I struggled with acne for over 40 years. When you are struggling with acne, either as a young teen, or as an adult, you don’t care too much about the statistics of 40 million Americans suffering with you. All you care about is learning what you can do to make it go away…like, now!
Most people can relate to the horror of waking up on the day of a big date, with acne, but there are those of us who also had those same problems during pregnancy, and then into our 40s.
Let’s take a look at what acne is, what causes it, and what you may be able to do to ease your suffering. There may be simple things like changing your daily habits. Some of these tips are common knowledge, but many things circulating online are myths, and may not have much to do with acne at all. Everybody is different. If you or a loved one is stressed about acne, and I hope to offer you the best skincare advice I can, since my acne is part of what catalyzed Ayr Skin Care into being.
First the Science...
According to the American Academy of Dermatology, acne is caused by three major factors:
1. Some people are genetically predisposed to having overactive oil glands. Sebaceous glands are a normal part of everyone’s skin. They are small glands that create sebum (oil) that is needed to keep our skin’s surface lubricated. When people produce more sebum than is needed, excess oil will remain in the pores of the skin, blocking the sebaceous duct and creating a “comedo”, or blockage within the follicle. Comedones then develop into white, blackheads or cysts. Interestingly, in some studies, they said that those prone to acne because of over production of oil may produce 4-5 times the amount of oil as other skin types. These are the different types of acne:
- A “whitehead” is the common term for a plugged follicle that remains just beneath the surface.
- A “blackhead” is when the follicle opens partially to reveal a black dot. This is pigment, and not actually dirt that is causing the discoloration. (another myth),
- Cystic acne is definitely the worst: painful deep-seated lesions that are inflamed and contain pus. They can also leave scars, though only about 1/20 cases get to this point.
2. The second type of skin over actively produces skin cells, and then has difficulty shedding them. Our epidermis or outer layer of our skin is constantly at work “cleaning house”, or shedding away dead skin cells. In this way, our skin exfoliates and allows for the new cells to rise to the surface. These baby skin cells start in the lower levels of our skin, travel through the epidermis until they reach the stratum corneum. This is where they naturally should shed. In some cases, however, some of those dead skin cells do not shed easily and remain present, causing a blockage and breakouts.
3. Some skin produces more acne-causing bacteria than other skin types. This is also genetic. The specific bacteria are called p.acne, and some people just produce more of it than others. So, you may have a drier type of skin, but your face may still be prone to acne, if it is inclined to produce this specific bacteria.
To sum up, those who are genetically inclined to have acne either produce more oil, more bacteria of a certain type, or have difficulty removing dead skin cells from the top of the skin.
The good news is that once you understand why you have acne, and possibly what type of skin you have, you may be better prepared to deal with it. So, instead of feeling like a victim, you can take some steps to help your skin. There is a correlation between acne and some common things you may be doing in your everyday habits and behavior. These tips may help you. See if any of these ring true for you!
Daily Habits That Impact Acne Prone Skin
1. You may be using the wrong products on your skin
Some people have unknown allergic reactions to products that they use every day, which may show up as acne. This acne may have nothing to do with the three types listed above, or it may be in conjunction with it. Either way, taking a look at the products you use regularly may help you. If you are curious about any of them, try removing them from your routine for a couple of weeks, and then reintroduce them and write down notes on any reactions. This process can help you understand the skincare for acne that works best for you.
- Detergents. Your clothing detergent may be too strong for your skin, or may contain perfumes to which you are allergic. Remember, that there are over 5,000 ingredients in most perfumes, and they are not listed on the ingredient label. Be wary of anything labeled as having synthetic colors (usually a number), or the words “Perfume” on the label. When you slip on your clothes or lie on your pillow, your complexion might react to the residue that’s left on the fabric, resulting in breakouts on your face, back, or other body parts. Another solution is to do a double rinse after you wash the clothes, and add some white vinegar as a rinse to the clothing. Also, avoid dryer sheets for the same reason, they are loaded with perfume. Instead, the white vinegar will give a nice softness to the clothing without additional scent. Changing to a detergent that contains no perfumes or dyes is a good place to start for understanding what triggers acne prone skin.
