When Holly Roach’s grandfather died three years ago, she broke out in acne on the left side of her face.
Despite four types of antibiotics and three contraceptive pills, the painful spots remained.
Holly, 24, from Manchester, says that she hit rock bottom in September last year as her skin became infected with spots which were ‘almost blue,’.
Working as a teacher, when the children asked what had happened to her skin, she considered quitting the dream job she had just started and hiding away.
But instead, she decided to share her journey on Instagram – something that has brought her lots of support, but also some terrible abuse.
She explained: ‘Someone took one of my Instagram photos and used it on TikTok to give me a makeover using Photoshop.
‘They did it on YouTube too. They said it was satisfying to do it. I read the comments – one of them said, ‘Ew, what’s that on her face?’ Another said, ‘I just spat out my dinner.’
‘I didn’t sleep that night – it really hurt me.
‘I stopped reading the comments, but in the end, it just made me angry.
‘These trolls took my picture without my permission, which I posted to share a positive message, and they used it in that way.
‘I was determined not to let this put me off sharing my story and trying to reach other people with similar problems to do some good.’
Holly, who has been taking isotretinoin, also known as Roaccutane – medication for severe acne – for three months, says her skin is finally improving.
Before her bereavement in 2016, Holly had crystal clear skin.
She said: ‘I went all the way through my teenage years without having a single spot.
‘But, when I was 21, my grandad died suddenly. We think he had internal bleeding somewhere and went into hospital. It was all very sudden.
‘I remember my skin was completely clear on the day he died and just two and a half weeks later, at his funeral, I had huge cystic spots on my cheeks. It came out of nowhere.’
She went to the doctor for the first time a few weeks later and was given antibiotics but after initial success, they stopped working,
Holly was diagnosed with nodular and cystic acne – two of the most severe forms. Pus-filled cysts, like nodules, develop deep beneath the skin’s surface and burst open, often leading to infection.
She tried a number of different antibiotics, contraceptive pills – to see if it was caused by her hormones – and over-the-counter creams. At most, her skin would improve for a short time, before deteriorating again.
In July last year, after graduating from Manchester Metropolitan University with a degree in primary education, Holly landed her perfect role as a primary school teacher.
At the time, she had been enjoying a spell of clear skin, but then she felt new bumps coming up.
By the end of September, a few months after noticing the acne returning, just after starting in her role, Holly says she nearly gave up.
‘I considered handing in my notice and having a year off work, staying at home and letting my skin get better,’ she said.
‘You need to project your voice as a teacher and I could hardly open my mouth to speak to the children without being in pain.
‘I could not eat and I lost my whole social life. I didn’t want to get up in the morning. I would go to work and come home and I wouldn’t do anything else.
‘And when my skin was really bad, some of the children asked why my face was all bumpy and pointed it out. I would just tell them that it was a bit poorly and they would stop asking questions.’
A referral to a dermatologist through the NHS can take months, so Holly’s parents booked her a private consultation at the Alexandra Hospital in Manchester.
Holly said: ‘I was doing nothing with my life. I completely lost myself.
“I have never felt pain like it before, either. All the area around the cysts was inflamed and my glands were swollen. I could not sleep on my left side because of my face, which meant many disrupted nights.’
Throughout everything, she has been supported by her fiancé, Karl Williams, 25.
She said: ‘He has been brilliant and supportive all the way through. He would reassure me that I was as beautiful as I was before.’
With his help, she found the courage to fight back.
Instead, she started sharing her journey online – and received helpful tips from Instagram followers which she says have changed her life.
She said: ‘I know I’m not alone and I know I am helping other people.
‘It makes me realise I have more to offer than my skin. It’s made me more aware of what other people are going through, too, and not to judge – we don’t know why somebody is the way they are.’
Sadly, her bare-faced posts have also attracted cruel remarks and ill-informed advice.
On one occasion, a skincare brand asked if they could share her photo on their page. She happily agreed, but was then inundated with comments.
‘People said I looked like I was malnourished, or suggested I had impetigo, which is a highly contagious skin infection,’ she said.
While Holly’s skin has noticeably improved on her current drug regime, which doctors want her to continue for eight months in total, she is suffering with side effects.
‘I knew I was going to start this medication and there were a lot of horror stories about it, so I use my Instagram account to show a true record of my journey on it,” she said.
‘It’s hard, but the improvement to my skin has been incredible.
‘I am absolutely exhausted, I have very dry eyes, so I can’t wear contact lenses, my nose and lips are dry, and I have nose bleeds a couple of times a day – usually in the morning and evening.
‘But one little boy at school noticed my skin had improved and told me face had got flatter, which was lovely!’
Holly has also reduced her dairy intake to the odd bit of yoghurt and cheese, but only drinks oatmilk and tries not to eat chocolate, in the hope that this will improve her skin.
And she is determined to keep sharing her acne journey online, as she genuinely believes it helps other people, too.
She said: ‘I want to tell people in the same situation as me to go on social media and find people in the community who can help you feel like you are not alone.
‘Finding people on the same journey has been the biggest influence on me getting better and I hope I can do the same for someone else.’
You can follow Holly on Instagram @skintrinsic_.
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