Let me preface this post by saying I have tried more new beauty products in the last two months than I have in the last year. It all started when, in early December, I broke out across my forehead and proceeded to have the worst bout of acne that I’ve had since I was a teenager (maybe worse, as I remember my teenage skin being pretty receptive to your standard drugstore acne washes and creams).
I’m going to back up and give you the details, because the culprit of my acne was something I suspect a lot of people might experience during the winter. Dryness. Well, that, and my skin’s pH balance being thrown completely off kilter. If you’ve ever suffered from an annoying bout of adult acne, this next section may feel relevant to you. If not (lucky you!), skip on down to the sections below, where I talk about all the beauty goodies I’ve been using and loving.
So here’s how the story goes: in early December, we had a cold front move through San Francisco. Cold fronts warrant extra hot showers, right? I can’t tell you how awesome it felt to steam up my bathroom right before bed with a scalding hot shower to wash away the day. Ahhhh. Thing is, your skin really, really hates too-hot water. This I know, and I did it anyway. I stripped my forehead skin of all its natural oils, so it kicked into oil production overdrive. And then, the more I messed with it, the worse it got. I put myself into a terrible breakout cycle, where oil was getting trapped in the pores, and my skin’s natural defenses weren’t there to take care of the bacteria that can cause problems.
I was even desperate enough to go to a dermatologist. Maybe that doesn’t sound like an act of desperation, but my experiences with dermatologists have never been especially great — I have yet to find one who is willing to listen to your symptoms and help you piece together causation, versus spending 3 minutes with you (not exaggerating) and slapping you with a prescription for something super harsh. Again, maybe it’s just my experience. But I truly believe that when our skin is reactive, it’s probably trying to tell us something, so for me anyway, slathering it with even harsher chemicals hasn’t felt like a real solution (to wit: it was suggested that in addition to switching all my skincare products to ones with salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide, that I use a high-strength prescription benzoyl peroxide cream, and also start applying Retin-A . On a small patch of forehead skin that hadn’t been acneic in 20 years. This made zero sense to me!).
As always, my aesthetician Marion came to my rescue. I don’t know why I didn’t opt for a facial before dermatologist; probably because the skin had been reactive enough that I didn’t think it was ready for more poking and prodding. But two weeks ago, I went in for a facial and Marion sorted me out. Three big things she told me when you have breakouts you can’t kick:
+ Often, when we have stripped our skin of its natural oils and thrown off the pH, bacteria that normally cannot take hold do just that. They will get down into our pores and proliferate, and along with sebum (our skin’s oil) which becomes trapped and can even harden, you’re in for a really bad breakout. Meanwhile, we’re often treating acne with extremely drying products, which can throw everything off too. You knew people with dry skin can suffer from acne terribly, right?
+ Oxygenating creams are your friend here. Oxygen is the enemy of many of the bacteria that can clog our pores. She used a cream with 3% oxygen and some salicylic acid during my facial, and sent me home with a small pot of it to continue treating. It’s crazy how fast it helped. If you can, look for products with added oxygen, and even better if they have an antiseptic like salicylic acid or sulfur in them, as a second line of defense against bacteria. She also told me to place plastic wrap over the cream once applied, and then put a warm, damp washcloth over the plastic a few times a week — kind of like a moisture mask. The warmth from the cloth helps soften any hardened sebum, so the oxygen can get into the pores and do its job.
+ MANUKA HONEY. I’ve been curious about this supposed natural wonder product for years, and this latest breakout was the thing that got me to try it. Marion recommended I make a mask with Manuka and a bunch of other ingredients (more on this below). Not only did my homemade mask help, but I’ve started washing my face with Manuka honey twice per day. The results have been great!
So anyway, if you’ve had a breakout you just can’t kick, here would be my recs:
- First, make sure it’s not something related to your internal state. Drink more water, try and eat clean for a week, take some supplements, cut back on dairy. At the same time, moisturize with gentle yet deeply hydrating oils or lotions. Sometimes our skin just gets pissed off due to internal inflammation, or because it is too dry, and all these things can help.
- If you’ve done all that (which I did in early December) and nothing is helping, it’s possible you’ve put yourself into a bad cycle where the pH balance and oil production is off. An aesthetician (or maybe dermatologist) will be able to tell you if your comedones (that is, your zits) are caused by bacteria. If they are, bring on the pore openers and the antiseptics. You may also find that a calming product, like Manuka honey, can work wonders for your redness and inflammation on the skin.
