Acne is probably one of the biggest sources of teenage angst. But what do you do when acne hits you when you’re 27 and causes mid-to-late-twenties angst?
Last August when I moved to New York, I expected getting crushed by swarms of New Yorkers on the subway, not by the barrage of cystic acne on my chin, jaws and cheeks I was greeted with. While I had always dealt with some acne since my teens, it hadn’t been serious in years. And the cystic acne started causing scarring and hyper-pigmentation (because having deep painful infected pus filled nodules isn’t bad enough) making my life a living hell. I was constantly wearing make up to cover it all and inadvertently making it worse. But then I started reading more about the underlying causes of acne and tried to fix what I felt was going wrong with my body.
So I made a ton of changes to my lifestyle, and some changes to my skincare routine, all of which resulted in my acne slowing down. And while I have a long way to go, I’m quite happy with the progress I’ve made so far, and since acne can be EXTREMELY frustrating to treat, i thought I’d write down my experience here. DISCLAIMER : I AM NOT A DOCTOR/DERMATOLOGIST. THIS IS HOW I DEALT WITH MY ACNE AND HAVE NO SCIENTIFIC PROOF THAT THIS WILL WORK FOR YOU AS WELL. PLEASE SEE A DOCTOR BEFORE MAKING ANY DRASTIC CHANGES TO YOUR FOOD/EATING HABITS OR IF YOUR ACNE GETS PROGRESSIVELY WORSE.
Lifestyle Changes :
1. Cutting out dairy & sugar : I had watched videos and read articles where people swore that cutting out dairy and sugar really helped their acne. At first I thought this was a bit extreme (because, ice cream) but about six months after trying to treat my acne I was desperate and started a mild elimination diet. I didn’t cut out everything at the same time, just started with eliminating dairy for two weeks (my mom is also allergic). Thats when I realised that dairy was not only an acne trigger for me, I also had mild dairy intolerance because my stomach was feeling a lot better in those two weeks. I have cut out dairy to a very large extent from my diet- weekends and when I’m on holiday are probably the only times I eat dairy. Last month in Italy I did eat a lot of gelato, and not surprisingly broke out almost immediately. I also cut out some sugar ( I still eat fruit, and only worry about sugar in the packaged foods I’m eating if its more than 4-6g/serving) I also still eat vegan ice cream regularly, and a lot of chocolate so I’m not sure if cutting down on sugar has really helped, but figured it isn’t doing me any harm. I did get some insta DM and replies to my acne story about cutting out other foods- alcohol, gluten, caffeine, and all I can say is, I really don’t know what’s going to work for your body. Try the elimination diet with certain foods to see how your skin and body react.
2. Intermittent fasting : It was around the same time that my menstrual cycle also became really irregular (another health issue I had never dealt with before). After some tests, I found out that my hormone levels were all over the place, partly because of stress, but it could also have been a precursor to PCOS. So to take extra precautions, I started working out pretty regularly. I had read about how PCOS increases insulin resistance, and how you can combat insulin resistance with intermittent fasting (which also helps with weight loss and regulating hormones) and so I started doing the 14-10 fast and sometimes the 16-8 where you fast for 14 or 16 hours and eat for 10 or 8 hours respectively. During the fast I drink tea with a little almond milk and no sugar, and tons of water. I am not sure if intermittent fasting will work for you, and if you have a history with eating disorders or are recovering from an illness or are pregnant I STRONGLY RECOMMEND THAT YOU DO NOT TRY IT. But I was able to regulate my menstrual cycle and get it back on track within a few months and generally feel good with my new eating habits. I have my first meal at noon, and sometimes if I really start to get hangry I’ll even eat at 11 or 11 30 am. I then have a snack anytime between 3 and 5 pm and then eat dinner by 8-8:30 pm. I try to follow the fast 4-5 days of the week, but if at any time I’m absolutely starving, I’ll just eat (aka on Saturday nights post some alcohol intake)
I’ve also started doing strange things like eating salad 3-4 times a week, having a spoon of raw apple cider vinegar 3-4 times a week and taking a vitamin supplement. Apparently being healthy is good for your skin (who’da thunkit?)
Skin Routine :
Ok now for my skin routine! If you only want to buy one product, skip to product #7 (also put a discount code for you to use at the end of the article). But if you want to know the ALL the products I use, the list is long. I have been following the Korean 10-step process for about a year and a half now and was introduced to it because of Charlotte Cho and her skincare company Soko Glam when I came across her instagram profile a few years ago. Life is really funny because I am now doing my summer internship at Soko Glam (been there for two weeks and I LOVE it) its great to be surrounded by a bunch of skincare nerds all day erryyydaaaay. I suggest you read about the 10 step process from the link here before going through my products because it’ll be easier to understand. Also, because of work and the fact that I used to blog actively before moving here, a lot of the products in my routine were not bought by me, so I will specify whether the particular product I’m mentioning was purchased by me or not (for the purposes of transparency cuz you can’t really trust people on the internet anymore lulz) I also have discount codes for some of the sites that I will paste at the end of the article so if you’re buying anything USE IT!
