I’ve had requests from readers to write a post about how to get ride of acne, cure whiteheads and prevent blackheads, and generally promote even-toned, pimple-free skin. If you’ve struggled with acne, like many of us have, you know it’s a frustrating, mind-boggling, and seemingly never-ending process.
Bumps and zits are not just a problem for puberty-stricken teenagers– they’re following us from our teens into our twenties, thirties and beyond. While there is no magic cure for everyone, there are a number of potential causes and useful cures you should be aware of if you are fighting breakouts.
Buckle up and let’s go for an anti-acne ride!
Hormones: By my estimate, it’s more than likely your acne is caused by hormonal imbalances. A great option to consider for re-balancing your hormone levels is low-dose birth control pills (e.g. ortho tricyclin). You’ll need to talk to your doctor about this, but hormonal birth control is a very common treatment for mild to moderate acne. I highly recommend considering this option, as it can be a very effective solution. Additional benefits of the pill include milder, less painful periods and plumper breasts; possible negative side effects include depressive symptoms in the first few months of use and possible water retention or weight gain.
Soy: Soy can be an unsuspected culprit behind your greatest skin woes. My recommendation, after having both positive and very negative experiences with soy milk consumption over the course of many years, is to avoid soy. I do not recommend consuming soy products (e.g. soy milk, tofu, veggie burgers) if you have acne– particularly if you find that you are sensitive to the estrogenic effects of soy. Hormonal swings related to soy consumption lead to breakouts and/or painful, heavy periods. The idea is to keep your hormones at a normal, regulated level (which can be done with the help of hormonal birth control); consuming estrogenic foods (soy) will cause your hormone levels to be inconsistent from one day to the next, which can result in acne.
Unfortunately for us, soy crops up even in the least-suspected of places (chewing gum, chocolate, salad dressings, hair detangling sprays, and more), so if you’re trying to be extra cautious, you’re going to have to start reading ingredient labels. I put conscious avoidance of soy so high on this list because it is a primary suspect in the “acne is a modern disease” argument. Our ancestors didn’t have to dodge estrogenic soy lecithin in their chewing gum. Our ancestors didn’t have chewing gum. Just a thought.
Diet and exercise: This one is a no-brainer and has already been discussed in great detail on Jolie Asie. Eat healthily, consume as little sugar and alcohol as you reasonably can, exercise in moderation, drink plenty of water. Consume a daily multivitamin and fish oil capsules (rich in Omega-3). Make sure that none of the foods you are consuming are giving you an allergic reaction in the form of acne (i.e. do you have a gluten allergy? Or a dairy allergy?). The manifestation of acne is a way for your largest organ– your skin– to tell you that something internal’s maybe not quite right.
Also, building on the previous point, avoid dairy and meat products that have been produced from animals that are being fed growth hormones. If you are trying to minimize traces of hormones in your cow’s milk, choose skim milk over full-fat milk (hormones reside in fat).
Skincare products: I think we tend to place too much importance on the impact our skin care products will have (for better or for worse) on our skin. Seek skin health from within, not from without. However– be sure that you’re not using products that are causing or aggravating your skin problems. Be wary of allergens (e.g. essential oils), overly drying ingredients or formulations (e.g. bar soaps, alcohol-based toners), and unnecessary chemicals (e.g. fragrances). Opt for physical sunblocks (with zinc oxide) as opposed to chemical sunscreens. Also avoid parabens, phthalates, and sulfates when possible. And of course, wash your skin thoroughly morning and night, taking care to remove all traces of makeup every time.
For those with blocked or clogged pores, an over-the-counter product with a small dosage of retinol (Vitamin A), benozyl peroxide, or a BHA (a beta-hydroxy acid like salicylic acid) may help with healthy cell regeneration and exfoliation. Exfoliate your body regularly with an exfoliating scrub or loofah to prevent a buildup of dead skin cells (which can lead to bacne, or dark spots on the upper back).
A note on prescription medications from dermatologists: it’s my personal opinion that these medicines are too harsh on the skin and do not actually address the “cause” of acne, only the “symptoms”. They may provide an outwardly visible cure, if you’re lucky, but I’m skeptical about the reasoning behind them and have some concerns about potential side effects, the least of which would be very dry skin and increased sun sensitivity. However! If all else has failed you and you trust your dermatologist to make the right decision for your skin, there’s no reason you shouldn’t consider this route as a viable option.
Makeup products: Same rules apply for makeup. Additionally, wash your makeup brushes often with a makeup brush cleanser or baby shampoo. Be aware of whether or not your makeup has chemical sunscreens and/or fragrances in it, as these can cause breakouts in some. When possible, choose makeup that is hygienically packaged (i.e. in a squeeze or pump bottle as opposed to a pot).
Be aware of what’s coming in contact with your skin: Don’t. Touch. Your. Face. Like ever. The dirt, oil, and bacteria on your hands will be getting rubbed onto your skin.
Another important one, often forgotten or overlooked: wash your pillow case frequently. I like to rotate my pillow every night so as to use a fresh corner of the pillow when I sleep. Dead skin cells and grease can accumulate on the pillow case, and you could end up smooshing your face into all that for eight hours every night. Keep it clean!
Same goes for your hair– wash it regularly and (like the rule for skincare and makeup products) be sure your shampoo does not contain skin-irritating ingredients. Evidence your hair products may be breaking you out are pimples along the forehead (hairline) or jawline.
Consider environmental factors: If you live in a very dry or cold climate, use a humidifier in your bedroom at night to prevent your skin from becoming too dry. Try and avoid taking too hot showers, as these can also dry out your skin. Be sure to select a cleanser that is not too drying and a moisturizer that can stand up to harsh winter weather or arid summers.
On the flipside, if you tend to have oily skin or live in a humid climate, do not try and dry out your skin too thoroughly, or else you might exacerbate the problem. Use a light, oil-free moisturizer– don’t skip out on it. Combination skin can be oily in the T-zone and dry around the corners of the mouth. Dry skin can bring on acne because the skin starts to overproduce sebum to make up for the dryness, which can lead to clogged pores.
Keep calm and carry on: Don’t freak out about your skin condition. Stress will only make it worse. Try and solve the problem in a meditated, well-paced, and thoughtful way. It’s tempting to grab your blackhead extractor and go crazy with it on a late night. Believe me, girls. I’ve been there. It doesn’t help. Relax, go through each of these steps, and do what you can to keep the stress levels low and the hormone levels in balance. “Do no harm” to your skin by maintaining a healthy lifestyle and keeping your skin clean.
Also– don’t spend another dejected and envious minute starting at photos of celebrities and their impossibly perfect skin. Don’t forget these celebs are wearing professionally-applied makeup and that the movies they’re in are filmed in very careful lighting, and the photos they appear in are usually Photoshopped!
In general, cameras have a way of glazing over blemishes and imperfections– most photos and videos simply do not pick up on things that can be seen with the naked eye, so don’t trust what you see in the media (or on Facebook!) as being a 100% accurate representation of reality, no matter how close the camera is to the woman’s face.
Most importantly, stay positive! It will get better with time and care! In the meantime– a good concealer is your best friend. 🙂 Good luck!