I am 42 and I still have acne and I’ pretty pissed off about it.
I have acne like a 15-year old girl with raging hormones and no idea where she wants to go to college. When people say they have tried products to clear up their face, I scoff at them and rattle off a few of my own over the LAST THREE DECADES that my face and I have been fighting.
The teen years consisted of Clearasil, Stridex, Sea Breeze and Neutrogena acne wash. Basically, my goal was to burn off all the acne and leave my face shattered and dry. I mean, the goal was achieved, but the acne stayed. In late teens, college and even into early married life it was a revolving mix of prescription topical Retin-A, some sort of oral antibiotic that promised not to hurt my unborn babies, birth control for acne (Ortho Tri-Cyclen), Purpose lotion and cleansing bar, and various chemical-laden spot treatments that never worked well enough. Frankly, toothpaste worked better. Then I spent well over a decade being Proactiv and continuing to dry out my face but not my acne, bleaching my colored towels, t-shirt necks and pillowcases in the process.
When I was about 30 I’d had enough. I waited four months for an appointment with the local dermatologist (yes, there’s only 1) only for him to look at my face for exactly 10 seconds and ask if I’d ever been on Accutane. Even typing the word today give me shivers down my spine. Boys in high school were on Accutane a lot. Never girls because, well, they may want babies later. The boys I remember were absolutely disgusting for six months. Huge, cystic, puss-filled acne broke out all over their faces. Think of all the acne you’ll ever get in your life all over your body shows up on your face in the span of six months and that was Accutane. Their lips and the inside of their mouths would peel to the point where their lips–inside and out–were constantly bloody and swollen. Not exactly attractive. Also, you can’t go in the sun. Like, period. So, when the doc went from introductions to Accutane, I high-tailed it out of there.
A physician’s assistant in dermatology at a different providing hospital recommended Spironolactone as an alternative. Originally created as a drug to control high blood pressure in women, it didn’t work for that really well but sure cleared up their acne. So, docs began prescribing it for adult women with acne. I was on it for eight years. It significantly reduced the amount of oil on my face, but also gave me weird periods and hormonal spikes and my face always felt cold. But, my acne was a bit more under control and that was fine with me–until it wasn’t anymore.
Fast forward to July 2016. I was addicted to Diet Pepsi, eating cheese and dairy like cows would be extinct tomorrow and my go-to snacks were cookies and chocolate covered granola bars that said “protein” on the label. I was up over 200 lbs and felt sluggish, foggy and heavy. Granted, our family had been through one hell of a year and nutrition was the least of my worries. Ok, I’ll be real–nutrition has never been a priority anyway. I’ve never been on a diet and am not a fan of fad eating plans. As a result, my acne, skin tone and texture showed this pattern. My makeup would slide off parts of my face and flake off the others. It was gross and I felt like shit.
That July my husband and I went on a road trip. He was out of work and I was on my summer break,. Our house was up for sale and it was generally depressing at home. So, we hit the road with our little dog for a cheap trip down south, scheduling our stops to coordinate with friends along the way and “splurging” on our first Airbnb along the way.
We were able to visit with a bunch of friends along the way:
When we got to Rachel’s house, a super smart mama who practices holistic medicine, that’s when the “click” happened. I think she asked me–gently–why I put that poison in my body. I believe she was referring to my multiple Diet Pepsi cans I’d brought into her house. We had nutrition talks the entire time I was there and I told her about the spironolactone I’d been on for years. It was during that visit that I decided I would make two changes: quit my acne medicine and Diet Pepsi in favor of water or tea only. No sodas, period.
I’ve made other changes in the past year that I’d like to share with you. If you are past the teen years and still suffer with acne, perhaps some/all of these steps will help you.
I was using Purpose brand cleanser and face lotion with spf, my brand of choice for years. I’d exfoliate about once a week with a scrub from Sundara Spa. My makeup of choice was Bare Minerals that I’d been using for about 8 years.
Eliminated all soda from my diet. Diet soda (aspartame) gave me incredible headaches anyway. I started drinking LaCroix flavored sparkling water, kept drinking my unsweetened iced tea and added copious amounts of water to my diet daily. At least 64 oz of water a day. The water helped my digestion and overall bowel movements become regular (I know, too much info, but whatever). I started looking for organic meat and other products because added hormones can impact acne and overall health. Rachel made me a special concoction of flower essences that I added to my water daily. It helped me balance out my moods and added overall chill to my day. I also added Rachel-recommended B12 (specifically for my DNA type), multivitamin and a probiotic.
When I went back to school I noticed the oil on my face increased rapidly. Increased stress and overall activity of my regular job duties (including talking four hours a day) made my skin over-produce oil. By “over produce” I mean I could swipe my finger on my brow and literally have a ridge of makeup-infused oil. My eyelids didn’t hold makeup and my mascara would bleed onto my upper and lower lids. Gross. I talked with Rachel and changed up my face washing routine. At the end of the day I started using the oil cleanse method with a combination of jojoba and castor oils. Because, as Rachel said, “like cleans like.” Oil cleans oil. That’s why your eye makeup remover is usually oil-based to take off oily makeup residue and mascara. The oil cleanse method seemed to work well, but I still had acne and red skin. I was used to a clean face feeling dry and somewhat tight. The oil cleanse made it feel soft and dry.
I tried to reduce my dairy intake because as Rachel had said and I researched later, dairy is linked to acne. By “reduced” I mean I didn’t have cheese or milk at every meal. I was still reading labels and trying to eat organic meats and grains, but it was with minimal effort.
