Notes on Problematic Skin Care #1: Respect What You Have

I can’t really count to the people who have “perfect skin”, even despite the big progress I made in treating my acne. Enter the teenage years, my hormones suddenly exploded and went out of the order, leaving my life a mess. Everybody’s hormones go out of control when growing up – that’s what the puberty is scientifically about, right – but the problems we  face can be different. Mine was severe acne, along other health problems.

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Still from Beyoncé’s “Hold Up”

It was like a wall or bars in jail where I was isolated from my “normal” friends among whom I desperately wanted to belong but, with the meaning of appearance and beauty extremely magnified in those years, it felt impossible. I used to be depressed about looking like this, no one will ever approach me; I buried myself in piles of books and stories in order to forget about how miserable I felt. Sounds dramatic and at that time, I certainly wasn’t the happiest. But with years passing by, those times surely taught me something. That is, if you want something, work consistently for it; don’t be harsh on yourself; and finally, reading is fantastic!

The consistent work and being kind to oneself is what I’d like to talk about in this article that may be most useful for those of you with problematic skin but I hope even those who have never experienced any bigger skin issues can find something beneficial here. To make it better arranged, I split my notes on skin care to two parts; in this one, the first, I’d like to talk about what you can do for your skin without buying anything; in the second one that will follow, I’ll show some products and procedures I use to maintain it.

The most important message I’d like to share in this  post is: Respect your natural skin condition. Don’t try to make it over. Don’t fight against what you have got with artificial instruments – at least not first.

Here’s how I mean it:

1. The very first thing you should do is – surprise, surprise – find a good dermatologist and appoint a meeting.

By good I mean someone who will listen carefully and consult, not give commands. It sounds like a matter of course but it’s not. The doctors can be very busy, overworked and some of them educated in the past regime (here) and/or very rigid in thinking. I’ve met many doctors but only one of them helped me – who respected I didn’t want to use corticoids on my eczema or put too much chemical substances on my already damaged face. We were finding solutions together. She didn’t prescribe me any aggressive medication that so many of her colleagues in other places did. Also, she was the only one who noticed that I have oily and very sensitive skin at the same time which was something I definitely haven’t known before. That’s why most drugstore products for oily/acne skin are too harsh and I went through many bad experiences with them. The same goes with prescribed medicine; things like alcohol tincture with antibiotics? Never more.

This relates to another topic, and that is: Do you have any allergies? An asthma? Check up with your doctor, too. If you do (like me), your skin is likely to have weakened immunity and therefore protects itself worse. This means you need to treat it even more carefully.

Then, after you have diagnosed possible issues…

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2. Look closely on your diet and lifestyle and be honest to yourself. Do you feel good?

Do you eat the best you can afford? Do you sleep enough? Do you feel energetic or tired  without any clear reason?

I can’t stress enough here how important is to maintain a healthy-ish, balanced lifestyle. Don’t believe anyone who says that food or sleep or water or lifestyle at all doesn’t have any or big impact on your skin; it’s bullsh*t. Skin is our biggest organ and if you already deal with some skin issues, the way you live definitely shows. So why make it worse if we have a choice, right?

Try to notice all the changes happening in your body during the day, after you eat or do something. Test how much movement and rest time you need to feel fresh. Figure out what feels good to you.

For me it’s important to drink enough water and to maintain a regular regime, meaning sleeping, eating and moving regularly. Since I’m an epileptic ((lol, now it looks like I have all diseases of the world but trust me, I’m a pretty healthy person), it’s a must; but I perceive it as a good thing actually and don’t feel limited that my daily rhythm has to be steady. I observed that eating a lot of seasonal fruit and vegetables, meat only few times a week, having fish whenever I can and limit gluten and dairy except for the fermented kinds (like yoghurt, kefir, etc.) is what makes me feel – and look – good.

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As somehow who grew up in East Asian household, I’m used to think of my body and mind function as an “energy” – it it flows and isn’t “stuck” somewhere, I feel good and everything works well. The diet, sleep and exercise are means how to manage this flow. You probably heard of several types of food in Chinese medicine – “cooling”, “warming”, “neutral”, etc. I’m used to think of food in these terms and choose it according to what I want and need at the moment but mostly to be balanced.

I make sure I have about 8 hours of sleep every night and try to go to bed and get up at similar time every day. I run 3-4 times a week; I began when I was 15, trying to get in better shape and now it’s so natural for me that I can’t imagine my life without running. It’s my go-to hobby when I need to unwind, clear my mind and breathe in some fresh air. I accompany it by practising yoga almost every day which is quite a different activity but the two complement very nicely.

