I get lots of compliments on my skin in my photos. I got told yesterday on my latest set how nice it was. I won't ever deny it; I use photoshop to take out distracting blemishes, but for the most part, my skin is how you see it. I wanted to go into a bit more depth on how I got to this place. This journal may get a bit gross at times, just sayin'
My skin was not always baby-smooth. Throughout my teenage years I had what is known as cystic acne. Life was depressing. I can't say which kind of acne is worse, all-over surface type, or one single giant zit-from-hell in the middle of your forehead. I had the second kind. I was extremely self-concious, and I wouldn't have dared to take stock photos had I not found a way to clear up my skin. Day-to-day, I took my stress out by picking at my skin. You can't see it in my photos now, but I do have some permanent damage from skin-picking. It's a reminder that self-harm is self-harm. You don't have to be taking a razorblade to your wrists to be damaging your body.
It's also a reminder for me to tell you: Put your hands away! Sit on them if you have to! Walk away from the mirror! Smash it if you have to! But leave your skin alone! It's not trying to hurt you, so stop trying to hurt it! DO. NOT. PICK. AT. IT.
While I was reading article upon article about what was causing my acne and what might work to treat it, I learned about the different types. I learned that my acne was:
Hormonal caused by my own body's hormones telling it to be all crazy-like and produce way too much oil.
Stress-related oh, joy, stress-related acne that causes more stress!
Cystic Acne The largest and most painful kind. These weren't little blackheads that could be covered with make-up or spots that would fade away after a few days. No, I had the kind that took weeks to develop, were painful without even touching them, and even caused headaches when they were near the top of my head.
I got them pretty much anywhere on my face, sometimes around my ears, neck and shoulders, but mostly around my nose and chin. That's female hormonal acne for you! So I wanted better skin, and I wanted it FAST. It was all down to developing a plan now.
Step one of better skin is to leave it the hell alone.
Step two is to try to figure out what's causing it. It took a lot of research on my part to have that aha-moment and find the type of acne that best fit what I was having. Causes can range anywhere from environmental pollution, to allergic reactions, to hormones, bacteria, fungal infection, or even washing your face too much.
Step three is to figure out how severe your acne is. Blackheads? Small whiteheads? Large? Surface acne or under-the-skin nodes? Is it just one area of your body is it all over? Since the main area of my own acne was my chin, I figured out that it was hormonal, and actually rather common in women.
Step four is figuring out what you would like to try to solve the problem. Remember, acne has no cure. only treatments.
What didn't work for me
This doesn't mean the things I mention won't work for anyone, but they didn't work for me. I'll explain why.
Switching cleansers It didn't matter if it was for acne, made by a certain company, or cheap, or expensive or anti-bacterial. No amount of soap or scrub or cleanser would fix the acne I had. It was too deep under my skin, and the anti-bacterial properties didn't penetrate to where the problem was. All I did was dry my skin out so I had massive lumps and dry, itchy skin. Beautiful.
Changing my pillow case every night This can actually work wonders for people who have surface-related acne. Of course that fabric we put our head on for several hours a night is going to get dirt and bacteria on it. And it makes sense. If you have a shower and then go to bed, you're just rubbing that bacteria right back into your skin. It didn't work for me because my problem was below my skin.
Changing my diet Again, this can work wonders. If you have the patience to try something extreme, and are fed up with a lack of results, try going one or two months eliminating certain foods from your diet. The top culprits that I know of are 1 Dairy products 2 Wheat / gluten and 3 Eggs. Yeah, it's the basic form of all food, I know. But if you're determined enough, you may find you have an allergy to these things. If it IS true, well, you're kinda boned if you love those foods.
washing more frequently / scrubbing lots Just.... don't.
There were also a few things that I'll never really know if they worked or not, but I keep doing because they're just good things to do.
Avoid stress and don't pick. In other words, stop making things worse. Acne isn't the end of the world. We all hate it, but it won't kill you.
Pumpkin seeds Some people say they help a lot, some, nothing. Pumpkin seeds are full of zinc, and raw ones are best. They are also delicious.
Fish Oil I take fish oil regularly as a source of Omegas. They supposedly promote healthy skin and memory. Again, reviews on these are mixed. I keep taking fish oil because for me it also seems to regulate my stress level and short-term memory. It might be a placebo, but I do it anyway.