Around December, I started to notice my face was still oily during the day. I hadn’t changed my makeup, nor my face washing in the morning or my moisturizer. At this time I figured everything was up for question, so I decided to ditch the moisturizer altogether. Why was I adding more oil to my face if my face was already oily? I started cleansing less and relying on just water in the morning and the oil cleanse at night. By the end of February, things had somewhat stabilized with the acne. I’d have large eruptions about once a month (guess when, folks) and small blackheads and pustules the rest of the month. I noticed it was worse around my jaw line and when the eruptions started behind my ears I researched mapping acne on your face.
I found that eruptions along the ear and jaw were also related to the lymph system. Basically, the lymphatic system wasn’t getting enough help, so I started the dry brushing technique to help it along. I also switched up my make up and started using a vegan brand called Monave.
With my face still erupting and now feeling dirty because I wasn’t cleansing I decided to ignore all that and focus on food instead. I started the Whole 30 eating plan. This is a diet that eliminates grains, dairy, sugar, legumes and gluten from your diet for thirty days. I figured if food was the problem then this would let me know what was the culprit. Thirty days on the Whole 30 and these were the results:
- lost 9 lbs
- clothes fit better now, especially in the tummy area. Down a size.
- No acne (the whole reason I went on in the first place).
- improved gut and no bloat
- no headaches or fuzzy head
- more energy and better sleep
- I feel awake now, not swimmy head
- much more aware of what it feels like to have steady blood sugar levels. They were creeping up last year at my annual exam. My dad is type 2 diabetic, so this is a whole thing.
I am so much more aware of sugar now and find myself evaluating (not guilting) if this cookie would be worth it or this glass of wine. Every time it wouldn’t have been. Shared cheesecake on anniversary? Sure. Finishing up the chocolate donuts on the counter? Nope.
I wrote the “no acne” part because I realized that I had no new major breakouts during Whole 30. My face was healing, but the texture was weird and it was dull and dirty. I realized that by eliminating dairy and sugar, inflammation was reduced all over my body (including joints and face). I didn’t seem to have a problem with grains or legumes but gluten made my gut hurt. No sugar meant no blood sugar spikes which can increase oil production on my face. I was still on water and tea only, so this was a major breakthrough for me.
After Whole 30 was finished I took pictures of my skin:
You may not be able to tell from these pictures, but my skin was dull, rife with acne scars and I was still having breakouts along my hairline, jaw and behind my ears. I mean, don’t get me wrong, it was MUCH better than summer of last year, but I was convinced it could be better.
I title this section “summer” as I’m sitting in my bedroom on May 24th looking at overcast skies while it is 62F outside. However, it’s summer for me as I’m out of school until August. At the end of the semester (about a month ago) I was introduced to my final step in Project Eliminate Acne from Jana’s Face. It came to me through a reference from a colleague: the 10-step Korean beauty regimen. Here’s a great overview on Soko Glam. I also talked with a local woman about her journey with K-Beauty and you can read about it on her blog. The basics of K-beauty are to treat your skin well by cleaning it, applying products to target specific areas of need (scars, wrinkles, acne, etc) and then moisturizing and protecting.
I did minimal research, bought some stuff at Target, met with my local K-beauty person and then promptly threw out all of the stuff I’d bought at Target. (Read: now use the Target stuff on my body in the shower or gave to my teenage daughters.) Going from one minimal step and no moisturizer to TEN steps was quite the shock. 42-year old skin is not teenage skin. It needs more time and attention. Just like I’d rather have less clothes of better quality now, I have to treat my skin with better products instead of mass-produced, one-size-fits-all products. Ph is important when cleansing so my skin does not have to work to adjust back to a normal Ph – read: produce oil to adjust.
If you think a 10-step beauty routine will leave you with a cabinet full of useless products, I offer my stash for your consideration.
This is my little caboodle I got at Wal-Mart that houses all of my products. I tote it to my bed where I watch tv at night and do my nightly routine after my oil and water cleanse. Toner (to adjust the Ph), acid exfoliation (to deal with the acne), essence and ampule (to target scars and improve texture and hydration overall), mask (these are heavenly), and then moisturizer. In the morning I add sunscreen after the moisturizer and do not do a mask or the acid exfoliation.
I’ve been on a K-Beauty regimen for almost a month and I can say this about my skin: it’s still healing. I have very few breakouts and those I do have are small and not inflamed. My skin is shiny but not oily. The texture has improved–tighter and brighter–and the overall color of my skin is peach/pink rather than grey or red. It feels nourished rather than stressed out.
Here’s a picture from today. No makeup except a tinted BB cream, mascara and slight lip color.
My last round of breakouts were on my neck under my right ear and behind my ears. I read on some K-beauty blogs that one’s pillowcase may be the culprit to these types of breakouts. Cotton pillowcases are the worst for skin because it doesn’t let the skin breathe and traps all of the bacteria and dirt accumulated during the night and left on your face. I laid down on my pillow (one with an indent in the middle for my neck) and realized that where my pillow touched was EXACTLY where I’ve been breaking out. K-beauty bloggers’ recommendation is a pure silk pillowcase, so Amazon and I got that done and I received it yesterday. This morning I woke to those areas of my neck and the sides of my face feeling soft and smooth rather than a bit damp and sticky.
In summary, here are the specific steps* I took during my year of clearer skin that worked to eliminate my acne and begin to heal my face:
- Eliminate all soda and diet soda for water and unsweetened tea only.
- Drink at least 64 oz of water daily (not including sparkling water)
- Dry skin brushing to help lymph nodes drain.
- Switched to a vegan makeup brand, Monave.
- Organic meat and vegetables.
- Whole 30 eating for 30 days, ultimately eliminating dairy and sugar and gluten altogether.
- 10-step Korean beauty regimen.
- Silk pillowcase.
*I also started taking two spearmint capsules per day per one of the beauty blogs specific to acne, but it takes 4 months to see results, so I didn’t add it to the list.