Saturday 24 February 2018

'I thought about acne most of the day- it was so depressing'- Melanie Murphy

When Melanie Murphy's YouTube video documenting her battle with spots went viral, she touched the lives of millions

Melanie battled with cystic acne from age 16
Melanie battled with cystic acne from age 16
Joanna Kiernan

Joanna Kiernan

A little over two years ago, YouTube beauty vlogger Melanie Murphy (27) from Skerries, Co Dublin, posted a video to her channel about her struggle with reoccurring bouts of acne throughout her teens and adult years.

At the time, Melanie had no idea of how far this video would travel - she simply hoped that her story might help a couple of her subscribers.

Two years later and largely thanks to Melanie's brutally honest approach to the issue, her YouTube channel now has over 406,240 subscribers.

"I never really thought at first that I would share my story, but I found myself looking for make-up videos and things about acne - people's journeys and experiences and how they looked before and after - and I could hardly find anything at that time," says Melanie.

"There were a couple of videos where girls were showing their skin where it was what I would consider quite bad, but most of the videos about acne online were done by girls who might have one or two pimples and I just could not relate to that at all.

"I got a really bad breakout and I was a tiny YouTuber at the time, but I put this video up in the hope that it might be helpful to a few people. I didn't really spend much time on it - it is really badly filmed and edited, but it slowly grew. It didn't necessarily go viral overnight, but it grew," she says.

Melanie Murphy was on a mission to share her acne tips with others on Youtube
Melanie Murphy was on a mission to share her acne tips with others on Youtube

This video has since been viewed over 16 million times.

"It led to this surge in views and that drove a lot more traffic on to my YouTube channel, so I started to make a lot more videos about acne and actually documented getting rid of my spots. I still keep people up to date on it."

The feedback showed Melanie that she was not alone and gave her the confidence to tackle her skin head on.

"Once I figured out a skincare routine that worked for me and learned how to camouflage flare-ups with make-up, I was on a mission to share this information with others," she says. "My friends didn't even know that I had acne. After I posted my first video, they were like, 'how did you make that video?' and I took my make-up off in front of them and they couldn't believe it."

Melanie began to suffer with acne in her early teens.

"When I got to about 16 it got really bad," she says. "I had cystic acne. It was hormonal and, at the time, I was trying absolutely everything and nothing would work. I didn't know what was causing it, so I was always treating the result and not the actual cause of it. It made me very depressed."

Melanie learned to manage her acne with big lifestyle changes
Melanie learned to manage her acne with big lifestyle changes

In her late teens, Melanie tried more severe methods. She took the acne drug Roaccutane and the contraceptive pill to try and alleviate the problem, but says she felt her moods were badly affected by the medication. "But I didn't care, I just wanted my skin to be clear.

"It was so depressing and it really affected my self-esteem. [Acne] was probably most of what I would think about every day. I was conscious that people were looking at it and I would constantly try to position my hair in such a way that I might be able to hide it. I would cake on loads and loads of make-up to try and hide the redness even though that just made the bumps even more obvious and I didn't know how to do make-up at the time."

While acne is believed to be a teenage problem, Melanie's suffering followed her into adulthood, coming back in frequent and severe breakouts, particularly during times of stress.

"I got really down over it and I remember coming up to my graduation from university and I had this really bad breakout as a result of being so stressed writing my thesis. It was just so bad, my entire jaw line was aching," Melanie says. "You are very self-aware and as an adult it can be worse almost because everyone thinks you should be over it by that age or you should have figured out a way to stop it."

Melanie's desperate attempts to tackle her acne also led to other health issues over the years.

"At one point I thought that I needed to find some sort of optimal diet and I actually ended up getting quite obsessive over it and developing eating disorders. All of this made my skin breakout even more. I kept cutting out food groups, then feeling deprived so I would then binge eat and gain weight and try and lose weight again. Having your hormones fluctuate like that then causes even more breakouts, so it was a really tough few years for me before I found that balance between eating things that my body needs for my health and my skin, and eating things that I enjoy.

