Confessions of a Clear Skin Neurotic

acne awareness month

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.


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.


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.

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10 comments on “Confessions of a Clear Skin Neurotic

  1. Katie says:


    I have had problems with my skin for about the last year as I just don’t know what to do! I went to the doctors about a load of red lumpy spots on my forehead and they gave me a prescription so I used this until my acne cleared up during this time I did’nt apply any makeup to my face as it just dried up, went patchy, and looked horrible. A mistake I made at the time was not applying moistureiser!!!!! I now know this was wrong but I thought the acne treatment wouldnt work and that it would react with a moisturizer… Anyway I now drench my skin with a range of different moisturises such as manuka honey rescue cream by dc organic and I cleanse with a milk cleanser and treat my skin to a manuka honey clay mask also by doctor organic. Nothing seems to help my skin repair and react as normal! Plus my spots have started to occur again. What confuses me even further is the fact that my skin is oily until I attempt to apply and sort of concealer or foundation and as I said it just looks so awful i just can’t wear it. Anyway ranting over I wondered if you know what I can use A)To clear up my skin and most importantly B) Help my skin to repair.

    Thank you,

    Katie, 15

    • admin says:

      Hi Katie,

      Oh no! It sounds like you are going through something terrible!

      If I’m understanding correctly, your skin is dry with uneven texture (but it’s usually oily), and you have a tendency to break out. If that’s right, here are my thoughts…

      You should focus on repairing your skin first. I would try a moisturizing mask like Origin’s Drink Up (you can find it on the Origin’s website). You can use the mask daily at first, and decrease frequency as your skin heals.

      For oily and acne-prone skin, I know that moisturizers don’t seem necessary (and even counterproductive), but they are an essential part of achieving clear skin. Try a lightweight, oil-free moisturizer like Neutrogena’s Oil-Free Stress Control 3-in-1 Hydrating Acne Treatment. If you can, apply that in the morning and Philosophy’s Hope in a Jar at night. And always wear sunscreen! La Roche-Posay’s Anthelios 45 Ultra Light Fluid for Face is a sunscreen that dries matte in minutes.

      I would continue with the honey milk cleanser (which sounds lovely, by the way!), and as your skin heals, switch to a cleanser with salicylic acid at night (like Lerosett’s OTC Cleanser or Neutrogena’s Acne Wash).

      You didn’t mention the prescription your doctor prescribed, but I’m assuming it’s some form of retinol (like Differin or it’s generic name, adapalene). If it seems like you reacted poorly to the prescription only because you didn’t moisturize…moisturize! Apply the cream only at night after cleansing (and make sure your face is COMPLETELY dry), and before moisturizing. And again, wear sunscreen during the day.

      If you Google all the products I mentioned you can find where to buy them in your area. You can also search through my site for my personal thoughts on some acne products and regimens.

      All right, I hope this helps!


  2. Gretchen says:

    I just stumbled across your blog! I love it! I am starting a beauty blog in hopes for it to turn into a website some day… just looking at inspirations on the internet. I also love this post. I, myself, am a clear skin neurotic as well. =)

    • admin says:

      Hi Gretchen,

      Good luck with your blog! I’m happy to be a digital muse any day!

  3. Great post! I also battle with blemish prone skin, and have found clarsonic to be life-changing in treating my clogged pores. Neutrogena Clear Pore Cleanser/Mask is a product with Benzoyl Peroxide that I’ve found to be very effective as well. You make excellent points in maintenance when it comes to problem skin, thanks!

    • admin says:

      Hi Barbara,

      I’m glad I was helpful. I’ll need to check out the Neutrogena mask!

  4. latifa says:

    This was such a great blog post!
    I’m from Kuwait, I have been having problems with acne since my teenage years, it has gotten increasingly better but the marks are bothering me, since it makes me look older. i moisturize every morning and every night, use a gentle scrub once a week to get out the dirt and use an expensive and great wash (La mer)
    I am odd white for a Kuwaiti, everyone here is naturally tan. i notice when I get a tan my face doesn’t look as bad, but what can I do to get those really ugly marks to go away and leave me in peace! everyone says “young and vibrant skin” but i haven’t had that experience, at all 🙁

    Please & Thank you!
    Latifa Al-Hajeri, 20

    • admin says:

      Hi Latifa!

      I know, acne is one of the most obnoxious life experiences–ever. I would definitely start using products that specifically treat acne. I’m not sure what’s available in Kuwait, but look for a cleanser that contains salicylic acid. Murad, Neutrogena, Lerosett–these are just a few brands that have great salicylic acid cleansers. Start using the cleanser at night (and continue with La Mer in the morning). Also make sure your moisturizers aren’t clogging your pores. Look for moisturizers that say “oil free.” Spot treat your blemishes as well! Currently I like Paula’s Choice’s BHA 9 before bedtime and Paula’s Choice’s Benzoyl Peroxide Acne Treatment during the day. Lastly, I hope you’re using sunscreen! Your skin may look better with a little tan, but the sun is the #1 cause of premature aging! A tinted moisturizer, some bronzer and shimmer can fake a tan without the harm of sun exposure. I hope this helps!


  5. Sylvie says:


    I just found your blog and am totally obsessed its so great! I am a big skincare advocate and have been undergoing terrible acne for about two years now! I do keep in mind that there are many people that have had it for much longer and it is a part of life. However I went from having lovely skin to crazy dry patches, a very oily t-zone, under the skin bumps, hyper-pigmentation, discolouration and zits everywhere its awful! I’ve tried a lot and love more natural stuff compared to stronger chemicals as i’ve got very sensitive skin. At the moment i use honey to cleanse followed by rosewater or witch hazel to tone and finally a hemp moisturiser. I don’t want to go onto antibiotics but I would absolutely love to clear up my skin to a controllable extent! I would be so thankful to here a few tips and little tricks! ANYTHING!

    Thankyou So Much- Sylvie 14

    Love your blog

    • admin says:

      Thank you for your kind words! Having acne is the worst–in so many ways. My current number one solution for clearing acne is a daily supplement of cod liver oil (sounds crazy but it works). I wrote about it here:

      After that, I’d say routine is most important, followed by products. When I say routine, I mean wash your face 2x a day everyday; don’t touch your face throughout the day; make sure your pillowcases and washcloths are clean.

      I know you say you have sensitive skin so you use natural products, but keep in mind that natural products can be irritating as well. Have you tried the oil cleansing method? It’s a PROCESS, but it really helps to clear pores. You can read more about that here: Also try targeted masks to help clear your pores as well. Here are my suggestions:

      Chemical peels and hydroquione both really help to clear existing hyperpigmentation. Both come with their fair share of downsides so I would actually consult a dermatologist to find something that works well for you. Sunscreen is tantamount to preventing new hyperpigmentation scars. If you have oily skin like me, sunscreen might be your kryptonite, but here are a few that work really well for oily skin:

      I hope this helps!