Lessons In Treating My Adult Acne

If you follow me on social media, you know I’ve been pretty vocal about dealing with adult acne for the last 3 years since going off the pill and turning 30. I use the term “acne” loosely, as I realize there are different levels of severity and some would consider mine pretty mild. But, all the same, the break outs, while comparatively small, are constant, painful at times, and leave scars and hyperpigmentation marks, so, for me, they’re worth trying to address.

While I was mainly excited about the few extra pounds I might lose by going off the pill (for the record, it was none) I didn’t even think about how the hormone changes might affect my skin. I knew a lot of girls growing up who went on the pill to try to alleviate skin problems, but I never imagined I’d have the reverse problem now at 33.

I realize now how much I took for granted having *nearly* perfect skin all through adolescence. Now I’m contending with breakouts, blemishes, scars, and dehydrated skin, and am begging for the days of my clear, no-filter-required face. So, I’ve spent the last 3 years trying to find out how to get it back.

There is so much out there and I know first-hand how overwhelming it can be. I tried drugstore product after drugstore product, topical treatments, moderate to extreme diet changes, and consultations. Remember, everyone is different and what works for me might not work for you, but here is the lengthy (and hopefully helpful) journey of what I went through.

Dermatologist: This was my first stop when I realized that one lousy pimple could leave a red mark to last a long time. I thought a medical professional should for sure have all the answers! Her solution was a very strong topical cream called TactuPump. I used it for a few months, but it was so strong and aggressive that I was left with a cracked, sore, very dry face. While it seemed to work, it wasn’t worth it to live with that level of pain and I didn’t like the idea of being on something that aggressive for as long as I wanted to stave off the breakouts.

We tried a few less aggressive topical creams next, but they didn’t work. Her final suggestion? Accutane. To which I said nooo thanks. I know it’s worked for so many people, but at this point in my life it was not a journey I was willing to embark on.

Drugstore Products: Following this dermatologist let down (I honestly thought she would solve all my problems and with the wave of a laser make any evidence of them go away), I decided to take things into my own hands and try various products recommended by friends. My solution was to buy handfuls of drying, acidic drugstore products and use them every night which left my pillowcases bleached and my face super dry - naturally that’s what I thought you’re meant to do to kill off the pimples. Surprise surprise - the breakouts didn’t stop.

Au Naturel: When I felt like my products were doing more harm than good, and I’d chatted with some friends who know girls who have “the most amazing skin, and she doesn’t do anything but wash it with a wet face cloth!”, I decided to try this natural route for myself, using fewer products and, when I did, making sure to use fragrance-free and hypoallergenic.

I started using micellar water to remove makeup and wash my face at night, rinse with water only, and end with a tea-tree, witch hazel gel that came recommended from a local health food store. Once again, this didn’t seem to make any difference in my breakouts.

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Serums: Then, about a year and a half in, I discovered serums. I dove into the world of The Ordinary when the price point and branding caught my eye. When I learned that they don’t use parabens or sulphates (among many other bad for you things), or test on animals, I was smitten.

I started with a Niacinamide and Salicylic Acid to reduce the look of blemishes, the Caffeine Solution for dark under-eye circles, and a moisturizer with Hyaluronic Acid for surface hydration. This didn’t seem to be aggressive enough (or so I thought), so I researched what products help prevent breakouts and heal scarring. With my next order, I added in Glycolic Acid 7% Toning Solution for exfoliation, Granactive Retinoid 2% Emulsion for aging, and antioxidant EUK 134. With this regimen, I started breaking out with some eczema and very dry and swollen skin near and around my eyes, so I decided I needed a professional’s help (again).

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Skincare Aesthetician: Armed with all my serums, I went to a spa in Halifax to meet with an aesthetician, ready to dive into everything I’d tried to finally get some guidance. First, I learned that I have very dehydrated skin. Different from dry skin, dehydrated skin means my skin doesn’t have a strong enough armour to protect from environmental aggressors let alone my own internal ones, i.e. break outs.

She advised me to cut out retinoids, toner, and acidic products, and to up the Vitamin C and antioxidants to help get my skin back to a healthy state. She recommended a Cleansing Milk (yes, the total opposite of a drying acne cleanser), a tinted sunscreen, and a gel-cream for sensitive skin. I also had a few blue and red light therapy treatments and facials geared towards the issues I was trying to address. At this point, I was willing to try anything.

Serums, Take II: Armed with my new cleanser, sunscreen, and gel-cream regimen, I switched to a more streamlined regimen from The Ordinary: Ascorbyl Glucoside Solution 12% for Vitamin C, antioxidant EUK 134, and 100% Plant-Derived Squalane for hydration.

For whatever reason, after about a year of using these products I started reacting to them. I would wake up with swollen eyes, eczema. I wish I could tell you I’d finally stumbled on the secret with this new routine, but it was back to square one for me.

Diet: For the last 6 months, I’ve been working with a naturopath on dietary changes to see if this helps. I took a blood test to determine food sensitivities, and then cut out what I’m sensitive to: dairy, yeast, gluten, coffee, alcohol, so many fruits and veggies... The list was endless. Spoiler alert: while cutting out these foods made my stomach feel amazing, the absence of them didn’t seem to do anything for my skin. Sigh.

So, the saga continues. While I definitely haven’t solved this issue for myself yet, I do have some key learnings to share with these 3 years of experimentation under my belt.

Sunscreen is key. In all of my consultations and experimentations, one thing that stood out to me is that my previous years of sun worshipping has left me with weak skin prone to blemishes and hyperpigmentation. The sun damage I’ve inflicted on my face has definitely not helped in trying to get my skin to a good place now.

Do your research. It’s so easy to get overwhelmed by all the options, but if you research your specific issue there is a ton of information out there to get you started. But always keep in mind what works for one person, doesn’t work for everyone. I recommend consulting a professional to help you sift through it all. And please never buy what an “influencer” tells you works for them. But the better you know your issues and what you are trying to solve, the better a professional will be able to help guide you.

Stress matters. It’s so true what they say, to take care of yourself inside and out. I worked an extremely stressful job while I was trying to deal with these skin issues and I know while it likely isn’t the reason for them it’s definitely a contributing factor. Find ways to manage your stress in your life. A good tip: exercise! It’s great for your skin, plus your mind.

Give things time. One of my biggest mistakes throughout this process was that I’d give up on new regimens pretty quickly because I’m a fairly impatient person. I wanted to see results right away. So my advice to you is to give things an adequate amount of time (3-6 months, at least) before deciding if they’re working for your or not.

If you have any questions about anything that I tried, or any ideas/advice for me to try next, slide into my DMs (@AmandaWenek).