Y’all don’t even know how long I have waited to write this post. It’s probably been about a year now that I’ve been saying “oh yes, I’m going to do a post all about my skin. It’s coming soon.” Well here we finally are and be prepared because it’s going to be a long one! (After writing everything down it’s actually going to be multiple posts…maybe even a series…so get ready!)
I want to preface this though with the fact that I AM NOT A DOCTOR OR PROFESSIONAL! While this is my story and the products and items that worked for me, not everything works the same on different skin types. Try what is best for your skin and always start off small. Don’t change all of your products at one time. Start with one for a week and then add in another new one. Always stop using something if your skin appears irritated. Some of the facts below do apply to everyone but products might vary for different people or skin types. You have to find what works best for you!
Oh my skin. If I could change one thing about my appearance the answer will always be my skin. It’s literally so bad and always has been. I hate it. There’s wrinkles and pimples, scars and marks, bumps and patches. It’s just not good. Whenever I see someone with smooth dewy beautiful skin I get so jealous. “Teach me your ways!” I could scream at them. “Just show me what to dooooo!” If I had the ability to get a facial every week or every month I totally would. Honestly, I could have been an aestheticism with how fascinated I am with skincare. Which honestly now a days everyone is into skincare but that just wasn’t the case when I was a teen or in college.
My Skin Background
My skin journey it probably starts in high school. (Looking back now how I complained about my skin then and realizing it really wasn’t that bad and I would totally take it now. LOL) I had breakouts pretty often as any hormonal teen does, but the older I got the worse and more frequent the breakouts were. I wasn’t the typical 16 year old with the pimply skin. It didn’t hit me too bad until about 18. I remember trying just about everything out there from Proactive (don’t ever do it. It’s so bad!) to Clean & Clear and every other drug store acne solution you can come up with. (Note: I never tried Acutane and honestly didn’t hear about it until I was out of college but I don’t think I would have done it anyway being so sensitive to medications.) Nothing really ever worked and my acne got worse the older I got and my desperation to find a fix did too.
As I was desperately trying everything I started learning more about the different kinds of acne and was able to understand that mine was cystic, mostly caused by a hormonal imbalance, lots of adults suffer from it (yay adult acne! Who knew it didn’t end with high school) , and it’s the hardest to get rid of. In college Rodan and Fields became popular and so I tried their acne line. While I think it did a good job of keeping white heads and simple acne at bay it didn’t do much for the painful cysts I frequently got or the scars they would leave behind.
At this point I just kind of felt hopeless and was just living with my cystic acne. While I am a pretty confident person and acne never caused me not to go out or live my life it definitely made me self conscious. I hated my skin! The cysts were painful and I never felt like I could go makeup free unless I was staying home all day. When I say painful I honestly mean serious pain. My family would see one and say things like ‘oh my gosh that looks like it hurts.’ To touch them hurt and even if I never tried to pop them (which you should never do #guilty) they would still leave behind a dark mark scar.
Before & After
Now I’m going to show you guys pictures of my before and honestly this isn’t even really my before. This was before my step 2 of the healing process you’ll read below. What’s crazy was I remember taking these pictures thinking oh great she’s taking a before picture and my skin isn’t even that bad right now. Holy cow if this wasn’t that bad compared to now! There is such a drastic difference! This is actually mild. You can see only about one or two cysts below but at times I would have maybe even five and the scars they left you can really see.
(Above was taken before my chemical peel)
(This is back in January while eating well and being on top of my routine)
(Above was taken after Easter having a week of eating bad and lots of sugar. This just shows how much our gut has to do with our skin)
(This was end of May. You can see all the previous spots healing.)
