It’s been a long time since I last wrote, but I have been hard at work trying to get my skin and overall health in a better place. My whole life, my skin has been a series of woes and complications. I have always had to put in twice as much effort as others even just for mediocre skin. After hundreds of products, many years, and many more tears, I am finally in a place where I can say, “I HAVE GREAT SKIN!!” Knowing there are many others out there who struggle with acne, oily skin, seborrheic dermatitis, and other relentless skin conditions, I decided to compile a comprehensive article of what I am doing now and what changes I have made. I hope this post will be helpful for others, although be ready for a pretty lengthy article, though I will do my best to cut out anything that isn’t essential information. Feel free to ask questions if there’s something you want to know. Let’s start from the beginning.
A Little History
As a teenager, I had moderate to severe cystic acne (closer to the severe side than the moderate side) and undiagnosed seborrheic dermatitis, mostly on my scalp. I started puberty very early, having my first period at 8 or 9 years old. By the time I was 10, I was having some pretty serious skin issues, and by the time I was 13, I had stopped growing (I still say I was cheated out of my true height). My periods were horribly painful events as well, which eventually led to seeing an endocrinologist at around 15. At that time, I was diagnosed with high testosterone and polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). I was having issues with blood sugar, probably as a result of the PCOS, so I was put on metformin, but quickly stopped taking it after it made me sick (and I mean sick all the time). In addition, I was put on birth control pills to help with the PCOS and testosterone dominance.
While the birth control pills helped with my periods, even after seeing a dermatologist since I was 12 and being put on a series of topical antibiotics and oral antibiotics and using every skin care regimen under the sun (tried Proactive twice, tried Clinique for several years, etc.), I saw practically no resolution for my acne. The dermatologist eventually decided to put me on Accutane, and this cleared up my skin beautifully–for a few years anyway. I was 19 when I was put on Accutane, and by the time I was 22, my skin seemed to start rebelling against me again. At 22, I also decided to stop the birth control pill, but my periods were wildly irregularly after that, and who knows what the heck was going on with my hormones! As I got into my early 20’s, I also started using more and more natural products, doing a lot of research on diet and nutrition, and started my long road of overhauling my entire lifestyle.
Fast Forward to
Today Relatively Recently
I’m getting ahead of myself ! We need a little more background.
My irregular periods continued until I started bioidentical hormone replacement therapy. To my surprise, I was not diagnosed with high testosterone, but with low progesterone, so now I am supplementing bioidentical progesterone (not to be mistaken for plant-based [phyto] progesterone or phytoestrogens). So my hormones were all good at this point, but my skin was still…well, mediocre.
My skincare regime had evolved several times at this point. I had tried oil cleansing, oil cleansing with steam, carrot masks, tea tree oil, honey: the extreme of all natural. This stuff works for a lot of people, and that’s great. However, much to my dismay, it did not work for me. My only guess is that my skin is so complicated and has had compounded effects of using very harsh products (Clinique and Proactive? Super harsh) in addition to my already existing skin problems, especially seborrheic dermatitis. Seborrheic dermatitis seemed to cause excessive layers of dead skin on my face and scalp, worsened by increased oil, which made these layers stubborn as hell when trying to remove. It took me a very long time to even figure out I had seborrheic dermatitis. I gave up on the dermatologist after 20, as they were really not helping me at all and were unwilling to try a different approach. They just kept throwing the same stuff at me, hoping it would work. Well, it never did.
Rant aside, I used oils for a while and went completely natural. Because of my seborrheic dermatitis, though, it wasn’t very effective. It was like the oil would just sit on top of my face and would have almost no cleansing effect at all. Needless to say, that didn’t last very long. After a while, having switched back to somewhat more traditional cleansers, I read more about sulfates in cleansing products. Sulfates, which are actually used for desiccants (absorb moisture to keep products dry), are so harsh that they remove more moisture from the skin than the skin or any lotion can replenish. Sulfates dry the skin down to such a deep layer, your lotion will never reach how far your skin has been stripped of moisture. This has a compounding effect: dry skin will become increasingly dryer, and oily skin will freak out and increase the amount of oil produced to make up for the moisture loss–except the oil produced is usually poor quality oil and it ends up just giving you very greasy skin.
