My Simple Routine
note: I just posted an album in the gallery of before/after pics
a.m. gentle foaming cleanser (I was using Institut Dermed Sensitive Cleanser but will be switching soon because the company changed the formula to include chemicals I wish to avoid...will likely switch to Haven Scent Foaming Cleansing Gel)
p.m. gentle foaming cleanser
Remedica clair visage treatment serum
I like to use a gentle foaming cleanser (the 2 mentioned above contain soap nut and soapwort as the foaming agents). My skin feels comfortable after use and not too dry or tight so I can usually get away without moisturizer during these warmer months. I find most moisturizers congest my skin so I am still searching...but if I find one I like, I will be sure to add it to the list. Remedica's Clair Visage is the powerhouse product. It is a light oil/hydrosol formula the is both nourishing and blemish-fighting. It is to be used on a moist face after cleansing at night. During the first week of use I had a breakout (which started healing within 3 days), but the results since then have been amazing! I still get the odd pimple, but they tend to leave faster and I have not had a major breakout since.
At night I occasionally cover stubborn spots with a bit of zinc cream (i.e. Desitin) but I have not found a natural version, so I only do this occasionally. I also occasionally like to use a clay-based facial mask to help purge the skin of any toxins.
I could go on and on about the pros associated with choosing natural skin care products including how it is better for the environment... and how avoiding synthetic colours, fragrances, and chemical preservatives helps to avoid toxic overload or avoid related skin sensitivities etc. However, choosing 'natural' products presents some challenges too.
Many products will have the words 'natural' or 'organic' on the packaging but if you read the full ingredient list you will realize that it may only contain a few of these 'good' ingredients toward the end while rest of the formula is similar to any typical synthetic product found at the local drug store. READ INGREDIENT LISTS CAREFULLY--it is the only way for you to know what you are getting.
Just like commercial skin care products natural products can have a ridiculous number of ingredients...a complex mix of butters, waxes, oils and so on which seem to go on forever. The problem is this: your skin may have sensitivities to one or more ingredients but it would be nearly impossible to know which is the culprit. I like simplicity. The fewer ingredients included, the less likely I am to have a skin sensitivity.
Related to the point above, most natural products contain lots of essential oils. When used with care, essential oils can be great to address a variety of skin problems. However, many can be too potent for sensitive or acne compromised skin. It is important to avoid irritating or over-stimulating the skin so you may have to spend a bit of time researching various oils and trialing a variety of lines before finding the right formula to suit your skin.
Waxes and Butters.
Other common ingredients found in natural skin care are waxes and butters. These are usually included as emollients and thickeners. For acneic skin this can be too heavy and greasy. Personally, I found these thicker textured formulas lead to skin congestion. My pores clog just thinking about putting them on my skin. I found light gels, serums, hydrosols, and oils with a very fluid texture worked best.
Natural products can be purchased at various price points. I would say that on average you may pay a bit of a premium, but I think it is SO worth it... ingredient quality(i.e. organic), company size/production capacity , quality of packaging(i.e. glass vs. plastic containers) may all be factors that are affecting the price. I would recommend selecting a retailer with a generous return policy or that offers samples prior to purchase to ensure you find something that works well with your skin.
I will say this: I have spent an INSANE amount of money over the last 10 years trying to help clear my acne(ranging from $5-$100 per product, from drugstore to spa lines). Overall, I have found the prices of natural skin care very reasonable (and frequently less than mainstream products). But the bottom line: results. My skin has never been clearer or looked more healthy...to me this is priceless.
Ah Make-up. I need you, but I do not like you very much.
I think my aversion to make-up is due to the fact I feel I rely on it so much. Having acne for 10 years, has meant a big dependence on make-up to help hide my skin so that I can feel more confident and less self-conscious it. I resented the feeling of HAVING to use it...I wish it had felt like more of a choice.
Sometimes I wonder if make-up can actually contribute to the acne and make it worse. When I first developed acne(when it was at its worst) I used liquid foundation to cover my full face. Then I heard a make-up salesperson talk about only spot treating(the make-up being sold was supposed to be highly blendable-- just disappear into skin unable to be detectable for a natural look)--just using make-up to cover specific blemishes, leaving the unblemished/clear skin bare. It is basically using make-up as you would a concealer. The make-up which matches your skin very closely is used to dot on the spots and the edges are blended into the skin so that it is undetectable. I thought this was a great concept so I started focusing on finding make-up that matched my skin colour as close as possible so that I could just apply make-up to blemishes only. Well, in the beginning my make-up routine took ages because I had so many pimples, but I do believe it helped my skin because I broke out less. As my skin has improved, I had less to cover.
I use an inexpensive drug store brand(though I have tried make-up at all price points) at about $10. Cover Girl Trublend whipped foundation. I found a shade that matches my skin colour very well and it blends beautifully to give a natural-looking finish. I use a lip brush to just paint it on any imperfections and blend--awesome! The only complaint I have is that it is in a jar...I wish it was in a pump or something more sanitary, but this just means I have to be extra careful to try to reduce any contamination.
