I get asked so much, especially recently, about acne, how to deal with it and the scarring, the hyperpigmentation that's left behind and how to prevent blemishes and have clearer skin. I'm one of those lucky sods that had nigh on perfect skin throughout my teens, but my twenties have brought with them an onslaught of blemishes so I've really paid attention over the last few years on trialing and finding gentle results that work. I've collated all my thoughts and tips into today's post so let's get started.
There are different types of acne, from comedogenic to cystic to hormonal, and I have to say that for me at least, the hormonal ones need a deeper attention than just skincare – they're a bit inevitable unless you sort out the root cause in the hormonal imbalance. Today, I'm going to talk about preventative methods, rather than Roaccutane etc, the way our skin breaks out, and what measures we can take to prevent that. So, understanding acne in it's most simplified form, it's all about sebum – the oily secretion of our sebaceous glands that moisturises our skin but provides a nice, cushy environment for bacteria to grow and thrive.
Cleanse Twice Daily
Taking off your makeup properly is probably the easiest and most obvious thing you could do for your skin. It's a given that throughout the day your face will be accumulating makeup, sunscreen, dust, pollution, oil, excess sebum, sweat etc, so removing all of that as soon as possible gives your skin the chance to breathe. And that's why I think double cleansing in the evening is so important. Start off with an oil based cleanser (remembering that like removes like – this one is my current faves) to remove makeup, any buildup or impurities before following up with a second cleanse to clean your skin. A low pH cleanser (around 5-5.5 is ideal) protects your skin's acid mantle, there to prevent the growth of bacteria. I recently posted a lengthy post all about cleansers, my cleansing routine, a Korean dermatologist secret, and my top 5 cleansers which you can read here. For acne-prone skins, a cleanser containing salicylic acid or betaine salicylate (a gentler version) is a great bet, another reason why I love the Cosrx Low pH Gel Cleanser.
Low pH Toner
The Cosrx AHA BHA Clarifying Treatment Toner is one of my most effective products when it comes to preventing blemishes. I've done a whole post about it's secrets with a Before & After here – it lowers the pH of your skin, which in itself is beneficial, but also increases the efficacy of actives you use after like the following..
Vitamic C, AHA's and BHA's
Any and every time I get a blemish, it's guaranteed to scar. That's mostly a genetic thing for me, so I don't concentrate on prevention but I'm borderline obsessive about cure. Having tried most things, a vitamin C serum has been by far the single most effective lightener of my scarring. There are a lot of expensive ones out there (Drunk Elephant for example) but I've been trying this one from Korean brand Ciracle lately (read more in this post) and I really like it – the Klairs Freshly Juiced serum is also great, especially if you're new to vit C as it's lower in strength and a little more gentle. Vitamin C serums are pH sensitive so apply either straight to freshly cleansed skin or after toner.
AHA's are really good at dealing with pigmentation too, aswell as chemically exfoliating your skin. I've found that Lactic Acid works really well with my skin, and if I had to name a couple of products I covet most, it'd be the amazing Blithe Citrus Honey Splash Mask (review here) and Sunday Riley's Good Genes.
BHA's (or beta hydroxy acids) are oil soluble so are really good at cutting through your sebum and getting deep into the pores to clear them out. I love these BHA masks from Innisfree, containing salicylic acid, as well as grapefruit, lemon, green tea and orchid extracts. They're so gentle on the skin and the cooling effect of the sheet masks really soothes my skin aswell as tighten my pores – these are my favourite way to use BHA's.
Exfoliate Gently And Often
I have three favourite exfoliators at the moment – I stick to mostly gentle, chemical exfoliators as I think scrubs can leave micro lacerations on the skin and are just a little bit too aggressive for me. The first are the Wine Gauze Pads from Neogen, a tub full of single use pads, soaked in a concoction containing red wine (a natural and fermented source of AHA's) as well as Glycolic and Lactic acids. The specially designed pads deliver a manual exfoliation on one side and are super soft and smooth on the other. Considering how effective they are, they're incredibly gentle – I use mine around 2-3 times a week. These smell like Korean grape sweets too – my Korean childhood in a nutshell, and another reason why I love them so much.