(End of June. Other than one spot *hello time of the month hormones* this is my face clear, healing, and in a good place)
The Healing Process
Okay back to the story…I honestly lived with my acne like this for a few years simply using Rodan and Fields and trying to do whatever I could to keep the cysts at bay. It just kind of was what it was, or so I thought. In the spring of 2018 skincare had become super popular the last year or two and I was learning more about what I could do and what caused cystic acne. Where I work we hired a new receptionist who used to work as an esthetician and still did some treatments with Image Skincare on the side. Right before she got hired I had learned that one of the biggest causes of cystic acne is hormones and any hormone imbalance (which I already knew I was imbalanced because of my migraines). Something that causes that imbalance? Dairy.
Cut Out Dairy
I consistently read that people with cystic acne should cut out dairy. I always thought no way I could do that! Since I was really little I’ve eaten cereal with whole milk for breakfast. You might say “Just change your milk” Well it wasn’t that easy for me. I’m allergic to almonds so out went almond milk and while I loved cashew milk the nutrient level was nothing compared to what I was getting every morning from whole milk. I also am not a coconut fan. I stumbled upon Ripple pea milk (sold at most local grocery stores) and while the name is weird it was actually pretty good. I also really love oat milk but that isn’t always stocked in grocery stores. (Note: Females…don’t go drinking soy milk. There’s a lot of hormones in that too. Something I didn’t know and had an awful reaction to. Hello excessive bloating!) So yes go ahead and make all the pea jokes, my family does. Yes I drink pea milk, no it isn’t green, and it is wayyy better than you’d expect!
So like I said above we hired a new receptionist at my work who was a previous Image Skincare esthetician. Once I found out she was an esthetician I was basically so ready to beg her to help me not knowing she was even still doing peels on the side. She did a chemical peel on me once a week for three weeks. Here’s where it gets really technical…
She used the Image Skincare Beta Lift Peel
This peel is 20% Salicylic Acid and is a non-blended beta hydroxy acid treatment, which helps with grades 3 and 4 acne. The peel provides smoother skin, immediate oil reduction, and reduction of active acne within 24 hours. There’s very little down time and most of the peeling is done within 3-4 days. You can find a location near you that gives Image Skincare Peels and they are normally within the $60-$75 range. You should always get a post care treatment as well to take care of your skin afterward. Any sort of peels outside of a medical spa or dermatologist office aren’t going to be as effective (yes, I asked her if there were over the counter ones she’d recommend) because they aren’t as strong and aren’t tested with your skin. If you go to an Image Skincare location they will do a test patch prior and address your specific issues, allergies, or sensitivity.
While I don’t think this step is completely necessary I could not recommend it more! Getting a chemical peel I think really kicked my skin into gear and helped me start with a somewhat clean slate. They aren’t super expensive but getting a medical grade one is very different than any sort of peel you can buy in store. And when this says peel you like really PEEL! I’m talking basically face melting off peeling. You can’t tug at the skin you basically just let yourself look gross for a full 2 days while your skin falls off. It’s great! LOL
The Big Three
This is seriously the most IMPORTANT thing you can do. If you are only going to pay attention to one thing about this post it’s this. This step is honestly for everyone no matter what your skin issue or type. EVERYONE needs these 3 things in their routine!
The three things everyone should have in their skincare routine is vitamin c, a retinoid, and sunscreen.
Each of these things are super vital and help with clearing skin, anti aging, fading scars, and protecting against UV rays. I discovered this information on needing these three items in two different places. The first is a friend of mine (who I met through an ex boyfriend, all praise the benefits that come out of a failed relationship) who is a serious genius about skincare! She also dealt with acne and cleared it, so just about whatever she said I was down to try. She knows a ton about what needs to be in products and what makes items most effect. The second way I learned about The Big Three was through the blogger Cristin Cooper and her friend, who is a Nurse Practitioner with a speciality in aesthetics. They did a blog post together all about skincare and Jordan gave some amazing advice! Jordan also has a blog explaining what items do and even gives some item recommendations. Some blog posts of Jordan’s that I recommend is this one on The Big Three, What Retinoids do, and her dermaplaning video.