After this revelation, I immediately switched both my skin cleansers (face and body wash) and shampoo to sulfate-free. The change was immediate and improved more with time. I saw probably an 80% reduction in the oiliness of my skin once I started using only sulfate-free cleansers. To illustrate this, before switching to sulfate-free products, I had been using French green clay on my face once a week, and this was perfect to manage my oiliness for a week. After I started using a sulfate-free cleanser, the French green clay was way too drying, even with jojoba oil added to it! This was a pretty dramatic step toward amazing skin, and I recommend to everyone, even those who do not have skin problems, switch to sulfate-free! Your skin will thank you for it. Sulfate-free products are also becomingly increasingly easy to find. I eventually even switched to sulfate-free hand soap, because I get eczema on my hands. I don’t get eczema on my hands anymore!
As I was making this sulfate-free switch, I was also getting more acquainted with high-quality skincare brands. It is still a lot of trial and error, as some products are just the right composition to be brilliant for one person’s skin, but may not be worth the price tag for another person’s skin. It can be overwhelming how many options there are now, but I can speak from experience in saying that it is worth trying a ton of different products when you finally find the ones that work. One of the greatest resources for me has been a website called My Pure. It is a UK-based company that ships worldwide (only ~$7 for shipping, too!) and has some of the best all-natural and organic European brands on the market. My favorite for body wash, body lotion, and hand lotion is Madara. Their products are amazing. The cost is a little bit high, but try it just once, and I think you will find it worth it.
Okay, Now Fast Forward to Today
Yay! Now I get to tell you about what I have done in the past few weeks that has really transformed my skin!
Let’s start with facial products, as I have already discussed the body lotion I am using. I have fallen in love with South Korean skincare products. They are the leading country in formulating great skincare products that are plant-based, while Western countries tend to believe in the power of chemicals to make great skin products (this does not work well for a lot of people). Many people who have very sensitive skin have had great success switching to South Korean products, and I don’t mean “South Korean” products sold at Sephora. I mean South Korean products directly from South Korea.
These can be found on Amazon, though some people claimed to have received fake products (I’ve never had this problem, and you can buy from South Korean shops through Amazon). I prefer to order all my Asian cosmetics from YesStyle, as it is a store I trust and have been shopping on for years. Some brand names that spring to mind if you aren’t sure where to start is Innisfree and Etude House. The Face Shop and Nature Republic are two brands that are also very good and a little less expensive than Innisfree or Etude House. I have been very happily using a combination of Innisfree, The Face Shop, and Nature Republic for months now. They all have a green tea series, which is what I have really been liking, as green tea has lots of great properties. I recently decided to switch completely to Innisfree products for skincare, as it has received slightly better reviews, a few of which were written by girls with oily skin issues. Once I have tried these, I will post my own review. Right now, this is what my routine looks like:
Face: Innisfree Green Tea Cleansing Foam, The Face Shop Green Tea Waterfull Emulsion for face and neck, Replenix CF Cream for eyes, Nature Republic Fresh Green Tea 80 Cream
Back of neck, upper arms, shoulders, chest, and upper back: Body Merry Retinol Surge Moisturizer (contains retinol/vitamin A, hyaluronic acid, vitamin E + B5, and green tea)
Face: Skin Blossom Gentle Cleansing Milk or baby oil for makeup removal (for both, I just massage the product on my face and use toilet tissue to gently wipe the makeup away. It works great and makes a huge difference in how oily my skin gets overnight.), The Face Shop Green Tea Waterfull Serum, Body Merry Retinol Surge Moisturizer
Breasts and decollete: Mio Boob Tube+ with a few drops of Evening Primrose Oil
Back of neck, upper arms, shoulders, and upper back: Body Merry Retinol Surge Moisturizer
There are a couple more items I want to mention about my skincare. I have been getting microdermabrasion treatments for a few weeks, which has made a world of difference in removing those excessive layers of dead skin on my face. Since I started getting these treatments, which I get every 8 weeks, my skin products absorb MUCH faster and are much more effective. If you have seborrheic dermatitis, I highly recommend going through a series of microdermabrasion treatments. I am hoping it will “reset” my skin. Once those layers of dead skin are removed after years of skin abuse, I hope my skin will not feel the need to create such a barrier now that my skin care routine is much gentler. This is also one of the reasons I decided microdermabrasion over chemical peel. As the name suggests, chemical peels are very harsh, and I know my skin: it has a tendency to overreact and then I am worse off than I started. I am still getting the microdermabrasion treatments now, but I am really curious to find out how my skin does when I stop getting them.