What finally DID work for me
Oral Ethinylestradeol. Also known as Birth Control. Politics aside, it works for women for hormonal acne especially. For some, slightly. for others, magically. I like to think of it as "Cure for acne! Side effects Infertility". Sorry guys, no miracle pill cure for you. However, men sometimes respond better to...
Retinol is a strange cure, and almost worthy of its own post. The best I can describe it is "Bottled Sunburn". It's a chemical treatment that does two things:
1) It kills your skin
2) It grows your skin
When you first start putting it on, it gently warms your whole face. Then, three days later, an entire layer of skin falls off. And I don't mean "softly exfoliates away into a washcloth" I mean YOUR FACE IS PEELING OFF IN PENNY / QUARTER-SIZED CHUNKS. The top layer of your skin is falling away, and the more you use retinol, the more it will remove dead and surface layers of skin. This kinda frees up your lower layers of skin to grow faster and healthier. It also pushes ALL of the zits that were hiding below your skin to the top. Initial breakout? Oh, yes. The good news is that after two weeks of hell, your skin peeling away in thin, chemically-sunburned chunks and the breakout of doom that is a month's worth of acne at once, you're free to start healing. Ready, set, eat good foods and wear sunscreen.
Because you need to look out for actual sunburn. Retinol thins your skin layers, so your skin is tender and very susceptible to UV rays. No matter how greasy you think it is, sunscreen is a must at all times on retinol. Otherwise you are a walking lobster, and sun damage makes acne scars a lot more permanent and a lot worse. Don't worry, though, the initial breakout a freaky skin peeling go away after a while. Then retinol just works regularly.
Retinol helped me a lot by thinning my skin layers. Part of my problem with hormonal acne was that my blemishes were deep under layers of skin. They got all painful and infected because the zit was, well, like an ingrown hair. It had nowhere to go. Retinol helped push all of the bad stuff up to the surface, and then prevented new blemishes from getting so bad in the first place.
Anti-bacterial Sunscreen This was just a cream that my doctor prescribed alongside retinol. They go hand-in-hand. The cream helps clear up bactera infections in pores, and the sunscreen means you don't have to worry so much about exposure.
It took a long time to be able to see a dermatologist for these prescriptions. I had to wait several months. However, the trip was simple, and the doc took one look at my face and handed me the two prescriptions. Neither were covered by insurance, but honestly, they're not that expensive and both tubes last a while. The Retinol was about $15 while the ABsunscreen was around $25. They lasted for half a year. Not a bad price for either.
Both of these prescriptions took at least two weeks to seem like they were doing anything at all, and my skin got worse before it got better. I only noticed actual "improvement" about 2 1/2 to 3 months into treatment. My best advice is to be patient with a treatment. It needs time to start working, and many people cut a working treatment short because of the initial breakout. Unless something is going horribly, horribly wrong, you need to try a treatment for at least a month, if not two before you stop or switch, and you need to be consistent while you do it.
So, for a treatment like diet, if you're going dairy-free, you can't just go dairy-free for a day or two. You need to be dedicated, read labels on anything and hold yourself to it to see if you're allergic. If you mess up and have a milkshake, then suddenly have a huge breakout the next day, at least you can be more sure that dairy is what's causing it. Don't freak out if you miss an evening of your regimen or forget to take a pill. Just be the most consistent and patient you can.
Eventually I stopped using both retinol and the ABsunscreen after about six months of continuous nightly application. This was about enough time to completely grow a new layer of skin. What's great about growing skin faster is that my surface scars helped fade as well. After the six months, I just didn't feel like I need such a strong cure anymore.
EDITED TO ADD:
If it helps to picture it, think of your skin like a conveyor belt. On the very inside, you have raw, new skin that's very tender. This is the skin you see when you scrape your knee and it bleeds. In the middle, you have your layers of cells that slowly move toward the surface as new cells for underneath and old cells die off and shed away. The end of this conveyor belt is the surface of your skin. The outmost layer is mostly dead cells, and on top of that is your skin's mantle of bacteria (good and bad) acid and oil.
A zit usually forms long before you notice it. It only becomes a problem the closer it gets pushed to the surface on your skin conveyor belt. This explain a bit why retinol helps (It makes your conveyor belt shorter from one end to the other, and move faster) and also why damaging your skin hurts it. Why destroy the conveyor belt? It's trying to do its job. If you take out a cog, the whole thing has to be repaired before it can move again.
