Growing up, I thought there’d be an age where I’d stop breaking out. I distinctly remember my high school acne era and the only thing getting me through was that by the time I was in college, my breakouts would be obsolete.
That didn’t happen. In fact, my acne doubled down in my twenties. I was prescribed Accutane a few times (will save that experience for another post). Then, my thirties were a decade of sporadic breakouts. And my current decade—40s? Ugh. Let’s just say my hormones are not happy with me, and they’re starting a war on my face.
My derm told me my most current breakout was “genetic” and “hormonal,” which, honestly, I feel is a cop-out. He said it had nothing to do with what I was eating or the products I was putting on my skin.
But since this isn’t my first acne rodeo, I knew to switch up some things immediately.
First things first: pare down the skincare routine. Take away all fragrance, oils, and actives. I do have a few products in my everyday rotation that contain fragrance, and my skin usually doesn’t have a bad reaction to a bit of scent. But when I’m in a full-blown flare-up, I remove all fragrances.
As far as oils are concerned, I eliminate any product that has any oil in any ingredient placement. I get super specific: even the oils that derms say are healthy for oily and acne-prone skin (here’s looking at you jojoba), I take out of my routine.
As far as actives are concerned, this is a real push-pull because when I’m breaking out, I crave actives to tame my acne. But for the first few days of a bad breakout, I try my best to get rid of all actives—except to spot treat. When it comes to spot treating, I stick with salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide, but glycolic acid is a decent choice too. (I incorporate glycolic back into my routine once I’ve gotten the inflammation down.)
The reason to remove actives is because any sort of breakout is really your skin’s cry for help, which likely means your acid mantle is out of whack. Actives just perpetuate this cycle, so what you need to do is nurse the barrier back to health before you eviscerate it with acids and retinoids.
I also remove fluoride from my toothpaste, as it’s been linked to perioral dermatitis, only use washcloths once, and change pillowcases nightly. (I do the latter two always, but just plugging it here as a reminder to people who may not be as hygienically obsessive as I am.)
Here are the products I used during this current months-long breakout that made a difference:
After about a week, I re-introduced a few acids in the form of the following products:
If anyone has an amazing, oil-free, fragrance-free, active-free daily moisturizer that helps maintain the skin barrier while also not causing milia :), DM me and let me know! I’ve tried most of the viral ones, and they still make me break out. Sigh.
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