By Kim Reader
A Scottish woman who had enjoyed clear skin all of her life woke up one day at the age of 23 to discover she was suddenly suffering from such severe acne that she was teased about having CHICKEN POX.
Judith Donald, 25, had clear skin throughout puberty and into her twenties until the age of 23 when she woke up with painful bumps across her forehead.
Baffled Judith faced two years of ‘trying everything’ to tackle her acne which spread over her face, back and chest, covering her once smooth skin in deep cysts and angry red pustules.
The whisky lab worker from Glasgow felt too insecure to go out or work out as people would make cruel jibes asking ‘if she had chicken pox’.
Judith became so self-conscious she claims she risked her life for the sake of clear skin by turning to controversial drug Roaccutane, which has been linked to 20 suicides.
Despite family and friends pleading with her not to turn to the drug which can have severe physical and psychological side effects, Judith felt it was ‘worth the risk’.
And 90 days into taking the acne drug, which costs £220 a month, Judith claims to have seen amazing results and feels back to her glam self.
Judith said: “Right up until the age of 23 I had perfect skin then I woke up one morning and had these bumps on my head.
“I have no idea what triggered it. It can be linked to stress and having the acne made me even more stressed so it got worse.
“I tried everything. I completely changed my skincare regime, I got one of those electric face brushes, I tried every cleanser under the sun.
“Then I went right back to basics and it made no difference.
“I also tried changing my diet and cutting out different things like sugar and gluten – nothing worked.
“And before I knew it they were all over my face, back and neck. They would turn into really deep and sore cysts.
“They were so painful. If you just brushed them by mistake, I would get this deep, blunt pain so sleeping was really difficult.
“I used to be really sociable but I stopped going out. I even missed a friend’s wedding because I couldn’t bear to go and be around lots of pretty girls with perfect skin.
“Before I would go to the gym every day but when my skin got really back, I couldn’t face it. I would get to the car park and not be able to make it through the door.
“I used every excuse there was because people just couldn’t understand if I said it was my skin.
“You get comments from people, telling you you need to wash more as if you haven’t already tried that.
“When it started I even had people ask me ‘Do you have chicken pox or something?’
“Psychologically it has been really hard. It completely ruined my self-confidence and spent a long time very unhappy in my skin.”
Desperate to escape her skin nightmare, Judith went to a private doctor to get a prescription for Roaccutane.
Her dosage was started at 20mg but was bumped up to 60mg after two months.
While she has not experienced any of the more serious side effect listed on the drugs leaflet, she has suffered severe migraines, regular nose bleeds, loss of libido, dry and bleeding lips and lethargy.
Judith has taken photos of her skin every day to document her progress and each new development in the hopes it might help other people considering turning to Roaccutane.
And four months into a six-month treatment plan, Judith says she doesn’t regret her decision to take the medication.
Her skin isn’t completely healed but she has had no new cysts or spots for weeks and says it’s done wonders for her self-esteem.
Judith is now back at the gym regularly, can easily conceal the scarring from her acne under a light layer of foundation for nights out, and has even braved going out bare-faced.
Judith said: “It was a hard decision to start taking Roaccutane and everyone told me not to. At the start even I was against it.
“You don’t hear anything positive about it. It has been linked to suicides, it can cause depression, hair loss and liver problems.
“Even knowing all that, I felt like the side effects had to be better than how bad I was feeling about myself before.
“I decided to document it so that if it went well, I could finally be the person saying something positive or if it went badly, I could try to prevent other people taking it.
“Luckily I haven’t had any of the really serious side effects and the ones I have been through are 100 per cent worth it for the improvement I’ve seen.
“One advantage is that I basically never have to wash my hair because it stops your body from producing any oil. It’s that dryness that causes the cracked lips and I developed some eczema on my hands.
“Things like the loss of libido must have been pretty frustrating for my boyfriend but it’s better than me not ever wanting him to see me without makeup on.
“He has been so supportive, it’s amazing. And he can see how much happier I am now.”
Roaccutane’s link to 20 suicides was investigated back in May 2015.
According to Roche, the Swiss health care company that develops the acne drug, there was found to be ‘no causal link’ to suicidal tendencies but as a precaution they updated their leaflet to include this in the side effects.
Simon Rivers, Roche’s Country Medical Lead in the UK, said: “Roche understands that severe acne can affect individuals immensely.
“We are committed to optimising the use of our medicines. Thus ensuring clinicians and patients have the information they need to make informed decisions for the best outcome for the patient.”
A Roche spokesman added: “Roaccutane (isotretinoin) is a licenced medicine for the treatment of severe acne.
“Isotretinoin is a prescription only medicine that can have side effects and therefore can only be safely used under the care and supervision of suitably qualified consultant dermatologists.
“The patient information leaflet, which is inside every pack of isotretinoin tablets, informs patients about possible side effects by means of special warnings and precautions for use.
“Roche and the regulatory authorities constantly evaluate the safety of all medicines.
“We regularly update the Summary of Product Characteristics and Patient Information Leaflet for all Roche medicines to reflect the most up-to-date safety data so that all parties can make informed decisions.”