Skincare is expensive, too

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.

Beginning of college. Everything was still hunky-dory.

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.

Pardon the duck face. Back then, this expression didn’t have the name (or the Basic B reputation).

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.

A few months after that, bumps began appearing around my t-zone, too. (This was taken after my first semester.)

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.

New acne on top of old scars SUCKED.

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.

Early 2017. This is a really great photo that I would never share on social media because of my acne. The thing about this photo is that I had already been on medication for months. Skin takes a while to adjust; it was shortly after this photo that I started seeing significant results.

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.

Preventative Skincare

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!


  1. I really admire your honesty for this post! I thought I was the only one who’s not a teenager and still gets zits! I thought your skin is supposed to get drier as you age…hasn’t happened for me.

    I liked using Tazorac because it helped stave away wrinkles, as well. However, I changed my insurance plan and last time I tried to get it it cost $700. That’s insane. So, no prescription for me.

    A few things that have helped me:
    -Changing my pillowcase a lot
    -Doing a mask every other night (like you, I use the mint julep)
    -Staying away from dairy and sugar (I have a feeling I’m mildly allergic to dairy and it manifests in my skin!)
    -I also use the Clarisonic every night

    Basically I have to stay on top of it 10x more than a regular person does. And I can forget about falling asleep with makeup on!

    Have you tried Paula’s Choice products? A lot of people swear by that stuff. You can get samples for pretty cheap. But I think you should look into making a couple diet tweaks and see what happens.

    Thanks for writing this important post! I’m over people who swear by 12-step skincare regimen, but would have perfect skin, anyway, due to genes. Some of us can’t slack off!

    1. Author

      I change my pillowcase regularly, too! They get washed regularly. I’m also convinced that I have a mild lactose intolerance. I tried the Whole30 diet two years ago and I felt a huge change in my skin. That said, I really, really love cheese. I’ll continue to make diet changes to see what helps.

      I haven’t heard of Paula’s Choice, but the prices look reasonable. Definitely worth a try, thanks!

      The whole point is that a skincare regimen doesn’t have to be complicated. When I was a teenager, the idea of a regimen just seemed so ridiculous. Now that I’m older, I’ve realized just how important (and easy) it is.

    1. Author

      It’s crazy how simple changes can have such a huge effect! It’s definitely cheaper to stop spending money on something than to buy a product that may not work.

  2. My skin was at its worst in my teens .. when I had little $$$ and my parents weren’t going to spend money on skincare (my mum suffered terrible acne as well and just suffered through it … much like terrible periods, which I also inherited, but that’s another damn story…). Thankfully age + quite possibly birth control mostly sorted it out, otherwise no doubt I’d be spending shitloads on skincare right now.

    I’m paranoid about pillowcases and towels (change them a lot), rarely eat peanut butter (it often makes me break out in deep cysts) and nowadays, use as little on my skin as possible. No foundation. No cleanser (only water and sometimes a washcloth to exfoliate). Only light moisturiser (my skin is crazy sensitive but it’s also a little oily, but it can also dry out very easily on the surface and then HI FLAKES). The Body Shop aloe range works well for me and I’ve stuck with it for years.

    Can’t crack the issue of my massive nose pores and blackheads there, but at least those are less prominent 🙁

    1. Author

      I’m convinced birth control actually made my skin worse, not better, unlike most of my friends.

      Have you heard about hanacure? I’m itching to try it, although I don’t like the list price. I also like using charcoal peels for blackheads.

  3. I’m right there with you. I’m a terrible compulsive picker and it sucks. Any little flaw on my face gets picked at. In high school I was swimming basically all the time and the chlorine helped dry my face out. Once I went into college I stopped swimming and probably wasn’t as good at changing my pillowcase as I should’ve been. Cue acne. I use a pineapple based face cleanser now and love it! It’s the only thing that cleans my face but doesn’t tell the oil to flow all over.

    1. Author

      Thanks for stopping by, Gwen!
      A good cleanser really goes a long way. I’ve had ones that didn’t do enough and others that left me patchy after prolonged use (both wastes of money).

  4. This article definitely shows how diet is so important for all aspects of health including your skin.

    Jane you were and always will be beautiful no matter what the state of your skin is! you’ve got beauty on the inside and out!

    Much love,

  5. Thanks for sharing your story! After some manageable acne issues in high school (at which point I learned that benzoyl peroxide is a huge no for me!) I had decently clear skin in college. I’m starting to realize a lot of that was probably thanks to being on the pill, which I switched off of in favor for an implant earlier this year. My skin has been the worst ever since and I hate it!

    So far I’ve tried switching to much more natural lines of face washes/care (I wear makeup approximately 8 times a year so at least I don’t have that to worry about), and I’m seeing some improvement. It’s a constant battle though-if I get lazy about washing my face one night, things are going to go downhill quickly and it’ll take probably a week to get it under control again. I’m also adjusting to the difference in cost-I’m not used to paying this much for a bottle of cleanser!

    My skin is super oily so I know I need to be better about using moisturizer in both the morning and evening. Do you have a favorite SPF moisturizer? I just ran out of a bottle of Cetaphil, which I’ve been using for a while, but I hate how greasy it is. I’m using the Acure day cream in the meantime but I REALLY need to find something with sun protection in it.

    1. Author

      Thanks for stopping by, Erin!
      I can relate to your experience; why is it that some of us can’t even take a day off from routines? It’s makes me jealous of people who can sleep with makeup on and eat whatever they want but not be affected by it. -___-
      I haven’t found a magic moisturizer yet – a lot of creams typically feel too greasy for me, so I go for formulas that are more watery, and then follow it up with an SPF. Lately it’s been Shiseido (the SPF 42 bottle), but it’s so small and quite pricey. However, it’s lasted me all summer so it’s worth it. I like that the formula is light and gives my skin a matte feeling after (as opposed to greasy).

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