Even though I don’t have any 100% evidence, I like to think that changing my lifestyle cured my health issues; my allergy is almost nonexistent, I have no sleeping problems, I’m ill twice a year at most with some quick cold and got rid of acne completely. Consistency is the key.

3. Be aware of your period and related changes.

As women, we live cyclically – the changes that happen with us come back at the same time every month. It’s important to know how these changes affect your skin and how to deal with them. I follow some advice in this Refinery29 article which breaks down every stage of month and explains what happens inside our bodies and on our skin. Observe how it changes across the month. For example, after my period I have very dry skin and even if it’s not cold outside, I use thicker day creams; and when the estrogen levels go up, I feel like a million bucks. The skin is radiant, glowy and supple and I don’t need to do anything more than usual.

 

4. Everything relates with everything – a face mapping tool

Speaking of Chinese medicine, not sure how much evidence-based this specific tool is but it has served me quite well when I had new breakouts. Face mapping is something that connects the function of internal organs with what shows on the skin. According to that, certain areas on face are connected with certain organs like liver, heart, etc. and should be treated accordingly. I wouldn’t do any important decision based solely on this information but it can be a nice aid to understand better how the body works. I often get pimples around my chin when my period’s about to come (hormonal imbalance) and if I smoke at a party (oops), it usually shows on one of my cheeks (lungs).

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5. And finally: Think hygiene.

If you’re breaking out, sometimes you don’t need to go as far as to ancient China. Sometimes it’s just plain ol’ dirty pillows, phone screen or touching your face with unwashed hands. Be sure to change and wash everything that gets in contact with your face regularly.


Next: Notes on Problematic Skin Care #2: What to Put On

I’d love to hear some ideas and comments from your side, be it from my problematic skin fellows or everyone else. What do you do to maintain your skin at its best?

(Image source: Pinterest)

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10 thoughts on “Notes on Problematic Skin Care #1: Respect What You Have

  1. I had pretty severe (never cystic, though) acne since I was 12 and after numerous ups and downs and dermatologists and prescriptions, I think my skin is finally approaching the best it’s ever been. I’ve had my fair share of aggravating “advice” from people with good skin about what to do about my appearances: direct comments from acquaintances and strangers, and indirectly from very smug bloggers who have never had bad skin.

    My acne is two separate issues: closed comedones on my forehead, temples, and cheeks; and open comedones around my nose, mouth and jaw. I think the water, diet, exercise, hygiene, etc get me as far as keeping most of the open comedones controlled, but they vary with my menstrual cycle. I use 2.5% benzoyl peroxide on them. For the closed comedones, I have been able to completely get rid of them using a retinoid that I was prescribed several years ago, but has recently been available without a prescription. I use a cleanser, moisturizer, and SPF daily, but no other skincare. It works for me.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for sharing, both for your experience and what you use. I recall going through similar situations – the “best” were people who said something like: “You have a really big pimple on your forehead” – oh, you don’t say! Like I didn’t look in the mirror today and didn’t feel how it hurts before it turns white and can be finally removed…

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      1. I read through the other comments and just thought of something: my hormonal birth control (low dose estrogen) does a tremendous amount to control my acne. Your comment and Archana’s comment below makes sense for her body and her lifestyle; and clearly we have different bodies and lifestyles. Hormonal birth control is a valid, commonly-prescribed medication — and estrogen and progesterone are certainly not “artificial agents”

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      2. LL,

        I didnt mean to preach about birth control for acne. I am a sexually active woman and its an option for brith control. I chose to not take it because I dont want to disturb the hormonal balance that I currently have. That is about what I wanted to say. My older sister has polycystic ovary syndrome. She takes birth control. That is the only way her acne and periods are tolerable. She has had 20 day periods where she couldnt get out of bed after a point. I am lucky to not have the problems I dont have. We women should absolutely do what works for us. When we blog, we write about our personal circumstances. What do we understand what we never experienced ?

        Liked by 1 person

    2. It doesn’t allow me to reply to your last comment, so I’ll do it here… I’ll need to change my blog settings.
      By artificial I meant you put it in your body to influence the actual hormonal (im)balance you have. It’s not what it made itself; it had to be taken “in”. I see it’s quite a vague term so thanks for your comment and generally to put here your view that’s different from Archana’s and mine.

