The 'Scurge' of Acne and the Skincare Regimen that Saved Me
There’s a reason why black don’t crack, and in my experience it’s because my sebaceous glands are working overtime to destroy my life—I mean my complexion. With enough oil on my face to operate the fryer at a McDonald’s, I’ve been on a 25-year quest for a balanced T-zone. No one told me that the cost of having wrinkle-free-skin in my winter years would mean having to endure an adolescence and adulthood plagued by acne. Even worse, I recently overheard an older woman chatting with her friend about senior acne! Senior acne?! You mean I could potentially have this shit in my 70s and 80s? Well fuck me! I thought acne was supposed to end in puberty. Obviously there is something that I’m missing or something the powers that be aren’t telling me. The truth is, besides my hormones, the biggest contributor to my continual problem with acne has been my own ignorance. I didn’t know what to use, how to use it, or how often I should. Now that I’m 32 with enough trial and error and Biore blackhead strips behind me, I’ve finally found a skincare regimen that’s working for me...at least for now. Those of you who’ve heard it all before, congratu-fucking-lations…good for you…keep doin’ whatcha doin’; but for those of you who are still frustrated and looking for acne solutions, these products and tips have been invaluable for me. I hope by giving them a shot you will have the same results.
Just as it’s a good idea to educate yourself about what you’re putting in your body, it’s equally as important to use the same practice when deciding what to put on your body. After all, we all know that skin is the largest organ of the body, and it’s highly sensitive and absorbent. You don’t want parabens, sulfates or phthalates etc. in your “skin food” because this is what clogs pores and makes the skin sick and unable to breathe. I try my best to use products that are made from organic ingredients with naturally occurring antiseptics, keeping the chemicals to a minimum. If you’re a tree hugger like me, you also care about buying products that are environmentally safe and humanely produced. Effective doesn’t always mean expensive, but when it comes to skincare, it’s not the area to be stingy with yourself.
First things first, removing the dirt. I formerly used cleansers that had “acne fighting” formulas or alcohol in them, thinking that it would help reduce oil production. What I didn’t realize is those chemicals irritate the skin, often resulting in over drying, which can cause your sebaceous glands to counteract and compensate by producing more oil. Now I use a gentle, oil-free cleanser from Kiehl’s called Ultra Facial Cleanser, which is great for all skin types. If you’re the type of person that needs to “feel the burn” to know that it’s actually working, another slightly more intense, but appropriately gentle option, is The Body Shop’s Tea Tree Skin Clearing Facial Wash. Tea tree oil is one of the best natural antiseptics the planet has to offer. A little goes a long way, and it must be diluted properly so it doesn’t damage the skin, but it’s a miracle worker. The two cleansers I mentioned are both under $20 but work like they cost 10 times that. A great rule of thumb is to prioritize expense on the products that stay on your face the longest. Whatever you absorb, you want to be rich in nutrients, but whatever removes the dirt, you just want it to do the job well. It’s also important to choose a cleanser that doesn’t strip the skin of the natural oils that help to safeguard it from the elements.
To tone or not to tone, that is no longer a question… for my oily ass skin, toning is essential. If you haven’t used a toner before, you will be shocked at the amount of dirt that is still left on your face after thoroughly washing it. It also helps to remove the dead skin cells that build up over night and throughout the day. I absolutely love the Tea Tree Skin Clearing Toner from The Body Shop. If the slight tingle bothers you, try the Kiehl’s Calendula Herbal Extract Alcohol-Free Toner. The Kiehl’s toner is slightly more expensive, but again, not a huge investment for something that is going to make a dramatic difference in the look and health of your skin. So, why should you never ever skip the toner? After a consultation with skincare specialist Elizabeth Guise trained at the Christine Valmy International Academy of Beauty who also worked as a product distributor for Aveda, I learned that the main function of a toner is to help the skin return to a neutral ph balance of 7. This is the most important step you can take in properly caring for your skin because it needs a balanced ratio of oil and water to protect it from infection and wrinkling. Skin bares the brunt of the pollutants we come in contact everyday. By resetting your skin’s defense mechanism to neutral, you reduce the common conditions that increase breakouts. Ms Guise’s advice is, “ every time you put water on your face, you put toner on it too.”
The third step in cleansing the skin is exfoliating. I can’t stress this enough. Removing dead skin cells that build up on the skin’s surface and clog the pores; can be dramatically reduced by exfoliating every other day. A gentle oil-free exfoliant for the face, and another one for the whole body is essential. A good friend recommended Avalon Organics Exfoliating Enzyme Scrub for my face and I’ve never looked back. You’ll want to use a gentle exfoliant for the face but a courser one for your body. The king of all kings in body exfoliants is the Bamboo Lemongrass Foaming Body Scrub from Lather. I stumbled upon the scrub on Abbot Kinney in Venice, CA and it’s by far the best I’ve ever used. The texture is dry and sandy, but once you wet it, it lathers up and smells incredible. I like my body scrubs to be on the rougher side so if you’re not into that, this product is not for you. Lather makes another scrub that is sugar based and gentler on the skin, but I personally don’t care for sugar scrubs. For people with oily skin, its best to stay away from body scrubs with oil in them, even if they are botanical and/or organic. The fastest way to aggravate your face or body acne is to vigorously scrub globs of oily exfoliating products into your skin.
