Confessions of a Clear Skin Neurotic
If you think that there are too many days, weeks, and months of recognition, you may be on to something (I mean America, do we really need National Donut Day?). Some carry a bit more weight than a cream-filled pasty, like June, which is Acne Awareness Month. In honor of the month that’s passed, let’s get to the clear skin nitty-gritty.
BECOME A GERMAPHOBE
In the world according to the Google search results for “what causes acne,” we are all ten miles out to sea on a boat without a paddle. There’s one site that asserts prescription medications are the culprit, another demonizes every food that I would call delicious. Cell phones, exercise gear, and hats round out another axis of evil; only to be trumped by genetics, whose draconian hold on acne knows no bounds.
You don’t need to weave through the theories to learn that bacteria are the ultimate root of blemishes. Equipped with this helpful fact, I avoid situations that invite the microscopic nuisances to take refuge on my skin.
Take my bed sheets, for example, that I wash without fail weekly, purposely leaving out pore-clogging fabric softener sheets (the sheets deposit oil while laundered). My makeup and Clarisonic brushes receive a similar regular cleansing treatment (a quick wash with dish soap is just fine).
When it comes to drying my face after cleansing, I reach for a paper towel or tissue instead of a washcloth because those are nothing more than fluffy bacteria rags in disguise.
The myth of acne is fueled by the belief that it can be stopped with just one product, treatment, or behavior. Cut back on sugar. Invest in oil-free skin products. Pile on tea tree-soaked everything. Acne, however, is much too complex for a single solution to be completely effective. A multipronged approach is the most reliable avenue.
It’s best to consistently alternate between two products with active blemish-fighting ingredients—usually a cleanser with salicylic acid and a benzoyl peroxide spot treatment.
To date, salicylic acid is the most effective non-prescription acne prevention ingredient. Although the acid is sold in spot treatments, toners, and even moisturizers, I prefer it in cleanser form (Lerosett’s OTC Cleanser is my current favorite) and masks (newbie GlamGlow’s Super-Mud Clearing Treatment is a wunderkind).
Followed by salicylic acid, sulfur is a fantastic spot treatment tool for night (the likes include DDF’s Sulfur Therapeutic Mask and Proactiv’s Refining Mask); and azelaic acid is a new standby for treating blemishes in the day (I’m particularly fond of Evologie’s Intensive Blemish Serum).
And if you haven’t already, get familiar with clay masks too (you can read more about those here).
I fight the good fight with a rotating army of blemish detonators, but I also balance the harsher solutions with soothing ones. In the mornings, I stick to a gentle cleanser. If I sweep my face with a toner, it’s alcohol-free and used to rehydrate, not strip away moisture. When I exfoliate, I do so cautiously, and cleansing is never complete without a moisturizer that follows.
Even targeted spot treatments, like benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid, are dimpled on my face strategically and sparingly, as a heavy hand may lead to dry patches and potential scars.
AND STAY CONSISTENT
Somewhere along the way we started to believe that acne treatments are like Trader Joes’ frozen meals: fast and idiot-proof. In reality, it takes about two weeks of consistent use to experience the effects of new treatments and regimens. During those two weeks, skin can worsen before it improves. It’s because of the two week delayed reaction that most users call it quits, and miss what could potentially result in a worthy treatment.
Even on clear days I use a clarifying wash and sometimes a mask as a preventative measure. Without consistency, acne is a never-ending loop of frustration and disappointment.