      I know that for someone who struggles with acne a lot anything can be a relief and I won’t tell I didn’t hope that the birth control pills I have taken in past would also help me with my acne. I hoped a lot. (Although the primary reason was not to get pregnant.) I tried 3 kinds of the pills and I had to give them up, each after a year or two. I still have some scars from the acne it aggravated and that was 5 years ago, not to mention how it deepened my depressions back then to quite a dangerous extent. Since I gave the pills up, I also began to experience menstrual cramps which I never had to deal with before, so big that even painkiller didn’t help; fortunately, they got better in last year. These are the reasons why I would never recommend this method “only” for skin purposes, or, what really shocked me, to enlarge breasts – yes, I know two girls who began to use BC for bigger boobs. To be honest, I’m glad to observe in my country that women and girls are gradually leaving this method.

      BUT – and once again thank you for bringing here a different perspective – I’m aware of the fact that speaking for everyone who ever had to deal with acne, severe or mild – would be pretty arogant from me. It’s good that you found something that works for you. In the end, even if we read a hundred of articles recommending this or that, we have to try first to find whether it works for us, no matter how many people were successful with it before.

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  2. I was nodding the entire time. You inspire me !

    Tell me more about your running. What are you into ? sprints, long distance, jogs, … ? I also find the my yoga compliments running and vice versa. It sends me into a deeply meditative state and improves breathing.

    I have never had bad skin until I moved to arizona. The sun burns, the hyper pigmentation, the peeling, pre-cancerous moles that I had to have removed, …. I now religiously slater sunscreen and wear full sleeve clothing. I eat for hormonal balance. I refuse to use birth control or any other method that edits my hormones. I want them to be. I wipe my phone and laptop down regularly for germs. Washing my pillow often cured my adult acne ( which was conveniently on the side of the face I sleep on.) When i used to run marathons, i was stressing out my body too much and I broke out real bad. I stopped and it went away. So much of what you wrote – I agree.

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    1. Thank you for your kind words.
      Basically, I run about 3 – 10 km, depending on how I feel or have time that day. I like to run the roads I already know – it enables me to just turn off my mind and meditate. Speed: probably jogging? And yes, it improves my breathing too! Whenever I’m stressed and realize I can’t breathe well (which stresses me even more), I go out and run. The physical effort and lack of oxygen make me dive in a rhythm and calm down instantly. I like the slow pace towards a goal. It works as a metaphor in my life as well; when I want something, I envision it as a point on horizon towards which I have to run, thus needing to plan my energy resources so I can reach it…
      The birth control pills – I was totally shocked when I found out some girls have it prescribed “only” to have better skin or even bigger breast! Of course I can’t speak for anyone who had serious, like very serious acne problems because despite having acne, too, it was never cysthic… but I don’t think putting even more artificial agents in one’s body does any good, at least from longer time perspective.
      You have my admiration for running marathons. I can’t imagine running such a long distance. I’d love to know more about your running habits, too.

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      1. My marathon experience was not a good one and pretty ego-driven. I wanted to run the races and hence did. After the first 10 miles, it was basically torturing myself to get to the finish line. So I stopped. It’s not for me. And my body didn’t agree with it either. The stress levels peaked with work and races. I broke out terribly and for someone who didn’t have acne as a teenager, it was a pretty scary experience. I stopped running and it all went away quickly.

        I now do 30 min of yoga 5 times a week. And take my dog for a walk twice a day. Pretty much only run when I like the weather or need a run(the way you describe). I rather do short distances and enjoy the outdoors than getting worked up about a race. Been running a 1 mile steep uphill near my home and walking the downhill back home for now.

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  3. I really like this post. In my case, I started developing adult acne and sun spots due to various reasons since the last 3 years. I have only got around to seeing a dermatologist this year. My biggest mistake is thinking all those lotions and potions shown on youtube and blogs will work for me. I should have saved my money, gotten a good session with a dermatologist and used products that are better suited for me, rather than self medication and trial and errors. Slowly, as I stopped stressing too much about work and worrying too much about the state of my skin, everything started getting better. I am no where near my ideal skin care regime. But, I am happier and letting things be and taking care of my diet and sleeping better.

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    1. Well, I too rather tried those cosmetics and methods found on the Internet rather than professional advice – it’s not a pleasant thing for me to go to the doctor’s so I usually push it as far away as I can. And even if I went there, I had to change several times until I found someone whose advice was truly helpful. It’s good that you found a good specialist! And yeah, it seems ironic that in the moment we stop getting stressed about the skin so much it gets better. It was difficult to learn that earlier though.

      Liked by 1 person

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