'I didn't think I'd have pimples as a grown-up ... then I fell pregnant'

 Photo: Getty Images

Glowing - that's the adjective you're hoping for when you're "with child".

But since I became pregnant with my first baby earlier this year, my skin would be better described as shiny. In fact, rather than enjoying radiant, blemish-free skin, I immediately began suffering breakouts of spots like a hormonal teenager.

Unfortunately, it's not the first time I've been struck by acne. In fact, up until the moment I'd fallen pregnant, I was enjoying a couple of months of respite after many years of battling spots.

Lucy Sheref, who has suffered from acne breakouts for years.
Lucy Sheref, who has suffered from acne breakouts for years. Photo: Clara Molden

Frustratingly, I had perfect skin in my teens - although, of course, I didn't appreciate my youthful glow one bit, inexplicably covering my milky soft skin with foundation, concealer and loose powder. As I grew older, my skin remained plump and taut, and with no signs of crow's feet, I felt pretty happy with my lot.

But no sooner had I started to appreciate my god-given skin than I started to despise it. Because at the age of about 28 I began to suffer spots on a level I'd never experienced - all over my face and even chest, too severe to cover with make up, and, quite frankly, hideous-looking.

I'm not alone: dermatologists are reporting an increase in adults coming to their clinics with acne. And women are particularly prone, with one study suggesting we are five times more likely than men to be affected by late-life acne.

The major culprit is our hormones. Acne forms as the result of oil-producing glands in the skin getting blocked and bacteria entering the area - and sex hormones increase the production of oil from these glands (sebum), which is why teenagers can suffer with it. However, it can also be a problem in adulthood - even for those who, like me, enjoyed clear skin in their teens - and women suffer more due to our complex hormonal cycles, and changes caused by pregnancy or contraceptive methods such as the pill.

When my acne first struck, I tried to self-treat, slapping anything and everything on my face from abrasive facial scrubs to weekly charcoal masks, home-made coconut oil cleansers to tea tree oil (along with make-up artist grade concealer and foundation). But all was to no avail, and I finally turned to my GP, who recommended antibiotics, then the acne drug Roaccutane.

These offered some temporary respite, but still it's no exaggeration to say acne has changed my life. I rarely look at pictures of myself now - I couldn't even look at my wedding photos for months and I still haven't seen the video, despite the fact I actually didn't have any glaring spots on the day.


My relationship with my face has totally changed. I have spent so much time looking at my skin in a magnifying mirror, poring over open pores and bemoaning blackheads, that I now can't look at myself without feeling incredibly critical of every last imperfection.

I've never figured out what triggered my acne - it doesn't seem to be linked to stress. When my father died, my 25-year-old skin stayed clear and radiant, albeit tear-stained. Buying a house, travelling the world and coping with excessive family dramas haven't caused any volcanic eruptions. When I got my first breakout, I was in fairly good shape, drank and ate moderately, and had just met my now-husband. It seems to have simply been a case of "an acne switch turning on".

Dr Anjali Mahto, consultant dermatologist at Cedars Dermatology London, says acne affects 20 per cent of women, and some data suggests it is starting earlier and continuing for longer than previously noted. It's still not clear why this might be - some experts have blamed stress from our increasingly hectic lifestyles, and changes in diet.

Only in the past decade has the role of diet in acne been established, says Dr Mahto. "There is evidence to suggest refined sugars and high GI (glycaemic index) foods drive acne in selected individuals."

However, Dr Mahto says: "Treating diet alone will not completely clear the issue up. It is one part of a much larger puzzle."

Genetics can also play a role, although this is not the case for me as both my mother and sister have been blessed with perfect skin.

Dr Mahto says acne during pregnancy is common, affecting half of women. "It is most common during the first trimester when hormonal surges, particularly of progesterone, have a large part to play."

For those still suffering in their second trimester, like me, treatment can be tricky since many traditional remedies, such as topical or cream treatments, haven't been adequately tested to assess safety. "Generally speaking, creams containing benzoyl peroxide and erythromycin are deemed to be safe; cleansers containing glycolic acid are also satisfactory."

Oral antibiotics such as erythromycin, azithromycin and cephalexin can also be used, she says. Under the supervision of a dermatologist, light therapies and steroid injections for large acne cysts are also deemed safe.

Dr Mahto says it's worth looking at diet, too, reducing sugar and sugary drinks, and white carbohydrates, and eating plenty of fruit and vegetables.

The first step is always to visit your GP, who can help you get to the bottom of what's going on and refer you to a dermatologist.

Keen to avoid antibiotics, I've invested in a Lumie Clear light therapy device that is safe to use during pregnancy. This uses red and blue light (both safe to use during pregnancy) to kill acne-causing bacteria as well as reducing inflammation and healing the skin. The device was developed following research by dermatologists, in which patients with moderate acne reported a 76 per cent improvement in inflammation after 12 weeks of blue- and red-light therapy, with a 58 per cent improvement in the number of spots.

Although one shouldn't expect dramatic results in under 12 weeks, I have already seen a difference in the size and gravity of my spots. Which, for the 30 minutes a night I hold it against the affected areas on my face, is totally worth it.

The Telegraph