UPDATE: I have since posted about my revised skincare routine as two of my favourite products were discontinued.
I hope you’ll forgive me for the off-topic post. I really wanted to share this information just in case someone finds it as life-changing as I did. If your skin is fine and you don’t get spotty then that’s awesome. There’s nothing for you here 🙂 Normal service will resume shortly.
Disclaimer: What I’m about to describe are the changes I made to my skincare routine which led to the demise of my acne. I’m telling you in the hope that this information might help you, but there’s no guarantee that it will.
The short story
After I stopped taking the combined contraceptive pill my teenage acne returned. I made the following changes and now I don’t have any spots at all 99% of the time (despite eating dairy / chocolate / junk when the mood takes me):
- I switched to using bareMinerals make-up (more details below).
- I switched to using the Oil Cleansing Method (jojoba oil as the carrier, I put a few drops of lavender oil on my chin on top of the jojoba).
- I introduced an acid toner into my regime (I really rate Garnier PureActive Purifying Toner which contains 2% salicyclic acid).
- If I’ve been wearing make-up or anything with SPF in it I wash my face twice, to ensure I’ve got rid of it all (I use a gentle cream cleaner first – Garnier’s Softening Cleansing Lotion – and then I use the Oil Cleansing Method).
- I switched to using a non-comedogenic face moisturiser (La Roche Posay Effaclar Duo[+] is the winner in this category as far as I’m concerned).
- Optional: I use (before putting moisturiser on my face) the bareMinerals Active Cell Renewal Night Serum. It pains me to say it as it’s not cheap, but this made a real difference to spots as well as skin tone so is worth the cost if you’ve tried everything else and you still get a few spots from time-to-time. Now my skin is clear 99% of the time. I would recommend, if you’re going to take the plunge, on getting this from bareMinerals directly so that if you don’t like it you can return it for a refund.
The long version
From the age of about 14 I started developing acne. I think it coincided with me starting to use foundation and moisturiser. Of course at the time I assumed it was hormones (and admittedly they will have had a part to play too). My Mum, who’d never had a spot in her life, introduced me to the foundation and face moisturiser she was using. At 18 my acne was considered bad enough that I was prescribed the pill. It took a long time for my body to adjust and I had to be patient. After 3 months on the pill my skin was so bad I returned to my GP who told me I just had to wait, and so I did. It took 2 years for my skin to clear. I stayed on the pill for a very long time (12 years). I couldn’t bear the thought of coming off it. My older sister also suffered with acne so I was under no illusion. I knew that the acne would return if I were to stop taking the pill.
After 12 years of being on the combined pill I decided, for health reasons, to come off it. The first three months were okay. I was very strict with my diet (no diary, nothing with a high GI, no junk food) but after that (and with the diet slipping) I started to get spotty again. Coming off the pill had its own set of benefits though (I think it was negatively affecting my mood, amongst other things) so I decided to tackle the spots in isolation.
At first I thought it was hormonal, except according to the interwebs I didn’t have any other symptoms associated with hormone imbalance. I tried to control my diet very very closely but completely avoiding dairy and sugar and wheat was very difficult. Whilst my diet did improve (and I did lose a bit of weight) it didn’t make a big difference to my spots. I did notice that some alcohol and certain types of dairy did cause them to flare up though so I avoided those.
My friend (with PCOS and acne) introduced me to bareMinerals make-up. I switched to it and I noticed an improvement within a day. Prior to using bareMinerals when I removed my make-up at the end of the day my spots were red and angry and my face was inflamed. I just assumed hormones or pollution was to blame and I didn’t think much of it. I had been using the same foundation for 10 years so surely it couldn’t be that? I was wrong. I noticed that my spots were no longer angry when I used bareMinerals. I still had them, but my spots were definitely less irritated and red. The bareMinerals foundation I used also gave excellent coverage. The concealer brush was my saviour. Using the foundation powder as concealer meant I got a seamless finish. Staying power wasn’t great (top-ups needed during the day on chin and nose) but I stuck with it because I could see my skin was happier for using it and when I first applied it to my face the finish was excellent. I found that switching from the Flawless Application Face Brush to the Handy Buki Brush hugely improved the finish, ease of application and staying power.