- Hair Products. Your shampoo, conditioner, hairspray and other hair products may be the problem. Some people are easily irritated by certain surfactants, silicones, or perfumes in their shower toiletries. Even shower gel can cause issues! Double check the ingredients labels of your favorite bathroom products. If you use a conditioner on your hair that contains any of these ingredients, use a towel to wrap your hair up, or hold it off your back to do a final rinse with soap and water to clean your back before exiting the shower. When using styling products, make sure you keep the sprays off of your back, neck, and face.
- Your Current Facial Care Routine. Your facial products may be the biggest suspect of all! We will address how to clean your face below, but please also pay attention to things like hair removers, over scrubbing with harsh exfoliators and harsh cleansers. While the ingredients are a concern, the actual method of using very hot water and/or scrubbing with very harsh abrasive chemicals and physical beads can tear the skin and also cause irritation. The idea of taking care of your skin and caring for acne prone skin is to help repair the skin’s protective barrier and help keep out bacteria, so be easy on your skin.
2. You may be using the wrong facial products
If you think you have tried everything, and are frustrated, pick up your facial cleanser, creams, serums, masks, and other facial skin care products to read the labels. This includes your makeup! Many facial products are full of ingredients that might contribute to clogged pores and acne. Mineral oil, silicones, and surfactants like sodium lauryl sulfate (an oil stripping cleanser) are in so many products that we hardly notice them anymore. You need to learn to read labels. We’ve written before on how to identify what silicones are on an ingredients label. Mineral oils are either listed as such, or as petrolatum, petroleum jelly, or PEGs. All of these may be part of the problem for clogged pores or even allergic reactions in sensitive skin.
Best Skincare Routines for Acne
Your facial routine should include a gentle cleanser. Ayr Skin Care’s Calm facial bar was designed to be calming and non-irritating. It contains antibacterial ingredients, which may help keep bacteria at bay, along with charcoal, nettle, olive leaf and turmeric, all noted for their cleansing skills, but in a gentle way. After cleansing, use a moisturizer that will help feed the skin, soothe and protect it, and offer the most important thing: hydration. Acne skin is often oily because it is actually dehydrated.
Ayr Skin Care’s Pure Moisture contains eight different natural humectants and is clinically proven to hold moisture in the skin for 72 hours. Add to this the fact that there are no synthetic colors, fragrances, silicones, or mineral oil/petroleum products, and you have a safe way to moisturize your skin!
Your skin may need to be exfoliated more often, especially if you are like me, and have skin which does not shed its dead skin cells easily. I need to exfoliate 2-3 times a week. When you exfoliate, choose a gentle fruit acid exfoliator, as opposed to harsh chemicals. Our gentle Reveal Exfoliator was designed for just this purpose. If you want something special, a mud mask is good to draw out toxins — just be careful to make sure there are no mineral oils, petroleum and silicones, perfume etc. in the mask, and use it once a week.
3. You may have a dietary allergy contributing to the problem
There is a possibility that acne prone skin is also triggered by allergens. You can keep a log of trigger foods, and see if you notice a correlation between your diet and acne breakouts. Caffeine is one of the number one triggers for acne, as well as certain oils like canola. I remember my mother telling me that eating fried foods or potato chips would break me out… this was partially true, because those fried foods at fast food restaurants were using oils that my skin did not like.
Food reactions are really allergic in nature, not true acne. Your body is telling you in the only way that it can, that you should not be eating what you are eating. Culprits like dairy, caffeine, chocolate, eggs, gluten, and more may be at fault. The easiest process is to track it, and then do an elimination diet. You can Google good elimination diet rules online under Whole 30, for example. The idea is that you eliminate things like grains, dairy, soy, coffee, eggs, orange juice etc., and then gradually add one thing in every couple of days after a period of time, taking notes on your gut reaction, acne, itchiness or other allergy symptoms.