Now, while on retinol, because my skin was so thin, it was extremely susceptible to damage from picking. When you damage the tender underlayers of skin, they are more difficult to grow back smoothly, if at all. This kinda helped me stop my stress-picking as well. It hurt and I knew I was making things permanent if I didn't stop.
Finally, as my acne started to show improvement, I switched to skin-maintenance rather than carpet-bombing my face with chemicals. For those who aren't interested in strong chemicals, I found that one key substance has stayed with me for years.
Apple Cider Vinegar
I swear by this stuff. It has worked for me so much that I don't ever wash my face anymore.
You heard me.
I stopped washing my face.
That is to say, I stopped using any sort of soap or cleanser on my face. Turns out, your skin, like your digestive system, has good bacteria and bad bacteria. It has good oils and bad (or rather just too much) oils. When you use alkali (bubbly) soaps on your face, you strip your skin of natural oils and good bacteria that make it lovely and soft. I was drying my skin out, then slapping on way too much moisturizer to compensate. It was also putting a lot of crap on my skin that it didn't need. I found that I'm fairly allergic to a lot of scents and dyes in skincare products. If it's pink and it smells like flowers, PUT IT AWAY! You are not a rosebud. You don't need to smell like one.
So, removing the high pH soaps, the preservatives, dyes and perfumes also helped. Not with the cystic acne, but with overall look and feel. It's a subtle difference that's hard to describe. It's just... nicer. Not instant-photoshop perfect, but my skin felt more comfortable to be in. You know when you've been too rough with it. It's all tight from overwashing, or red from scrubbing, or greasy from product. This was what it felt like to not have any of that.
What I do now
What it all boils down to after years of embarassment, experimenting and energy.
I let my skin protect itself with its own defenses. When I shower, I don't wash my face. I never use cleanser. When I get out of the shower and my face is still wet, I get a cotton pad and soak it in apple cider vinegar. If I want to exfoliate my skin, I'll use it pure. If I'm just doing regular care, I'll dilute it by running a few drops from the tap on it.
I'll wipe my face gently and sometimes dead skin will peel off. Not to the same degree as retinol, this is just surface stuff.
I'll rinse my face with water, then use a no-preservative, scent-free, dye-free moisturizer.
No more picking, or worrying or washing or self-hate. I just let my body take care of itself, and it does. I'm not a doctor, or a scientist, and I know this won't help everyone. I just wanted to share my story with you guys. It took a long time to get here, and I have a much better understanding of acne and appreciation for my skin. Dealing with acne forced me to love my body when I really didn't want to.
If you have any questions for me about what I did or use, or you want to share your own story, feel free to post.
If you're struggling with your skin, Acne.org is an awesome site and community for information and support. I got a lot of my information there. It's a community generated site, so information isn't teh same as seeing a doctor. However, it was good to be around people like myself who were fed up with their skin problems and weren't just trying to sell me a product. You can also take the little survey here to narrow down what kind of acne you might have, and some suggestions for improvement.
P.S. As a final note, I wanted to talk about healing. Acne heals. Scars heal. Your skin can improve, even when you think all hope is lost. Although I don't have any photos (I would NEVER let myself be photographed during a really bad breakout) I had large open wounds on my face from acne and picking at acne. They bled. They scabbed. They became infected under the scabs and I picked at them again. Slowly, only slowly over years of finally taking good care of my skin have my scars begun to fade. The ACV exfoliation helps, but this healing is internal. Knowing it gets better helps. From the worst of the worst skin you never want people to see, to skin you actually want people to touch is amazing. If you have it bad right now, look at my face. That's not gloating. That's healing. You will heal, too.
EDIT AGAIN: Well, I guess that's not the end, because I have more to add.
I've spoken a bit above about how knowing about bacteria is important with acne. I wanted to talk a bit about hygene that people might not think about. Your general bathroom area, or wherever you wash your face are just as important in controlling bacteria (or in some cases, fungus or parasites. Gross, but hey, it happens. I've had lice before.)
- Your washcloth an towels - Are they clean and laundered enough? Do they smell mildewey? Do you share them with anyone else? There may be bacteria hiding on them that you transfer back to your face and body when you wash.
- Your sink area - is it clean or full of hair, toothpaste and floss? is it cluttered or neat?
