I talk about my skin pretty frequently in my Instagram stories, and I got some interest in a post that outlines my journey from terrible acne to on-the-mend, healing, healthy skin. First of all, my acne was one of my biggest PERCEIVED flaws. By that I mean, I thought that because my skin wasn’t baby bottom smooth and blemish-free or even-toned, I was not attractive/worthy/good enough/beautiful/cool. For so many years in my teens, I hated my skin and picked at it, treated it with harsh chemicals, and just plain gave up on a future with clear(er) skin. However, all of this was based on my perception of what was and wasn’t flaw. I’m laying this all out, because so much of my skin journey has been a shift in mental attitude towards breakouts, as well as an increase in overall health and wellness knowledge. So! Let’s get right into my journey.
Middle School Years
I’m not even really sure when I first started to develop skin issues like acne. I think it was around middle school, but it started gradually. When I first started noticing pimples (because I would JUST get a few, no breakouts), I used over-the-counter products like Neutrogena, Clean & Clear, Aveeno, the like. Anyway, I didn’t educate myself, and didn’t understand or even care about any of the links between acne and nutrition and fitness.
As my acne started to get worse, I began sourcing new products to handle the embarrassing breakouts. I started to get acne on my chest and back, on my shoulders and sometimes a very large painful blemish on my scalp. I picked and prodded despite everyone telling me not to! I cried, I let it affect my self esteem, and I deemed myself ugly. Just because of NORMAL teenage acne. I tried every mask at my local drugstore. And ultimately, I felt helpless. My friends didn’t really get acne like I did. So I felt estranged and different, which is the last thing you want to feel in your middle school days.
Eventually, I tried Pro-Activ and similar product lines that were one size fits all such as Murad. These seemed to work on some parts of my breakouts like larger blemishes but not the day-to-day stuff. So I continued to feel ostracized because I allowed myself to think I was less-than because of my skin.
High School Years
High school seemed to make my skin worse, if the two can even be directly related. If you’re high school-aged or have been through those years already, I’m sure you know how mentally challenging those years are. There is SO much pressure to be cool, pretty, perfect, attractive, etc. and it can lead you to some seriously dark places. High school was the time that my skin issues started to create deeper psychological issues for me. I would get so over emotional about it, cover it up in every possible layer of makeup (full of chemicals and toxins) and let it affect my social life and what I thought I was capable of in all aspects of my life (relationships included).
I occasionally went to various dermatologists and received prescriptions, herbs, and other topical creams. Nothing really worked. My mom would patiently sit with me in my bathroom as I sobbed about how ugly my skin made me feel. Always there to support me, she was with me through thick and thin encouraging me to love myself for my internal beauty and treat my body with care.
I was a chronic “picker” (that word is gross, sorry) and used to attack anything that popped up onto my skin. My back acne got much worse in high school because of long, sweaty volleyball practices. This led to even more extreme self esteem issues for me. I grew up in the Caribbean (a story for another day!) where it was in the mid-80s all year round, yet I would cover up in short sleeves or sweaters to avoid exposing my taboo back breakouts that were ALWAYS apparent. Worse yet, I would cover them with make up for volleyball games since we usually wore tank jerseys. All in all, it was a mess that was made worse because I was so ashamed of it and was implored to cover it up, whatever means necessary.
Everything sort of culminated to my senior year. In the fall of my senior year I decided to remove gluten from my diet, after hearing of a family friend’s success story. I was so desperate to find something that really worked, that I would just about try anything. Shortly after, my skin was the best it had looked in years, and honestly looked better than it does now. In addition to cutting out gluten, I was generally quite happy and (relatively) stress-free. I was earning decent money babysitting, I hardly ever drank (after a ton during my junior year), I was in a new relationship, things just seemed to come together. The skin I had in this period of my life was clear and glowing, with a minor pimple or three every once in a while, that was completely manageable.
College Years- NOW
My freshman year of college was a bit of a nightmare for my skin. I cut out animal products, after discovering I was lactose intolerant in October of 2014. At first things were fine, but towards January I began to develop severe acne. Closer to May, my skin looked a pubescent middle schooler. It was so embarrassing, itchy, painful, and depressing. I saw an esthetician in North Carolina and underwent tons of new-fangled procedures in the hopes of remedying my troubled skin, to no avail.
I went home for summer and it seemed to become worse with the heat and sweat. I started seeing my mom’s acupuncturist/herbalist and began taking an herbal supplement as well as receiving acupuncture specifically for my skin. I think it helped slightly, but still didn’t make a huge difference. This issue lessened but still continued through my sophomore year of college. I began to, once again, feel the psychological effects of skin issues. I felt ugly, I felt hopeless, and most of all I felt angry because I was “a 20 year-old why am I still dealing with this!!” During my sophomore year, I was using Lush skin care products. I shelled out big bucks every month, trying new products that ultimately just didn’t do anything!