4. Hormones and stress
When you’re under stress, your skin produces stress hormones, including cortisol that can stimulate your oil glands to make testosterone. This can increase oil production and clog pores. Hormone changes like puberty, pregnancy, post-pregnancy, and even menopause can trigger a cycle of acne, stress, more acne that is difficult to change.
Try to take life in small bites, keeping your stress level down with exercise, meditation, relaxation, a warm bath and laugh. Laughter and exercise both release endorphins, helping reduce stress levels, and also helping you live a longer, healthier life. Don’t be afraid to consider going to your doctor and/or a hormone specialist who can check hormone levels and give you an idea if something is off balance, and what you can do about it.
5. Introducing bacteria by daily activities
Do any of you remember your mother, or other “older adult”, telling you to keep your hands off of your face? I certainly do, and now I understand why it is a good idea to keep your hands from your face, especially if your skin is acne prone.
First of all, our hands are seldom clean enough to touch our faces. I know, that’s not a pleasant thought, but it’s true! Door handles, the environment, objects that we touch all day long like our cell phones, may not be clean and may transfer bacteria onto our faces. Resting your chin in your hands, hands on your face while you sleep, all of these are opportunities for bacteria to transfer onto your face.
This brings up another subject… picking. The advice from most doctors is: don’t! When we find a spot, and try to take care of it by squeezing, we often just make a red mark, blotchy face, and miss getting all of the bacteria out of the pores. When your press on the spot, you may actually be making the problem worse by pushing bacteria back deeper into the skin. Keep your face clean, keep your hands clean, and keep your hands off your face!
My Experience with Acne Prone Skin
My personal story is one that covers many of the criteria listed above, and it lasted from age 14 until I was 50 years old.
I was treated by several dermatologists, and one put me on Accutane, which can be very dangerous. I believe it was maybe the best option at the time, so I am not saying the doctor was wrong, but that just shows how bad my cystic acne was. I had periods of time when it would settle slightly, and then I would be stressed or hormonal, and it would flare again with a vengeance.
Now that I understand it better, I know that my skin has always been on the oilier side, and that I definitely did not exfoliate naturally as well as I probably should have. Even now, if I don’t physically exfoliate a couple of times a week, I get many whiteheads.
After menopause, when I thought it would be all over, my skin became drier, but the acne was still there. After allergy testing with my doctor, I found out that I had a long list of allergies. I had known about my allergic reactions to some preservatives, perfume, synthetic colors and so forth when I was younger. Now, I found out that I had also developed Hashimoto’s disease and many allergies with foods. This is one reason why I created Ayr Skin Care, and why I formulated our products without synthetic colors, fragrances, silicones, petroleum ingredients, alcohol, and other triggers for acne, allergies, and other issues for sensitive skin. If I had been able to use products like the ones I make now, I might have had a better handle on my acne when I was a bit younger.
If you suffer from acne, I encourage you to take a deep breath and look at this list to see if anything rings a bell. When I stopped eating gluten, grains, dairy, and cut my caffeine and sugar down, I noticed an immediate change. If I don’t exfoliate or cleanse properly, I still get clogged pores. But, removing food allergens is was what I needed to really control my acne prone skin. I encourage you to be proactive — learn what your body likes and does not like, and if you need help, see a doctor to look at your gut and potential food allergies, and a dermatologist to help with any acne treatment.
This blog is not meant to serve as medical advice. I am only sharing my experience, and advising you that you need to look at many different things when confronted with acne.
One of the most difficult things for me to deal with when I had acne flare ups was my self-image. I would look into the mirror and hate what looked back at me. I hope that you remember that you are a beautiful being inside and out, and be gentle with yourself as you solve the mysteries of your skin. Be easy on yourself, and smile. It will get better.
Bye for now!