I by no means would consider myself a fashion or beauty blogger.
My idea of a great outfit is wearing all black, and making an effort means adding some bronzer to my usual two step foundation/concealer routine. But If you have any sense of me, or my outlook to health at this point, it’s more than just weights and protein shakes. Whole health manifests from within. One of things that I have noticed as I have gotten older is my skin. I was never one of those teenagers with severe acne issues. I didn’t even wear foundation. Maybe a little concealer on a pimple here or there, but they were never very severe. But as I got older I started to get more complicated issues. Not just regular pimples, but deep, painful bumps, that could stay for weeks!! What the hell, right?! You could get a zit, and maybe ruin a date three weeks from now, not cool. Luckily it was fairly inconsistent throughout undergrad, and I learned quickly that there were certain trigers. Aside from food sensitivities (dairy and wheat being two big ones for me), it was my hormones. Hormonal acne has a very specific way of presenting. Its deep and angry (kind of like my soul) and always on the lower half of the face. I.e., jawline and chin.
So, I managed to survive my early twenties, I even got a very serious adult boyfriend (he was older), and graduated, with not just one but two (honours) degrees in under 5 years! And not because I was hiding in the library like a hermit to avoid being seen. My skin was, while annoying, not life falteringly devastating. However, when I moved provinces for grad school, it slowly became worst. There are obviously mitigating factors such as a humungous amount of stress. But simply avoiding dairy, washing my face twice a day, trying to manage my insomnia, blah blah blah, etc etc… was not cutting it. Finally around 25/26 I couldn’t take it anymore. It wasn’t just one bad cyst here or there, I would get breakouts of multiple. It was mortifying. It’s hard to masque a big lump on your face. It was like having a tumour, right there on my chin for everyone to see. I had tried antibiotics, topical cremes, cortisone, retinol, trentinoin, it all just burned up my skin, and made it peel. I was sad, and embarrassed. So, I went to a dermatologist and got a prescription for Acutane. The famous drug that everyone used to be afraid of. This being because a bunch of correlational research had linked teens and Acutane use with suicide. It also kills your liver, so big no-no for drinking in university. It’s so toxic you actually need monthly blood work. But frick that, I wanted to be pretty! I was adult, about to be a professional. With acne and a baby face no one was going to take me seriously.
No one tells you your skin will purge at first, end every time they upped my dosage, I would break out. Finally after about three months of this crazy expensive drug (I was paying out of pocket), my skin was clearer. It was actually pretty flawless. The effects are supposed to be life lasting. It is forever in your system. So I thought “Cool! One round should be enough, no need to poison my body more”! So I went off it, never to see my dermatologist again.
Guess what. I was wrong. Now, at 29 my skin is actually worse than ever. I have slowly started to figure what things throw off my hormonal balance. For instance, dairy is now more than ever a forbidden food. The protein molecules found in dairy are known to increase sebum secretion. In addition, cow’s milk is full of fake hormones that they pump into cows so that they continuously lactate. Too much alcohol is also a no go. This being because it is known to increase estrogen, and throw off your natural sex hormones balance. Most of late December and early January was a huge pain due to too many social glasses of red wine over the holidays. I recently got back on birth control over the last 6 months. This also threw my hormones for a loop. The huge bump in progesterone, a synthetic androgen also took some time for my body to adjust too. And lastly, stress. This is a killer for everyone, hormones or not. It shows in your skin. Tired, dull, irritated, sensitive skin. While not everyone’s acne issues are hormone related. Heck, some of you probably have glowingly flawless skin, and wash with whatever is handy, if anything at all. But one thing I have noticed among athletic and gym oriented females is an increase in acne issues. Not only due we sweat more, which can clog pores. If you’re guilty like me, I go right after work. I do not wash my face in the period in between. I know, I could… it is not a great excuse. But the truth being. My fair skin gets very red and irritated when I wash it, and the last thing I want when I’m working out is to continuously see my ugly, irritated, inflamed face. But secondly. We have more testosterone in our bodies. More muscle means more testosterone receptors. It is just a simple fact. So as women’s body compositions start to changes, they lose fat, estrogen decreases, and added stress, acne becomes more prevalent.
So. I obviously don’t have the answer to how to treat your hormonal acne, but what I am going to do is break down some tools I have added to my arsenal that seem to help me manage. A lot of companies have a ton of fillers in their products. With maybe one or two ingredients you really need. I recently discovered a Toronto based start-up, by the name of Deciem, that kind of functions like a cool chemistry lab. They have varying levels of quality, so you can buy what is best suited for your budget, and they make straight simple ingredients. The bottle you buy contains only the chemical component marketed. They also have incredibly simple packaging, which saves a lot on cost. I actually prefer the simple, white and glass look. It feels simple, clean, and kind of like I’m playing scientist. I am not affiliated with this company in any way but I do love to support local as much as possible which is why I choose this company.
So here are my four main go to’s and why:
All products listed are from the basic “The Ordinary” line. I always start with my “acids” first because they are best put on clean skin. The Lactic acid is reserved for night time only.
