A few years ago I developed acne, primarily due to stress. It flared up in the last few months of my dad’s life, became very bad when he died and it hung around for a few years afterwards. It became worse during periods of pressure; when I was writing my book my face was covered in painful, angry red spots. It was also affected by hormones associated with my menstrual cycle and pregnancy. During the first trimester my skin got considerably worse, then in the later months it cleared up, only to break out again after my son was born. It may sound trivial to someone who has never suffered with a skin complaint, but having acne can really undermine your confidence. I was entangled in a vicious cycle of wearing a heavy makeup to cover my spots, which clogged my pores and exacerbated the inflammation. When my bipolar disorder was playing up, having crappy skin was very unhelpful. I tried everything, including going to see a nutritionist and having regular facials. I bought every product I could find that was recommended for acne; I cringe to think how much money I wasted on stupid things that were completely inappropriate for my skin. Eventually, after exhaustive research, I have found a combination of products that are highly effective and reasonably priced. As you can see from the image above, without makeup my skin is not perfect. However, it’s a far cry from the images below when my my acne was at its worst. I thought it would be useful to share the information for anyone who might have even mild acne or just wants to know what skincare is worth buying.
There are a few simple steps that should be included in any skincare regime and the first is cleansing. This is even more vital if you’re suffering with breakouts. I’ve tried a myriad of different cleansers from foaming, oil based, exfoliating and clay based. You can spend some serious cash on a cleanser, if you feel so inclined. I’ve come to the conclusion that going high-end is a waste of money. On average, my cleanser stays on my face for less than a minute before it goes down the drain. Some of the more expensive cleansers smell lovely and washing your face with them can feel rather luxurious. However, if you have any kind of skin sensitivity, scent is bad news. In fact, a lot of skincare experts and dermatologists say that any product designed to go on the face should have no scent, because that usually means that it contains essential oils, which can cause irritation, inflammation and break down collagen. I would always recommend a cleanser that is gentle but effective. I assumed that the problem with my skin was that it was dirty, as a consequence I would go scrub it vigorously when I washed it at the end of the day. This is a mistake that a lot of people make; acne prone skin is not actually dirty but very sensitive. I went through a phase of using the Eve Lom cleanser with a Clarisonic face brush; I was irritating the surface of my skin whilst simultaneously dousing the it in with scented oil, blocking up the pores and causing more inflammation. No wonder my skin was in such bad shape. These days I use the CeraVe Hydrating Cleanser, used in combination with a muslin cloth or face flannel. I apply it all over my face, wet the cloth with warm water and gently buff away my makeup, I use it morning and night. It does the job thoroughly with no irritation and leaving no residue and it’s really good value for money. To remove makeup around the eyes use a micellar water on a cotton pad and wipe it away very gently; I really like Bioderma but there are loads on the market.
Just a quick side note. whatever your skin type, please do not use makeup removal wipes; they are really harsh and dreadful for your skin, particularly around the eyes. Not to mention how terrible makeup wipes are for the environment, they’re an awful product and no good can come from using them. I know they may seem quicker and more convenient, but you’re really only saving 30 seconds or so.
If you have spots, it’s vital to properly exfoliate but traditional, physical exfoliants were terrible for my skin. These are products that are often described as a ‘scrubs’ and have little grainy bits that are supposed to lift dead cells which may block pores. Using these harsh, scratchy exfoliators just spread the bacteria from my active breakouts and caused yet more irritation. Anything that aggravates or strips the skin is no good, the same applies to pore strips. Nonetheless, exfoliating is still essential for acne-prone skin as it’s important to remove with excess oil and sebum; the most gentle and effective way of doing that is with an acid. The prospect of putting acid on your face may sound scary, but it’s actually a much more soothing way to exfoliate. I swear by Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Gel Exfoliant, as long as I’m using this product, I do not have breakouts. Salicylic acid, or BHA (Beta Hydroxy Acid) is oil soluble, which means that it is attracted to oil in the skin. It literally dives into the pores and dissolves the excess oil and sebum without any irritation. It’s brilliant for blackheads and congested pores. I would highly recommend it to anyone with breakouts or acne, or if you just want to brighten and properly exfoliate your skin. I apply it every morning followed by a bunch of other products, but I’ll save those for another blog post.
The next product is also from Paula’s Choice, I should point out here that this is not a sponsored post, but they have really helped me and I’ve recommended them to friends, who have reported back that their skin has improved. As well as Salicylic acid, Retinol is another skincare ingredient that does wonders for acne prone skin. In fact, Retinol (also known as Vitamin A) is brilliant for most skin types. The reason why Retinol is so effective is because it increases the production of collagen. It also stimulates the production of new blood vessels in the skin, which can help with acne scars and pigmentation. There are added benefits which include fading age spots and softening rough patches of skin. Retinol also minimises break outs by preventing dead cells from clogging pores. So Retinol works by improving the health of the deeper layers of the dermis while exfoliating the top layers. It’s a powerful skincare ingredient that is incredibly effective, I’ve tried a few different ones but I love the Paula’s Choice 1% Retinol serum. However, because of it’s potency Retinol should be used cautiously at first. If you go too fast, it can make the skin dry, red and sensitive. Don’t let this put you off, Retinol is absolutely brilliant and clinically proven to work. It should be applied in the evening; start by only using it once or twice a week, then build up to every other night until your skin has acclimatised and you’re able to use it every night. If you use a Salicylic acid, do not use it at the same time as a Retinol; Salicylic acid in the morning, Retinol at night.
If you use any Retinol product, it is essential that you also use an SPF, because it can make your skin more sensitive to UV rays. I use a factor 50 all year round, which may seem extreme, but it’s necessary given the products I use. Any dermatologist worth their salt will advise wearing sunblock every day, whether you have acne or not. I love the Freezyderm factor 50 because it’s fabulous under makeup, but there are lots of great facial sunscreens on the market. I would suggest going for something light, as you don’t want anything that will block the pores; La Roche-Posay Anthelios is also great.
I know for certain that these three products cleared up my skin. These day I don’t have to wear foundation if I don’t feel like it, which I never would have done a couple of years ago. I know that the Paula’s choice 1% Retinol isn’t exactly cheap and £53 is not to be sniffed at. However, it compares very favourably to other retinol products on the market. Paula’s Choice also do samples, which are handy if you want to try before you buy. A couple of other tips if you’re having problems with your skin are to make sure your makeup brushes and sponges are scrupulously clean. Also change your pillow slips regularly and clean your phone daily; a quick wipe with a cloth sprayed with disinfectant will do the job.
I hope that’s helpful to anyone with acne or breakouts. While I was suffering with acne and went through periods of poor mental health, having a spotty face made it even harder for me to get on with my day. If you are managing acne have a go with these products and if they don’t work, make an appointment with your GP. Don’t feel that you just have to put up with it. Life can be stressful and difficult enough without having another thing to make you feel self-conscious. Rest assured that there are solutions and this won’t last forever.