Also, I do exfoliate once a week, but now that I’m getting microdermabrasion treatments, I can use a really gentle exfoliator and get great results! I had tried the Japanese product Natural Aqua Gel Cure (available on Amazon) without a very satisfying outcome several months ago before getting microdermabrasion. However, now it is the perfect exfoliant: gentle enough not to cause an overreaction in my skin, but just enough to smooth my skin very nicely and help my products absorb better. I hope this continues to be a good option for me even after I stop the microdermabrasion.
Now that I’ve discussed all of my skincare products, there are a few other essential changes I have made to my lifestyle.
This is important for overall health and even more important for the skin. The skin is a major elimination organ, meaning anything the body wants to get rid of gets pushed out of the body and through the skin. This means that if your body is overloaded with toxins, chemicals, anything at all that the body is wanting to remove, your skin is going to constantly be impacted negatively. Your body probably needs some detox support to effectively clear everything out, and by properly clearing things out, your skin will eventually reach a point where it is not always being irritated by what the body is trying to get rid of.
There are lots of different ways to detox. I prefer the daily/weekly mild detoxing methods over the debilitating once a year liver detoxes that I have only ever read about. As such, I will limit my discussion to what I’m doing now. First, I go to the sauna twice weekly for 30 minutes. Sauna is amazing for detoxing and deep skin cleansing! I have read of people who have healed their seborrheic dermatitis using sauna as part of their treatment. Sauna has a lot of the same benefits as cardio workouts, including increasing human growth hormone. Known as the “hormone of youth”, human growth hormone is essential for repair. I would caution against using sauna too often, as it can cause dehydration if you’re not careful, but 2-3 times a week is great. To read more about the benefits of sauna, read here, here, and here.
Another detox element I have added to my lifestyle is some detox supplements. As part of my bioidentical hormone therapy, I have been taking supplements containing DIM, 3-indole-carbinol, and milk thistle (I use EstroSense). All these support liver detox, especially hormone metabolism. The pills tend to be slightly too large for me to swallow comfortably, so I have been breaking the capsules open and dumping it in with my daily protein shake.
The last step I have added is daily skin brushing and weekly exfoliation. Skin brushing using a dry brush helps stimulate the skin and increase blood flow. It is also great if you have skin problems, as it is a light exfoliation that you can do on a daily basis. I brush in the evening before using my creams. I also use a salux (available on Amazon) once a week for a slightly more intense exfoliation. This is especially important for my chest, back, and upper arms/shoulders where I still have a lot of active acne. I love being able to do this, because it is a really easy way to add some detox support specifically to the skin on a daily basis.
One more thing that’s really important: Collagen Protein Powder
This is probably the basis of my great skin now. Collagen is a building block for skin (and joints, hair, and nails, but let’s focus on the skin). The body loses its ability after age 30 to product its own collagen, therefore supplementing collagen is very important if you have skin troubles. The way you supplement it is critical, though. The body is best able to absorb collagen when it is in a liquid form. The good news is, this is really easy to find. I use Bulletproof Collagen Protein Powder daily. Powder collagen is a little more expensive than tablets, but it is much more effective and easier to take. It dissolves readily into any liquid, and a good quality collagen powder will have no flavor. It will take a minimum of 4 weeks to see results, though for people over 30, it may take up to 8 weeks, so be patient and consistent with taking it.