First step after washing, I am not currently using a low pH cleanser so I start with the lowest pH product first. I use the Alpha Albutrin, because it “preps” the face. It has a cosmetic pH of between 3.5-6.5. Being the nerd that I am I remember this by “Acids start with A, A goes on first”. Alpha Arbutin reduces the looks of spots and hyper-pigmentation. It’s used at a high 2% concentration versus a standard concentration of 1% and supported with a next-generation form of Hyaluronic Acid for enhanced delivery. Alpha Arbutin is much stronger in effect than Arbutin or Beta Arbutin. Alpha Arbutrin is found in many K-beauty products as well as western products like Sunday Rileys ‘Tidal’ for it’s ‘whitening’ or brightening effect.
Next, once my face is dry. I used the Lactic acid. Lactic Acid This is an alpha hydroxyl acid that exfoliates the skin. This 5% formulation offers very mild exfoliation and is supported with a purified Tasmanian pepperberry known to reduce signs of inflammation and sensitivity that is often associated with exfoliation. This particular formula contains a studied Tasmanian Pepperberry derivative to help reduce irritation associated with acid use. This pH of this formula is approximately 3.8. Lactic Acid has a pKa of 3.8 and pKa is the most important aspect to consider in formulating with acids. pKa implies acid availability. When pKa is close to pH, there is an ideal balance between salt and acidity, maximizing effectiveness of the acid and reducing irritation. Higher pH numbers in such a case would increase salt which counter-intuitively would make the formula even more irritating than if the formula was more acidic. This is why we started with the Alpha arbutrin to lower the skins pH so that the lactic acid could get to work more quickly. Think of it as ‘preheating the oven’.
Third step: Hyaluronic Acid (HA) can attract up to 1,000 times its weight in water. The molecular size of HA determines its depth of delivery in the skin. This formulation combines low-, medium- and high-molecular weight HA, as well as a next-generation HA crosspolymer at a combined concentration of 2% for multi-depth hydration in an oil-free formula. This system is supported with the addition of Vitamin B5 which also enhances surface hydration.
Note: Hyaluronic Acid is found in the skin naturally but its natural function within the skin is not hydration. Many products have used HA to claim hydration benefits, but HA is too large of a molecule to penetrate the skin and instead sits on the surface and can draw moisture out of the skin making the surface feel soft and hydrated temporarily, while making you feel like you need more HA after the product is rinsed. This formula uses three forms of HA with varying molecular weights, as well as an HA crosspolymer, to offer multi-depth hydration and visible plumping without drawing water out of the skin solely to improve temporary surface hydration. Hyaluronic acid can be found in numerous crèmes and sheet masks so chances are you probably already have some in your routine.
Last step before moisturizer (I use a light lotion moisturizer since heavy cremes congest my skin) is Niacinamide (Vitamin B3). This is used to reduce the appearance of skin blemishes and congestion. AKA those angry red/purplish spots that linger long after the pimple has been reabsorbed. A high 10% concentration of this vitamin is supported in the formula by zinc salt of pyrrolidone carboxylic acid to balance visible aspects of sebum activity.
Contraindications: If topical Vitamin C is used as part of skincare (which I also occasionally use to plump/brighten and reduce hyperpigmentation), it should be applied at alternate times with this formula (ideally Vitamin C in the PM and this formula in the AM). Otherwise, Niacinamide can affect integrity of pure-form Vitamin C (L-Ascorbic Acid). Realistically both these products have similar effects so I have been sticking to the Niacinamide in terms of cost and effectiveness. In addition, it is noteworthy, that while Niacinamide and Zinc PCA reduce the look of blemishes and balance visible sebum activity, neither is a treatment for severe acne.
For persistent acne-related conditions, which are non cystic, I would recommend the use of Benzoyl Peroxide and/or Retinoic Acid. Both which burn my skin, as my acne is too deep for those types of products, but ideal for people with more superficial acne. It is also important to note if you do use topicals that you be sure not to overdo it which will cause that ‘burning’ that I’ve discussed. Taking a break and repairing the skins moisture barrier is in my opinion the best thing you can do for your skin. Although my issue is acne you’ve probably noticed that only one of my products is specifically for acne, the rest are to enhance my complexion and nourish my skin. Your skin sometimes just needs a little TLC and harsh chemicals are not always the answer, if something isn’t working try something else and if that doesn’t work see help from a professional, for some people it’s literally their job to help you fix your skin.
So ladies, (and gentlemen, if there are any of you out there who actually read this blog), I hope that my decade of pain, suffering, research, and trial and error. In my endless pursuit of flawless skin can help you in some way. Is it really too much to wake up, roll out of bed and not feel the need to immediately cover my face?! In all honestly, I make light of it, and while I am sure there are people who suffer far worst than myself, I can honestly say it has been a huge source of shame throughout my adult life. While I do not think you should have to suffer for eating that one ice cream cone, or live in fear that if you enjoy a nice bottle of wine at dinner you will have to hide for a week, this is my reality. So I am here to hopefully help you avoid some of what I have had to endure.
Till next time,