Ask Kelsey: My Acne Story

Ask Kelsey: My Acne Story

I’m starting a new series today called Ask Kelsey. It’s basically any question that I get pretty often (typically through instagram DMs or emails) that you might want to know more about! I have a few lined up that I’m going to answer, but if you have any random questions/tidbits you want to know about, feel free to email me or drop a comment below and I’ll add it to the list. 

After blogging for 6 years now, I’ve shared a lot of personal stories…but I realized I’ve never shared this particular one in depth: 

My acne story. 

Ask Kelsey: My Acne Story


Ugh. Cringe. It’s so painful for me to look back at those photos because it was not only literally physically painful, it was also a really emotionally draining part of my life. Acne is this all-consuming thing because there’s no hiding it. It’s your face, you know? You use that to look people in the eye, speak to friends, and show up in the world. 

But my acne was really bad for about 10 years. I’ve found a solution that works for me and I’m more than happy to share that resource with you! But I’ll start at the beginning..

Teenage years 

I had pretty typical teenage skin. I remember going to the dermatologist a time or two in high school when my skin got particularly bad, and she would put me on a round of antibiotics and some really intense benzoyl peroxide cream. Again…cringe

Ask Kelsey: My Acne Story

I just Facebook stalked myself to try to dig up some old photos of my skin back in the day. Ha! It was really hard to find photos of my skin at my worst because I remember being religious about un-tagging myself whenever my acne was showing up in my Facebook photos in the 2008-2012 era.

If I knew then what I know now about antibiotics, I wouldn’t have gone on them so easily. But they cleared my skin right up and so I was more than happy to pop that pill every day! 


In college my skin got really bad again. I went to school in the midwest where it was cold and dry all winter. And as my skin broke out worse than ever before, I figured it must be because my skin was oily. So I’d wash it, avoid moisturizer, and just try to dry out my skin as much as possible. That, paired with the harsh winter weather, made my skin get all read and blistered and enflamed. 

Ask Kelsey: My Acne Story

^ Why was my camera quality sooo bad in 2012? Haha! And yep, I still have very few photos available of the side of my face because I was so quick to hide them from my Facebook profile. And of course there are none on my computer – I never ever took a photo of myself that showed my jawline/neck. It was just a stage of life of low self esteem, sadly. 

So again, when I went home on winter break, I went to the derm and got a few rounds of antibiotics prescribed. And like magic, my skin cleared up! I figured that was my solution. (Again…I can’t believe I did that to myself! I truly didn’t know that long term use of antibiotics is a very bad idea. 

And then then rinse and repeat for the next few years. The cycle was 1) skin gradually gets worse, 2) skin gets painfully inflamed with big cystic acne covering my jaw line and (sometimes) forehead, and 3) get back on antibiotics to clear it up. Of course, in between I bought every skincare line under the sun. I used the Clinique acne solutions, Proactiv skincare line, oil-based clean beauty brands, oil-free clean beauty brands, and almost everything you can find on the drugstore shelf. 

All that to say…if you’re currently on the acne struggle bus, I totally recognize that it’s not for lack of trying. You’ve probably tried EVERYTHING you can think of. I know that I did!

Post college acne

We’ll fast forward to when I moved to Austin in my early twenties for grad school. My skin was worse than ever. It was probably my all-time worst skin of my life: my jaw line was covered in big red cysts, my cheeks and neck were bumpy, and the overall texture of my skin was uneven and rough and had a huge amount of buildup on it. It was sooo miserable and painful, and I felt a huge amount of shame about it. 

I truly wish I could just go back and give that girl a hug and tell her it’s all ok! The truth about it is that I was just as lovable and worthy at that point in life as I am right now, acne-free. But I was just so caught up in the shame spiral of it all and I didn’t really know how to get out of it.

Ask Kelsey: My Acne Story

^One of the only photos I can find from this time, and although the photo quality is poor, I can see how red and enflamed my skin is here. I wore those side/swoopy bangs and always kept my hair long so I could cover up the sides of my neck and my jawline.

