Pretty much from the time I hit middle school onwards, having clear skin has been a struggle. I’ve been #blessed with acne, cystic acne, the miraculous ability to somehow be both oily and dry simultaneously, and a super pale skin tone which shows even the tiniest blemish.
I prefer to blame genetics for most of this, but that really doesn’t solve the more immediate problem of “how do I go out in public without donning a Mardi Gras mask and trying to convince everyone that it’s actually Fat Tuesday?”
The obvious answer, of course, is to get a good dermatologist. I have one. I love her more than I love iced coffee and if I ever decide to have children, I will name my firstborn after her. She’s that wonderful.
But even with a dermatologist who’s basically a wizard, I still get breakouts. And they still suck. And they still, naturally, occur right when I absolutely cannot afford to have them, like before my best friend’s wedding or my massive work gala.
The irony of all of this is that while I’m fascinated by makeup, and love experimenting with different products, I’m very much into the “less is more look,” and so I don’t even own foundation, and yet people always seem to think that my skin is actually pretty decent.
This is because again – awesome dermatologist! – but also because I’ve learned through trial and error and one very ugly meltdown (never cried over a boy; definitely cried over a zit), that PREVENTION is my best bet. Like everything else in life, being proactive is better than being reactive.
Unfortunately, when I first started out on my skincare journey, it seemed like an overwhelming topic to tackle. Everything I Googled seemed to be either very expensive or too labor intensive (I am not whipping up an avocado, egg white, and coconut milk mask every night before bed. Have you TRIED to find an avocado with the correct level of ripeness?!?). But I persevered, and eventually found a whole slew of products – all reasonably priced – that seem to address nearly all the problems my skin can cook up.
Let me preface this by saying that everyone’s skin is different. What works for my skin might not work for yours at all, and you’ll have to go through your own trial and error phase. Even with this repertoire, I STILL get breakouts occasionally, and they still come at the most inconvenient of times. When that happens, I think back to an interview that Keira Knightley once did (I wish I could find a link to it. . .)
To paraphrase, an interviewer asked how she dealt with her struggles with acne:
Keira replied, “Red wine. Lots of it.”
“Oh! Does that help?” asked the interviewer.
“I’m not sure,” replied Keira, “but it certainly makes me feel better!”
So, try out these products (and a heavy pour of red wine) and I’ll keep my fingers crossed that they work for you, too!
- The Body Shop Green Tea Mask $17 – if you only try out one thing, make it this one, because it’s amazing. I think it would likely work to revitalize any skin type, even if you don’t have to contend with breakouts. Coat it on heavily (I usually just hit my T-Zone), leave it on for about 15 minutes, and scrub it off with warm water. Do this 1-2 times per week. Be careful not to get it in your eyes . . . it’s powerful stuff!
- PRID Drawing Salve $8 – it smells terrible, looks worse, and has the consistency of tar, but it works better than almost anything else with which I’ve tried to combat cystic acne. Next time you feel one of those super-painful lumps forming, glob some of this on before going to sleep at night. Repeat for a few nights until the cyst comes to a head or deflates entirely.
- Renée Rouleau Anti-Cyst Treatment $43 – this runs about the same cost as a college textbook (AKA highway robbery) but it’s worth it. It’s the only high-end product on the list, and though it cost me a pretty penny, I still have half a bottle from when I finally caved and sprung for it over a year ago. Use it sparingly on cysts as they pop up: dab a bit onto clean skin the morning, apply your makeup as usual, and let it work its magic.
- Clean & Clear Spot Treatment $6 – for your basic zits, this is my favorite remedy. I apply to clean skin before bedtime and always see at least some kind of improvement the next day. It’ll dry ‘em up and shrink ‘em down quickly. You can likely buy a drugstore equivalent that’ll be a bit cheaper, but make sure you double check the active ingredient, because some don’t use salicylic acid.
