Leslie and Kelly both (miraculously) made it through high school with barely so much as a pimple—but all that changed for both of them in their late twenties, when they each experienced adult acne. Kelly remembers the first week she noticed an age-related wrinkle on her face, she got her first cystic acne on her chin, and Leslie's skin began "freaking out" somewhere around her twenty-fifth birthday. It took her a full two years until she found a routine that worked. After sharing stories and techniques, Kelly and Leslie discovered some key overlaps in their routines: They both use the same retinoid gel, regularly check in with an aesthetician or dermatologist, and have made simple, yet significant, behavioral changes since fighting breakouts goes so much deeper than just the products you use. Here are the three tips Leslie and Kelly each swear by for fighting acne and breakouts, at any age:
Earlier this year, I shared the natural skincare routine I finally adopted and stick to religiously, outside of occasionally testing new products. A common misconception about natural skincare is that while it can lead to better skin, it doesn't always. I've since complemented my natural routine with one "conventional" product, Differin. The products and routine I credit to eradicating my acne are:
- Double-cleanse my face. I've done this now for a few years and the idea is to end everyday with a perfectly clean face. I apply Meow Meow Tweet's Cleansing Oil, then wipe it off with a warm clean washcloth (I keep a stack of them in my bathroom so I can use a fresh one every night). Next, I wash my face with Tata Harper's Purifying Cleanser.
- Apply a toner. Toners often include antioxidants and anti-inflammatories that can fight blemishes and the spread of bacteria. I use Sanitas Hydrating Brightening Solution, which my facialist recommended since it's hydrating, natural, and uses lactic acid to gently exfoliate skin while Vitamin C repairs it. I also love that it smells like cloves.
- Apply Differin. I began applying Differin every night (just a pea-sized drop) after my dermatologist recommended it. It contains .1% retinoid, which reduces the oil production and bacteria that cause acne. It works wonders in reducing breakouts and makes my skin glow.
- Use a really good moisturizer. Retinoid gels are also incredibly drying (since they decrease oil production), so be sure to apply a high-quality moisturizer (I currently use Tata Harper's) on top. My facialist surprised me when she told me that some of the breakouts happening around my mouth were likely because the skin there was too dry—but applying moisturizer (instead of layering a hydrocortisone cream on top) took them out!
I've always picked at my face. I know it's disgusting, but I used to do it when I felt anxious, when I was bored, and any time I had one blemish I would attack my entire face. I've had a million people tell me it's bad to do, but I finally hit a turning point after interviewing experts for this post, who all agreed it can cause scarring and spread bacteria (causing more breakouts as a result!). To help with self control, I've invested in monthly facials and Cos RX patches: Now, when I have a breakout, I remind myself that I'm seeing a professional soon who can deal with it way better than I can. And the minute I'm home, I put Cos RX patches on my breakouts which simultaneously help draw out impurities and keep the pimple covered so I'm not tempted to touch it!
I was so, so reluctant to limit my dairy intake, even after Kelly told me the wonders it worked for her. I don't have any dietary restrictions and was not thrilled to adopt one, especially in respect to something I enjoy so much. I love a whole milk latte and will often have hot milk and honey after dinner for dessert. But after cutting out dairy for a few weeks, I had a whole milk latte and, like clockwork, broke out. After doing that a few times, I had to admit that dairy wasn't doing any favors for my skin. I still have it in moderation—I adore butter, in my coffee and in almost everything I cook—but I've just cut way back on dairy in other areas, like my once-a-week latte habit.
I have two people to thank for finding my skincare routine: my dermatologist, and Anne, my co-worker, who is like a walking skincare encyclopedia. After adopting the routine below, I'm finally cystic acne free:
- Wash my face. I use Neutrogena Clear Pore cleanser because it's gentler than other benzoyl peroxide cleansers, which are too drying for me. This one works well though and surprisingly doesn't irritate my super sensitive skin.
- Apply a layer of moisturizer. Anne gave me the tip to switch from Cetaphil to CeraVe Daily Moisturizing Lotion (my derm didn’t talk to me about the importance of moisturizers at all, which I think was a gross oversight), and it was a game changer. The ceramides in CeraVe make all the difference, and I noticed a huge change in both acne reduction and the "glowiness" of my skin after I started using it.
- Apply Differin to my chin, forehead, and nose. For Leslie, Differin started working almost right away. For me, my experience with Differin was a marathon, not a sprint. It took 3 months of pure purging (yes - it got way worse before it got better) to see results. But after about 6 months, my chin cysts were gone. I apply moisturizer first because my skin is sensitive, and the moisturizer layer underneath can help "tame" the effects of too much product sinking in too quickly.
- Apply a second layer of moisturizer. My skin is often very thirsty, even though it's somewhat oily. If my face feels at all tight, I'll do a second layer of moisturizer after the first one sinks in.
Before all the cheese lovers come at me with pitchforks, let me be the first to say that I don’t follow a 100% dairy-free diet. I make every attempt to limit dairy in my diet, but it’s virtually impossible for me to completely eliminate it (although having a fiancé who is lactose intolerant definitely does help). That being said, dairy is my #1 acne trigger. Other than my friends cheddar and Parmesan, dairy didn’t come for me until I was 28. I’ll never forget the moment I finally connected the dots between my (former) Starbucks latte habit and the crazy zits popping up on my cheeks last year. Now I drink my coffee black with just a little half and half, I avoid a cheese plate like the plague, and when I just want to eat the pizza, I do it, knowing that I'll suffer the consequences later.
When I’m battling a cheese-related breakout, there are two products I like to use on repeat. The first (and most dramatic) is Kate Sommerville’s EradiKate Acne Treatment. The Pepto-Bismol pink clay dries out even my worst whiteheads in a matter of days. It’s the only thing I’ve ever tried that has this dramatic and immediate of an effect. If I have a breakout, the first thing I do when I get home is wash my face and put this stuff on. I’ll rinse it off and put it on again before bed, and yes, it works miracles. The other product I like is Dermalogica’s Sebum Clearing Masque. It’s cooling (which feels NICE when my skin is angry) and while it doesn’t provide an immediate effect like EradiKate, it has slowly made my skin better over time.
Like Spironolactone, which is a prescription anti-androgen solution, spearmint tea is an all-natural androgen fighter. ICYMI, androgens are “male” hormones that can increase oil production, causing acne (testosterone is an androgen, FYI). Not a lot of scientific research has been done on this, but I really like mint tea, so I gave this tea a shot and I’m pretty sure it has contributed to the fact that I don’t get hormonal acne anymore. Of all the mint varieties, spearmint has the most anti-inflammatory properties, and I actually like the taste best anyway. I bought a LOT of it on Amazon and still haven’t finished it all, so it’s a very natural, cost-effective way to fight acne (and increase your water intake, for all my fellow dehydrated people out there!).
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