Acne….is the fucking worst. I’ve been struggling with it since my teens. I thought having sensitive skin that flushed easily with the occasional pimple that left a mark meant I had horrible skin. But I knew nothing about serious acne until I moved to NYC, learned the real meaning of sleep deprivation and what a 16 hour double shift is like. I spent a lot of time and money researching and trying new things, always to be let down. It was incredibly frustrating and depressing. I felt so uncomfortable, even with makeup on, because you could see the huge cysts on my chin through my makeup. They would hurt like hell and last for weeks. It really left me feeling like something was seriously wrong with me.
I have dry/combination/incredibly sensitive OMG WHY DID I PUT THIS ON MY FACE EVERYTHING BURNS FOR THREE WEEKS skin. When I get a big cyst pimple, it’ll last for a month with a mark for a year or more. You can imagine how frustrating this is when I also had regularly breakouts. I would almost start to heal from the last cyst and then get another one, with the ghosts of cysts past still hanging around for months. Almost all of the acne cleansing products out there are so harsh and drying I couldn’t use them, so I had to try many alternative things.
I’ve tried anything and everything to help: I tried using only organic and natural products, benzoyl peroxide treatments and formulations, salicylic acid toners and spot treatments and washes galore, vegan diets and juice fasts and month long cleanse programs, vitamin supplements, prescription strength testosterone blockers that gave me the first and only migraines of my life, natural testosterone blockers made from broccoli, spearmint tea (which helps block testosterone naturally as well), you name it, I’ve tried it. Certain supplements I maintain because I believe they help (see below) and definitely eating better and drinking less coffee and alcohol always helps, but nothing seemed to help me stay consistently clear.
Taking pictures for my before during my first month long vegan cleanse:
Unfortunately for me the first thing that made a major difference was when I went for my first swim in the ocean in my early 20’s. I got sunburned but for the next couple of weeks afterwards, I noticed how beautiful and clear my skin had become. Now I think it may have been a combination of the salt water in addition to other factors, but at the time I believed it was mostly from the sun. And so that’s when I started going to tanning beds. Don’t judge me, I was desperate!
I loved tanning at first. Especially in the winter I would go in and come out feeling great, more attractive; bronzed and warm. The burst of light when you live in a dark apartment in NYC during the winter was so seductive, leaving me feeling like I just had a mini vacation on the beach. However, I’ve learned that the melanin produced when tanning only makes the acne marks appear less visible due to the comparison of my more bronzed skin tone. This led me to believe it was helping the marks. Little did I know the melanin production was only making the spots darker and harder to get rid of, something I regret greatly now.
After tanning for a year:
However, that said, I’m still not exactly sure why the tanning seemed to lessen active breakouts. It definitely didn’t help my PIH (Post- Inflammatory Hyper-pigmentation, or the leftover marks after a pimple goes away) but it did seem to help slow down breakouts. I have a couple of ideas about why that occurred; perhaps a vitamin D deficiency, or UV rays killing some of the bacteria on my face like the sun does (because keeping my face meticulously clean has absolutely been a crucial part of my acne getting better).
I tried to be careful, I would only go once a week and used the highest quality beds, but after a couple years of this I started to notice damage. Sun spots on my stomach and upper back, and a few lines on my forehead. So that concern, in combination with my anxiety about my mother’s cancer made me stop, and I had to find something else that would help.
After a drunken dairy binge this summer:
Only in the last year made headway into having consistently clear skin, FINALLY. Here’s what works for me.
Picture of me, fresh out the shower, yesterday :)
1. I only wash my face once a day, at the end of the day, very thoroughly. I use the oil cleansing method with JUST hemp oil (I used to use coconut oil until I learned it’s possibly creating more breakouts!) and little cotton pads (no castor oil, I don’t need it, it’s too drying. I have, however, had some success with spot treating on smaller pimples over the years, but nothing conclusive).
After I oil cleanse to get all my makeup and SPF off I wash my face TWICE with gentle cleanser and slightly warm water. It really takes two times to get EVERYTHING OFF, which is very important.
2. I only dry my face with a towel that’s been washed in the last 3 days (with bleach) or with paper towels to minimize bacteria.
3. I wash my hands with soap and dry with a clean towel/ paper towel EVERY TIME I touch my face. I do not let ANYYYYONEEEEE touch my chin area. Not one person. In the whole wide world. Ever.
4. I use chemical exfoliants. An intense AHA chemical peel once a week, and very low percentage BHA 5ish mornings a week, as well as a stronger 9% BHA twice a week before bed. From what I’ve read physical exfoliation is just leaving scratch marks all over your skin and damaging your moisture barrier. I did like the effect of the Konjac sponge for a while, but I seem to be doing fine without it now.
5. I wear physical sunscreen (zinc oxide instead of chemical sunscreens) every day to help minimize the marks from old pimples (I still have a lot of PIH). Some people believe this is the most important step in minimizing the old marks, as the UV exposure (even on cloudy days) cause your skin to produce melanin and cause the marks to darken. I wish I had known this during my tanning years.
6. I use high quality makeup. An all organic BB cream for daily/work wear and a couple of high end foundations for special occasions and photoshoots. Ask me for recommendations.
7. I moisturize like crazy. Sometimes dryness can lead to more breakouts, and I can be incredibly dry, especially in the winter.
8. I treat myself... To serums. Vitamin C in the morning, hyaluronic acid in the morning. I’m currently researching things like snail mucin and other such wonders from the beautiful skin land of Asia. I’ll let you know how that goes.
9. I check PH on products, especially cleansers. If you’re stripping your moisture barrier down daily it’s very hard to recover, especially if you have dry, reactive skin like I do. Things that are labeled as gentle can be stripping your moisture barrier and messing with your PH. All skincare products have to be within certain ranges to absorb/ do what they say they’re going to do. You want most things that you use to be between 5-5.5, like your skin. Here’s an incredible article if you want to learn more. https://www.reddit.com/r/SkincareAddiction/comments/3atrcg/interesting_archived_acneorg_post_on_ph/
10. I take probiotics, 3000-4000mg Vitamin C, Zinc Picolinate and vitamins A and E daily. This has been huge for my skin, I especially notice a difference if I run out of Zinc for a couple of days.
11. I drink a lot of water, and limit myself to one big coffee on most days (we all have those two day coffee emergency days sometimes).
12. I only use physical sunscreens. I think the chemical sunscreens in the drugstore makeup I used most of my life were causing me to break out. This theory will be further explored as I venture into the higher quality Asian sunscreens that come so highly recommended in the skincare world.
13. I don’t eat dairy. This was a hard one. I’ve gone on and off dairy for 10 years, and as hard as it was to admit it really just doesn’t do good things to my skin or digestion. I cheat with a little cheese or sour cream occasionally, but unfortunately I try to just stay away. Anecdotally, a lot of women with hormonal acne specifically have noticed a correlation between breakouts and dairy, but this has yet to be scientifically proven. I say try an elimination diet and see what works for you and your digestion.
Thank you for reading! More detailed routine post and Asian Beauty post to come. Good luck in your clear skin journey!