Having bad skin is the worst. I know, because I’ve been plagued by it for nearly a decade. Over the years, I’ve spent a small fortune on skincare. Knowing what I know now, simple care could’ve saved me so much money over the years, and saved me from scarring.
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My Face: A History
I was graced with clear skin in high school, facing minimal one-off pimples that were satisfying to pop. It wasn’t until college that my skin started to take a turn for the worse, plagued by consistent mild to severe acne.It was only a few months into college that the problems began appearing. It manifested first as long, painful patches on the sides of my face, like contouring that went terribly wrong. How did this happen? When I started my freshman year, the food at my college was rated the fourth-best in the entire nation. As a freshman living on-campus, I was required to get a dining plan. Every dining hall was buffet style. This was my first time away from home, and I didn’t have my mother hovering over my shoulder, making me eat veggies. I went a little overboard. I gained 20 pounds over the course of my freshman year. I was also extremely active at the time, so the fact that I still had such a large weight gain in spite of it is terrifying to me in retrospect. At the time, I didn’t realize that my acne could be related to the food I was putting in my body. My meals consisted of pasta, pizza, and anything cheesy. I ate a ton of late night snacks because school was also stressful, and that’s how I coped. As a college student experiencing acne for the first time, this was devastating for my self-esteem. It was one thing to have large swaths of acne on the sides of my face, but soon they were in front, too. These were large red bumps that were extremely painful. I’m a terrible picker. As soon as I spotted any whiteheads, my fingers would itch to go to work. Of course, that only exacerbated the problem. Writing this post, I wish I had more pictures to show from this time period, but the truth is, I avoided pictures as much as possible. In fact, I became the picture-taker in my friend circle, because being behind the camera was the easiest way for me to avoid being in front of it.
Dermatologists and treatment
After wrapping up my freshman year, I went to seek treatment from a Dermatologist. I was prescribed two topical treatments that helped to control much of the breakouts along my skin. The problem was, I didn’t know how to take care of my skin at the time, and I was impatient for results. The damage from intense picking had left deep scarring, and I did not use the acne medication enough as directed, so it was only partially effective. The biggest difference after my first year is likely that my diet calmed down enough, making my skin more manageable.
It wasn’t until the end of my senior year that I began noticing a strong correlation between the food I ate and my skin. After my freshman year, I no longer was on a meal plan. I cooked for myself, and, while it wasn’t always healthy, it was 100% better than buffet-style junk food. I still ate ramen, but I always added extras that made it healthier (and more delicious). When did I realize that junk food made me break out? I have this terrible ability of being able to eat an entire bag of Salt & Vinegar chips in one sitting. During college, I frequently stocked up on chips, because this would be my “reward” for eating a moderately healthy dinner. I eventually noticed that after a binge-eating session of a bag of chips, I was guaranteed to see 2-3 painful bumps pop up on my face within 72 hours.
I had tried many skincare products, but nothing seemed effective. The only thing that did anything was Mederma, which is an overnight scar cream that helped reduce the intensity of my acne scars.
Fast-forward to a year ago. Up until moving to NYC, my skin wasn’t the best, but it had stabilized. However, whether it was the change in diet, getting an IUD, the city air, or some other factor, things took a sharp turn shortly after starting my new job.Here’s where things begin to get expensive. Not only was I spending a ton of money buying skincare products (that I didn’t fully understand), I also started spending a lot of money on makeup. This was a new job for me, and I believed having acne made me appear younger. This seemed disadvantageous to me, so I felt a need to have my full face covered every day. This also isn’t good for a face already prone to breakouts. It really is terrible to be well out of college but still facing active acne. I found a new dermatologist, got new medication, and settled in for the long haul.
Now that I’ve had to manage my acne for nearly a decade, I have a much better understanding of my face. I have naturally oily skin, which means that my face should always be lightly moisturized (drying it out would tell my skin to get extra oily). I’m still on my topical acne creams, and will be for a while. All of my skincare is done around the creams, which are used morning and night.
In the evenings, I wash my face, use toner, apply Mederma, apply moisturizer/lotion, apply my acne cream and go to bed. In the mornings, I’ll rinse my face with water, use toner (in the summer but not in winter, aka only when I sweat at night), apply acne cream, apply sunscreen, and scamper to work. At this point, it’s a pretty simple routine.
Every weekend, I’ll do something extra. I have a lot of masks and peels that I like to use because it makes my face feel nice, and it gives my skin a break from the intensity of acne cream. I used to use a lot of face masks (these are the best value ones on Amazon) but found that excessive use actually made my face oilier, so I’ve dialed them back to one every 2-4 weeks. At least once a week, I do a mud mask. My favorite is this mint julep mask. While it’s cheaper in tub form, I think I prefer the tube version, as it’s easier to apply.
Face wash: I like Kiehl’s, but it’s not really superior to other washes. The important one is the get one that doesn’t dry your skin out and doesn’t have additional properties for reducing acne. The best face wash is one that cleans your face; no bells and whistles.
Toner: Kiehl’s is really great but so expensive. When I find it on sale I’ll get it, but otherwise, I stick to this one. (Pro tip: I’ve found a similar toner for a fraction of the price at TJ Maxx.)
Moisturizer/Lotion: I haven’t found a favorite yet for this. I like lighter formulas, but honestly, I’ve been gifted so many facial creams over the past few years that still going through them.
Sunscreen: USE IT. I don’t care who you are, but if you go outside at all during the day, you should use a sunscreen.
A lack of understanding about my skin gave me a lot of confidence issues
I don’t have a good ‘side’; I prefer my photos to be taken straight from the front, thankyouverymuch. I’m still incredibly self-conscious about my acne scars, but I know that they’re far less noticeable than they used to be. My skin has improved to the point that I no longer feel the need to wear a full face of makeup to work. I’m a lot smarter about what I buy, too. There are so many drugstore products that treat acne, with little information on how they’re different from one another. Don’t fall for that trap. Chances are, your skin would much rather prefer a daily cleansing ritual.
I’ve accepted that my towels and pillow cases continue to sprout bleached spots. It’s part of the process to have good skin. As I write this, I have a mud mask on, hoping to treat two small spots I can feel forming. I’m not surprised that they’re here, though. With friends visiting over the weekend, I drank, ate, and essentially put junk in my body. The kicker? I ate a lot of Salt & Vinegar chips, so this is the price I pay. At least I know now.
I’m always on the lookout for great skincare products. Please let me know if you have any recommendations!