How to Deal with Adult Acne
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To be honest, I’ve pushed this topic out several times now, because I just wasn’t ready to talk about it. As much as I have mentioned it on Instagram by now, it took me a while to get to that point. There were times that I purposely wouldn’t show my face on camera, because of how much it hurt my self esteem. I also kind of write this with a heavy heart, because if you’re reading this, chances are you have felt everything I have felt and still kind of feel it. I joked recently that I as happy with the mask requirement from COVID-19 / Coronavirus, because it covered up the 3 big sores / acne spots on the side of my face. It was making light of two sad situations (obviously the pandemic being the main one and my pity party for myself a very minute one in the grand scheme of things.) The reason I have somewhat of a heavy heart as I type this out is because there’s not a magic pill that can make all this go away. I say that because I wish there was, but from my experience it takes months of healing - both emotionally and physically - to get through this. So while I can’t give you magic tips, I can share things that have helped me and could possibly help you!
I can’t help but talk about my own story when I delve into acne, but KEEP SCROLLING if you want to go straight to my tips and thoughts.
I never really had to deal with acne growing up. I got a pimple every now and then, but I didn’t have a major struggle. When I was 18 I went on hormonal birth control (HBC) and only then did I start to break out; however once my body got used to it, this issue dissipated.
When I was around 23 (2014), I started breaking out again (still on HBC), but this was more like stress related acne, as I had just moved, started a new job, and was in a new relationship. I ended up going to the dermatologist. She put me on Spirnalactone (oral), Sulfacetamide Sodium Topical Suspension Lotion (morning), and Tretinoin Cream (Retin A, night). I was on this for 4 months and then got off of it, as everything had cleared up.
This happened again almost 4 years later (right before I turned 27 circa 2018), so I went back to the derm. She prescribed the same 3 drugs again in July of that year. In August I saw my esthetician and she had a different story for me. I had been seeing her every 8 weeks for a year, so she knew my skin. She said what looked like hormonal acne around my chin was actually realllllly inflamed and clogged pores. What?! Why hadn’t my dermatologist recognized that? What just slap the same bandaid on? To be honest, I was already annoyed with my derm because she basically told me this was my skin and some people take spiranolactone forever, because they know their skin will be good on that. How is that okay? It’s literally a blood pressure lowering medication that people will prescribe because it has some other benefits to it. After my initial script was up, I just didn’t refill it and decided that I wanted to try a more natural way of recovering. I decided to cut processed sugar for 6 weeks and see if that helped my skin and it did! 2018 was a really stressful year between work and personal matters. I noticed that I probably drank a soda a day to help with headaches, on top of nightly gummy bears and whole bottles of kombucha. These things aren’t bad per se, but the amount of sugar I was eating was not good. During this time I saw my skin get better. After that I gradually introduced processed sugar back into my diet.
Fast forward to January 2019 and I decided to get off of hormonal birth control. I wrote about that experience here. About 6 months after that, I started breaking out and essentially didn’t stop until fairly recently. It was the worst acne I’ve ever had and spread like crazy. I do think it was related to getting off of birth control, but I also think it was because I had Ulcerative Colitis (UC) and just didn’t know it yet. I knew that something weird was going on in my gut and based on Chinese Face Mapping (depicted in graphic below), the places my skin was breaking out pointed to a GI issue. My skin isn’t perfect now, but it is a ton better. I also experienced an extremely stressful time after getting let go, shortly after which we decided to move from Texas to California. Side note - in Dallas my esthetician was Amanda at Eleven Wellness, but once I got to LA, I started seeing Maddie at Corrective Skincare LA. The acne I was experiencing not only made me self conscious, but was also really painful. My face constantly hurt! Gladly, I think my face has begun to heal due to my UC meds and with the help of Corrective Skincare LA. I’ve laid out more details on this in my tips/suggestions below!
