I am almost guaranteed to receive a question or email from a reader on a weekly basis asking how to clear up skin. It seems that everyone is battling with breakouts that continue to rear their heads beyond the teenage years and well into the twenties and thirties.
I have compiled this ‘how to’ based on my own experience with my skin - after a relatively clear run in my teens I struggled with pimples and blackheads throughout my twenties. Nothing major - at most I probably had three or four pimples at once, mainly on my chin and forehead, but enough to get me down.
The tips below have transformed my skin, and I hardly ever break out anymore (and when I do, it’s usually because I haven’t been following my own advice!). I hope that they work for you too, and please feel free to share your own experience and tips.
Cleanse less: Yep, you heard me. I used to stock up on every anti-acne, blemish busting, salicylic acid based product on the planet. And yet I still broke out. Since going clean, I have switched to kinder, gentler cleansers, and I haven’t looked back. Although it seems counterintuitive, conventional, chemical heavy cleansers that are supposedly made to target oily and breakout prone skin are incredibly stripping, which in turn encourages skin to produce more oil, which then leads to more breakouts - which then leads to using more stripping products to try to get rid of them! It’s a vicious cycle. Break this cycle by using a gentle, pure cleanser - cleansing oils and balms are brilliant - which will get skin back on track to regulate its own oil production. It might take a few weeks for your skin to get used to this, but it will happen. Your skin is a very clever organ.(As a side note, I actually found that once my skin got back in balance, I had dry, not oily skin as I had always previously thought!).
In a similar vein, I now only cleanse once a day, at night, and simply splash my face with water in the morning (unless I use a particularly heavy treatment the night before). This is for the same reason: to get skin regulating its own production and not disrupting its balance.
Eat your way to good skin: Whether we like it or not, diet plays a HUGE role in skin. Since cutting back dramatically on sugar, my skin is clearer, brighter, and softer (not to mention the other benefits - less mood swings, a clearer head, and less tummy fat!). I also try to avoid soy and dairy, as in my experience if I eat too much of either they will also lead to breakouts. If I binge on junk food I will immediately see the effects on my skin over the next week - and it’s not pretty. I also add lots of chia seeds and coconut oil to my diet (I love to throw them into a hot bowl of porridge), as these supply the skin with good fats to keep it plump, glowing and hydrated.
Get into clay: Clay based masks are brilliant at giving congested skin a little jump start to purge impurities and heal existing blemishes. I use one once a fortnight to keep skin in top condition - it’s a great Sunday night ritual.
Don’t scare your skin: In addition to my former life as a Lover of Oil-Stripping Cleansers, I must also confess to trying just about every ‘overnight pimple zapper’ under the sun. At the merest hint of a pimple I would drop a dollop of (usually salicylic acid based) potion on it. Yet my skin didn’t get better - in fact, I found that these treatments usually left skin dried out, frazzled and red. So I stopped. And just ignored pimples, and let them do their own thing, and heal themselves. And again, my skin’s ability to help itself amazed me. Sure, pimples took a little longer to go away, but they never erupted into a sore, inflamed spot, which meant they were far less noticeable (and much easier to cover with a little dab of concealer), and just gradually disappeared without a fight. I’ve also noticed that my skin scars far less with this approach.
Product recommendations: I’ve tried to keep this post general rather than list specific products, as it’s more of a guideline on how to care for skin rather than a hardwired regime. But sometimes you just want a recommendation, straight up, so here are the products that I have used and liked:
So, if I could summarise my clear skin regime in one sentence, it would simply be:
Be kind to your skin and to yourself.
You will be amazed at what this will do.