Vitamin C is an antioxidant, which is so important to have if you’re serious about having an anti-aging regimen. (And if you are over the age of 20 years old you should get serious about anti-aging. Say yes to being proactive!) It boosts collagen, fades dark spots/scars, and protects your skin from free radicals, otherwise known as pollution from the environment. Vitamin C is also an important ingredient when choosing a physical sunscreen as the antioxidants neutralize anything toxic and protect your skin from it (which we’ll get into sunscreen more below.) It’s basically a powerhouse.
The catch though is that not all Vitamin C serums or creams are created equal. Vitamin C is one of the most unstable ingredients and will oxidize and lose effectiveness when exposed to air and water. Ideally, vitamin C is the most effective when it comes in an airtight packaging or contains ferulic acid (because it stabilizes vitamin C). If you just buy a face cream that has some vitamin C in it, it’s pretty much non effective. Vitamin C and Ferulic are a winning combination because ferulic acid also helps strengthen the skin, something good to have if you’re on retinol (which you need to be doing…remember Big 3!).
Retinol is a form of vitamin A that helps with cell turnover and helps the skin produce more new cells more frequently. This helps in a variety of different ways and with different problems. It helps with acne because as cells turnover more frequently they have less opportunity to become clogged. It also reduces inflammation and can prevent new breakouts. When your cells turn over faster dark spots and scars fade quicker too. And if that all is not enough to convince you to use Retinol it’s also anti-aging because it boosts collagen, and since you are turning over the old skin cells more frequently, your skin is more radiant and glowy.
It’s important to note though that some retinol can be really aggressive and makes your skin really dry and flakey. I had this reaction when I first started on a retinol as did my friend. I started out using it every night and that was just too much for my skin at first. So I always suggest when introducing a retinol to start with every few days. I started with differin (will be doing a routine post soon) because it was cheapest, but could only use that every other day because it was a straight form of retinol with nothing else mixed in. Another tip is to always moisturize when using a retinol as it can be super drying!
There are so many retinol products on the market now and I think it’s just a matter of preference on which one you should buy. Read a lot of reviews to see which one you feel comfortable with or if you have a preference of using products with cleaner ingredients (no parabens, other preservatives, etc). It’s also extremely important to wear sunscreen (rain or shine, UV rays still get through clouds..) because retinol makes your skin “thinner”. New skin cells are thinner so when on retinol, your skin is more sensitive to the sun’s harmful rays.
I think if you’ve made it to this point by now you know why you need sunscreen. Both Vitamin C and Retinol do things to our skin which make us more susceptible to the sun than we already are. I have a skin tone that leans toward the tan side and growing up I rarely burned so I rarely wore sunscreen. I cringe now at the thought of how much sun damage I probably have from that. It doesn’t matter if you are whiter than white or browner than brown you need sunscreen! If you live in the sun or in the clouse you need sunscreen. A good sunscreen can protect you from UVA and UVB rays.
There is a lot of choices when it comes to sunscreen and while I am by no mean a clean beauty girl (obviously I just told you all about chemical peels) sunscreen is something I prefer to be on the cleaner side. It wasn’t until about the last year that I really learned how bad sunscreen is for our bodies and for our oceans. The chemicals in sunscreen can be found in our blood stream and in a mothers breast milk DAYS after it’s been applied…talk about scary!! While I am no expert on sunscreen I am starting to learn more about it and trying to pick more clean ones. The two things to look for in a mineral sunscreen is Zinc Oxide and Titanium Dioxide. You should aim to come as close as 20% Zinc Oxide and 2% Titanium Dioxide. Most mineral sunscreens are avoided since they can leave a white cast or be greasy. It’s a hunt to find a good one but when you do its gold!
If you don’t care a good half clean version is this very popular one from EltaMD. It claims to be a mineral sunscreen but upon reading the ingredients you’ll find it’s not all there. Some good mineral ones I’ve found are this Peter Thomas Roth one, or this one from REN. When searching make sure to always check the ingredients, because I’ve been tricked by some too that have such low percentages it’s basically not protecting me at all. If you are more interested in clean sunscreen a good resource is this website and this one.
