It’s reader question time! Today I’ve got some advice for reader Giselle, who is looking for a skin care regime that treats oily skin, breakouts AND their pain-in-the-butt aftermath, post-acne marks. She writes:
“I’m having trouble finding a good skin care regime for myself. I have oily skin and seem to break out a lot at my time of month. A lot of SPF moisturizers cause breakouts. I also have brown spots on my face, from old breakouts and age I suppose.”
Now Giselle is in her early 50s, but what I’m going to recommend applies to pretty much everyone over age 25. So if any of these issues apply to you (or even if they don’t), stay with me here:
Treating Hormonal Acne Naturally
I promise I WILL get to the product regimen part… but first things first: if you tend to break out at certain times of the month (join the club), it’s worth a little effort to see if you can re-balance those hormones. Yes, medications like the birth control pill, spironolactone, Accutane and antibiotics can help, but I’m generally against them. They’re short-term fixes with some serious side effects (breast cancer, anyone?). I’m also on the fence about laser treatments—they can work, but again, not necessarily permanently, and they can get REALLY expensive.
Although it’s undoubtedly more challenging, you CAN do a lot naturally through diet and lifestyle to at least lessen the severity of those monthly breakouts. (The payoff is that it’s going to make much more of a difference than any product you put on your skin topically, plus you can improve your overall health at the same time.)
What to Eat for Acne
By far the best information on nutrition is from the Weston A. Price Foundation, which advocates cutting out ALL processed crap (including soy—a major baddie) and upping your quantities of healthy saturated fats like butter and coconut oil. Yep, you read that right. Fat is not the enemy—unless it’s hydrogenated vegetable or soybean oils. I’ve eliminated those (along with the vast quantities of nuts and seeds I used to eat) and started slathering everything in butter and coconut oil. I know it sounds strange, but it’s made a MAJOR difference in my skin. It’s also important to eat enough protein—and I mean ANIMAL protein—which most of us females don’t get enough of. And you probably already know that sugar and white flour are the absolute worst, so avoid them like the plague. You can read more about the WAPF approach to acne here.
UPDATE: I’m convinced that taking cod liver oil has actually made the BIGGEST difference in the texture and quality of my skin (and eliminating breakouts). For more details please see this post.
Liver Detox and Acne
Many natural health practitioners also say that acne is connected to the liver, which processes our hormones, and I believe that too. If you’re feeling very brave, you can try a liver and gallbladder flush, which can remove blockages (intrahepatic stones) in the area that may be contributing to hormonal breakouts. (Too much information to explain in one post, but this site is a wonderful resource.) However, there are two schools of thought: some say you need to flush to get rid of these stones, but WAPF says they’re a side effect of not consuming enough healthy fats, and once you change your diet they will dissolve.
Okay, now on to product recommendations!
Skin Care for Acne-Prone Skin: Morning
Start with a basic gel cleanser (nothing creamy). I really like the foaming cleansers by Kiehl’s (Açai Damage-Minimizing Cleanser), Consonant Body (Organic Foaming Face Wash) and Aveda (Outer Peace Foaming Cleanser). At the drugstore, try Neutrogena Oil-Free Acne Wash, Olay Foaming Face Wash or L’Oréal Paris Go 360° Clean. Unless your skin is very oily, be careful with cleansers labelled as specifically for acne-prone or oily skin—many of them can be too drying. Also be cautious with cleansers that have added exfoliating properties—I prefer exfoliating with hydroxy acid toners (see below), so you want to be careful about doubling up lest you irritate your skin.
Apply a serum. I’m a huge fan of serums because they’re more powerful than moisturizers (due to their liquidy format, formulators can infuse them with higher proportions of active ingredients). This is where you can treat both the pigmentation issues and the signs of aging. I use La Roche Posay Mela D Serum (which specifically targets dark spots); Clinique also has a new product out called Even Better. Don’t be afraid to use more than one serum though! You can layer on an anti-aging one, like This Works Active Serum. I’ve also been using the new Prevage Anti-Aging Serum, which is pricey but super effective on both pigmentation and fine lines. (It’s just a little silicone-y, so get a sample first to make sure it doesn’t break you out.)
Wear a natural sunscreen. If you’ve got oily skin, you don’t really need to layer on moisturizer and then sunscreen—it will make you too greasy. Just put on your sunscreen (and maybe some eye cream, if you need it). Sunscreen is really important to protect any areas of pigmentation from getting darker. As for breaking out—that’s caused by the chemicals in mainstream sunscreens, so I’d use a natural sunscreen with zinc oxide or titanium dioxide. My favourite facial sunscreen of all time is Pure + Simple All Natural Sunscreen SPF 30 for Oily/Impure Skin—it’s lightweight and not greasy at all. Lavera is another good brand, but if you visit a health food store I’m sure you’ll find other options. Remember to apply sunscreen all over your face, neck and chest.
Use a mattifying or oil-control lotion or primer. This step will help absorb oil throughout the day so your skin doesn’t look as shiny. I’ve had good luck with OC8 Mattifying Gel and Hourglass Veil Mineral Primer. NeoStrata is introducing a new Oil-Free Mattifying Fluid this spring that you may also want to check out.
Skin Care for Acne-Prone Skin: Evening
Cleanse your skin again.
A few times a week, use a gentle exfoliating toner. I prefer hydroxy acid toners instead of actual scrubs with beads. They will not only remove dead skin build-up that can clog pores, but will also help fade the post-acne marks. Some products to try: NeoStrata Skin Renewal Peel Solution (or a new version out this spring, the Toning Solution Level 2 with 10% Glycolic Acid and 2% Salicylic Acid) or Dermaglow Radiance Glycolic 10% Gentle Peel Solution. The very best one I’ve tried is from Biologique Recherche (Lotion P50), but Canadians can only order it online from Beautyhabit.com. I also like the Clarisonic a few times a week for some extra buffing power.
Apply your serum again.
Use a treatment product. Depending on which issue is bothering you most, this could be something for the pigmentation issues or breakouts or both. For pigmentation, if you want to call in the big guns, I’d go with Lumixyl, a hydroquinone-free brightening cream sold at select dermatologist offices. I’ve used it for a few days and can already see a difference. For acne, you want a product that won’t dry you out too much (flaky, crusty skin is much worse than a pimple). If your breakouts are mild, you can spot treat them by dabbing on a clay mask. Bentonite clay is the best—it won’t ever “burn” your skin but it dries it out amazingly well. You can buy it at the health food store and just mix with water. Otherwise, if your acne is all over, apply a thin layer of a hydroxy acid treatment over your entire face. MD Skincare’s All Over Blemish Solution and Juice Beauty’s Blemish-Clearing Serum are good, non-irritating options. Benzoyl peroxide products are NOT a good idea as they generate free radicals which can lead to accelerated aging. No thanks!
Don’t forget eye cream, lip balm, and some night cream on your neck and chest (aging shows there too)!
That’s it! You can also throw in a masque once a week depending on what your skin needs (moisture, oil-control, etc.).
Do you have any tips or product recommendations for oily skin, hormonal acne or post-acne marks? Would love to hear them!