"It's a very personal journey and there is no way I could write out a manual for what people need to do [when they have acne] because I kept following conflicting advice; that's where I was going wrong. What I needed to do was to just find out what worked for me and my lifestyle."

According to consultant dermatologist, Dr Niki Ralph, "making lifestyle changes, finding a skincare routine that works for you and seeing a dermatologist can all help with the physical aspects of acne, but it is also important to find a way to deal with it emotionally".

The solution to Melanie's problems with acne lay in not just one approach, but in taking several simultaneous steps in the right direction - an entire lifestyle change.

"I began a good skincare routine as well as drinking a lot of water, becoming more active, eating better, sleeping more and managing my stress," she says.

"It wasn't just one particular thing that got rid of it - in order to stop it coming out of your face, you need to address what is causing it."

Melanie says that good skincare can address the problem on your face, but managing future breakouts is down to the person eliminating the causes and nipping it in the bud.

One of the most important steps for Melanie was learning how to cook using fruit, vegetables and other foods she had avoided until that point. "I grew up on junk food and I refused to eat anything healthy until I was about 20-years-old. I hadn't even tried fish. I had just lived on processed food, so I had to educate myself."

Melanie also learned to listen to her body and make a note of changes in her skin, and by doing so, she found that dairy was a particular catalyst for her skin flare-ups.

"My acne seems to be gone now except if I get stressed or eat badly," she says. "Most of the time my skin is clear and I will happily go out without make-up.

"I go through phases of exercising, but one thing I never stop doing is walking. Every single day I will do a minimum of one hour walking - I just love it and because I work from home, it is really important for me to make sure that I do that for both my mental and my physical health, and I feel it also really helps my skin."

Acne statistics

Eight in 10 acne sufferers say breakouts of the condition have a negative impact on their self-esteem.

* Only a quarter of sufferers describe their general day-to-day self-esteem as high.

* Two thirds of acne sufferers have had negative comments made to them about their acne.

* Two thirds of acne sufferers find acne breakouts stressful and more than half (56pc) of people who suffer from acne are constantly self-conscious about their acne.

* Teenagers, in particular, suffer from negative feelings associated with acne with almost four in 10 (38pc) claiming their acne problem started by the age of 13 and almost a third (30pc) saying they were most self-conscious about acne until they were 18-years-old.

* Just over a quarter (27pc) of sufferers claim they have had to cancel a date/meeting with a friend due to an acne breakout. Almost one in five (16pc) have had to take a sick day from work, school or college. When a breakout occurs, almost three quarters (74pc) of sufferers claim it takes them up to 30 minutes extra to get ready in the morning.

* More than four in 10 (44pc) of those with acne experience a breakout once a week or more often. A further 28pc experience breakouts at least every two to three weeks.

* Hormonal changes are most likely to result in acne flare-ups, with almost two thirds (65pc) saying this is a cause. Stress (62pc) and poor diet (60pc) were other main causes. Almost four in 10 (38pc) blamed a poor cleansing routine.

Statistics are from 'cosmeceutical' skincare brand La Roche-Posay Effaclar's Life with Acne survey

Melanie's daily skincare regime

Melanie learned to manage her acne with big lifestyle changes

In the morning, I use La Roche-Posay Micellar water, then a serum and a moisturiser.

I love the Vichy Acqualia Thermal serum and I kind of cycle between moisturisers and serums from Space NK. I love the Sunday Riley Good Genes serum and I'll use slightly more pricey ones the odd time too.

In the evening, I usually remove my make-up with a cleansing balm. One thing that I was very afraid of when I had acne was adding more moisture to my face, so I would never use serums or cleansing balms or oils because I thought that would make my face even more greasy. But, actually, giving your skin more moisture, I have learned, stops it from producing such moisture, so moisture can actually balance things out.

After I remove my make-up with a cleansing balm, I will use a foaming wash and a couple of times a week I will use it with a facial cleansing brush - the Soniclear. Then I will use a serum and La Roche-Posay Effaclar moisturiser.

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