I’ve been pretty vocal on my social media about dealing with adult onset acne for the last two years since going off the pill (and turning 30). I use the term “acne” loosely, obviously recognizing that there are different levels of severity and some would consider mine pretty mild. But, all the same, the break outs, while small, are constant, painful at times, and leaves scars, so, for me, are worth trying to address. And now I want to share some of my best learnings with you.
While I was mainly excited about the few extra pounds I might lose by going off the pill (for the record, I lost none) I didn’t even think about how the hormone changes might affect my skin. Considering I knew many girls in high school who went on the pill to try to alleviate their skin problems, I never imagined I’d be having the reverse problem, now at age 32.
Birth control aside though, so many of my girlfriends are having the same struggle right now and I notice many bloggers tackling the issue from personal experience, too. What is it about hitting 30 that turns your skin into that of a pubescent boy!?
I realize now how much I took for granted having *nearly* perfect skin all through adolescence. I was blessed with barely a blemish. Now I’m contending with break outs, blemishes, scarring, and dehydrated skin from over doing some of the acidic products, and am begging for the days of my clear, no-Photoshop-required, face. I refuse to go on the pill simply to get my damn skin under control – there has to be another way! So, I set out to try to find my way.
There is so much out there and I know first-hand how overwhelming it can be. I tried drugstore product after drugstore product, topical treatments, moderate diet changes (more on this in a future post), and consultations. Remember, everyone is different and what works for me might not work for you, but here is the lengthy, and hopefully helpful, journey of what I went through.
Dermatologist: About 6 months after the break-outs started and I realized that one lousy pimple could leave a red mark to last almost a year, I decided something needed to change. First I tried switching out products (including a routine of apple cider vinegar and jojoba oil) and changing up my eating habits (cutting out dairy the best I could – who am I!?), but when nothing was working I decided to consult a dermatologist via a referral from my doctor. I was disappointed to hear from her how expensive lasers would be to make the blemishes go away. Her suggested solution was a super strong topical treatment called TactuPump. I gave it a go for a few months, but it was so strong and aggressive that I was left with a cracked, sore, immensely dry face – I am talking to the point that I physically felt awful day in and day out. While it seemed to be working, it wasn’t worth it to live with that kind of pain. Plus, I didn’t like the idea of needing to be on something of that nature for as long as I wanted to stave off the break outs. No thanks! We tried a few less aggressive topical treatments instead, but they didn’t work. Her final suggestion was Accutane to which I said, “sayonara lady!”. I know it’s worked wonders for people, but at this point in my life it was not a journey I was willing to embark on. My vanity only goes so far.
Drugstore Products: Following what I felt was a dermatologist let down (I honestly thought she would solve all my problems and with the wave of a laser make any evidence of them go away), I decided to get various, new products to try as my next step. My immediate solution was to buy handfuls of drying, acidic products (hello benzoyl peroxide!) from my local Shoppers which left my pillowcases bleached and my face dry, because naturally that’s what I thought one is meant to do to kill off all the pimples. 🤷🏻♀️
Au Naturel: When I felt like my products were doing more harm than good, and I’d chatted with some friends who know girls who have “the most amazing skin, and she doesn’t do anything but wash it with a wet face cloth!”, I decided to try a natural route, using fewer products and, when I did, using fragrance-free and hypoallergenic. I started using Bioderma’s Micellar Water to remove makeup and wash my face at night, then rinse with water only, and end the regimen with a tea-tree, witch hazel gel lotion that came recommended from a local health food store. Alas, this didn’t seem to be working either.