Ok, enough about the acne stuff. Oh, and as you know, I’m not a doctor or licensed aesthetician yadda yadda etc etc so everything herein is just what has worked for me and what I have gathered throughout many years of interest in skincare. On to the beauty goodies!
what i’m loving
Kypris Moonlight Catalyst // I picked up this serum as an alternative to a harsher retinoid, when I first wanted to “clear” my skin with products slightly more geared to acneic skin, but not so nuts that we were looking at skin-stripping chemicals. Delightfully, this has ended up being a great whenever serum, despite the fact that the package tells you to use it ONLY AT NIGHT and the salesperson told me not to use it more than a few times per week. After doing some research online, my take is that the formulation changed in the last few years, and despite the old instructions, it’s much gentler than it used to be. I’ve been able to wear it under moisturizer am/pm with no issues (and a fellow blogger, Ashley, recently told me she wears it twice daily too). I actually liked this better than Kypris’ other well known serum, Antioxidant Dew. It felt more effective to me, leaving the skin very supple and smooth. Also: the packaging!
Avène Tolérance Extrême Creme // If your skin is so sensitive and irritated that you don’t want to risk putting a moisturizer with any actives on it, order a tube of this. I’ve always relied on Avène’s products for when my skin is being super sensitive, and this cream is no exception. It has very few ingredients in it, including Avène’s famed spring water, which is incredibly soothing. It’s not very heavy, so if you need something with lots of moisture, skip this one, or beef it up with a few drops of facial oil (plain squalane will be good). I think it’d be great if you’re experiencing sensitive skin in summer.
The Ordinary Salicylic Acid 2% Solution // Clearly I’ve been living under a rock since The Ordinary was 2017’s splashiest beauty launch…and I’d never heard of it until early January! This is cray cray, especially for someone like me who is an ingredient nut and likes to mix my own concoctions. Basically, they sell simplified versions of acids, actives, and various oils at insanely low prices. Not all of the products are super clean (there are PEGs in many of them), but some, like this Salicylic Acid solution, are really basic when you just want that one active ingredient to do its thang. PS – that SA solution is less than $6, and trust me, it’ll last you a LONG time. I like using this as a spot treatment, and when things were really dire, as a serum across areas with acne. I didn’t experience any peeling, and it blended well with other serums!
The Ordinary Granactive Retinoid 2% Emulsion // This is a very creamy retinoid serum. Marion told me to use it after my facial, and only at night, to help encourage skin cell turnover. I haven’t experienced any redness or drying with it — it’s the first ever retinoid product I’ve tried. I will say I don’t notice crazy drastic results like I do with some of my other fave serums, but it has seemed to soften the skin on the forehead and help speed up healing from where all my zits were. I’ll probably use it for another month or so, then taper off. I wonder if their 5% version would feel stronger?
Shea Moisture Mongongo & Hemp Seed Oils High Porosity Moisture-Seal Masque // I did a keratin treatment in late December (which is a post for another day). In seeking out new sulfate free shampoos and conditioners that don’t break the bank, I took a chance on this moisture hair mask from Walgreens. I’ve been surprisingly impressed with it! I find it to be super moisturizing and leave the hair silky smooth — even the little pieces that are already returning to their coarse, porous, natural state post-keratin.
Ellis Brooklyn Fable perfume // It was a rather expensive impulse by, but the minute I got a whiff of Ellis Brooklyn’s Fable perfume, I had to make it mine. I was already a fan of another scent in the line, Rrose (still my absolute fave rose perfume I’ve ever found, trust me on this). Fable is a beautiful everyday scent, with petitgrain, neroli and violet. If you know and enjoy the scent of Le Labo’s Petit Grain candle, you will like this a lot. Ellis Brooklyn itself is a small perfume line created by NYT beauty editor Bee Shapiro. I highly recommend their products!
Lawless Liquid Lipsticks // I’ll cop to being intrigued by the look of matte liquid lipstick when Kylie’s Lip Kits debuted a couple years ago, but when it comes to lip products, I prefer to go as natural/non-toxic as possible. I came across Annie Lawless and her new beauty company on Instagram, and was intrigued by the product: a liquid, semi-matte lipstick that began with a long list of things it wouldn’t include in its formulations. I ordered a few of the colors, and Brad and George have been my faves! They work great for everyday or for going out, and you can easily layer them over a lip balm for a glossier look (I like Kari Gran’s Lip Whip in Naked).
what i’m meh about
Arcona’s Wine Hydrating Mask // I would say this mask is just ok. It feels good going on and I like that as it dries, it doesn’t pull at the skin and crack everywhere like some clay-based masks can do. And while my skin felt soft afterwards, I think I prefer Tata Harper’s Resurfacing Mask, or even a homemade Manuka honey mask. I don’t know what it is about Arcona products — I really want to love them, but I think they’re just not for me (I’ve tried Magic Dry Ice probably 3 times now and always love it Day One, but long term, it’s not moisturizing enough). Anyone else find this with their products?