1. Oil Cleanse/ Make Up removal- Banila Co Balm Cleanser : I can not stress enough about the importance of a double cleanse (using an oil based cleanser and then a foam cleanser), and if you’re not doing it START NOW. I’ve been double cleansing for two years now and LOVE IT. I love the Banila Co Balm Cleanser and have been buying this for a while. Its on amazon india and yesstyle and soko glam, and Vogue India has also listed some cleansing oils to use.
2. Foam cleanser : I currently use the Neogen Green tea foaming wash, which I bought on Soko Glam. In the past I bought The Body Shop’s Aloe Vera Foaming Wash and Himalaya’s Neem Foaming Face wash. I liked all and there isn’t any one I would recommend in particular. I would probably be still using Himalaya’s Neem Foaming Face Wash if it were more easily available in NYC.
3. Exfoliators : I use a combination of physical and chemical exfoliators twice a week. For physical exfoliation I bought Neogen’s Bio-Peel Gauze and have been using it for about 7-8 months now. For chemical exfoliation I use Cosrx’s BHA Blackhead power liquid. I try not to over exfoliate my skin. Next on my wishlist for an exfoliator is Glossier’s Solution (but I don’t think they ship to India)
4. Toner : I got a free sample through work of Son & Park’s beauty water and Missha’s Time Revolution Clear Toner . I really like them both! I also used The Body Shop’s Aloe Vera Toner and sometimes use The Body Shop’s Seaweed toner only on my T-zone for oil control, both of which I bought in India (they tend to go on sale every once in a while on The Body Shop Site)
5. Essence : My favourite essence of all time is Cosrx’s Snail Music Essence. I LOVE it. Have been buying it for about a year now. The consistency is kind of slimy and takes some getting used to, but I love it!
6. Serum : I first tried Kiehl’s Clearly Corrective Dark Spot Solution when I hosted an event for them and got a free bottle. but loved it and continued to buy it because it really helped with the hyperpigmentation around my mouth and my acne scarring. I also got a free sample of Soko Glam x Cosrx’s Triple C Lightening Liquid, and since this product is Soko Glam’s star product and is usually sold out for months I think it will be good, and the reviews are amazing. I have also heard that The Ordinary’s Serum for hyperpigmentation is amazing and SO AFFORDABLE and I think they ship to India! (not sure though so please check the site)
7. Moisturiser : If you had to buy one product from this entire list that I’m recommending, it would be Curology. I feel like Curology CHANGED my skin. They make a skin formula based on pictures you upload. My formula has Zinc Pyrithione, Clindamycin and Niacinamide. Unfortunately they do not ship to India, but if you can get a friend/relative/forwarding service to send you some I HIGHLY recommend that you do it. Here’s a discount code to get your first bottle for free- https://share.curology.com/x/2FYRiK
8. Eye Cream : I don’t feel very strongly about my eye cream, I use Kiehl’s Avacado Eye Cream right now (bought it last year at an airport duty free) and may switch to something collagen based after I finish it.
9. Suncreen : Never step out without using sunscreen!! especially if you’re battling acne scarring, spots and hyperpigmentation. I use a basic Neutrogena sunscreen in the morning after my moisturiser at least 10 mins before stepping out. I never knew I had to reapply before stepping out again or every two hours if you’re in the sun. This can be a pain if you’re wearing make up. A great product for that is BB-Compacts with SPF- I’ve been using one called Amy Cushion from Etude House for two weeks (got a free sample from work) and you can find something similar here
Other products I use :
Sheet Mask- I don’t sheet mask too often (maybe once every other week) but love how hydrated my skin feels after I have put on a mask. I bought sheet masks from here last time and they were nice, but I don’t have a preference for any brand per se.
Hydrocolloid Bandages : These are similar to pimple patches, but I buy the large bandages meant for medical treatment and cut them into small pieces for my acne. Everytime I feel a pimple coming on, I put a small piece on top of the affected area after the double cleanse but before everything else, and keep it on overnight. If the pimple is really big and I feel I’ll pick at it, I wear the transparent ones in the day as well.
Tea tree oil- I dab some onto my pimples in the day, and have use The Body Shop’s Tea Tree Oil right now.
Ok so buying all these products at once is crazy expensive and stupid-don’t do it. Read about skin care and which ingredients will work for your skin type ( I love the subreddit on skincare – https://www.reddit.com/r/SkincareAddiction/ where I learned about The Ordinary Serum and Differin Gel)
I would start with Curology (if you can figure out someone to transport it to you) , a simple cleaning oil for a double cleanse and an affordable serum like the one from The Ordinary. Read about which ingredients go in those products (eg Vitamin C and Niacinamide are really good for pigmentation/acne spots) and see what suits your skin.
Lastly here are discount codes :
1. Soko Glam : Get 20% off your first order (if its over $25) using this link – https://www.talkable.com/x/5s8UGv
2. Curology : Get your first bottle free with this link: https://share.curology.com/x/QyrOEY (Curology is a subscription service, so after getting the first bottle if it doesn’t work for you or you can’t ship it to India, please remember to cancel or pause your membership)
Ok. done (phew that was long)