Advice Needed: Retinol and Retinoids

I need some advice. 

Since I was 16, I have been dealing with cystic acne. It has always been one of those things that comes and goes, but as I've been aging it has been coming a lot more than it has been going. When I say I've tried everything available over the counter, I seriously have tried EVERYTHING available over the counter. Some things have actually worked amazingly well, and for a year or two my skin would be clear. And then they would stop working. Just like that, one day whatever it was that I was slathering on my face would just completely stop and my acne would come roaring back with a vengeance. 

Finally, I had enough. 

A few months ago, my friend turned me on to a local woman who specialized in medical skincare. After years of using Google as my prescriber I decided it was probably time to call in the professionals. I tossed every product under my sink and traded them in for a few products from this line Environ, which specializes in vitamin based skincare. The products themselves are pricy, can only be purchased through a professional and are much more maintenance than I am used to (my daily routine now includes a cleanser, a toner, an enzyme peel, an oil and vitamin A cream) but man, they work beautifully. The texture of my skin has changed completely. It's thinner, it's more supple, I have lost almost all my fine lines, and my face GLOWS from the inside. Really, this stuff is magic. 

So far it has done nothing to help with my acne. 

I've since found that the only thing worse than bad skin littered with blemishes is really, really beautiful skin that is littered with blemishes and I am devastated. I really tried to put this all in perspective (it's just skin right?) but this one really threw me. I am just so sick of trying so many things with no long term success and after 20+ years I am over it. Every morning it's such a huge blow to my self esteem and for someone who proudly claims to be low maintenance, the last thing I want to do is wear makeup daily to try to camouflage what is really going on. 

My husband suggested that I see someone about getting a prescription for Accutane but for some reason that just seems so dramatic. After reading about the side effects I decidedly do not want that toxin in my body, and worse it seems like something you may have to repeat 5-10 years from now. I just don't think I want to go down that road. Yet.

So, back to Dr. Google and I went and I found that a beloved retinol (retinoid?) Differen had just been made available over the counter. Years ago, when my husband was having issues with his skin he started on a retinol and it completely cleared up his skin- forever. (Jerk ;)) I was intrigued and ordered a tube. Prior to use I had read that 6-8 weeks after beginning the product your skin could erupt and I sort of rolled my eyes thinking, "how much worse could it actually get?" (clearly I was unprepared for what was actually going to happen). At the five week mark my skin EXPLODED and it did so in such an aggressive way, I seriously just wanted to crawl under the covers and hide for a few weeks. Given my excessive picking, things were only made worse (a big no, no, I know) and then we came down here. 

Usually, the sun and salt does wonders for my skin and clears it up in the first few days, but this time progress was much slower. Things are about 70% better now, but every day or so something again pops up (no pun intended) and I just don't know what to do. Everything I read says to stick with the retinol. Reviews promise that that after six months your skin will be forever changed (and clear) and I want to believe that. I really, really, really want to believe that. But what if it doesn't? What if it doesn't work and I somehow managed to make my bad skin even worse? Then there is the scaring... that is worse than the actual pimples themselves. 

Can someone please tell me what to do? Stay the course or jump ship? I'm sure many of you have been down this road and / or are professionals and I would love to hear your thoughts. If this is the answer than I will hang in there as long as it takes. If there is something better, I'm all ears. I am at the point where I will do anything because really, I cannot still be dealing with this when I hit menopause. Wrinkles I can handle... wrinkles and acne I cannot. 

Whatever I decide to do, I will definitely report back because I'm not alone in this genetic / hormonal cyst cycle. Right now all the rage is clear, prefect skin and when you can't figure out how to obtain that, it's really hard. I appreciate any advice you can all give and for those of you like me who can't seem to find a way out of this, you are not alone! Xx

Photo via Goop Clean Beauty (her skin!!!!!!!)