My face looked pretty bad with makeup on it trying to cover everything up, but it looked really red without makeup so I would just slather it on. Again, trying every makeup brand under the sun (that I could afford at the time, because #gradschool…) 

My acne healing process

And this is where the story takes a turn for the better. 🙂 I had just moved to Austin to attend University of Texas for grad school, and I knew nobody, so I figured I’d join a big Austin church and get plugged in as a way to make some friends. I had been attending for a month or two, so I kinda-sorta knew a few people by first name. 

And then one Sunday evening, as I’m walking into the service from the parking lot, I saw someone I knew. For the life of me, I can’t remember her name now! But she was really sweet and friendly, and we walked together from the parking lot together. And she turned to me and said, “oh! I know someone who can help you with your skin!” and she whipped out a business card from her purse and put it in my hand. 

Shame and mortification!! Times a million!!! Haha. 

I’m pretty sure I said something like, “oh, ha, thanks” and then when I got inside the church I just went into the bathroom and HID. I remember thinking, “oh my gosh, she knows I have absolutely horrible acne!!” 

Which, in hindsight, is so silly, I know. My acne was clearly visible and available for everyone to see, and despite using makeup and long hair and flattering camera angles to try to hide it, it doesn’t change the fact tha you simply can’t hide acne. In fact, I look back at pictures and I feel like makeup almost makes it look even more visible. 

Even though it was incredibly embarrassing at the time to have an almost-stranger point out my acne to me, it ended up being one of those pivotal moments in my life because it brought me to….Deborah! 

Ask Kelsey: My Acne Story

Here’s that before/after picture again because it’s just SO shocking to me the transformation that happened in about 4 months.

So, the card she gave me was for Deborah Routt. She’s a licensed esthetician and  an acne specialist here in Austin and I’ve now been seeing her for 8 years!! Crazy. I always remind her that she’s one of my longest relationships in Austin. Ha! I’ve known her for longer than I’ve known my husband. 

Her business is called Everygirl Skincare because she strives to help every girl with her skin at an approachable price point and quality, one-on-one care. I love her. She is SO good at what she does.

So anyway, I set up a consultation with her, which was a fairly long appointment (over an hour, I believe.) She looked at my skin, heard about what I’ve tried, and explained to me what acne is and how it works. (Which is actually sooo simple once you know!) She told me that it’s hereditary, which seems so completely unfair (none of my 3 bio sisters deal with it, but mine is insane! I told her that, and she said it most likely comes from somewhere up the family line.) And then she had me bring in all of my skin care products. ALL of them. 

I emptied out a bag of everything I owned that could possibly touch my skin. Not just makeup, brushes, face wash, and moisturizers, but also laundry detergent, dryer sheets (because the dryer sheet touches the towel, and then the towel touches my face…) sunscreen, and body lotion. She also had me tell her about my typical diet, including certain brands of food I eat (ice cream, protein bars/drinks, and a bunch of other acne-triggering foods I never would have guessed.) 

And then I had a facial, and continued coming back for facials every 2-3 weeks for the next few months. I’ll be honest: at the time, when I was in grad school, it was a really big cost commitment for me. Even though Deborah is really fair and cognizant of her pricing, when I was a grad school student I didn’t have a lot of excess money for weekly facials and replacing all of my makeup and toiletries with acne-safe options. But I really believed that she was going to clear up my skin, so I followed her guidelines carefully. 

One of the tricky things about acne is that it takes a couple months to emerge after it’s been trapped under the skin. So even though I was doing everything right, I still have a couple months of buildup under the surface that just had to finish its cycle. That was definitely frustrating 2 months in, because I was working SO hard on this but massive breakouts were still happening. It was incredibly helpful to have a professional telling me that it was all totally normal, and I just had to stick with the program a bit longer. 

And then….I remember this day as clearly as it was yesterday. (Ha – am I sounding dramatic to you? 😉 But in all seriousness, if you’ve dealt with hormonal cystic acne you know what a big deal this is!) I was at NYE party in Dallas, about 4.5 months after I had started my acne treatment with Deborah, and I touched my jaw line with my thumb and it was…completely smooth. What?? YES! For the first time in 10 years, I didn’t feel bumps and ridges and painful cysts on my jaw line. It was completely and totally smooth. 

