Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Off Topic: No Blu-U for You

This post brought to you by Beauty Schooled, a blog I occasionally read, and its article on chemical peels.

I was a teenager with acne. Not "ice-pick scar" acne, as they call those quarter-inch heavy lines you get after serious huge amounts of acne, the kind you imagine stereotypical unwashed nerd teens to have. No, I just had persistent small acne, that made my already easily-flushed skin splotch red, even when there were no particular pimples. Just red splots, all day, every day. It sucked.

My mom and I tried everything. Salicylic acid did nothing. Astringents removed oil for maybe 10 seconds -- I have such oily skin that the oil will get into my eyes and then they start burning, seriously, I could not make this up. I tried a bunch of prescription ointments that my dermatologist neighbor suggested.

And then there was Blu-U. I'd like to tell you now to stay the hell away from Blu-U, and while I ask you to pardon my language, I also mean that French right there with every ounce of my being. I don't care if most people who get Blu-U don't have the catastrophe that I did, but seriously, if you ever do, you will be so unhappy that you will be preaching this same sermon, like me, all over creation.

Blu-U seems innocuous enough. You go into the dermatologist's office, he wipes down your face with what feels like a big felt marker until it's covered in liquid, and then he shines a bluish-purple light on your face for 10-20 minutes. It looks like this:

Then he says to wear heavy sunscreen for the next couple days, a hat for a week, don't go out in the glaring Florida sun. Peachy keen, right? So I let him marker up my face, and it tingled. Not bad, though not comfortable. He shone the light at me. A little twitchy, still not horrible or anything. So I went home.

All was well. It looked like it had helped, after a while, but all the acne still wasn't gone, so my mom drove me back over, and we tried again. For the record, it was after enough time that I was fully recovered from whatever, and I didn't have to wear the hat. Like, a while later. The two incidents were not related.

The second time I got there, the guy markers up my face, and I know something is wrong. The marker fluid burns this time, the hot and itchy and dry feeling you get when you're sunburned. Ugh. But okay, I'll stick it out, it'll go away when he washes it off. He puts me in front of the light. It hurts more this time, but I deal with it, and I count the minutes until he turns the stupid blue light off that is seemingly boiling my skin. He washes off the fluid. My faces is red and ruddy like I've just been running a mile in the sweltering Florida heat.

Ugh. So I put my hat on, put a scarf over my face this time to keep the actual sun off it when we get in the car, and Mom fires up the car.

It only gets worse from there. On the car ride, something isn't okay. The pain never left once he washed off the marker only got worse. And then I realize -- my face is covered in second-degree burns. Everywhere that guy put the marker has been chemical-burned. And oh hell it hurts.

This is someone whose face is covered in second-degree blisters. It looked similar to this, only with much more reddening and a brighter yellow-white color to the blisters. It felt like my skin was floating on a layer of hot liquid, and when I touched it, I felt heat and squish, and the skin peeled away where it clung to my finger.

I swear, I could not make this crap up. The worst burn I had ever had before that, was a wimpy little thing where I touched a hot piece of metal with the edge of my thumb and then I stuck it in cold water and it felt better after a few hours. This was way beyond "oh no, grab a cup of cold water."

Wikipedia "burn." Here is a nice reference pic. I am not talking about the barely-second burn, where you have a couple of clear blisters and it heals up and you're okay in a couple of days. I'm talking about nasty red and white patchworks of blisters, and an entire layer of yellow-white skin that has up and died and is now thick and peeling off in big, thick, wet layers. Between fluid and pus, it looks and feels like raw chicken skin, stretchy and squishy and dimpled. The fluid underneath coats your skin and breeds bacteria, but it hurts too much to wipe it off, so you have to settle for wincing and dabbing softly, and even then it hurts. When the blisters break, sometimes they bleed. And then, when they're done bleeding, they get infected. I drained them out and cleaned them several times over with hydrogen peroxide -- which hurts like a bitch if you've never done it to a big open wound the size of a quarter -- and then I let them dry out until they were big scabs on my cheeks. And even then, once they heal, the spots that the skin has peeled away from is red and burning until it finally manages to transition into normal skin again.

This entire process hurts like hell. Think of it like a nasty sunburn, hot and throbbing and painful, only a whole lot worse, and no amount of lidocaine is going to save you. I had a special very large canister of burn ointment, something involving a compound with silver in it, and while I'm sure it helped, it didn't cool anything off. The entire time it took me to heal to the "cleaning up wounds" state (where at that point, I was mostly fighting blister infection as opposed to why are you holding my face to a hot object), I was wrapping my face in ice-pack gel -- it comes in strips, don'tcha know, and you can wrap the strips around your face and it feels wonderful when your skin has been lit on fire by chemistry. But the strips warm up, and they don't cover everything, and I spend my time wishing that I could bury my face in ice water and breathe through straws stuck up my nose for the next N days. The worst part was the 5-hour car ride to Georgia, where I couldn't get access to any kind of refrigeration for the strips. It was a matter of shoving my face at the A/C vents and sucking it up.

Check this out. This kind of thing was all over my face. My mom says that if the blisters hadn't started to heal after (day whatever it was at the time), she was going to take pictures and press charges. Luckily, the human body is actually pretty awesome, and it did manage to show signs of healing before we all went nuclear. It stopped burning all the time after a while, and then most of the pain was from skin peeling off in layers. Then the infections. Then the redness. And face was back to normal.

It's amazing, really, that I have no scarring from this. You can't tell that my face was one big painful mass of blister, ever. I'm thrilled to bits that this is true. But in the end, I swear that the next time someone comes up to me and says they're thinking of getting this Blu-U thing, I hear it works, I am going to show them a picture of a nasty blistered burn and say, "This was all over my face. Do you really want this? I don't think you do. Go try something less likely to melt your face off."

I'm aware that this was probably a rare failure mode, some kind of screwup on part of the doctor, whatever. I do know that the marker fluid is some kind of acid, and as a result, he probably screwed up the formula or the quantity or the time or whatever, and it was medical error. Or maybe my face in particular just sucks at dealing (though it didn't happen the first time).

But really, if having your face scorched up this badly is the consequence for medical error here, does your acne really need this kind of treatment? Seriously, think about it. Things like salicylic acid have very few, if any, side effects. A little bit of sun sensitivity. Benzoyl peroxide makes your skin kind of dry.

Even if you have horrendous ice-pick acne, really think about whether you'd like to try other treatments before the Face Melting Acid Bath. Really think about this. And really, here's the kicker:

Blu-U, if you think about it, is going to be temporary in any positive effect it has. What it does, is kills bacteria in your pores and stuff. Theoretically, it really is supposed to melt your face off, just to a lesser extent, so the bacteria aren't shielded by all the nasty buildup and so you can get the light to your skin. But bacteria grow back, and epidermis toughens up again, and then all your acne comes right back.

If Blu-U were permanent, I'd tentatively recommend the risk if you're just that horrified by your massively scarring acne. If you really can't find anything that will touch your problem, at all, and you understand that your face could become this horrible monstrosity that hates you and your life for a nontrivial amount of time, then yes, do it. But really, this crap is not worth it.

"How long is a BLU-U light therapy session?

The doctor will prescribe the most appropriate time frame for your acne, but typical sessions last roughly 17 minutes. "

17 minutes to burn your face off.

So don't do it, kids. I swear, chances are that when you get 20, you'll just have some splotches on your chin when the humidity picks up, and some benzoyl peroxide will clear it right up. Oh yeah -- my solution, after all the face-melting, turned out to be exactly that. Maximum strength benzoyl peroxide. Fixes you right up, with a lot of patience.

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