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  • Melissa

Updated Skincare Routine 2020

Updated: Dec 13, 2020

If you happened to read my last skincare post, you'd know that I struggle with troubled skin. Acne, dark spots/hyperpigmentation, texture, and redness are just a couple of the skin conditions I've dealt with. When you have these problems on your face, it's pretty hard to hide (except for the fact that COVID-19 has made face masks a normal accessory to our everyday ensembles). My acne was at its worst when I worked in cosmetic retail, where I was required to wear a full face of makeup 40+ hours a week (see my last skincare post for a full explanation of my experience).

This is the first post I am writing in a longggg time! I wrote all of my previous posts a couple years ago as drafts but didn't find time to finish editing, adding to them, and posting them until these past several months. My life and my beauty routine have changed a lot since then, so I figured I'd explain where I'm at right now. I work in an office now, so I'm not required to wear makeup which is such a nice change! Of course I still do, but my routine is minimal and takes me about 5 minutes in the morning. I'd like to take you on the long, rabbit-hole of a journey to healing my skin (Spoiler Alert: it isn't over). If you don't feel like reading it, you can skip to the bottom where I review my current products and I promise I won't be offended lol. I just know that while I was searching for answers, it helped to read other people's detailed experiences.

I did a lot of googling and listening to other people's acne stories (YouTube, blogs, etc). A girl on a YouTube video said that in the end, she was actually thankful for her acne because it could be a sign that her body was trying to tell her that something wasn't right on the inside. Combined with my general desire to ditch potentially harmful chemicals in my food and beauty products (the skin absorbs everythingggg!), this idea convinced me to stop using my acne prescriptions once they ran out and embrace my acne. I wasn't going to stop fighting to cure it, but I wanted to listen to what it was telling me.

For reference, the 2 acne products prescribed to me were Plexion (Sulfacetamide Sodium-Sulfur) and Soolantra (Ivermectin).

Let's take a look at some potentially important factors in fighting acne:

Factor 1: Diet

For many years, I've been very health-conscious and have eaten a very clean diet. I never planned on being vegan or anything close to it, but slowly found myself eliminating certain foods from my diet just to see if I could go without them.

Disclaimer: I am not vegan or vegetarian, nor do I label my diet because even though I eat a specific way 99% of the time, I allow myself complete flexibility.

From January 1, 2019 I decided I was going to attempt to eliminate animal products, gluten and refined sugar from my diet in the hopes of curing my acne and being able to ditch my topical acne prescriptions. This may seem drastic to some, but my diet was already pretty close to this anyway. While I allow myself total flexibility, I cook all my own food each week so I can control what is going into my body. If I go out to eat, I try to make good choices but won't think twice about ordering something that goes against my typical diet if that's what's convenient. These occasions don't happen often, so I don't stress when they do. The reason I chose to eliminate (more like limit) these food groups was because they have been shown to cause inflammation and/or bad gut bacteria in the body (which are often linked to acne). If you don't want to cut out any of these foods, maybe try limiting them or finding healthy alternatives to substitute them with occasionally. If you're going to try to eliminate/limit one, I would start with refined sugar.

Bottom Line: You don't have to be vegan or paleo or keto or whatever the next trend is going to be. Do some research, see what foods can benefit your individual body, and make an honest effort each day to make healthy choices for yourself. It's probably the most challenging and most rewarding journey I've experienced. The potential healing of your skin is one of the MANY benefits of eating healthy. It can truly change the quality of your life. If you're struggling with acne, try to implement some healthy changes in your diet.

Factor 2: Exercise

You already know they go hand-in-hand! It's true- diet and exercise are both hugely important for your body. Many people see these as things to worry about when you want to lose weight, but they're essential for anyone who wants to live an overall healthy life.

Besides helping with weight control, exercise can boost your mood, prevent disease, help you sleep better, and maintain balance within your body.

Knowing that my acne was likely hormonal (it's mostly around my chin), I knew one of the few natural ways to balance my hormones would be to exercise regularly. I also heard someone on YouTube say that working out alone doesn't help hormonal balance, but working out consistently does. So if you work out for a month and then don't for a month, that is inconsistent and can make you break out. I don't know how much truth there is to that, but I know I used to be one of those people! I would be on my grind for months at a time and then instead of taking a couple days off, it would turn into a month or so without exercise.

Similar to my passion for food and diet, my journey with exercise and fitness is something I feel strongly about too. I struggled with consistency but am now at a point in my life where I love working out. I'm so grateful to have a body that is capable of basic mobility and strength, and I enjoy using it to the fullest. My exercise is very consistent now- I am active nearly every day. In terms of strenuous workouts, I try to limit that to only 4-5 days a week and allow myself to take days off whenever I feel my body needs it.

