As much as we tout the best products and methods that help us maintain a healthy glow and leave our skin looking vibrant and refreshed, we've all had our bouts with breakouts and problem skin. While our beloved cleansers and creams (and magical dermatologists) have done wonders for our complexions over the years, we still have scars from those pesky pimples (both emotionally and physically). Even today, breakouts, blackheads, and the like still happen (it's a myth that beauty editors have perfect skin!).
So for you, dear readers, we wanted to share our own histories with acne and what we've found has helped clear it up. After many trials, product testing, and even some errors, we've gotten into a good groove with our skin that we hope can help you out as well.
To read our skin stories, keep scrolling!
Acne: The word feels foreign to me now, but I remember very clearly when the mere mention of it would fill me with self-consciousness and dread. I started getting my first breakouts around middle school. I don’t remember the exact moment I realized my forehead started to resemble a volcano landscape (gross visual, but it’s true), but I do remember staring into the mirror and feeling a mixture of desperation and self-consciousness. Around this time, my skin started resembling an oil slick. I remember my friend Robin who introduced me to Clean & Clear’s Oil Absorbing Sheets ($5) in eighth grade. Those blue sheets changed my life. Every day during fourth period, we would sit in the back of class and blot our faces, reveling in both horror and sick fascination at the amount of oil those sheets would soak up (I usually went through at least two or three). A strange bonding experience, but much more therapeutic than shopping. My mother, bless her, tried to get me on a strict skincare regimen to treat my acne, but I was a teenager, so although my skin bothered me, I had more important things to focus on—like whether or not my crush on would be signing onto AIM later that day. I do remember this one clay mask from NuSkin that calmed down my skin whenever I had a particularly ugly breakout, and didn’t dry it out. I still use it to this day.
Looking back, I wish I had heeded my mom's advice. Though my skin cleared up eventually on its own, I still have a few acne scars on my forehead that glare at me under particularly harsh lighting. I avoided blush for the longest time—probably up until a year ago—because I didn’t understand why it was necessary; I associated flushed, ruddy cheeks with those acne-filled days and didn’t get why anyone would want to have pink on their face. Today, I get compliments on my skin (being a beauty editor has its perks), but I’m always surprised; I still associate my skin with the bumpy, oily mess it was all throughout my teens. I still get random breakouts, but they are far and few. When an ugly pimple rears its (white) head, I have my routine down pat: steam my face, gently squeeze out the whitehead, apply Medik8’s Betagel ($68), and seal it in with Skin Inc.’s Deepsea Hydrating Mask ($75). I wake up, and it’s like there was nothing there. I’ll never forget what it’s like to be the awkward 14-year-old with the bad skin, though, nor do I want to. My breakouts might be in the past, but the insecurity still manifests itself these days in different forms. But then I think back to sitting in the back of drama class with Robin, giggling and blotting our faces with abandon, boys be damned—and remember that we’re all in this together.
I never really struggled with typical acne (thanks, Mom!) But I did have an obnoxious blackhead problem for years, mainly on my nose. Honestly, the only thing that really resolved it was quitting smoking. My complexion brightened almost instantly, and since fewer toxins were lingering in front of my face, fewer toxins were absorbed into my skin. I have few to no blemish issues now (even during my menstrual cycle, which is wild). Skin is our largest organ; for me it’s important to be mindful of everything I put into my body now. I’ve noticed when I consume plenty of cruciferous greens and water, my skin looks better all around. I’d rather invest in a healthy, preventative lifestyle than pricey treatments.
I’ve been lucky enough to avoid big breakouts for most of my life. Don’t get me wrong—I’ve had my fair share of blemishes, but my main skin problems are dryness and sensitivity, rather than acne. That is until I moved to Los Angeles from NYC a couple of months ago, at which point my face promptly revolted. I think it was likely a combination of factors, including stress, the new climate, and even the water quality—either way, I experienced the worst breakout of my life. Getting my life settled here in L.A. certainly helped, but I also used a few other techniques to help my complexion return to normalcy. One was face mapping. Because the zits mostly dotted my chin and jawline, I realized that it was probably a hormonal thing. There’s not much you can do about that, so my focus became detoxing my face and drying the blemishes out as quickly as possible. So, skipping makeup for a few days (tough when all you want to do is cover things up, but necessary), using clay powder to draw the gunk out of my pores, avoiding products with synthetic ingredients, and, as a form of defense, eating well and trying to relax. Honestly, that’s probably my go-to formula for attacking (and preventing) acne in general.