Just an additional thought:
I had a friend who had very bad acne. I remember she used to spend a ton of money on expensive make-up to plaster her whole face with it but she never invested any money (or time)in finding good skin care. No matter how good the make-up, the acne was still obviously there and some activities like going to the beach made her feel very uneasy. If this sounds familiar you may want to consider a priority shift. I would say I currently only spend about 10% of my 'cosmetic budget' on make-up and reserve the other 90% to invest in good skin care products. The better my skin is, the less I need any make-up to cover it!
It seems that the sun has been demonized.
This has always seemed misguided to me. Don't get me wrong, I am not suggesting that we should go out for a day at the beach without sunscreen/block--NO! However, I do think soaking in some rays is good. For me, I think 10-15 minutes with bare skin is great. Now, I must say I am in Toronto, Canada so maybe in your neck of the woods the sun would be too intense to do this... But for me I think getting a bit of vitamin D and the lovely feeling of sun glistening off my skin makes me feel more alive AND my skin tends to look healthier too.
I'd say from my experience: yes.
Trying to eat healthy is not only great for me internally, I definitely think it is reflected in the skin. Now, I know that some people eat really healthy and still have acne or conversely eat horribly and have flawless skin...so it is not the same for everyone. It is perhaps just one piece of the puzzle.
Some things I think are worth trying in term of dietary changes:
- limiting intake of sugars(ESPECIALLY processed)...but not drinking too much juice either
- eliminating chemical additives as much as possible (artificial colours, preservitives, flavours)
- choosing fresh over processed
- drinking plenty of water
- snack on more fruits and veggies instead of sweet treats or junk food
I am not very strict when it comes to diet...I have a bit of a sweet tooth and enjoy variety so I am not willing to give up entirely on the 'less healthy' foods...just limit my intake or have them in moderation. For example, I do not think my skin does well when I consume too much coffee but I really enjoy it . So I no longer make it at home and will only allow myself to have it when I am out(like at a cafe); since this becomes expensive I now only have coffee about once or twice a week. When I am at home I just have to substitute tea. Yup, my will power is off the charts on this one.
Now for a little extra.
Lemon water detox.
Recently, besides having a skin care routine that my skin is responding to, I had started to do a little detoxing with lemon water. I think this has helped my skin. Once a day I just squeezed the juice of half of a lemon into a glass of water. Yes, it is sour and not the greatest tasting, but within a few days my skin was noticeably clearer. I would recommend trying it for 3 days to 1 week and see if you notice any improvement. Cheers!
Rebound acne. The worst. You try a new regimen or treatment and within a fairly short period of time your skin starts to clear...maybe you even get completely clear--how exciting!!! BUT the acne returns either because you stopped treatment or the treatment lost its efficacy. ARG!
Though some people seem to believe in bp, it did not work for me. I have tried both spot treatment formulas(i.e. Clinique Acne Solutions Emergency gel-lotion) and full face treatments(i.e. Proactiv) ...more than a few times. For me, each time I tried bp the overall result was the same: irritation. REALLY dry, sore, red, flaky skin. It did help reduce some of the acne(not all) but more importantly it made the surrounding skin look awful. After discontinuing bp the acne came right back and my damaged, leathery skin took ages to regain a more balanced state.
Even those who swear by bp say that you have to KEEP using it to maintain results...if you stop, the acne is likely to return. Medicated for life??? This dependency seems troubling to me... There must be a better way!
I have also tried numerous products that have the active ingredient as either AHA/BHA. I found AHAs to be a bit harsher on my skin, so I have mainly used BHA products. For me this is where the rebound acne was the most disappointing. Each time I have used a product with salicylic acid I would go through the same process of dealing with a bit of redness and discomfort when starting initial use, seeing my skin start to clear up (but be a bit red, dry, flaky, and dehydrated-looking), and then the efficacy would wear off...my skin would plateau and then the acne return with vengeance. Looking back, I think the reason I had this problem is that the areas that I have the most persistent acne I suspect have mis-shaped pores(either from past acne scarring or other skin damage). When the salicylic acid exfoliates the surface of the skin, dissolving any plugs at the surface level the skin looks better with less congestion. BUT with longer use the pore lining sheds and the cells end up getting trapped inside the pore. Then a build-up of dead skin cells accumulates trapping oils and WHAM! Disaster zone. I see BHAs can be a short term tool, but the risk becomes over-exfoliation. Even without the problem of poorly shaped pores, if you speed up cell turnover too much you may experience irritation and dryness. Plus, expect a period of breakouts if you decide to stop using BHAs. Once your skin gets used to the faster turnover cycle, stopping could present a challenge as your skin tries to readjust to a slower pace and dispose of debris in a natural way.
When speaking about acne it is common to speak about how we 'battle' it...but waging a war on our own skin seems rather counter-productive. Sometimes I think in our attempts to rid ourselves of acne we are too aggressive and this leads to other problems which can make matters worse. We tend to use harsh chemical topicals which disrupt our skin leading to dryness, irritation, inflammation, over-stimulation...this throws our skin more off balance. I think we need to shift into thinking about how we can help our skin help itself...through nurturing not an attack. We should try to use gentle, but effective products, which nourish the skin and encourage healing and balance. If you are using a treatment or products that cause excessive drying/flaking or cause redness/burning/stinging...I believe your skin is reacting in this way to give you the message to stop.