When I say that clearing my acne transformed my life, I’m not exaggerating. My self confidence shot through the roof. The next month, I went on a date with a cute lawyer on Rainey Street. We hit it off, and he ended up being my husband.

Ask Kelsey: My Acne Story

A few months after that, I started my blog (which is now my full-time career) and confidently shared photos of myself in front of thousands of people without any concern. 

A photo from my early days of blogging. Still wearing bangs and long hair, but only because I wanted to, not because I felt like I needed to hide my face.

My skin is not perfect. I have lingering acne scars, and I still have incredibly acne-prone skin. Here are some of the ways I manage it now: 

I still get regular facials. I book an appointment with Deborah every 12 weeks or so. She asks me how my skin has been doing, and then I get a chemical peel and extractions. Because she focuses on female acne clients and female hormones, she asks about anything that might be triggering it (pregnancy or fertility treatments, breastfeeding, stopping breastfeeding, etc.)  

I’m really careful about the products I put on my face. Deborah gives all of her clients a list of common ingredients in makeup and skincare products that can trigger acne, so I never buy something at Sephora without looking through that list of about 50+ ingredients. Turns out that I can’t use many of the products sold by mainstream beauty brands. I also purchase a few products from the line of skincare that Deborah uses in her appointments.

Sometimes I feel frustrated that I can’t walk into Sephora and buy any makeup item that I want. There have been sooo many times when I watch youtube makeup artists raving about a certain product, and I look it up and realize I cant use it. I think that’s why I haven’t been incredibly interested in makeup in the past 10 years…I just find one thing that works, and then I stick with it.   

I have certain foods I try to avoid. Again, Deborah gives all of her clients a list of foods that can be triggering to acne. When I was originally clearing up my skin, I strictly avoided every single thing on that list. Now that my skin is clear, I eat whatever I want, but if I notice a breakout, I’ll pay attention to what I’m eating and back off of certain foods (soy and dairy are my two biggest acne aggravating foods for sure, but there are a few other small ones that can cause a flare up as well.)  

I’m careful about my household products. Laundry detergent and dryer sheets in particular. Because my skin touches towels and pillowcases every day/night, I’ll never use a scented detergent or dryer sheet again. Clear & Free all the way, and dryer balls in place of sheets.

Ta-da, that’s it! That’s my acne story. If you’re dealing with acne, I hope it was helpful to read. I really wish someone could have given me this solution years before I eventually found it. And so if this story helps even one of you become acne-free, it’s totally worth it for me to share. 

And if you live in Austin and deal with female hormonal acne and want to see if Deborah is a good fit for you, I just emailed her to make sure she’s taking clients right now. She said she is! She occasionally closes her new client list depending on her family schedule (she’s also a mom), but the website should reflect her openings/closings. 

And if you don’t live in Austin, you can search for an acne specialist here from the same place where Deborah trained. 

That’s it for today! If you have any particular questions for Ask Kelsey series, drop a comment below and I’ll add it to the list. Have a fantastic day, friends. Xx. 

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1 year ago

Thank you for sharing! I’m one of those who asked you for your skin person’s name last time you shared.

1 year ago

I don’t live in Austin, but I would definitely contact your esthetician if I lived there! I’ve been trying to clear up my acne my entire life. It was manageable and then I got pregnant and my skin has been absolutely horrible for the past 3 months. And you’re right that it’s so painful.

Erin Holmes
Erin Holmes
1 year ago

What an amazing transformation! I had something similar happen to me when someone I hardly knew approached me and told me I looked much better without bangs. Haha. Mortifying at the time but she was actually right. It typically seems better to not give unsolicited advice, but every now and then like in your case it turns out for the best! Anyway, I enjoyed reading this.

Jamie L
Jamie L
1 year ago

Long time reader but I’ve never commented, but I just wanted to thank you for sharing. I’m a few years older than you and I also have acne that just won’t seem to go away! I certainly appreciate the recommendations and I’m going to search for a skin care specialist from the same group as yours. Fingers crossed!

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