Some Extra Information
Your gut has a lot to do with your skin. Just like I mentioned above about how much of a difference cutting out dairy made. I notice a huge change in my skin when I eat really crappy or have a lot of processed sugar (ie.pictures above). Take care of your gut, drink more water. You will see the change from the inside out!
Another big piece is collagen. Collagen is what holds our skin up and makes it plump. As you age, you naturally decrease in collagen causing more wrinkles. UVA rays (from the sun) damage our collagen faster which makes us appear older than we are! Who wants that?! So just another reason to be super aware of wearing sunscreen! Cultures that avoid the sun can appear to never age and part of that is just how their collagen production stays healthy. While nothing is proven about all the collagen peptide supplements and powders out there you should definitely look for skincare and skin care procedures that helps boost collagen production.
Something we should all be doing is exfoliating. Everyone has heard of scrubs (hello dumb apricot scrub that you should never use!) but really the best form of exfoliation is a chemical exfoliator. Some dermatologists can recommend against a physical exfoliator (ex. cloths, beads, sandy texture) as it can be really harsh on your skin and even cause micro-tears. Chemical exfoliators help with cell turn over because it literally eats away your outer dead skin layers. Most are acids like salicylic, lactic, glycotic, malic, etc. Exfoliating helps with radiance and acne because if you have less dead skin clogging your pores, you’re less likely to have a pimple (in theory at least). Chemical exfoliators can be really drying. They can sting, burn, and usually smells horrible. If you know you have a sensitive, extra dry area on your face, I would avoid that area. If I have an open pimple I definitely avoid that area because that can sting like crazy! Also another really important reason to wear sunscreen because your new skin cells are sensitive!
Lastly, masks! I think everyone should also have some masks on hand! I always have one anti-acne mask (something with anti acne ingredients and clay based to draw out impurities). I like the Sunday Riley Saturn Mask (even though it smells nauseating) but it has tea tree, sulfur, zinc (all anti acne, antibacterial ingredients). And one chemical exfoliator mask, so any masks that are acid based so you can resurface your skin a couple times a week, this will help with acne too. I use Caudalie Glycolic Peel Mask for this. I plan on doing a whole face mask roundup blog post too.
Phew!! If you made it this far you must really love skincare! I honestly hope you did make it this far. While this was a ton of detailed information it is just all so important! Adding all of those things into my routine has made a big difference! Our friends and our peers are just not as educated about skin care as we should be. Our products aren’t regulated well and most can be a high price tag for such a worthless product. I hope I can help you get your skin into balance and clearer! I’d love to know your skincare journey and what has worked for you as well!
Thank you for sharing! I loved reading about your journey. I honestly tried a lot of these things but in the end, only medication worked for me! Will be sharing a whole series on my own journey on the blog soon!
I’m super sensitive to medication so trying acutane was just out of the question for me. I do know it works well for other people.
This is so relatable! I struggled so much with acne but cutting out dairy and anomal products really helped me!
Dairy seriously messes with our bodies more than we know.
Loved all this information. Your skin is looking beautiful!
Aw thank you Libbie! That is seriously such a nice compliment!
Awesome! Thanks for sharing!
LOVED reading this – so informative and relatable! definitely need to add vitamin c to my routine x
This is so real & totally relatable! I struggled with adult acne for years during my later college years & I was so depressed, I couldn’t go out without layers of makeup! I tried chemical peels, proactiv, all kinds of brands…until I changed my diet to non dairy, less meat & practicing yoga. That was the game changer for me & now I can walk around in confidence even with one or two breakouts!
Thanks for sharing this & I’m glad you are on a journey to happier skin!
It’s crazy how much affects our skin that we don’t even know! I’m so happy you found your balance. Thanks for reading Angella!