Left: 11/21/19 (1st time in) vs Right: 01/02/2020 (3rd time in)
taken by Maddie at Corrective Skincare LA
So now that you know a little bit about me, here’s some thought provoking questions to ask regarding your acne.
WHAT IS YOUR DIET LIKE?
Okay, maybe not something you want to touch, but it is worth looking into. Though cutting sugar helped clear my skin the first time, the second time I tried it, it didn’t. To be honest, I didn’t see much change in cutting anything. At times I cut dairy, gluten, and sugar, without seeing any major changes. For those reasons I still eat them, but honestly I limit them when I can, just because I often feel better when I eat less of them. You might try cutting them (one at a time) for a little bit to see if it helps you and go from there. You never know! Don’t forget about heavily processed food. It could be a major culprit too. Also, are you drinking enough water? You should be consuming at least your weight divided by 2 in oz. So if you weigh 100 pounds, you should be drinking 50 oz a day. If you sweat/exercise, drink caffeine or alcohol, then you need to drink even more water than that. Also, not diet related, but are you getting enough sleep? Something to consider! Sleep is when our body repairs and takes care of itself!
On a similar note, are you taking skin supporting supplements? Make sure you are taking a vitamin! Magnesium and zinc are good for skin health too. Probiotics can also help! I haven’t been taking one since getting diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis, but my favorite one I’ve tried is this one. Just somethings to consider!
ARE THERE ANY UNDERLYING ISSUES?
For me, the ultimate issue was Ulcerative Colitis. I made an appoint with a gastroenterologist late last year and soon after that, they scheduled me for a colonoscopy. They confirmed I had UC and started me on some medications that I’m still on today. Within a couple weeks of being on the meds, my face started looking better. Often times, your skin is your body’s last resort tell you something is wrong. I knew something had been off for over 4 months before I actually went to the doctor. Vain as it sounds, I ended up going to the doctor because I thought it might help my face. Just because you have acne doesn’t mean there is another issue. It is worth thinking about though, as acne when you’re older often has other causes. You’re not going through puberty. Hah!
Here’s a little Chinese Face Mapping graphic I made!
ARE YOU ABLE TO SEE A PROFESSIONAL?
If you can afford seeing a professional, I highly recommend it. And if you can, try to find a place that specializes in acne. At my worst, my older acne would turn into new acne as soon as one spot started to heal. I have a theory that I needed professional help, because I couldn’t combat this bacteria on my own. I have been seeing Maddie at Corrective Skincare LA every 3 weeks since mid November 2019. I haven’t been able to go since March 10, 2020 because of Coronavirus / COVID-19, but other than that, I never miss an appointment. She has been doing extractions and a light peel. This not only prevents future breakouts, but also fades my acne scarring. My skin is so fair, it often takes a while to fade even after the blemish has healed topically. She also wrote me a prescription for acne medication that they sell. I use their peeling lotion and acid pads. You can buy it online, though you buy it at your own risk, since you don’t have a medical esthetician helping you. Initially I started using one or the other at night, every other day. I then worked up to using them both everyday. I use the peeling lotion in the morning and the peel pads at night.
A dermatologist would work too. I just feel like my estheticians help me more. I know some people feel more connected to their derms, so do what is best for you! I know some people have had their dermatologist perform “acne surgeries” that are similar to that of an esthetician.
If you can’t see a professional, these are my favorite at home face masks!
WHAT PRODUCTS ARE YOU USING?
Because I create content, especially around beauty, I tried a lot of different things. In reality, your skincare routine doesn’t have to be a lot of different things and really is better off simplified. We stripped my skincare routine down to the basics to help my crazy breakouts and I’m still pretty much following that. I cleanse in the morning, rub an ice cube all over my face, apply peeling lotion, then add moisturizer if I want it. At night I cleanse. I only double cleanse if I wore makeup that day, ice, then do my peel pad. I’ve been spot treating “open wound” type acne with palmarosa cream and then CBD serum with a gua sha stone every other night for the past 2 months.
