FINALLY CLEARING UP MY SKIN
In the past few years I've had a bit of a struggle with my skin. I've never had full blown acne, but I seemed to always have a few big, red spots going at one time. It wasn't terrible and I know some might say that that's nothing to complain about, but it was just enough of a problem that it was taking a toll on my self esteem. Additionally I tend to scar really easily, so every time I'd have a spot I'd be left with a nice patch of hyperpigmenation for ages.
I've tried a lot of different treatments to deal with my breakouts. I've done the salicylic acid route, the glycolic acid, the benzoyl peroxide, the antibiotics (topical and oral), the retinol treaments, various masks... etc. Nothing ever seemed to make much of difference. Finally, a few months ago I found an article on Paula's Choice about what to do when you have acne and dry skin. I'll preface this by saying that my skin isn't dry in the traditional sense. It's oily, but easily dehydrated and very sensitive. Nonetheless this article was the most helpful piece of advice on acne I've ever read.
Essentially that article talked about how everyone's skin reacts differently to each treatment and it's all about finding what works best for you. Well, most of us know that much. But then it went on to explain how you may not respond to just one treatment. In fact, it may take a variety of different treatments and you just have to play around to find out when to use what. What I found was that consistently using one treatment - salicylic acid, benzoyl peroxide, retinol - never worked, but using all three at various times actually did make a difference. Also, it's worth mentioning that I had to build a tolerance to some of these treatments. With retinol in particular, you may find that your skin peels a lot when you first use it, but if you continue use the side effects do eventually lessen.
What I've found works for me is to first use a moisturizing cream or oil based cleanser. Avoid anything that lathers so you're not unnecessarily drying out your skin. Then I use a retinol treatment (I have a prescription one, but Paula's Choice makes one too) about once or twice a week in the evenings. This stuff is really powerful and can make you peel like crazy if you're not careful, but it does an amazing job exfoliating skin and prepping it for an antibacterial treatment. That's where the benzoyl peroxide treatment comes in. I use about a pea size amount all over my face about 3-4 nights a week (definitely not 2-3 times a day like the tube says) when I'm not using the retinol treatment. Now I'm not a fan on benzoyl peroxide. It's harsh and it can cause premature aging effects. If you can avoid using it then I would. Unfortunately and fortunately it happens to work for me. A tip that I've found helpful is to give your skin a good bit of time to settle down after washing it before applying the benzoyl peroxide. Applying it right after, while the skin is still unsettled, can cause irritation.
Sometimes all of this is too overwhelming for my skin and I can tell that if I use any treatment I'm going to start peeling like crazy. So some nights and most mornings I'll skip any treatment and just stick to a moisturizer (La Roche Posay Toleriane Ultra). It's really all about listening to what your skin has to say. If it's saying I can take a treatment, then give it a treatment. If it's saying I need a break then give it a break. Sometimes I can tell that benzoyl peroxide or retinol will be too much for my skin, but it can take a little something. That's when I crack out my salicylic acid toner. I use the Paula's Choice Clear Anti-redness Exfoliating Solution as it's one of the few salicylic acid toners I could find on the market that doesn't contain irritating or drying ingredients like alcohol or witch hazel.
This new routine has definitely helped decrease the amount of breakouts I experience. However it hasn't completely eliminated then. Frankly, that's fine with me. I think it's important to be realistic. And remember, these things are always going to fluctuate. For example, while my skin has improved in general in the past few months, it's gone through a bit of a rough patch again in the past few weeks with the stress and anxiety I've been feeling. Also, I've had to rejig my routine what with the colder, drier weather coming in, so my skin is still getting used to that. It's always all about finding that right balance... and washing your pillow cases regularly.