I have tried so many strong, synthetic, chemical formulas and acid peeling agents to 'fight' my acne...but I always came out on the losing end. I never gained fully clear skin, and even when I had less pimples, my skin did not look healthy because it either had redness or was SO dry and dehydrated. After seeing a youtube video discussing the skin's barrier and acid mantle, I realized that this was likely part of my problem--I had destroyed it! My skin could no longer take care of itself properly. I knew I had to try to find products that would help rebuild it, so that the natural barrier could function properly. This would not be an immediate, quick fix for me but a process.
For information about the skin's barrier/acid mantle I would suggest you go to the VitaleNatural website and watch the information video for Black Soap...while this cleanser was not a great fit for my skin, the information in this video helped to direct my choice in cleanser. I am sure I will be referring to this site again as it offers a wealth of information about skin care and skin care products.
Of course we have heard to ideally get 8 hours of quality sleep each night (which I agree is good so your body can use this time to repair)... but there are a couple of things I feel I should mention which may help to reduce the chances of a breakout or a negative effect on skin's overall health.
Make sure you clean your pillow case regularly. I change mine twice a week. I wash my bedding with a gentle fragrance-free detergent and do not use any fabric softener/dryer sheets. I also have long hair which I braid in order to keep it off my face during the night. Sweat, oil, dead skin cells... having these pressed against the skin cannot be beneficial.
Additionally, I would recommend keeping your hands off of your face--whether it is resting your face in your hands or to pick/squeeze at blemishes. I believe minimizing this contact will help reduce the probability of a breakout...or prevent it from getting worse. For those who cannot resist occasional extractions, remember to follow proper sterilization procedures...and resist getting carried away! It will cause more harm than good.
One simple thing I do that I think has been helpful is to remember to wash my hands before I cleanse my face in the am and pm. I always do a pre-wash with hand soap first to ensure I do not transfer any dirt/oils/bacteria to my face.
I like to use a very gentle foaming cleanser. I would consider my skin combination though it changes with the seasons (winter=drier, summer=oilier). I do not like cream/lotion cleansers and prefer a mild foam/lather because my skin congests very easily and I find my skin is clearer with these formulations as long as the surfactant does not strip my skin too much. I am committed to using all-natural skin care(no chemical antibacterials or preservatives for this gal!), so the foaming agents can come from i.e. soap nut, soapwort, coconut, sugar, yucca etc. (personally, I am loving soapwort right now). The problem I find with many 'natural' formulas is that they are usually full of essential oils. For sensitive and acneic skin types this can pose a problem as it can lead to irritation or over-stimulation of oil; so a bit of trial and error is usually necessary to find a cleanser that works for your skin. I just look for something that takes off make up and other debris and rinses clean. This leaves my skin residue-free and feeling fresh while keeping my skin balanced so that it is not super dry/tight/red after use.
Oh, and if you have active acne I would definitely recommend avoiding daily exfoliating/scrub cleansers. They can help spread bacteria and over-stimulate oil production to aggravate acne.
I think that many acne sufferers get very frustrated because most of the treatments offered such as: benzoyl peroxide, BHAs/AHAs, antibiotics, The Pill etc. do not offer a long term 'cure' but only control the outbreaks temporarily. Even if we dismiss many of the negative side effects(which can be horrific) associated with these treatments, it is still disappointing when 'rebound' acne is suffered when use of the treatment stops. Some even feel their acne is worse than prior to treatment. Many treatments can cause skin to be excessively irritated/dry.
I think acne needs to be looked at holistically: diet, hormones, skin care routine, stress, sleep etc. all can contribute to skin issues.
About 6 months ago a dermatologist confirmed what I had known for many years: I had (adult) acne. He quickly prescribed a topical gel that contains an antibiotic and bp. I had been trying to 'fix' my acne myself and with NUMEROUS treatments. Although I had improved my skin over the years, it was still very acne-prone. I was very hesitant to start this topical as I would likely have to commit to staying on it for a long time AND the doctor actually did not seem very confident that it would work. Before I had even begun the treatment, he stated that if it was unsuccessful we could go on to other treatments like oral antibiotics or The Pill. The thought of disrupting my whole body, my system, in such a dramatic way was very concerning to me. So I have resisted using the gel and decided to try to find a way to clear my skin 'naturally'.
It is a process. I do not know if I will completely 'cure' my acne, but I DO know that for the first time I feel I am gaining control over my acne without the aid of antibiotics, chemicals, or hormones..and it feels great! I have seen a steady improvement of my skin for about a month now, so I will continue to stay on course and report as I go along.
If you are like me and feel you have tried EVERYTHING (and spent a fortune too) please check back and I will post the info. I think are the "musts" of my journey to clear skin.
Some of the EVERYTHINGs I have tried include:
bp products (including Proactiv)
chirally correct skin care lines
many organic skin care lines
many natural skin care home remedies
many department store and drug store brands
many spa skin care lines
...and the list goes on and on