Side note, you shouldn’t start more than one new product at a time, because if your skin starts acting up, you won’t be able to tell what the problem is. Also, you should try new products for at least 3 weeks, so you can make a good judgement call as to whether they’re effective. Feel free to use it shorter if you don’t already like it, but just know if you do like it, keep using it for at least 3 weeks before you claim it as your new favorite.
ALSO, check the ingredients in your products. Since I use nontoxic spectrum / cruelty-free products, a lot of them contain coconut oil, which is extremely pore clogging. You may not have an issue with it, but my skin is sensitive to it. It is still in some of my products, but minor traces and only in a couple of them.
WHEN DO YOU BREAK OUT?
Is it all the time? Is it when you start your period? Right before? For me, when I’m not breaking out every single day, I tend to get blemishes right before my period. This is pretty common because hormones are shifting. Try to see if there are foods and such that can help with this shift and support your body, regardless of when you break out. If you have never paid attention, see if you can notice!
THINGS I’VE FOUND HELPFUL
Cutting sugar (I did this for 6 weeks - it worked when I was eating a lot of sugar!)
Using less products with coconut oil
Using food as medicine (what foods help your skin? ie bone broth builds collagen)
Seeking professional help from a dermatologist and or medical esthetician
Reducing stress (get excerise, “me time”, etc)
Touching your face less if at all
Using moisturizer (it’s common to think NOT to use it for breakouts, but acne thrives on dry skin)
Working lymphatic drainage tools to your benefit like a jade roller or a gua sha (these can help problem areas!)
PRODUCTS I HAVE FOUND HELPFUL:
Ice (Yes literally from your freezer. Rub on your face, targeting troublesome areas, but don’t just press and hold. Keep it moving, or it will burn the spot. This helps reduce the size and lifespan of the blemish.)
Seed Cycling (ok not a “product”, but wanted to include it)
Regarding Tretinoin (Retin A / Retinol), I have used it before, but I didn’t want to use it forever, so I stopped. Depending on how much you use, tretinoin rates anywhere from a 6 to a 9 on the EWG 10 scale which is BAD. To learn more about Retin A, click here. If I ever went back to a retinol type product, I would use Biossance Squalane + Phyto-Retinol Serum, which uses plant based “retinol”, so it isn’t as harsh!
Regarding Spirnalactone, I won’t go back on it because I am trying to focus on root causes as opposed to band-aid medications. I’m also trying to use medications that focus directly on the issue I’m in need of correcting. That is the whole reason I got off of birth control in the first place. I was tired of using it as a “fixer” for heavy and uncomfortable periods. Spirnalactone is a blood pressure lowering drug, so if you don’t have high blood pressure, you could have clear skin AND seriously adverse affects. Additionally, most derms won’t prescribe it to you if you aren’t on birth control, as it is known to cause birth defects.
So where am I at now? I honestly wanted to push this article until my skin was more clear, but thats not really fair. My skin is SO much more clear than it was several months ago and I am so thankful. I’ve just now started paying attention to WHEN I break out, so I’m excited to start tracking that. From what I have gathered so far, I break out around ovulation, so I’m going to try to start supporting my body better during that time. I also have realized that my skin is healing faster. Just last week I had 3 awful sores on my face and while the redness is still here, the sores are gone. I’m able to feel and catch things faster so I can treat them more quickly. More on treating breakouts soon ;) When I don’t have a crazy pimple, my main problems are closed comedones. These are hard to see with the naked eye, but are what can get angry and create a bad pimple.
I wanted to end this by saying that you are more than your acne. I’ve received handfuls of messages thanking me for talking about and showing my acne openly. It is honestly hard for me, but now it just feels normal. ADDITIONALLY, I’ve heard you tell me that seeing me talk about it helps you realize that you don’t outright notice my acne. You notice the things I’m saying, doing, and other characteristics, which has helped you realize that people see past your own acne. I know it hurts both physically and mentally, but you will get through this and it will get better. Good luck and you are beautiful!
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