When I was in high school, a tiny blackhead on my face was enough to cause my complaints about skin problems. Many of my friends would roll their eyes and say that I couldn’t even complain about my skin. They were right, but I got my deserved karma anyway, as for the past two years I have been dealing with hormonal acne. It took a while to finally realize what would actually work (thank you, birth control), but it would be unrealistic if I said that I still don’t get breakouts now and then. As anyone who’s gone through puberty and/or menstruation knows, hormones are extremely temperamental and can go out of balance for a seemingly unlimited amount of reasons. So, my acne is super frustrating, as it makes my skin irritated, it can be unpredictable, and it can be pretty painful. It’s essentially dealing with a bunch of open wounds on my face, and not to mention that it isn’t exactly a confidence boost to see acne when looking in the mirror.
The only thing that pisses me off more than having acne is seeing the advertisements and skincare products marketed towards acne. Acne treatment is a booming business, and it’s projected to get even bigger. Acne can significantly influence a person’s self-esteem, and I would argue that advertising for acne treatments is partly to blame. Advertising specifically touches on the common fears that people with acne have in order to increase sales. What if my acne never goes away? Do people only see my acne when they look at me? Am I doing something wrong? The idea of playing into people’s fears to make a profit isn’t new, nor is it specific to skincare. But that doesn’t make it any less wrong.
This advertising is so pervasive. Everyone has seen it, the “real people” (definitely not actors) who tell you that nothing has worked for their skin until they bought this one product and it’s solved everything. Not to mention said product can be anywhere from five to five hundred dollars. Last year, a luxury skincare brand admitted to posting fake reviews on Sephora about their products. A lot of these reviews focused on “getting rid of acne” and their products being one of the only things that helped with their skin. No way is this the only brand guilty of putting up fake positive reviews.
Even if the companies aren’t actively trying to skew their reviews, the language surrounding all acne treatments is problematic in itself. We talk about having “good” skin and “bad” skin, or how acne products “purify” your face, fix large pores (which by the way, is a giant myth), and you can see results in just one day! Skincare, in general, has seen an increase in marketing as self-care, which can also make people feel that they need to purchase a bunch of products that may not even work in order to participate in self-care. All of this leaves consumers who are looking for effective products to help their skin in a very vulnerable position, which takes up way too much time in my life and I’m sure in many others’ as well.
So even with realizing that the acne treatment industry is predatory, I still think it is totally within people’s prerogative to try and acquire a few things that can help with acne. As my roommate likes to say, acne “doesn’t pay rent to live on your face.” When my skin is breaking out, I keep everything super simple and gentle. So many products are aimed at drying out your face (so there is little oil to become trapped and turned into pimples), but I have found that getting gentle, hydrating products are the best route. This means no fragrance, no exfoliators, and no crazy harsh acne products (besides my prescription topical cream). For me, this includes:
- Cerave Hydrating Facial Cleanser.
This brand is probably the first to be recommended to you by any dermatologist; this cleanser is no-nonsense, affordable, very gentle, and the hydrating version is perfect for acne-prone skin, as it is not as stripping as typical “acne” cleansers. Plus, if you want to cut down on your plastic consumption, they have a facial bar!
- Cerave Daily Moisturizing Lotion.
The best thing about an affordable moisturizer is that you can slather a ton of this on your face guilt-free, which is exactly what I like to do. Most acne treatments make your skin super dry and sensitive, so having a nice moisturizer is essential, no matter how oily you think your skin is. Plus, this moisturizer is oil-free, so you really have no excuse.
- Your acne spot treatment of choice.
If you go to a dermatologist, they may give you a cream that instructs you to use it before putting on moisturizer. I think you know by now that I, your local undergrad HerCampus writer, cannot give you medical advice, but I can tell you from personal experience that putting on my moisturizer and waiting for it to completely absorb and then putting on my acne treatment really cuts down on the stinging on my face. If you’re going the drugstore route, a simple salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide product is a good place to start. I use both of these products if my skin is too irritated for my prescription strength cream (not at the same time, though). I have also heard that people have had luck with Differin, which is made up of adapalene, a type of retinoid. Retinoids help increase the cell turnover in your skin, which means your skin renews at a rate ideally quicker than pimples can form. I have not personally used it since my prescription cream is a blend of adapalene and benzoyl peroxide, but if I didn’t have my prescription I definitely would’ve turned to this next.
- Or wear an acne patch
Another product that I may recommend is hydrocolloid bandages, a.k.a “pimple patches”. You know those cushy bandages you put on blisters? Yeah, they make them for your face now, welcome to the twenty-first century. Basically, when your pimple is just about to pop, you throw one of these patches on there and it absorbs the pus over 6 or so hours (I like wearing them to sleep) so your pimple is flatter and less irritated. I also love using these as they keep me from picking at my skin, because the urge to pop is real, people. I know picking is bad for me, but I can’t stop, so I just slap a band-aid over it to protect me from, well, myself. Pimples patches are generally very affordable, but you can also pay a little more for my favorite patches, or ones that are thin enough that you can wear during the day. Since I encouraged you earlier to reduce plastic consumption it’s only fair to acknowledge that these are single-use and pretty plastic-heavy. However, I justify it by cutting plastic out of my routine in other places and only using them when I have a particularly inflamed pimple.
Obviously, sunscreen is also extremely important for more pressing skin concerns, such as the prevention of skin cancer. If you are using salicylic acid, benzoyl peroxide, or a retinoid, you are more sensitive to sun exposure and more likely to burn your skin. Superficially, sun exposure also increases the chances of hyperpigmentation, which is that annoying dark spot that lingers long after the pimple itself. The reason I linked the one above is that it is only zinc oxide, so it is the least likely to irritate your skin. Or, you can try a mix of zinc oxide and titanium oxide (these are currently the safest sunscreens to use anyway) as physical sunscreens are generally less irritating than chemical sunscreens (basically any other chemical listed that isn’t the two mentioned above). I am proud to say that if there is any bright side to acne, it’s that I have finally become someone who applies sunscreen every day, no exceptions.
If you find yourself spending hundreds of dollars a year on over-the-counter acne treatments and nothing has really made you satisfied, it is due time to try and visit a dermatologist. Especially if you believe your acne is hormonal, I can promise you that most over-the-counter treatments will manage the pimples that do come up, but they won’t stop them from happening. Think about how one doctor visit and medication costs might stand up next to constantly buying new products that hit the shelves, and then consider how prescription strength medication and products are specifically selected for your skin concerns. Trust me, it’s worth it. Godspeed, my fellow acne sufferers. It’s annoying as hell, but we can get through it, one baby skincare step at a time.