- Your bottles themselves - Do you see a buildup of gunk on your moisturizer or cleanser pump? Have you touched the inside of a bottle then put the lid back on? I don't want you to be paranoid, but think about how bacteria could seep into your products and grow in there. If you're constantly using these products with dirty hands, bacteria could fester inside the tubes and bottles.
- also, how OLD are you products? Are they expired or just not taken care of? In some cases, especially if you notice a breakout after washing, the culprit may not be an allergic reaction to a product so much as bad, expired or compromised product. Washing yourself with dirty product won't help you with a bacterial problem.
It's not a huge issue, but if you have old products you know don't work, chuck them out. (Yeah, even if they were expensive. if you didn't use them then, you won't now)
be logical and practical when it comes to bacteria detective. You are a Sherlock Holmes for warm, moist dark places that bacteria may like to hang out in. and in many cases, the bathroom is just that!
Working with lighting today reminded me of one thing. When I was very self-concious, my picking was triggered by, of all things, fluorescent lighting. Fluorescent lighting, AKA those bar lights in offices, is TERRIBLE for viewing skin. It's always in commercial buildings and bathrooms. The type of light it gives off makes acne and red marks look so much worse on your face. If you find yourself suddenly hating what you look like, check to see what kind of lighting you're under. It could really be the way you're looking at yourself that makes you think you're having a "bad day". It may not be possible to replace these lights, but try to see your skin under incandescent light (regular round lightbulbs) and natural light to see the difference. They are far more flattering.
MAKE-UP REMOVAL ADDENDUM
(taken from a post in the comments)
I'll say first: I don't wear much make-up. I have a lot of sensitivity as well, and my make-up is restricted to photoshoots or important events. It takes me a day to break out from a reaction, so I get to wear it for parties, then stay at home.
My favourite make-up removal is olive oil. (In a pinch, unscented hand lotion). Most make-up is oil-soluble, and so it is removed much easier with oil rather than a soap + water. Especially things like mascara and eyeliner. I especially prefer olive oil when I'm in heavy oil-based stage make-up. That pancake foundation can really do a number on you!
It doesn't have to be olive oil, some people prefer a lighter oil like almond oil. I use olive because it's conveniently in supply.
What I do is soak a cotton pad in it to start dissolving my make-up. If I've done theatre or evening make-up, i could go through two or three pads. I just keep soaking a new one and wiping the make-up away. Yes, my skin is covered in oil after the fact, but that's easier to deal with than make-up. When I'm sure no more colour is coming off of my face, I just wash my face regularily, and gently remove the oil. I sometimes choose not to moisturize and just leave a very trace amount of olive oil on my face as moisturizer (usually because it is late at night and I am already tired )
In a pinch, unscented hand lotion works in the same way, but I find olive oil much easier on my eyes. I've actually gotten it in my eyes and it doesn't sting at all.
My moisturizer right now is: www.en.laroche-posay.ca/produc…
Fancy french name and all. I got it from the drugstore in one of those packs (cleanser, moisturizer, bottle of spray-water) I threw out the cleanser, I use the moisturizer and I kept the spray water because 1) lol and 2) meh, it's good when I have dry skin or it's hot out. I doubt it does anything. It's spray-water.
Next time, I'll probably buy the moisturizer alone if the pack isn't on sale.
I've also used www.aveneusa.com/phys-ex-toler…
Avene tends to be really, really expensive, but since I'm not buying cleanser or toner, and ACV is cheap, I factor in what I would have bought and just buy the quality moisturizer.
There is a bit of a difference between the two. The LaRoche moisturizer is thinner / runnier, whine the avene creme is slightly thicker, and slightly heavier. Both are very light, though.
People also like almond oil as a natural product (I haven't tried it, also don't if you have a nut allergy)
Aaaand emu oil is recommended by many as a great moisturizer for damaged, inflamed or red-marked skin. www.natural.ca/products/emu-oi… (I'm not recommending a specific brand, since I haven't used emu oil, just showing you what it looks like)
- Comes from animals, so a no if you are vegan.
Other choices are really dependant, some poeple have had great results, and some with different skin types just said they brok out worse.
- Olive oil is good for ultra-dry skin, but not oily, and you have to use it very sparingly. Can clog pores.
- Aloe Vera is also good for damaged, dry skin (straight from the plant, no bottles, you can buy one from the garden section of the hardware store) but some people don't like it. It's heavy, and again can clog pores, depends on the person/skin. Still great for sunburns, though.