A huge controversy going on in California right now is the banning of micro-beads. Many of the leading body scrubs that you can find in big chain drugstores and discount hubs contain plastic micro-beads that tear up the skin microscopically, literally leaving the skin open to bacterial infections…aka acne. Not only is it bad for your skin, it’s also bad for the environment. Fish have been eating these micro-beads in the ocean, and guess who eats the fish?—we do; so for all the fish eaters, what you could be scrubbing your face with in the morning could be part of what you are digesting at night for dinner. The exfoliants I mentioned above have natural scrubbing agents like chopped walnut shells or actual sand.
After the gentle cleanser, the toner and the every other day exfoliating, its time for moisturizing. My significant expense comes in this area. As I go about the day my skin gets oiler and oiler. I find that a lightweight, oil-free moisturizer both hydrates and allows my skin to breathe. I use Ole Henriksen’s Sheer Transformation. It’s full of antioxidants and overtime aids in fading dark spots. You’ll have to cough up close to $50 bucks for it but it’s worth every penny. The lotion spreads on thinly and lasts a long time.
No skincare regimen would be complete without the final sunscreen step. Finding a great sunscreen that doesn’t smell like bug spray, doesn’t clog your pores with its thickness, or make you look like a clown with white face paint on, is nearly impossible. There are a few great ones out there including Jason’s Mineral Sunscreen but my favorite is made by Devita and called Solar Protective Moisturizer. This sunscreen is broad- spectrum meaning that it protects against both UVA and UVB rays. It’s also lightweight, vegan and paraben free. I put the Sheer Transformation moisturizer on, do whatever else I need to do in the morning to give my face time to absorb the lotion, and then I put on the sunscreen before walking out the door. Some people mix the two to cut down on the number of steps, but in my opinion, this is not a good idea. You never know what active ingredients are in each product that either cancel each other out or react unfavorably to mixing. Applying one at a time allows the product to absorb fully ensuring that the active ingredient is locked into the pores. After that, the second line of defense is able to do its job fully. Never have I come across a sunscreen that doesn’t weigh me down and further exacerbate my oil production like the DeVita one does. I also highly recommend Ole Henriksen’s Truth Revealed Super Crème, which already has sunscreen in it. According the American Academy of Dermatology, one should use a sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher, which will block approximately 97% of the sun. Keep in mind that no sunscreen can block out 100% of the sun, so don’t waste your money or your pores on that false advertising.
Now I know this seems like a lot, but honestly it takes less than 5 minutes to execute. Like any regimen, I tweak as needed. For example, if my skin is feeling a little dried out, I use a little more moisturizer, and calm down on the tea tree astringent. I try not to over exfoliate and I never leave the house without a package of oil absorbing sheets in my pocket, which helps to keep the excess oil from making me look shinny. I try not to pick at my face or touch it, or let others touch it with their dirty hands, and I also pay attention to when I need to just leave it alone, and let it do its thang. Above all, I’m very disciplined about my skincare. It doesn’t matter how many margaritas I had before walking in the door, how late it is, or if my man is ready to get it on right then and there, as God is my witness, I will wash my face at night. Laziness will kill your skin. I also switch out my pillowcases every three days. Think about it: your body releases toxins throughout the night and that includes your face. Laying your head down on the same pillowcase every night is bound to reintroduce old bacteria into your pores, especially if you use hair product on a regular basis. I know it’s gross but it’s the truth! I also change the towel I use to dry my face regularly. I don’t share that towel with anyone and I don’t use it on any other part of my body either…it’s my face towel for a reason. Yes, it may increase the amount of laundry you
Another harsh reality to consider in skincare is the effect certain foods have on the skin. I recently cut down on dairy, whole grains and sugar because of their inflammatory effect on the body. Not only have my digestion and body improved, but the overall health of my skin as well. I’ve always been baffled by the medical community’s lack of attention placed on nutrition. Call me crazy but if we as humans have to eat to live, wouldn’t what we eat be a significant factor in determining our health? There seems to be a disconnect between diet and skincare, which is why I think it’s important for people to police themselves. If you know that eating a whole bunch of sugar makes you break out, be prepared to deal with that the next time you indulge in that fudge sundae.
Of course after all of this, if you are still plagued with acne, going to see a dermatologist is the next logical step. I’ve been going on and off since I was in the 9th grade. I’ve tried many different pharmaceutical creams like Differin, Tazorac and most recently, Epiduo. All of these creams work magic, but they have their downfalls such as the expense and the body’s tendency to get dependent on them. The problem is many of these products are full of synthetics, which have molecular structures that are too large for the skin to actually absorb, so it just sits on top of the skin, trapping dirt, oil and dead skin. A number of them will chemically get rid of the acne but create an entirely different problem of over drying and flaking. My dermatologist said to me, the real key is benzoyl peroxide, which you can buy at the drug store and add to your regimen on its own. Put a thin layer of it on your face at night and it will help kill the bacteria that can cause acne.
For the majority of my life my skin issues have caused me to have low self-esteem and feel self-conscious about my appearance. Having used all of these products personally with favorable results, I fully stand behind them and their efficacy. My entire regimen may not work for you, but if you’ve found something in it that does, I hope that implementing these tips will help improve your skin and boost your confidence as it has done for me.