Bottom Line: I don't believe it's just coincidence that my acne has been behaving well ever since I got my diet and exercise to be more consistent. Don't let the pressure of being consistent in either diet or exercise lead you to extreme behaviors- be gentle with yourself! It's a long journey, but if I have come this far and adopted these mentalities, anyone can!

Factor 3: Wearing Makeup

In my last post, I speculated that wearing so much makeup may have been the cause of my acne (even though I was pretty sure it couldn't have been the only reason). After I left cosmetic retail, I still struggled with some acne, so makeup wasn't the culprit. During quarantine where I hardly ever wore makeup, I still had breakouts (around my chin- hormonal) so I really can't blame makeup for my acne. Does makeup clog pores and potentially break you out more than bare skin would? Of course. But genetics also play a huge role. Your skin may be sensitive to makeup products while someone else can slather pure butter on their face and have glowing, flawless skin.

Bottom Line: I did not find makeup to be the main cause of my acne. There's no doubt it aggravates my skin more than being barefaced would, but it only produces a breakout here and there. At its prime, my acne was more serious than that.

Factor 4: "Natural"Skincare

Boy, is that a loaded term. Brands love to use the word natural but who really knows what that means? They can include one pure ingredient from nature and call the whole thing natural and most of us wouldn't know any different. My main source of checking if products have potentially harmful ingredients is the EWG Skin Deep website. You can search for products and see their ratings (the lower the number, the safer the product) and view lists of EWG-certified products that the organization deems very safe to use.

Also, if you've studied chemistry at all, you'll know that all matter is made of chemicals. So while we often treat that word as a profanity while discussing skincare, just know you can't buy something without "chemicals," but you can certainly avoid the potentially harmful or irritating chemicals such as the ones in this article.

Personally, I'm a little obsessive over the ingredients in my food, health and beauty products. I've transitioned most of my skincare to safer formulas and even a lot of my daily makeup is now from clean brands. I feel comfortable with these products but don't know for sure they're healing my acne.

Bottom Line: You probably don't need to use natural/organic skincare to cure acne. In fact, your skin can break out from using certain natural ingredients too. As with regular skincare, it's all about trial and error and seeing what works for you. I personally find comfort in finding skincare products that work for me that also have "clean" ingredients.

Factor 5: Hydration

I'll make this quick- I've been good about staying hydrated for years now. I drink 80-120oz of water a day. I think it benefits my skin's overall health, but has never cured my acne. Would I still recommend doing it? ABSOLUTELY. Your body needs to be hydrated to function properly, not just for aesthetic reasons. Yes, you'll have to pee more often than you're used to, but it's a small price to pay for your overall health.

Factor 6: Stress

I found that there is a correlation between peak stress in my life and peak acne. Ever since my first semester of college, I've struggled with my mental health on levels I hadn't previously experienced. I believe it was my second semester that I started noticing more acne. The acne continued, and I remember it peaking somewhere between 2016-2017, shortly after starting my retail job. 2017 was when I got the topical prescriptions that solved my problem. When I stopped using the prescriptions in 2019, my skin remained almost the same as it was with the prescriptions, but I did still get breakouts from time to time. Considering that was a VERY stressful year for me, I'm surprised my acne wasn't worse. So the evidence is still a little inconclusive for me on this one.

How you handle stress is obviously going to be personal to you (I know I say this about everything but it's so true). I personally found peace in my faith in God. I dabbled in yoga and meditation for a while but now practice both every day. The biggest stress reduction came when I changed jobs and my life has been drastically different ever since. I loved the brand I worked for and the people I worked with, but I hated working retail with a passion.

I'm not saying to quit your job in order to cure your acne, but like the other factors I discussed, this is about so much more than your skin! Reducing stress will provide you with better overall health and quality of life. Try to commit to one activity a day to reduce your stress- yoga, meditation, prayer, taking a walk, reading a book, playing with your pets, taking a bath...the list is endless. If you feel like you don't have time, search for a quick 5-minute guided meditation.

Bottom Line: Jury's still out on whether or not this was one of the factors that had a huge impact on my acne. My skin wasn't at its worst during one of my most stressful years, but my skin has stayed pretty consistent in this very peaceful year that has followed. I believe reducing stress is an important factor in not only managing acne, but overall health and well-being. Make time for yourself, because no one else will make it for you!

My Skin Today

Currently, my skin still has its struggles- dark marks and hyperpigmentation from the acne damage being the worst of them- but the active breakouts and inflammation are a fraction of what they were at their worst. It still amazes me that I was able to keep my skin relatively calm without the prescriptions I had been using. For reference, my skin doesn't look as good as it did with the prescriptions (see below), but it's tolerable and I'm dedicated to finding out what's going on inside my body and what it needs to have balance.