Serums: It was now that I discovered the world of serums. After spying an ad on Instagram, I dove into Deciem’s world of The Ordinary. The price point (and let’s be honest, the branding) immediately caught my eye and I decided to give them a try. Upon further digging, I learned that they don’t use parabens or sulphates (among many other bad for you things), and they don’t test on animals. Sweet! I bit the bullet and made my first order in December, somewhat blindly I admit, which, for the record, barely broke $35 for a handful of products. Double sweet! I started with a Niacinamide and Salicylic Acid to reduce the look of blemishes, Caffeine Solution for dark under-eye circles, and a moisturizer with Hyaluronic Acid for surface hydration. This didn’t seem to be aggressive enough (or so I thought), so I googled some blog posts about what products help prevent breakouts and help to heal scarring. With my next order, I added in Glycolic Acid 7% Toning Solution for exfoliation, Hyaluronic Acid 2% + B5, Granactive Retinoid 2% Emulsion for aging, and the antioxidant EUK 134. With this regimen, I started breaking out with some eczema near and around my eyes, so I decided I needed a professional’s help (again).
Skincare Specialist: I went to The Summit in Halifax to see a skincare specialist. Armed with all my Ordinary serums, I was ready to dive into everything I’d tried and what I’d been using to finally get some damn guidance. They were truly wonderful there and I had a great experience learning all about the dos and don’ts of my own personal skincare regimen. First, I learned that from years of using excessively drying products (acids, toners, etc), I had incredibly dehydrated skin. Not to be confused with dry skin, dehydrated skin means my skin didn’t have a strong enough armour to protect from environmental aggressors, let alone my own internal ones, i.e. break outs. They advised me to cut out the retinoids (use it once a week), toner, acidic products, and to up, up, up the Vitamin C and antioxidants to help get my skin back to a healthy state. They also recommended a YonKa Cleansing Milk (yes, the total opposite of a drying acne cleanser), SkinCeuticals SPF 50 tinted sunscreen, and G.M. Collin Gel-Cream, which I embraced. At this point, I was willing to try anything. Did you know, you should always use a face cream and a sunscreen (rather than a duo) so that each one can do their job properly. I’ve been using these products religiously since March and loving how dewy and healthy they make my skin feel.
Serums, Take II: Since then, in addition to my new cleanser, sunscreen and gel-cream regimen, I’ve been using The Ordinary’s Ascorbyl Glucoside Solution 12% for Vitamin C, antioxidant EUK 134, and Low Molecular HA and 100% Plant-Derived Squalane for super hydration. I also make sure that I consult the amazing customer service team at Deciem to understand the best regimen for me based on the products I am using and the issues I am trying to address.
The jury is still out on whether this new regimen is working, but I’m hell-bent on giving it a good trial run before making any more drastic changes. If there’s anything I learned, it’s to give things time, consult the professionals, and not be afraid to spend money on my skin.
While I definitely haven’t solved this issue for myself yet, I do have some key stand out learnings for you guys. I’d like to take the route of a naturopath next, and really suss out just how much diet might be affecting these issues. If anyone has any great naturopath recommendations in Toronto, I’m all ears!
- Sunscreen is key. In all of my consultations and experimentations, one thing that has stood out to me is that my previous years of sun worshipping has left me with weak skin prone to blemishes. The sun damage I’ve inflicted on my face has definitely not helped in trying to get my skin to a good place now.
- Do your research. It’s so easy to get overwhelmed by all the options, but if you research your specific issue there is a ton of information out there to get you started. I definitely recommend consulting a professional to help you sift through it all. But the better that you know your issues and what you are trying to solve, the better they’ll be able to help you.
- Stress matters. It’s so true what they say, to take care of yourself inside and out. I worked an extremely stressful job while I was trying to deal with these skin issues and I know while it likely isn’t the reason for them it’s definitely a contributing factor. Find ways to manage your stress in your life. A good tip: exercise! It’s great for your skin, plus your mind.
- Give things time. One of my biggest mistakes throughout this process was that I’d give up on new regimens pretty quickly, because I’m a fairly impatient person. I wanted to see results right away. So my advice to you is to give things an adequate amount of time (2-3 months) before determining if they’re working for your or not.
If you have any questions about anything that I tried – or any ideas/advice for me to try next – I would love to hear from you!