne home remedies out there—please do not EVER do this to your skin! Some other awful acne home remedies I’ve seen include baking soda and cinnamon.

The big myth about acne home remedies is that if they hurt, they’re working. If they hurt, YOU’RE HURTING YOUR SKIN.

Fast forward a couple years and I get into a semi-routine of seeing an esthetician to get facials every couple of months (thanks, Mom!). This helps, but it doesn’t actually treat my acne. Inflammation and breakouts are still hanging around a little, but not totally reduced.

After a few years of regularly getting facials to help with my congestion, my mom took me to the derm and I walked away with a handy little script for Clindamycin and Differin. These two were great for managing my acne vulgaris (although I probably STILL didn’t use enough recommended SPF with Differin oops) and I used them up until I moved to New Zealand for university and was no longer covered by my parents’ health insurance.

The Benzoyl Peroxide Era

February 2014

I ended up switching to the method, which was 2.5% Benzoyl Peroxide twice a day applied to the whole face. This worked really well for me (as you can tell by the photo) until I fell down the rabbit hole of benzoyl peroxide as a pro-oxidant. I couldn’t find any concrete information about negative effects of the long-term use of BP on one’s entire face, but I wasn’t willing to be a guinea pig either. So I stopped using BP and began to look for something else, and of course, my acne vulgaris returned with a vengeance.

Before people come in perpetuating the myth of “ur skin gets addicted to BP that’s why u broke out gal” let me just ask you something – if you took a medication to manage the symptoms of a disease, then stopped taking it and the symptoms came back, were you ‘addicted’ to the medication?


I stopped using a product to manage my acne, and therefore it came back. The thing with all topical acne treatments is that you need to keep using them to keep seeing results because of how the skin is constantly renewing itself. What an amazing world we would live in if we could only use BP ONCE and be rid of our acne forever! Sadly, the skin doesn’t really work that way.

Starting Differin: Before and After

Before Photo of Differin Before and After
July 2014, August 2014

So I struggled along for a little while, trying various acid toners (which didn’t work as well as I hoped for me) until I realised that under NZ’s national health care scheme, I could get Differin prescribed for acne! I don’t know why I didn’t realise this when I first started uni, but whatevs.

I marched into my doctor’s office at the end of July 2014 and she was able to prescribe Differin gel and a month’s course of Doxycycline to help battle the purge. Emboldened by the fact that I was going back to something which really worked for me, I did heaps and heaps of research how I SHOULD be treating my skin while using Differin. I read so many Differin gel reviews and reviews on other products to know how to create my perfect skincare routine.

My first time around using it, I still used harsh salicylic acid-based cleansers and scrubs which were completely unnecessary and hurt like hell. Turning to the internet, I heeded various warnings about the peeling, sensitivity, and dryness I would experience due to the Differin purge, and began to fall into the rabbit hole that is Asian Skincare. I learned about things like sheet masks, watery lotions, and uber-lightweight sunscreens. I learned how to push through the Differin purge for better skin.

Something that helped me get through the Differin purge was with an app called Day One. It really helped me monitor my skin’s progress then, and I still use it now. It’s actually where I’ve been able to download all these progress shots from!

 It gives you a great idea of what is working and what isn’t working for your skin over time. What I like about Day One is it keeps the photos out of your camera roll and only in the app (which can be protected with a passcode), so it’s for your eyes only.

It was around this time that I started forming my Best Skincare Routine Ever, and there’s a good reason that that’s a proper, capitalised title. My own Differin before and after shocked me. Let me show you how I looked six months after starting it:

After Photo of Differin Before and After
January 2015

I love looking at my Differin before and after because it really shows how far I’ve come! Here’s how my routine looked at this time:


  1. Rinse with water
  2. C20 Vitamin C Serum
  3. Hada Labo Shirojyun Toner
  4. Snail Bee High Content Essence
  5. Sebamed Clear Face Care Gel
  6. Biore UV Aqua Rich Watery Essence


  1. Neutrogena Fresh Foaming Cleanser
  2. Differin Gel 0.1
  3. Hada Labo Shirojyun Toner
  4. Snail Bee High Content Essence
  5. EltaMD PM Therapy
Other than Differin and sunscreen, the three products that made the most difference were the Vitamin C Serum*, EltaMD*, and Hada Labo*. C20 & EltaMD (Vitamin C + Niacinamide) were a KILLER combo for my PIH, and the Hada Labo really helped keep my skin properly hydrated and minimised peeling. And as always, you need to cleanse your skin with something gentle. In hindsight, I wouldn’t recommend the Neutrogena Fresh Foaming Cleanser—while it didn’t do any lasting damage, I didn’t know back them that cleansers shouldn’t leave your face feeling tight!
The most important thing of all though, is sunscreen. If you use any retinoid, you MUST use a high SPF product daily to protect your newly sensitive skin. I loved the version of Biore UV Aqua Rich* at the time (in the pale blue tube). The formula today is slightly different.

