I’ve long struggled with breakouts. I was on Accutane – a harsh antibiotic that reduces inflammation and makes pores less hospitable to bacteria, but not without many harmful side-effects – twice in my teens. My skin cleared up completely for a few years, but adulthood brought new challenges. Changes in hormones and living in several countries, each with drastically different climates, took a toll on my skin. I didn’t really have acne, but I wanted flawless skin – the kind we see in magazines and on social media.
Accustom to the idea that harsh chemicals were the only way to clear skin up, I began using high concentration benzoyl peroxides – a topical treatment that works as an exfoliating agent by increasing the turnover of skin and removing sebum and dead skin cells from pores. But this ultimately led me to develop dermatitis – a condition that causes redness, swelling and blisters – whenever I used products containing benzoyl or alcohol.
Years of (desperate) research and trial-and-error have equipped me with some knowledge on the best ways to manage breakouts. I now use much gentler and more natural products on my skin, working to restore its natural balance rather than strip it.
If you only take two things from this post: be gentle to your skin, especially when you’re faced with a bad breakout, and breakouts are normal, don’t base your standards on pictures you see in magazines or on Instagram (if you can’t see pores, it’s likely been photoshopped).
Here are the tips and products that will allow you to work with your skin, not against it, to achieve your best complexion.
Avoid harsh products! This goes for all steps of a blemished-skin routine, but particularly cleansing. Stripping your skin will make things worse. To ensure you still get a deep clean, double cleanse to remove all dirt and makeup.
Start with a balm or oil cleanser to remove makeup.
Josh Rosebrook Herbal Infusion Oil $55
Cosmetics 27 Cleanser 27 $95
Omorovicza Cleansing Balm $67.50 (sale)
Living Libations Best Skin Ever Cleanser/Moisturizer – Seabuckthorn $31
Joelle Ciocco Sunscreen Cleanser $84
Then use a cream or very gentle cleanser.
Joelle Ciocco Sensitive Cleansing Milk $86
Josh Rosebrook Complete Moisture Cleanse $70
Gentleness is key here too. Blemishes can’t be scrubbed off, and using harsh scrubs with coarse exfoliators will leave your skin irritated and inflamed.
Josh Rosebrook Active Enzyme Exfoliator $82
Dr. Barbara Sturm Enzyme Cleanser $100
Tata Harper Resurfacing Mask
Hydrate hydrate hydrate! It seems counterintuitive since we’re taught to dry out our blemishes, but in the long run that will only make them worse. Toners and mists will help restore your skin’s natural pH levels and leave it feeling hydrated, soothed, and rebalanced.
Dr. Barbara Sturm Balancing Toner $100
Joelle Ciocco Botanical Lotion $38.75
Cosmetics 27 Activating Bio-Balancing Mist $85
Josh Rosebook Hydrating Accelerator $44
Omorovicza Queen of Hungary mist $55 (sale)
Hydrate some more. Hydration is the single most important factor in skincare because it helps prevent all skin troubles (think ageing, pigmentation, spots, scarring, etc.)
First, use a serum containing hyaluronic acid.
HA draws moisture from its surroundings to hydrate the skin, and can hold 1000x its weight in water.
Dr. Barbara Sturm Clarifying Serum $330
Dr. Barbara Sturm Hyaluronic Serum $390
Cosmetics 27 Essence 27 $131
Niod multi-molecular hyaluronic complex ($30 15ml | $60 30ml) - while it's less concentrated, it's a great budget-friendly product.
Follow with a not-too-thick moisturizer that still delivers a hydrating punch.
Joelle Ciocco Protective Moisturizing Factor $124
Dr. Barbara Sturm Clarifying Face Cream $290
Cosmetics 27 Crème Bio-Logique $128
Joelle Ciocco Rebalancer $133
Use a mask a few times a week or daily for - yes - more hydration.
Trust me, I know how tempting it is to slather on a clay or mud mask when you breakout. But rather than getting rid of your blemishes, it will dry out and irritate your skin further. Your skin is hyper-sensitive when it breaks out, so treat it accordingly. Use hydrating masks to soothe the inflammation.
Josh Rosebrook Advanced Hydration Mask $82
Dr. Barbara Sturm Deep Hydrating Face Mask $215
Plasma 27 Sheet Mask $35
So you’ve got a few spots that won’t give up. For these pesky blemishes, use a targeted acne treatment, but only on that spot. You don’t have to treat your skin as a single entity, meaning if you have a breakout on your chin, it’s unnecessary to apply the treatment to your forehead. Doing so might dry your skin out, stripping it of all the moisture you’ve been giving it.
Blume Meltdown Acne Treatment $34
Dr. Barbara Sturm Clarifying Spot Treatment $73