Alba Botanica Fast Fix for a Pimple // I picked up a tube of this stuff in December, because I liked that its active ingredient was sulfur. I’ve traveled places where water is treated with sulfur, and on day one, my skin is SUPER clear and smooth. After that, it’s all down hill, as it will become red and itchy and dry. However, in small doses on a zit, it seemed like a good idea. This stuff does work well, but I can’t use it anywhere except home because the tinted formulation is not super blendable, and won’t work with a majority of skin tones.
Alba Botanica AcneDote Oil Control Lotion // This lotion works great at controlling excess oil for sure, but my big beef with it is it smells like sulfur to me. I could smell it at the gym one day and that rotten egg aroma grossed me out, nevermind that it was kind of embarrassing. I don’t understand, because sulfur’s not listed in the ingredients, but yeah…a great at home only lotion.
In case you wanna try them anyway:
Oh, Manuka. Why did I wait so long to try you? I’d heard about all your wonderful qualities for years, so I’m not sure why I hesitated. Here are some great things about Manuka honey:
- It naturally has hydrogen peroxide in it, so it can kill bacteria on your face. I’ve also read that it’s oxygenating!
- As a humectant, it’s naturally hydrating. It can draw moisture to your skin and leave you feeling soft and dewy.
- It’s very calming. The anti-inflammatory effects of this stuff is crazy!
About eight years ago when I first got into natural/non-toxic beauty, I read about people washing their face with honey. All these years later and I had never tried it. I can’t believe I waited so long! It is pretty incredible how moisturizing and softening honey is. And you won’t believe how much it can reduce redness and inflammation. Note that I’ve only used Manuka honey for this purpose, which as a honey specifically from New Zealand (the bees pollenate the bushes that make tea tree oil, which probably accounts for its antibacterial properties).
Where to find Manuka
You can find Manuka at pretty much any Whole Foods or health food store these days, or on Amazon. I used a brand called Wedderspoon, and purchased the honey with the highest “K-Factor” available. This unit of measure is specific to Wedderspoon, and basically measures how many live enzymes and chemical compounds are in the honey — all the good stuff. You might see a “UMF” rating on your Manuka honey; similarly, the higher the rating, the better (though the UMF rating refers to MGO (methylglyoxal) levels in the honey, which is another antibacterial element of this magical elixir).
How I Use it
You wash your face with the honey kind same as any other face wash — get your face damp, then slather it on and work it into the skin in a circular motion. It rinses off completely clean; you won’t be sticky at all. Sometimes I will dampen the skin with rosewater, and then wash from there. I will say that at night, if you have a full face of makeup on, I’d use your standard facial cleanser to remove all traces of makeup. Honey’s not great at dissolving makeup products!
It makes the best mask!
In addition to washing my face with it, I’ve been using it as a mask. You can apply it on its own and leave it for however long you want (one night I laid a towel over my pillow and slept with some on my forehead to see how that went. The answer? Great.). Or better yet, you can mix it with other things and customize the mask to your specific skincare needs. Some ideas are here and here. For my mask, I add in ground turmeric, a few drops of tea tree oil, rose water, and colloidal silver. Sometimes I’ll mix in a little bit of green clay too. It feels incredible on your skin. And in the event that you don’t like the honey on your skin, you can always use it in the kitchen!
Seriously though, this, along with the tea tree oil, did wonders for bringing down my skin’s inflammation and helping me finally get rid of my bad breakout. Yes, some of the OTC acne creams did end up helping (I felt like I was 14 all over again, buying a tube of Neutrogena’s On the Spot Acne Treatment). But nothing helped the overall appearance of the skin more than these two natural ingredients. Crazy!
So that’s the latest news from my medicine cabinet. It’s been a crazy two months of skincare, and I have to say, I really noticed my confidence change when my skin was having so many issues. I’m hoping that by sharing some of the ways I got rid of my (short!) boutwith acne, it can help anyone else going through the same thing. Here are some of the articles and resources I enjoyed reading the last few months, in case these help too:
Ten Products that Kill Acne Bacteria
Pityrosporum (Malassezia) Folliculitis Treatment: How to Kick Fungal Acne’s Ass
The Review: Kypris Moonlight Catalyst
All Your Questions About The Ordinary, Answered
What It’s Like to Swap Your Face Wash with Honey
Manuka Honey: Why It’s Great For Your Skin
What is UMF?
Manuka Honey: How And Why You Should Be Putting This Stuff On Your Face