Early 2017, no prescriptions

Late 2017, months into using prescriptions

July 2020, no prescriptions for 1.5 years

Here is my current routine and products. I try to wait at least 5 minutes between each layer to let them all have time to soak into my skin. If you don't have time for that, just put them on one after another:

Morning Routine:

1. Rinse face with water

2. The Ordinary "Buffet"

3. The Ordinary Hyaluronic Acid 2% + B5

4. LilyAna Naturals Rosehip & Hibiscus Eye Cream

5. Era Organics Oasis Moisturizer

6. Australian Gold Botanical Sunscreen Tinted Face Mineral Lotion SPF 50 (if I'm not wearing foundation with SPF)

Night Routine:

1. Remove makeup with Brooklyn Botany Camellia Wonder Oil

2. Wash face with Desert Essence Thoroughly Clean Face Wash

3. The Ordinary "Buffet"

4. The Ordinary Lactic Acid 10% + HA

5. The Ordinary 100% Organic Cold-Pressed Rose Hip Seed Oil (I just stopped using this because my skin is more oily in the summer)

5. LilyAna Naturals Rosehip & Hibiscus Eye Cream

6. Era Organics Oasis Moisturizer

Twice a week at night:

Exfoliate with Acure Brightening Facial Scrub after face wash

Use The Ordinary Niacinamide 10% + Zinc instead of Lactic Acid


Acure Brightening Facial Scrub ($7.99): Gritty yet not harsh

Australian Gold Botanical Sunscreen Tinted Face Mineral Lotion SPF 50 ($15.99): Has a light tint that prevents that ghostly sunscreen look. Smooth, matte finish. Wears well under makeup.

Brooklyn Botany Camellia Wonder Oil ($9.99): Removes makeup well and smells nice. I always follow up with an actual cleanser because it leaves my skin a little oily. Helps so my skin doesn't dry out.

Desert Essence Thoroughly Clean Face Wash ($9.99): I don't think this was always labeled for oily skin otherwise I wouldn't have bought it. But since I've been using it for a while, I actually like it. It doesn't irritate my skin. Didn't make my skin overly dry in the winter but also doesn't completely eliminate oil in the summer. If I don't follow up with a moisturizer, my skin feels a little tight so even though I feel that any skin type can use it, I would say it's better for combo-oily skin.

Era Organics Oasis Moisturizer ($17.89): I've repurchased this many times and before that, I used other moisturizers from Era. It's gentle and keeps skin moisturized. Update December 2020: They've changed the formula and while it's not bad, it's not as good as it used to be.

LilyAna Naturals Rosehip & Hibiscus Eye Cream ($19.99): Nice, smooth, and hydrating. Lasts foreverrrr. I literally marked the date I started it on the bottom and even though it's almost done, it says I started using it 1 year and 9 months ago. So if you're like "I'm not spending $20 on an eye cream" you'll definitely get your money's worth.

The Ordinary Alpha Arbutin 2% + HA ($8.90): I didn't see any improvement in my skin with this. I thought it would help lighten dark spots/uneven skin tone but it didn't. At least it didn't irritate my skin at all.

The Ordinary "Buffet"($14.80): For me, this isn't something that I see results with but is kinda like taking vitamins- I just trust that it's doing good things for my skin and preventing aging. Absorbs quickly into the skin.

The Ordinary Hyaluronic Acid 2% + B5 ($6.80): Instantly plumps up and hydrates the skin. It is a little sticky and doesn't absorb as quickly as other serums, but I don't mind that.

The Ordinary Lactic Acid 10% + HA ($6.80): Based on reviews, I was afraid this would be too harsh for my skin but it wasn't. I've never even felt a tingling or burning sensation from it (unless I had broken skin I didn't know about). It hasn't really evened out my skin tone or lightened dark spots, but it has made my skin noticeably smoother. It also absorbs quickly into the skin and is not sticky or thick.

The Ordinary Niacinamide 10% + Zinc 1% ($5.90): This is said to treat oiliness, pores, and blemishes. I thought it was helping prevent acne, but I stopped using it about a month ago and my skin is pretty much the same so I can't owe it all to this. It hasn't helped with dark spots or anything else but I would recommend for oily and/or congested skin.

The Ordinary 100% Organic Cold-Pressed Rose Hip Seed Oil ($9.80): I've been using this for a while only at night because it's pretty oily on the skin. I think it gives my skin good hydration but I haven't seen improvement in dark spots or acne necessarily. It's hard to tell which products are doing what, so I recently (like 2 days ago) stopped using it because my skin doesn't need such heavy hydration in the summer and I want to see if my skin changes without it.

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