However, because my skin was finally GOOD, I got lazy and stopped documenting my skin (this is always a bad idea… Trust me!). I also decided to try too many new things at once. Not my best thinking, I’ll admit. Fast forward from January 2015 to June 2016 and I’m having skin that is just as bad or even worse than 2014. I think it was a combination of a couple of products, specifically CosRx BHA Lotion and a L’Oreal sunscreen that set my skin off. I panicked and went back to my GP, who sent me home with a script for Retin-A (called Retrieve in New Zealand).

The Tretinoin Era

Retin-A Before and After—Before photo
June 2016

I cut out C20 (as my skin would go through another period of becoming extremely sensitive) and went through the purge again. At this point in time, I actually had incredibly low self-esteem about my appearance (possibly the lowest I’ve ever had due to a crazy haircut I got plus the state of my skin) so I didn’t document my skin/take any photos of myself from July 2016 until January 2017.

Retin A Before and After Photo - During Tretinoin Purge
January 2017
At this time, my routine was approximately something like this for these 6 months:


  1. Cleanse with water
  2. Thayers Witch Hazel
  3. Hada Labo Shirojyun Toner
  4. Hada Labo Shirojyun Milk
  5. Biore UV Aqua Rich Watery Essence


  1. Neutrogena Fresh Foaming Cleanser
  2. Thayers Witch Hazel
  3. Tretinoin
  4. Hada Labo Shirojyun Toner
  5. Hada Labo Shirojyun Milk

Witch hazel toner* is a pretty controversial ingredient at the moment, but I really enjoyed using it at this time. I have a full review of the Rose Petal Thayer’s Witch Hazel on my blog, and to be honest I only stopped using it because it’s annoying to travel with—the bottle is a bit leaky! You can also see that I made the jump to using the matching Hada Labo Shirojyun Milk as well as the toner, and I feel like this combo actually did a lot to stopping freckles from forming!

Retin A Before and After Photo - After, Good Tretinoin Acne Results
July 2017

And this is how my skin looks now (sorry about the lighting discrepancy):

April 2018

At the time of publishing this post, my current routine looks something like this:


  1. Cleanse with water
  2. Wishtrend Mandelic Acid (every other day)
  3. Hatomugi Skin Conditioner
  4. Naruko Rose HA Aqua Cubic Jelly Lotion
  5. Naruko Raw Job’s Tears Night Gelly
  6. Biore UV Aqua Rich Watery Essence


  1. Cetaphil Gentle Cleanser
  2. Tretinoin
  3. Hatomugi Skin Conditioner
  4. Hada Labo Gokujyun Premium Lotion

There currently is a little bit more swapping out in my current routine, as I’ve gotta make do with what I can on the road, but it’s all working pretty well for me so far. I don’t have my mind made up about the Wishtrend Mandelic Acid* (pr sample) yet, but it definitely leaves my skin smoother than without any exfoliation at all.

I’m slightly intimidated by the Hatomugi Skin Conditioner because it’s SUCH a huge bottle, but challenge accepted! I’ve emptied it into a spritz bottle to use as a face mist. You can see that I don’t use anything after the Hada Labo Gokujyun Premium Lotion*—I just found it so nourishing in a humid climate for my skin and didn’t really need anything else after it. For my full thoughts on Hada Labo Premium for oily skin, I’ve got a review for you here!

I also sheet mask pretty frequently, but the jury is out on how much these are really making an impact on my skin other than temporary hydration and brightness – I’m hoping they make up for the fact that I don’t have a permanent, strong serum like C20 in my routine right now.

So there you have it! I hope you’ve enjoyed following along with this post and gotten to know me a little bit better, and where my opinions come from when I review skincare. Feel free to ask me ANY questions about my skin, my routine, and the products that I used! I’ll be writing about a few of them in-depth in some upcoming blog posts.

A xx

some products mentioned were provided as pr samples / contains affiliate links*

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