drugs side effects

My History with Salicylic Acid, Benzoyl Peroxide, and Cetaphil


I don’t wash my face anymore. I used to wash my face in the morning and afternoon and night, before sleep.

This behavior continued until 2003.

My face looked worst in college (1998 – 2002), when I lived in Chicago, a city that’s unforgiving on my type of complexion.

During winter in Chicago my skin would become crusty dry.

I remember walking into an economics class, fifteen minutes late, and not being able to move my face.

I walked into this smallish classroom with stadium seating and I took the stairs all the way to the back row at the top.

People snickered to their friends about me.

My face was frozen.

It was like I was wearing a mask.

Before getting there, I caked my face in an over-the-counter acne medication loaded with benzoyl peroxide. It was the color of skin, so it actually ‘masked’ my flare-ups.

I used a lot of the tube on my face.

It was a rough time in the history of my complexion.

I don’t write about it enough. In my opinion, writing about your skin problems is good practice. Writing about skin problems doesn’t make you a good writer, but it does give you the power to evoke empathy.

So many people deal with some kind of skin problem. Acne vulgaris is probably not that serious, but it has the potential to damage your psyche.

When looking in the mirror is painful, you’re living a life that isn’t easy.

I washed my face neurotically. I applied benzoyl peroxide and stayed away from salicylic acid because I ‘felt’ salicylic acid irritated my skin and actually prompted breakouts.

My skin problems all started with a bottle of Neutrogena in which salicylic acid was the active ingredient.

I washed my face with this product and watched my face grow worse and worse, only to wash more and more, until I was caught in a vicious cycle.

I was helpless. Nothing could go right.

Several years later, after participating in acne experiments and finally resorting to over-the-counter benzoyl peroxide the color of skin, I probably looked like a clown walking into that classroom.

I remember sitting in the back next to a tall window that overlooked the quadrangle. It was snowing outside. My bones felt chilled inside my body even though the classroom was heated.


2003: one year after graduating: I was living in Ocean Beach, on Voltaire St.

There my skin problems disappeared.

I stopped washing my face with Cetaphil. It wasn’t planned. I remember running out in the shower. I squeezed the empty bottle and didn’t want to spend another six dollars getting a new one.

I felt I didn’t need it anymore.

But stranger than that, I felt not washing my face at all would be better. There was a time when this wouldn’t occur to me. There was a time when I covered my face in some kind of liquid that dried. I did it to shrink my pores.

With age, my skin has improved. Vestiges of my damaged psyche remain. Sometimes, for some reason, I will absolutely refrain from looking in a mirror.

I still don’t wash my face.

It’s like I’m a different man.

Herocious is the author, most recently, of the novel “Austin Nights.”
December 18, 2012 10:48 am

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