I started my obsession like a lot of people I know: when puberty hit, my face became a hormonal mess, easily amassing 4-5 new zits every week. I did what any teen would do and went to my local supermarket to stock up on Neutrogena and Clearasil. My face was constantly being reintroduced to Alcohol + Harsh chemical astringents + Salicylic Acid. The products ‘felt’ effective because they made my skin feel dry and stripped after I put it on. But my skin became oilier and my breakouts never subsided. Little did I know at the time that this was overstripping my skin and causing it to freak out more and over-producing sebum.
By the time I hit college, I had cystic acne that piled on top of each other and made it so uncomfortable both physically and emotionally that I had difficult time sleeping, and even working out (every time I used the towel to wipe my face, a zit would pop and explode all over the towel). Yeah these details are disgusting, but that is my truth.
I started using Proactiv which cleared up my face for all of two months before the breakouts came back and my face became an even bigger mess. I looked at the ingredients in Proactiv and determined that my initial success had to do with the ingredient Benzoyl Peroxide, so I went to the supermarket and purchased 2.5% BP, which worked for a week but left my skin with a weird tan and bleached my sheets and towels. Then that didn’t work so I upped the concentration to 5% which made my face nearly untouchable to any fabrics. All this made me face actually breakout more so I thought it was because I was developing tolerance. How wrong I was. I eventually increased my dosage to 10% and it killed my face. My mom even said “if this stuff is bleaching and burning through all your pillows and shirts, it can’t be good for your skin!” In my absolute frustration with my flaring breakouts, I stuck with it, believing the issue to be me and my skin. I even went to a doctor at this point to see if I had a hormonal imbalance as even the strongest products didn’t work for me. I never once thought to put the scrutiny on the products I had been using.
I started skipping classes, staying in my dorm, and generally avoiding being seen in public. I guess you can say I got a mild form of depression. I remember running out of the gym because I had felt so ugly. I also remember crying in the library because a kind but misguided staffer approached me to suggest a skin treatment. The only thing worse than knowing you have bad skin is when it is confirmed through unsolicited feedback. This is when my RA suggested I see a dermatologist. At my school, we can see a general doctor but the dermatologist waitlist was about 4 months. After my initial appointment with the general doctor who prescribed antibiotics and Retin-A, I was placed at the VERY top of the list for the dermatologist who saw me within the week because I had been labelled as “Highest Severity”. The dermatologist put me on Accutane- these little pills that illicit such a feeling of fear from me to this day. Yes, they do change your skin and clear it of breakouts but the cost is so high. Besides the monthly blood tests, pregnancy warning labels, I also got nosebleeds every other day, had weak joints to the point that I could not work out (I gained 10 lbs during my course on Accutane), and just felt lethargic all the time. I knew that eventhough I was beginning to see results with my face, that I was messing up my body. In the interest of levity, I will just say my breakouts subsided for a summer, and then started coming back so I was put on a 2nd course of Accutane. You are only allowed to be on 2 courses of Accutane, so after this course finished – I knew I had to change something.
I remember at that time Parabens were the “toxic” chemical in a lot of products and that they are purported to cause irritation. This was the first time I started thinking about the quality of products I was using as opposed to faulting myself. So I went to Sephora and said “I want something that doesn’t have Parabens, I don’t want anything that can cause me to breakout again.” The assistant there introduced me to Ren and I left with a bottle of their cleanser and mask. When I got home, I read the label of everything they didn’t use and did research for why these things are bad since I noticed a lot were in the products I had been using. I found Ren to have been a good treatment, I didn’t get new blemishes and my skin actually started feeling good. I almost felt as though we were friends again. I realized a lot of my thoughts on skincare were flawed. I was making my skin the culprit of my issues when I really should have supported and loved it. Working against my skin caused me all this pain. This is the one lesson I wish every person going through this can learn without experiencing for themselves.
I started bouncing between the Big 4 mainstream ‘natural’ brands – Aesop, Caudalie, Jurlique, and Ren. To this day, I still love and use a lot of their products. At this point, my regimen was 75% these products, 25% products from La Mer, Clarins, AmorePacific, Lazlo, Perricone – so higher-end natural things that didn’t irritate my skin and luxury advanced lines that I thought would yield results.
Then I started hearing great things about a German high-end natural skincare line sold at Whole Foods called Dr.Hauschka which really helped me understand a little more about clean products. It was there that I learned a lot of products sold by the Big 4 (Aesop, Caudalie, Jurlique, Ren) contain ‘iffy’ ingredients such as Phenoxyethanol, PEGs, Synthetic Fragrances, etc. Dr.Hauschka products were hit or miss, not because they weren’t great products but because they were so different so either my skin was suitable or it was not.
Then lines such as Tata Harper, Intelligent Nutrients, and Kahina hit the market. Luxury, clean lines that focused on ingredient quality as much as they did on results- and I found the types of products I had been looking for. My skin felt so nourished and soothed using these products and I really saw my skin as something to be spoiled and ‘fed’ the right diet of skincare to get the best results.
What is your skin story? How has your philosophy evolved over time?