The Skin & Lab Gently Vita Exfoliator is an amazing peeling gel. It contains niacinamide, retinol, panthenol, vitamins C and E, as well as plant and fruit extracts to brighten and exfoliate skin. Gently by name and gentle by nature, I've had no irritation whatsoever using it, it doesn't sting or tingle and my skin feels fresh and hydrated after washing it off. I think the key to this is allowing it to sit on your skin after application for a few minutes until the gel has thickened slightly. Then massage, causing it to ball up, before washing off. Such a beautiful product, I've not heard many talk about it and I think it deserves more recognition.
The Neogen Lemon Green Caviar Essence & Tox Tightening Pack is a new skincare concept combining the hydration of essences with a gentle, and often natural, form of exfoliation – most commonly using fruit extracts, enzymes and natural sources of AHA's. They use the same specialised gauze pads as the Wine exfoliator above and promise a multi-functional skin treatment, claiming to remove dead skin cells from the surface of your skin, brighten, hydrate, moisturise, cleanse pores, reduce pigmentation and gently resurface for smoother skin. The ingredients list for this product is vast (which I can only imagine means everything comes in small quantities), containing niacinamide, sodium hyaluronate, caffeine, seed oils, vitamin E, retinol and around 50 plant extracts (I'm not kidding), although the formula is not alcohol free for those that want to avoid that. I've been using this for around a month (2-3 times a week) and am really enjoying them so far – my skin feels so hydrated and smooth after using them and the single use pads are so convenient and feel so good, you just pick one out, swipe over your face with the rougher side, then the quilted side, pat in the essence, and simply throw away – it's the ultimate lazy girl product.
Keeping your pores as contracted as possible limits the space available for bacteria to cause blemishes. Small pores also indicate a smaller oil gland size and less sebum production. Of all the products I've tried to reduce pores, relatively unknown Korean brand Neulii has come up trumps, with their Green Tea BHA Pore Tightening Serum. Containing natural sources of BHA and green tea, the serum works to purify and cleanse your pores of excess sebum and bacteria, whilst wild mint extracts cool the external layers of skin to physically, albeit temporarily, contract pore size. I also like to use a BHA sheet mask, usually in the evening when the effects of the serum have worn off. We mentioned above that BHA's are oil soluble and penetrate the oil within pores, so the mask leaves my skin feeling super fresh. A tea tree rubber mask or clay mask like this one would also be a good option if you want something a little more hardcore.
Hydrating And Skin Fortifying Ingredients
Dehydration can be an underlying cause of spots as your skin overproduces oil to compensate for the lack of hydration. In and around your 20's, hydration should be your number one focus against anti-aging too. Products that contribute to hydration and skin repair lead to overall skin improvement and have an underlying effect on spots and blemishes, and so are an important step in your anti-acne regime. I've been using this Hydra B5 Source serum from Ciracle, which is supremely hydrating but really light – I'm really enjoying it. I'm a real snail believer, as well as some fermented ingredients, I've found them to have such a positive effect on my skin. My favourite is actually the Mizon Snail Gel, which is about as affordable as they come, and the Cosrx Galactomyces Essence – it boasts 95% of the very same galactomyces ferment filtrate you'll find in the obnoxiously priced SKII Facial Treatment Essence. These two products are incredibly light and comfortable to wear, especially in our current warm weather situation, and pack a real punch when it comes to results. One of my favourite ways to hydrate is with sheet masks. I'm the kind of person that will layer a hydrating ampoule (like this one from Scinic) with a sheet mask (I really like these from Freeset) and then lock everything in with a silicone mask cover that helps everything absorb into my face, prevents evaporation and stops things from sliding around so I can get on with my day.
Leading A Healthy Lifestyle.
I'm only going to touch upon this because it's probably the most utterly boring point to mention! All the usuals of drinking water, sleeping well, eating healthily, and everything else your mum always told you to do contributes to a healthy overall lifestyle and healthy skin. I'm definitely no saint in this regard and could do with upping my game so any tips you may have are gladly welcome! Let me know your favourites in the comments below.
Another more boring point that not all of us remember to do, myself included, and that's practising thoroughly hygienic methods. What I mean by this is not touching your face, wiping down your phone regularly, washing your pillow often and ensuring you remove all traces of shampoos and styling products from around your hairline. If you find your strict skincare regimen is still leaving you with spots, then some of the above might be things you should consider.