Acne is caused by a host of factors which entails different treatment modalities, including lifestyle modifications. It can be frustrating! I talk from experience as I have dealt with bad acne growing up, even in my 20s many moons ago. My profession as an Aesthetic Registered Nurse allows me to integrate medical approach in the prevention and treatment of acne (focusing on scar prevention and/or reduction), and that includes patient education as well as use of lasers and energy-based devices that help repair the skin. But how do you really manage acne? Pointblank, if you are dealing with mild breakouts, start with over the counter products (benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid being the hallmark of treatment). If it’s moderate to severe (cystic kind), go see a doctor or dermatologist that will help you get to the bottom of the cause. A good dermatologist will exhaust first line approach (topical whether over the counter or prescription) before considering oral medications.
I mentioned lifestyle modifications, in particular, way of eating. Most dermatologists are now advising against dairy and junk food. Whey and casein are proteins that are present in cow’s milk. New studies suggest that the latter can trigger the release of IGF-1 (insulin-like growth factor) which has been shown to increase sebum production and stimulate androgen (testosterone). Cows are treated artificially with hormones which contain high levels of IGF-1. Connect the dots, the correlation is apparent. Similarly, food that is high in sugar and processed can trigger the same effect. When I first embraced a plant-based lifestyle decades ago (this is before I went full vegan), one of the very first improvements I noticed was the drastic reduction of acne and how my skin cleared up as time went by. While I still get occasional breakouts now that I am in my mid-40s, those are far and in-between, and usually related to sensitivities to new products I am testing out (the downside of beauty-blogging). Curious how I treated my acne scars? watch this video. (also, great read: skincare for all ages)
So let’s talk about my go-to skincare products that help prevent and treat these occasional breakouts I am talking about. Regardless of the brand, note that skincare is not a one size fits all approach, just to be clear about it. And please, don’t pick your pimples. I know it can be tempting to pop that zit out but if you’re not careful enough, infection and scarring can happen.
Sunscreen. Aside from protection against sunburn, photo damage, melanoma, sun spots, melasma, among others, sunscreen is your number one ally when it comes to acne prevention and treatment. Sun can trigger inflammatory response (acne is inflammation) and without adequate sun protection, it can also contribute to post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (read: how to get rid of hyperpigmentation). Choose a sunscreen that is safe for acne-prone and sensitive skin. I prefer physical (mineral: titanium dioxide, zinc oxide) sunscreens as these have better track record for acne-prone versus chemical (oxybenzone, avobenzone, octisalate, octocrylene, homosalate and octinoxate. The important part of sunscreen is reapplication where most people falter. Re-apply every 2 hrs (especially if staying outside for prolonged period) or each time you get wet or sweaty. Opt for sunscreen with SPF 30 (read: understanding sunscreens)
Cleanse and exfoliate. But not excessively! Our bodies are designed for compensatory mechanism. When the skin is depleted of oil and moisture (as a result of frequent washing and over-exfoliation), it will compensate by producing more oil. While exfoliation is good to help remove dead skin cells, overdoing it can lead to irritation, dryness, and damage to skin’s protective barrier. Once or twice a week exfoliation is the ideal, don’t rub vigorously! Not all cleansers and exfoliants are the same. I discovered this gentle exfoliating cleanser from Airelle Skincare. It has aloe vera (soothes skin), glycolic acid, and very fine bamboo grains (biodegradable) for manual exfoliation as key ingredients.
Treatment. I use Benzoil to spot-treat. It has 3% benzoyl peroxide and 2% tea tree oil. Benzoyl peroxide is bacteriostatic (stops bacteria from reproducing) while tea tree oil is anti-inflammatory. I find this less drying than traditional benzoyl peroxide. Alternately, I reach out for Desert Essence Blemish Stick. It has tea tree oil which in anti-inflammatory. I like that it’s handy so it’s great for travel.
Prevent PIH (post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation). Because of the above measures, especially sunscreen, including the use of glycolic acid to arrest darkening, I never had PIH. This serum from Drunk Elephant combines AHA (alpha hydroxy acid) and BHA (beta hydroxy acid) which helps keep oil at bay as well as brighten the complexion. I also use Vitamin C alternately.
In summary, I want to share with you my simple skincare routine. Note that I have already stopped layering several products for quite some time now.
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