The bareMinerals products I use daily are:
If you’d like more details on how exactly I apply these then leave me a comment below 🙂
With its limited shades the Get Started Complexion Kit will probably not contain the right foundation shade for you although it is the cheapest option. The Flawless Complexion Essentials Kit is pricey and contains more than you need (in my opinion). Having said that it’s cheaper than buying brushes and foundation individually so you might as well purchase this kit if you were interested in trying bareMinerals (you can always sell what you don’t want on eBay). Whilst I do really rate bareMinerals I imagine that any mineral foundation will have similar if not the same benefits.
Mineral foundation took a LOT of getting used to, I’d spent my whole life using liquid foundation. What moisturiser you use underneath a mineral foundation makes a difference to staying power and how it wears (more on face moisturisers later). I wasn’t used to using brushes. A lot of experimentation was required. I learnt that you can’t skimp on primer. If you do, the foundation can end up looking cakey. It’s also important to clean your brushes regularly so that the product goes on nicely and so you don’t introduce more bacteria to your face. You will absolutely need to get colour-matched in store before you buy your kit. Make sure when they put the foundation on you that you see it in different settings before you buy it so you can be sure it’s absolutely definitely the right shade. Don’t worry if they put too much on – in-store make-up artists often do, you can put much less on at home. It’s the shade match that’s important. I’m thrilled to say that bareMinerals understand the concept of cool and warm undertones which means they are much more likely to have the correct shade for you.
The Oil Cleansing Method
So without a doubt switching to bareMinerals made a difference. But I definitely still had spots, every single day, and sometimes they were hard to cover up depending on how bad they were. The same friend then introduced me to the Oil Cleansing Method (OCM) and that’s when I really did start to notice a difference. The OCM is where you use oils to cleanse your face (which you then wash off with a hot flannel or, in my case, a Emma Hardie face cleansing cloth). My friend was raving about it so I decided to give it a go. The oils weren’t expensive so I didn’t have a lot to lose and I had read on the Paula’s Choice website that the exfoliating wash I was using most mornings could be doing more harm than good. I switched to using the OCM and noticed another marked difference. There were days when I had no spots at all, although the trend was still that I had a couple of spots every few days (which would then leave a scar, to my frustration). I could tell it was right though, my skin was definitely happier, so I kept doing it. The oils I started off using were jojoba (safe to use neat all over your face and recommended for acne-prone skin) and then once I’d put the jojoba oil on (just a few drops applied with my fingers, massaged all over my face) I’d put a couple of drops of tea tree oil (see ‘The Final Piece of the Puzzle’ for why I wouldn’t recommend tea tree oil) on my chin where I was getting spotty (on top of the jojoba oil so it didn’t go on neat).
The Oil Cleansing Method has had some bad press. On the Internet there seems to be a clear divide between those that love it and those that complain it made their skin worse. What I did notice online was that those who complained it made their skin worse were using castor oil or something equally harsh. That struck me as rather risky from what I’d read about it, so I never included it in my regime.
Non-comedogenic face moisturiser
So, with the OCM and bareMinerals I was noticing a significant improvement to my skin. I then purchased ‘Spotless: The Essential Guide to Getting Rid of Spots and Acne‘ (highly recommended) which advised I use a non-comedogenic moisturiser on my face. I hadn’t given any thought to my moisturiser before (I’d been using the same one for YEARS) but decided to change it. I tried Neutrogena Visibly Clear Spot Stress Control Hydrating Spot Treatment, Neutrogena Visibly Clear Oil Free Moisturiser and La Roche Posay Effaclar H Soothing Moisturiser, all of which were good. Then I tried La Roche Posay Effaclar Duo[+] and was completely blown away. I can’t recommend it enough.
The next step in my skin improvement came after I stumbled upon Caroline Hirons’s fabulous blog (I’d highly recommend reading her acne cheat sheet) and from her I learned that I ought to try introducing an acid toner into my routine. I tried and loved the Garnier PureActive Purifying Toner and could tell it was making a big difference to my skin. In conjunction with the Effaclar Duo[+] moisturiser I could see (and feel) just how soft my skin had become. The texture of my skin improved too.