- Bioré Deep Cleaning Charcoal Strips $8 – I’m blessed with tiny pores . . . everywhere but my nose. Here, for some reason, they seem to be trying to pick up the slack. I’m a big fan of these nose strips because I feel like they reach a bit deeper than the average version and prevent potential Rudolph moments. Just be careful not to pull a Mia Thermopolis and rip it off suddenly . . . ouch!
- Yes To Cucumbers Face Mask $3 – when you’re zapping your face as often as I am, you need to give it some TLC every once in a while, too. This is a paper mask that you slap on for about 20 minutes while it soothes and hydrates your skin. After removing the mask, rub the excess into your face and sleep on it.
- Organic Coconut Oil $7 – you know that scene in The Help where Minny swears that Crisco is the secret to everything? That’s how I feel about coconut oil. I use it in place of lotion on my legs, hands, elbows, etc., rub it onto the ends of my hair if they’re feeling especially brittle, and use it to spot-treat any dry patches on my skin, especially in the winter.
- Neutrogena Body Clear Pink Grapefruit Scrub $9 – easiest thing you can do if you get backne! Just replace your daily body wash with this stuff (or better yet, its drug store equivalent to save a few extra bucks). It even smells good!
- Cremo Shaving Cream $8 – on top of having skin that’s very prone to breakouts, I also have skin that’s super sensitive. So all those fun bath-bombs and floral lotions and Romantic Parisian Night shaving creams tend to make me breakout even more. This is my latest discovery, and it’s THE BEST SHAVING CREAM YOU WILL EVER USE. Seriously, it takes just a tiny bit; it’s a lotion, not a foam, so it’s water activated. This means you can squeeze some into a travel bottle and carry it on in your suitcase, and more importantly, that you’ll get the smoothest shave of your life without removing half the skin from your knees. It’s pure magic, AND it’s made in America!
- Ouai Foaming Dry Shampoo $28 – one of the things I learned in my Quest to Minimize Breakouts is that sometimes my constant scrubbing actually works to my disadvantage. The more I strip oil from my skin, the harder it works to produce excess. Since I have very fine, blonde hair, and I work out a lot, skipping a shower or a shampoo didn’t seem like an option for me. Every time I would try, my hair wound up looking like a limp, greasy French fry left to linger at the bottom of the drive-through bag. BUT, then I discovered Ouai’s new product (it’s brand new – just came out a few weeks ago) and it has changed the game. The cool thing is that rather than a hairspray-like texture, which just sort of builds up on your strands, this stuff is a foam that cleanses your hair as you work it into your scalp. It absorbs the oils, creates volume, and doesn’t leave behind that gross buildup. I’ve only just begun experimenting with it, and I am already OBSESSED.
- Neutrogena SkinClearing Blemish Concealer $10 – sometime despite my best efforts, I still have to cover up breakouts and blemishes. I love Neutrogena’s product because it’s a liquid concealer in a stick format, so you can simply dab it on and rub it in and voilà, new skin! Plus, it’s got MicroClear tech to work on healing your skin while you’re wearing it, and it’s (obviously) non-comedogenic.
- Neutrogena Clear Face Liquid-Lotion Sunblock $11 – speaking of preventative skin care, when you’re as pale as I am, sunscreen isn’t only necessary, it can be life-saving. Unfortunately, sunscreen tends to be greasy and heavy and kind of gross to coat all over your face. I’ve had the most success with Neutrogena’s Clear Face version, which has a lighter texture than your usual SPF treatment.
Of course, all of this is only helpful if your acne isn’t bad enough to require a dermatologist, and you’re only looking to treat the occasional minor breakout; or if you already have a dermatologist and are just trying to supplement your doctor’s regimen. I can’t stress enough how much of a difference my dermatologist made in my complexion, and how that should be your first course of action if you’re seriously struggling with acne.
P.S. If you have any suggestions of products that worked for you, please share! I know I’ve barely scratched the surface of skincare and will take all the help I can get!
*Main image via Pexels