Acne and I go back a long way, and whilst now my skin is much clearer and calmer, I still get the worst of my breakouts around the time of my period and they like to throw everything they’ve got behind them to distract from how good my skin is doing – under-skin bumps swelling up with nothing inside, deep clogged pores which require several extractions, and excess sebum that makes those usually decent pores big gunky dots. Nope, not cute, and I’m not having it.
It’s taken time for me to learn and also unlearn things about my skin – how it works, what makes it calm, what aggravates, how I can keep it clean and manageable, the mental triggers that cause me to take two steps back – and whilst I’m no science expect (although I’d love to delve deeper into why certain ingredients and formulas help one skin type or problem over another) I’ve collated some of my best fail-safe tips to keep your skin and acne in ship-shape, because believe it or not we all have a form of acne (even blackheads count), and every little helps!
- Exfoliate, exfoliate, exfoliate
For years I was told ‘Exfoliate! It will solve everything!’ and they were pretty spot on actually, aside from the abrasive use of physical exfoliants which led to even redder cheeks (gah). What I wasn’t so clear on was the type of exfoliants best tailored to renewing the skin and also unclogging those deeper pores, and thankfully blogging has given me a better understanding on the whats and whys – firstly, you need a product that contains both AHA and BHA, as AHA works more on the skin’s surface and are a great benefit in helping sun damage, whilst BHA works deeper inside the pores and is oil-soluble meaning it pretty much dissolves that shiz. Both keep the skin texture smooth, and it’s important also to remember not to overdo the exfoliating too much so you don’t get redness/further damage the skin. My fave exfoliant? The Herbivore Blue Tansy Mask has fast become my number one exfoliant, really making my skin feel and look smoother, breaks down a lot of the sebum, and has unearthed and banished some pretty deep acne spots – woohoo! It also smells pretty good too 😉
- Look for products with sulphur, blue tansy, and zinc in
Sulphur and zinc are fabulous at kicking acne in the butt – sulphur helps to shrink and dry up those juicy bumps, fights bacteria, and encourages skin to shed by thinning the epidermis, but still should be used sparingly especially if your skin is more combination/dry as it is very drying. It also smells like rotten eggs, so keep that in mind. Blue Tansy is a well known skin soother too – reducing redness, inflammation, and calms breakouts down quickly (it also smells pretty great, so whack it on after the sulphur)
Zinc also fights bacteria but also fights inflammation, reduces keratinocyte activation (the thing that makes the average acne sufferer’s skin thicker and harder for spots to come through/bugger off), and can help you absorb more vitamin A and encourage cell death aka clearer, newer skin cells! You can take zinc supplements to help give your overall health a boost, but my fave products containing sulphur and zinc include Pai Perfect Balance Serum*, Herbivore Lapis Oil, and Sunday Riley Luna, all fast working and result worthy purchases for acne treatment.
- Have a minimal skincare routine
I’ve done pretty much every form of skincare routine – a wet wipe and moisturiser, 12 step Korean regime, using all of one brand, using 20 different brands – but what I’ve found my natural rhythm with is a minimal brand, (as)minimal step routine. My main skincare products come from Oskia and Pai, I know my skin can rely on them and they’re both vegan/cruelty-free, and I have one or two other brands I add in because of testing or because their specific product works best for me and that concern. Get yourself a good cleanser (or two if you want something tailored for a second cleanse or evening cleanse, for example I use an anti-pollution cleanser when I’ve worn makeup/been in the city), a toner that works to either prevent free-radicals or exfoliates skin, a serum to treat and breakdown spots, an oil to hydrate and calm, and moisturiser to seal and hydrate skin throughout the day. There’s obviously extras like eye-cream and essences etc, and these are up to you (as well as using a different serum at night or oil) but sticking to those 5 core products will teach your skin to adapt to less and absorb more of what’s put in.
- Mask it up!
FACE MASKS ARE MIRACLES, and if used correctly and routinely they will make a difference wether you have acne or not! Everyone should have a solid exfoliating mask, one for bringing out the gunk, and another for soothing the skin if irritated/breaking out/needs some TLC. Aside from the Herbivore Mask, I really love Sunday Riley Saturn (I did an in-depth review here) which contains sulphur and zinc and seriously does a deep clean of the pores; it’s quite reactive so keep it on for an hour tops to get a thorough cleanse/notice a real difference (it can be used overnight but I wouldn’t recommend as it leads to serious tomato face). For a clay option, I really love Indie Lee Clearing Mask which also doubles a spot treatment, and also helps purify the pores, detoxifies any angry acne, and shrinks up sebum and gunk in under 20 minutes. It really gets to work and your skin will look a lot calmer and clearer, so whack it on any time your tempted to squeeze! Finally, if I need something calm yet detoxing yet smoothing, then I always reach for Pai Copaiba Deep Cleanse AHA Mask – I know, it’s still exfoliating and clay based but if you don’t really know what to do with your skin, you can layer this on and in 15 minutes you’ll look fresh and new – it’s not too drying either so you won’t feel tight afterwards.
- Remember to hydrate!
With all the exfoliating, clay masks, and general ‘dry your skin out’ message, it’s really important to hydrate your skin and pack in moisture despite how oily your skin might be. Our skin needs moisture, and even with drinking 2 litres a day there’s always more – I use a hydrating mask once a week to give skin an extra drink or two, I have a thick night cream I apply after exfoliating because my skin gobbles up anything and everything you throw at it so hello extra moisture, and if you fancy you can use a hydrating cleanser as a second cleanse to keep everything balanced – I recommend Pai Camellia and Rose Gentle Cleanser, super soft and makes sure all your makeup is gone!
- Spot treat the breakouts away
They might make you look like a living dot-to-dot, but spot treatments are great to speed up the acne healing process – pop on one of these sulphur/zinc based products and watch that spot disappear fast (equally, if you’ve popped a spot and it’s refusing to dry up, this will help wave bye bye to bumps that won’t budge). My favourite is Mario Badescu Drying Lotion, a pink formula that sets and dries up any gunk overnight and leave you either with a fresh head to extract or dries it up completely. Also, the Indie Lee mask is a fantastic spot treatment, saving me from many never-healing weepy spots *bless you*, and if you like something ~fancy~ then I’d also recommend these CosRx Spot Stickers – apply the size you need on the problem area, leave it on all day or night, and it will absorb and extract any sebum, leaving you again with a plug you can extract and allow to heal, or will take down any yellow/white head you present it with (great in an emergency!)
- If you can, visit a dermatologist
My visit to the dermatologist was great for many reasons – their facials actually included extractions which made me praise the heavens that someone was finally sucking the gunk away, and they help you understand acne on a deeper scientific and emotional level. Whilst I don’t like the clinical skincare I’ve been recommended, the advice they provide on acne is unrivalled and really want to help you get better skin. Facials and consultations can be expensive, but if you really want to make large improvements, it’s worth every moment of confidence and clear skin you see in the mirror after.