Finding a skincare routine
When I was a teenager, I never struggled with acne. Of course I had the usual blackheads and an oily t-zone, but luckily my skin was clear in comparison to some of my friends. Until my mid-twenties, all I did was use St. Ives Apricot Face Wash every night, plus maybe an occasional mask. Easy. Then, a few years ago, my skin went nuts. I started getting this horrible red rash all over my chin while I was living in South Korea, and the doctor prescribed me a topical steroid cream. Turns out this was the worst thing I could have done. The cream kept the rash away, but it came back even worse the minute I stopped using it. After doing some extensive reading online, I realized that steroid creams are a horrible option because your skin becomes addicted to them, and then goes into withdrawal as soon as you stop. I used the cream for at least three months before realizing how bad it was, then immediately threw it away and told myself the only way it would get better is if I stopped it. I don't have any pictures of my rash because I was really embarrassed about it, but it definitely got way worse before it got better. I don't think I even let anyone take photos of me when it was really bad. Having lived my life so far with clear skin, I felt like everyone was staring at me wondering what was wrong with my face.
It turns out I had developed Perioral Dermatitis, which most commonly effects women between the ages of 16-45. It's unclear what actually caused the rash in the first place, but there is a clear connection between Perioral Dermatitis and topical steroid use. Again, I read through what felt like hundreds of blog posts and articles about how to cure it, desperate to be rash-free. I usually try to avoid doctors or over-the-counter medications unless it's absolutely necessary, so I was hoping one of the many home remedies I found online would work. Several remedies actually ended up making it worse: Apple Cider Vinegar, diaper rash cream, and calendula cream. A few other things helped relieve some of the pain (for example Papaw ointment), but didn't make the rash go away at all. It was so itchy, and as the weather started to get cooler, it also began to crack and was pretty painful.
Then I came across a blog post that talked about the connection between Perioral Dermatitis and the use of Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) and/or fluoride. For those of you who don't know, SLS is what makes the bubbles in our hygiene products, which means it's in everything; toothpaste, shampoo, laundry detergent, and - you guessed it - face wash. Some people have noticed that by cutting out SLS and fluoride, they were able to get rid of their Perioral Dermatitis, although I wasn't able to find any scientific evidence to support this.
I was willing to try anything at this point, so I threw out everything I had with SLS in it. I used iHerb to buy products without SLS or fluoride (most toothpaste has both!), and hoped that I would see quick results from my purchases. As I've mentioned before, iHerb was a lifesaver for me as an expat in South Korea, and they have free worldwide shipping. Use the code NEW10 to get 10% off your first order!
Here are Some of the products I bought:
Just remember that SLS is what makes the bubbles, so your shampoo won't look the same - I promise it's still cleaning your hair though! The toothpaste may also take some getting used to, and you might need to try a few brands before you find one you like.
The results weren't instant, but within a few days the rash started to calm down and within a few weeks it had completely gone away. Months later I was curious to see if removing SLS and fluoride was actually the key, so I tried using regular toothpaste and the rash literally came back overnight! Thankfully it wasn't bad and went away in a few days, but clearly this was the cause of my Perioral Dermatitis (which was made worse by the topical steroids). It's been 3 years since my first outbreak, and I haven't had an outbreak since!
Yay! Clear skin! Oh but wait...
So now I'm 27, and my body has decided to develop acne. I've been struggling with majorly clogged pores on my forehead for about a year, and even went through a phase where I was getting large painful pimples. What the heck? I'm a 'woman' now, what's with the acne? Turns out acne in your late twenties as a female is pretty common. Most women go through a hormone shift during this time, which means my face decided to do its own thing. But seriously, I just got rid of my rash and was not about to just accept a face full of acne, so back to Google searching and trying to figure out a solution.
First I tried a more aggressive exfoliant with salicylic acid, which did nothing. Then I tried an all-natural tea tree oil face wash, toner, and moisturizer from Thursday Plantation. Again, nothing. I read extensively about oil cleansing and really gave that a fair chance - about 2 months - but I think it made my skin worse. I definitely believe in this method though, so if you're interested in trying it out read this post from Empowered Sustenance. It didn't work for me - and I didn't have the patience to play around with different oil combinations - but I know it definitely works for some people.
At this point I decided that maybe I couldn't get rid of this with a natural approach, and I made an appointment with the dermatologist. She prescribed me a 3-Step medicated kit, which cost around the same as all the other natural products I had been using. I definitely saw some initial results, especially with the large pimples, but wow was this stuff harsh on my skin! It burned when I applied it, and my face was so painfully dry. I switched to using it once per day instead of twice and that helped, but my skin still felt awful. I continued using it for about 2 months with some results, but I could still see these white bumps all over my forehead - they weren't blackheads or pimples, they were just clogged pores that never developed a head and never went away.
Here's what my skincare routine looks like Now:
Micellar Water for Blemish-Prone Skin from Eucerin
I use it in the morning, before bed, and also if I've been sweating a lot. This acts as a gentle yet effective make-up remover, cleanser, and toner. I was making my own toner/cleanser using a mixture of witch hazel, ACV, and essential oils, but unfortunately it's hard to continue to make your beauty products when you're travelling. I really like this one though!
I use this 1-2 times per week, and it's gentle enough that it doesn't irritate any blemishes. To be honest I'm not entirely sure it's doing anything; once it's gone I'm going to go back to using raw honey instead, which has natural antibacterial properties and contains enzymes/probiotics that are good for your skin. You can read more about cleansing with honey here.
One thing that has been really working well for me is yogurt masks. The theory behind this is that the lactic acid in the yogurt acts as a gentle exfoliant while the probiotics support the skin's natural microbiome. I do a mask for 10 minutes every other day, and I find it's helping clear up the clogged pores. Just make sure to use all-natural yogurt with no added sugar or other ingredients.
After cleansing, I finish with this rose mist spray. I really like how it makes my face feel fresh and adds moisture without clogging my pores. I bought mine at The Truth Beauty Company in Ontario, Canada, which I highly recommend checking out if you live in the area! They also have an online shop and tons of amazing green beauty products. You can use the code LUNAR15 for 15% off any order!
My skin still isn't clear, but it's SO much better than it was. I breakout badly when I use sunscreen, but I haven't figured out a solution for that yet; I've tried several all-natural brands with a zinc base, but they all are so thick and heavy. If anyone has any suggestions for sunscreen, please let me know! I also breakout when I eat too much chocolate or sugar, so even though I love dessert, I try to avoid those things if I have an important event coming up.
In reality, there is never going to be one magical skincare solution that will work for everyone. My routine is a combination of many different recommendations, and it took me a long time to figure out what worked for me. But I hope you've found something useful on here, and if not, there are some great blogs out there that focus on all-natural and/or homemade skincare.
Here are a few of my favourites:
Empowered Substance : She has tons of tips about healthy living - here is a post about treating acne from the inside, out.
Crunchy Betty : Lots of DIY beauty recipes - here is a post about using thyme for treating acne.
Have suggestions or an expereince that you want to share? Leave a comment below!