Growing up, I always had clear skin. I remember my first pimple in eighth grade, right in the center of my chin. Having never experienced such a thing, I attacked it with all my might, dousing it in every “acne-fighting” products I could find. I even took one of the pore-vacuuming devices to it. It did not go well. That giant, now–bright red dot haunted me for weeks. I still see the scar that all of my poking and prodding left behind. While the rest of my teenage years were pretty uneventful—just the occasional pimple around my nose or chin—my affinity for picking at my pores never wavered. Most of those occasional pimples were no doubt self-induced. I even had an extracting tool. While those might be helpful for someone with a less obsessive approach to skincare, it was not for me. I used to have my college roommates hide it from me, until one year I finally just threw it away. And I’m proud to say I haven’t touched one in over five years.
I only really started struggling with skin right before I turned 20. I woke up in the middle of the night, happened to touch my face, and felt a huge (seriously huge—like second-nose huge) mound (an acne cyst) on the side of my nose. I immediately freaked out and made a dermatologist appointment the next morning. My dermatologist injected the beast with cortisone, and it was gone by the next day—magic. And so began another obsessive phase in my skincare story. Every time I would get a sizable cyst, I would call up my derm and ask for the usual. This practice has left ice pick scars on my nose and chin. (If you're considering cortisone shots, I suggest you read about my experience here.) After about a year of this and noticing a few of those depressions were not improving over that year, I vowed never to get another cortisone shot again.
I still battled with slightly more than occasional cysts for the next few years before I finally realized I was using too many harsh acne-fighting ingredients on my skin—something more than a few facialists have pointed out to me over the years. Once I switched up my routine and focused on overall skin health with antioxidants, gentle exfoliation, and proper hydration, my skin cleared up. Now I rarely break out, and when I do, it’s usually because I slack off on my skincare routine (we’re guilty of sleeping in our makeup sporadically, right?).
Middle school started my terrible journey with breakouts. I didn't have full-fledged cystic acne, but the very visible and glaring pimples on my forehead, nose, and cheeks were enough to make me want to call in sick to school (in fact, I probably faked a cold a few times when I had a sizeable shiner front and center). Once high school came around, my skin started to get a bit better after I got on a good skincare regimen and generously applied OTC acne creams with at least 10% benzoyl peroxide. However, it was freshman year of college that my skin started to FREAK out. I was so embarrassed by my breakouts that I would even put makeup on to go to the beach. My mom felt so bad that she finally allowed me to book a derm appointment—for which I’ll be forever grateful. I started to take medication to get rid of my acne, as well as prescription topical gels, and they all worked great—until I became allergic to them (true story). My skin would itch so bad that I’d have to coat my body in calamine lotion and ice. It was rough.
Finally, by my first sophomore semester, my skin started to calm down, and breakouts were few and far between. I attribute this to my hormones finally balancing out a bit and also probably the fact that I had transferred schools, instituted a much healthier diet, and had a better routine.
A few years ago, I was watching YouTube tutorials (as I often did during my downtime in grad school) and learned from one vlogger that the classic Sea Breeze Astringent was her go-to for clear skin. Three years later, I still faithfully swipe the stinging (in a this-has-got-to-be-working kind of way) blue solution onto my face after washing and notice that any present breakouts clear up dramatically by the next morning. I’ve also improved my cleanser choices from the cheap stuff I used to wash with, and stick to gentle cream cleansers like Murad.
What have you found works best for clearing up your breakouts? Please share with us below!
Opening Image: Beauty by Kelsey