The final piece of the puzzle
Switching to a non-comedogenic face moisturiser made another marked improvement but I was still getting the occasional spot. The final piece of the puzzle slotted into place when I switched the tea tree oil in my oil cleansing routine to lavender oil. What a difference! I started using it over Christmas (2015) and despite eating utter junk not a single spot appeared. I was waiting for them to appear but they never did. I think the tea tree oil was just a bit too harsh for my skin. It’s very potent. Lavender oil is recommended for irritated / inflamed skin, insect bites and even cuts whereas tea tree oil shouldn’t be used on irritated skin at all. Lavender oil also smells nicer than tea tree so that’s another reason to use it!
The key thing I learned about acne is that it’s essentially inflamed skin. If you treat it as oily skin you just end up stripping your skin of its natural oils and your skin works hard to replenish them. If you treat your skin as inflamed / irritated skin and you take steps to reduce inflammation (such as eating more carefully and using products that don’t irritate your skin at all) you’ll find your skin responding positively (as opposed to rebelling).
The acne threshold (and how to stay below it)
I believe that everyone has an acne threshold. I believe that I was inadvertently pushing my skin closer to it (and beyond!) by using products that weren’t suited to my skin. Diet has a part to play too. Here are a list of things I think takes you closer to your breakout threshold, and a list of things that I believe helps keep you away from it.
Things that will take you closer to the break-out threshold
- Sleeping in your make-up
- Eating junk food
- Eating anything rich in dairy
- Face wipes
- Alcohol (both in products that you use on your face and the alcohol that you drink)
- Touching your face during the day
- Picking spots
- Drying skin out with soap or foaming cleansers
- Washing with a rough flannel (they will irritate and cause inflammation, muslin cloths are considered better, I’m a huge fan of the Emma Hardie face cleansing cloths)
- Harsh exfoliants (be nice to your skin!)
- Not having clean hands before you apply things to your face that require you to use your hands (e.g. moisturiser, foundation). You want clean hands, not the remains of your hair oil or body moisturiser (which might have mineral oil in, which will in turn cause spots)
Things that will steer you away from a break-out
- Wash your flannel / muslin cloth daily
- Low GL diet with plenty of fish
- Drinking plenty of water (dehydrated skin is more prone to spots)
- Use a separate hand towel to dry your face and wash it regularly
- Wash your bedding regularly (particularly your pillowcase)
- Use a toner with Salicylic acid in it (e.g. Garnier PureActive Purifying Toner)
- Use non-comedogenic make-up (e.g. bareMinerals)
- Wash make-up brushes regularly (I use the brush shampoo bareMinerals sell, a small bottle will literally last years)
- Use non-comedogenic moisturiser (e.g. La Roche Posay Effaclar Duo[+])
- Don’t use anything harsh on your skin (e.g. anything containing lots of alcohol or tea tree or witch hazel or sharp scrubby bits)
- Cleanse your face twice a day
- If you’ve been wearing make-up, you’ll need to double-cleanse
I understand that what worked for me might not work for everyone given we’re all different, but I’ve seen it work for others too so it’s certainly worth a go in my opinion, especially if you’ve been struggling for a while and have tried a lot of different lotions and potions as I had. My advice would be to try the Oil Cleansing Method (jojoba and lavender) first and a non-comedogenic face moisturiser. If that improves matters but your spots haven’t completely gone then it’s definitely time to look at your make-up and think about introducing an acid toner. It’s worth looking to see if you’re doing anything unwittingly that might be taking you closer to your breakout threshold. I highly, highly recommend the Emma Hardie face cleansing cloths, I do really believe that most flannels are too harsh for sensitive, acne-prone skin.
I have a beauty recommendations board on Pinterest if you’re interested. I only pin the products I really rate and could not live without:
I understand how much of an impact acne can have on confidence so I really hope this helps someone. It took me a long time to figure out what wasn’t working for me (I assumed it was diet, I didn’t think for a moment it might be my make-up or moisturiser). I do get spots very very occasionally, but thanks to my new regime they don’t last long at all, and thanks to the acid toner they don’t scar like they used to (and the scars fade very quickly). I couldn’t justifiably say now that I have acne. Most days I can’t claim to even have spots, I literally haven’t had any in weeks. I really hope, if you are suffering as I was, that this article might help you 🙂