I’m so sorry to hear bout this! I also work as a esthetician and I’d love to make some recommendations to you about a skincare routine. Acne/skin problems are not a one size fits all solution, so it may take some time to figure out what’s best for you. You are also young. Generally as we get older our skin evens out naturally, so you do have time on your side.
I find people with serious skin issues tend to try the “more is more” approach to healing–using too many harsh chemicals and exfoliants on their skin–and it actually makes their problems worse. Acne is both a combination of clogged pores AND inflammation. You must soothe your skin. Also consistency is important with skin care. You cannot try one thing this month and another next month and expect to see results. Skincare takes time. At least 2-3 months to see full impact of your regimen.
That being said, I’d like to offer you some advice as far as skincare.
These are the things you should do every day, twice a day:
Cleanse (wash your face with a GENTLE cleanser)
Moisturize (even if you are oily-- always moisturize your skin)
Some good, affordable products I’d recommend are:
Cerave Foaming Face Wash (if more oily skin)
Cerave Hydrating Cleanser (if more dry)
Vanicream Unscented Gentle Facial Cleanser
Free and Clear Liquid Cleanser
The key here is simple, minimal, gentle ingredients. This means NO fragrance or essential oils or acids. Spend 30-60 seconds gently lathering your skin with cleanser before rinsing it off with lukewarm water. Not hot, not cold.
Then you can pat off excess moisture, or not. But you should always moisturize your skin while it is STILL DAMP or WET. This locks in moisture and prevents excess drying/irritation.
Some gentle moisturizers I’d recommend are from those same brands:
They are all found at Walmat/drug stores and are under 10 dollars depending on where you live. (If you are in the US). If you cannot access these brands, just look for cleansers/moisturizers targeting people with sensitive skin/rosacea/eczema. with NO added alcohols, fragrances, or essential oils.
If you sweat a lot one day or get extra dirty, wear makeup or SPF (Which you should always wear when in the sun), then I recommend cleansing twice at night. Wash your face once, then again. Don’t miss your hairline or under your jaw. You could also, for your first cleanse, use an oil-based cleanser or micellar water. I always recommend Sensibio H20 from Bioderma. Or the frangrance free gentle oil cleanser from Neutrogena for a drugstore option. Because oil breaks down oil.
Now for acne treatment. For serious cystic acne you should talk to your dermatologist about getting a prescription strength retinoid (Tretinoin) and clindamycin. This is a powerful combination of anti-bacterial and retinoid which helps with healing and turning over skin. You start on a low concentration once per week, and slowly work up to using it every day, once per day, at NIGHT. A pea sized amount for the whole face is plenty. You should put it on last after your moisturizer has absorbed into your skin and your skin has FULLY DRIED (about 20 minutes). Do not apply to wet skin. You may get worse before you get better with this treatment. But you will get better. Some people get dry, flaky skin or even more pimples than usual when they first start this treatment. It is perfectly normal. Don’t let this scare you into stopping. Persevere. Your skin WILL adjust and improve.
After you are fully adjusted to that treatment, your skin is not irritated by it, and you are starting to see some improvement, you may introduce an acid or chemical exfoliant to your routine in the morning, 1-3 times per week as your skin can handle without irritation, and eventually, maybe, building up to every day IF NEEDED. I recommend Salicylic Acid at a concentration of 2% (the brand Paula’s Choice has a wonderful toner for this.) But please do not do all of this at once, or start using the topical treatments every day out of haste. You must be patient and take your time or you will just irritate your skin further.
Diet is also important. Drink a lot more water than you normally do, and move toward a clean, healthy diet. Avoid dairy, gluten, and processed sugars. Fruit, vegetables, lean proteins are your friend. It truly could be a food allergy or intolerance. So eliminate inflammatory foods and see if you notice a change.
Other important lifestyle changes:
Do not touch your face. Do not pick your acne or pop your pimples. This will lead to scarring and further clog your pores. Avoid touching your face as much as you possibly can. Even if you have a big whitehead: DO. NOT. POP.
Also, wash/change your pillowcase every 2-3 days. They are generally cotton and collect bacteria much like a tshirt or underwear. Sleeping on a dirty pillowcase will clog your pores.
If you’re looking for online resources on skincare/what to buy/what ingredients are and what they do, I recommend checking out Dr. Dray on YouTube. She is a board certified dermatologist and does many explanations on skin conditions, product reviews, and ingredient Q&As.
You must have faith and stay consistent. Doing this may take 2-3 months or more to see results. You are strong- you can do this! This is a long game you’re playing, but if you commit to healing your skin I guarantee you in a years time you will completely transform your complexion. Good luck!