The next summer (last year) I went home again, and my skin started slowly getting better (I attribute this to lowered stress). I had been following Osea Malibu on Instagram and finally decided to try their products. I first ordered the essential corrective complex and blemish balm. I loved the balm, but was inconsistent with both products until last fall. And that brings me to…
What I do NOW, and how it has made a huge difference in my complexion —
So now- my skin regimen starts from within. I avoid processed foods (especially sweets/oily foods), load up on veggies of all colors, fats, lean plant proteins, nuts, and fruit with antioxidant properties. Fermented and probiotic-rich foods like kombucha and kraut are some new additions to my diet that have helped as well. I try to listen to my body as much as possible and give it what it craves (within limits). I practice balance, knowing that my skin might break out but that I am stronger now (mentally) and will recover. For example, I ate a ton of birthday cake this weekend and broke out, accordingly, but I’m totally KOSHER because the cake was good, it was my birthday, and it’s a give and take. Beyond food, I exercise and do things that nourish my mind and soul (i.e. spinning, yoga, gardening, being in nature, reading, blogging, cooking, photography….). I have been consciously working on my sleeping routine, and training myself to wake up earlier and go to bed earlier, getting (hopefully) 8-9 hours a night. I need a lot more sleep than most people! Always have. I also try to better manage my inevitable stress with adaptogens and making and completing to-do lists.
But I bet you thought I was just going to share my skin care products! Well I am, but I want to emphasize the outstanding importance of all the above-mentioned things. Those are what makes the noticeable differences. Ultimately, our skin is reflecting our internal conditions. If you feed your body junk, you’re gonna feel like junk and not have bright and glowing skin. Simple as that.
SKIN CARE: These are my must haves (with some extras towards the end) I will literally sell a kidney to make sure I always have these products. They have WORKED and they are products I can fully get behind (organic, cruelty free, simple, etc).
- Osea Malibu Essential Corrective Complex $32
- If you were to only buy one thing for your acne, this is it. It’s an essential oil blend spot treatment and it is pure gold. I’ve raved about it in several skin care posts!
- Cocokind Chlorophyl Mask $18.99 (available at Bed, Bath & Beyond in some areas, AKA no shipping fees)
- Good for all skin types, seriously like a cleanse but for your skin. I use it a few times a week. Love it because it works, is affordable, and lasts for MONTHS.
- Osea Malibu Advanced Correction Cream $98 available in full size or trial size in the normal/dry skin set
- The priciest thing ever, but if you can get a hold of it you’ll understand why I love this night cream. It is so nourishing and rehydrating, a little goes a long way, and it really helps with softening the skin
- Osea Malibu Ocean Cleanser $16-44 available in travel size and full
- A great medium-level cleanser that is equally exfoliating and nourishing. Not too harsh, but very effective. I wash once daily, so this lasts a long time for me.
- Osea Malibu Atmospheric Protection Cream $48
- This is new to me, but I love this right now because it holds up even in this humid hot Florida weather. Plus it’s protective!
- Osea Malibu Essential Hydrating Oil $32 (available in full size or trial size in the normal/dry skin set)
- If you have dry skin, you’ll love this. I use this little roller on my eye area and the dry parts of my face. It lasts forever!
- REAL FOOD. I had to – really the best thing you can invest in for healthy beautiful skin!
What else contributes to acne?
- Try to avoid picking acne at all costs; that includes popping zits. It leaves nasty stubborn scars (I can prove this!). If you MUST get something, use two q-tips instead of your fingers/fingernails (suggested to me by a dermatologist).
- Hormones / period, PMS
- Prepare for this by extra exfoliation during PMS or before hand, and eating nourishing foods (mentioned above). If you have a hunch your hormones are out of balance, consult a naturopath.
- Fluoride in toothpaste can cause acne around the mouth and under the nose. Try swapping for a fluoride-free option (I like Dr. Bronners) and see if that helps.
- Food sensitivities can cause skin reactions! I recently found out I am intolerant to pineapple, and it was causing acne around my mouth.
- I mean. Duh? Combat this by planning ahead, and incorporating activities that calm you (I love yoga, gardening, cooking, and reading).
- I touched on this, but it’s worth mentioning twice. It is so incredibly important to get restful and copious sleep. This is when the most cell turnover happens, which means healing your skin!
- Makeup and sweat
- I only wash my face/back/chest once a day, but it’s always either after I sweat, or at the end of the day before going to sleep. SO important to remove sweat and makeup which can harbor bacteria that leads to acne.
- Dirty bed sheets/pillowcases
- It is imperative to clean your bedding at least once a week. Dander, dust, dirt, bacteria EVERYTHING piles up in your pillowcases and sheets. Consider washing pillows and comforters once a month too!
- Hair products / hair in the face
- Hair products are one of the main causes for back and chest acne. You don’t even realize how much interaction there is between your hair and skin, but it’s crucial to choose natural and preferably organic hair care. I like Acure and Giovanni brands.
- Hands on face
- Similarly to hair, your hands can impart lots of bacteria and oils onto your face. Try to avoid touching your face or resting your head in your hand (I am so guilty of this during classes!). Just becoming more conscious of it can help.
- Post gym skin care
- If you are carrying a backpack home from the gym, try layering a towel between your back/shoulders and the straps to avoid rubbing sweat into your pores or into the backpack straps (which will interact with clean skin later!). Additionally, shower/clean as soon as you can post-gym sesh!
- Clogged pores
- Exfoliation is CRUCIAL. I am especially prone to dead cell build up, so I try to exfoliate every other day or so. I am in the works of producing my own salt scrub, so stay tuned to my Instagram for that! Other great options are Cocokind Sea Moss Exfoliator (for sensitive skin!) $16.99 or Eco Tan Pink Himalayan Salt Scrub $44