The jury is still out on this one, but I will mention it anyway: Injuv Hyaluronic Acid
One of my previously mentioned creams, the retinol cream, contains hyaluronic acid. Hyaluronic acid is essential for cells to maintain intracellular water levels, which means this is directly connected to moisture levels for skin cells. Injuv variety hyaluronic acid (available at a reasonable price through Swanson Vitamins–especially when they have it on sale) is an oral supplement that has undergone an enzymatic process that makes it absorb more easily. I recently started taking this, as some say it is even more important for skin health than collagen! The two together should make a killer combo, but as I have not been taking it long enough to say one way or the other, the jury is still out. I will report back once I have gone through the first 4 weeks. There are other benefits to taking hyaluronic acid, though: detox. Hyaluronic acid is needed by cells to help remove metabolic debris and dead cells out of the system. This in addition to its moisture benefits makes hyaluronic acid a great one-two for both skin support and cellular detox.
- Sulfate-Free! This is so important. If you do nothing else, switch to sulfate-free cleansers, even if it’s only for your facial cleanser, body wash, and shampoo. This will help your skin better maintain its moisture balance and will help make your lotions and hair conditioner effective.
- Detox For overall health, detoxing is essential, especially today when we are surrounded by all kinds of pollution, chemicals, and stress. There are lots of different detox targets from overall detox to liver detox to cellular detox. Any kind of detoxing you can add to your daily routine will help. I don’t recommend doing harsh liver detoxes that last for only a few days or weeks. I believe more in including detox as a part of lifestyle, as I think removing toxins as they enter the body is more effective than letting toxins hang out in the body for a while before removing them.Sauna is a great overall detox method and is fairly easily accessible through a gym. Sauna has other great health benefits as well, such as increasing human growth hormone, which is essential in repair functions of the body. Sauna is also said to help in healing all kinds of skin conditions. For the best results, use only 2 or 3 times a week for 30 minutes. If you don’t have access to a gym with a sauna, but still want to use a sauna, you can find sauna kits for your home online (and the prices are surprisingly reasonable).
Adding detox support supplements to your diet is the easiest daily detox step you can add to your regime. If you’re targeting hormone detox, milk thistle, indole-3-carbinol, and/or DIM are great. To target the skin more specifically, using hyaluronic acid helps with cellular detox and is essential for maintaining moisture.
Skin brushing, while a little more effort, is an easy way to add daily exfoliation to your skincare routine. Using a salux once a week can help maintain smooth skin in stubborn areas where you’re still waiting for seborrheic dermatitis to resolve. These both can help manage acne as well.
- Collagen For the most effective collagen supplementation, use powdered collagen. It’s really easy to mix with beverages you’re already drinking like coffee, tea, or even just water. Collagen is the building block for joints and skin. After age 30, the body begins to lose its ability to produce its own collagen, so supplementing even before 30 can only help your skin.
- Be Gentle Avoid harsh products. They will only aggravate your skin, and your skin will in turn aggravate you for it. As much as you’re able, it is best to use natural products. South Korean skincare products are well known for their very gentle ingredients, and most people who have a history of very sensitive skin do great with these products! The price for these products is also quite reasonable, especially in comparison to some of the products you will find at places like Sephora.
- Most Importantly, BE PATIENT, BE CONSISTENT The body needs time to make adjustments. Taking collagen supplements is important, and you will probably start out very enthusiastically, but you won’t start seeing a difference in your skin for 4-8 weeks as the skin is the body’s last priority (it will use the collagen as needed in other areas first). Hyaluronic acid supplementation will also take a few weeks to see results with. It may also take longer to see results with sauna and other detox methods, as the body will have a lot of detoxing to do initially and with time will have less to eliminate. In the case of exfoliation methods (microdermabrasion, skin brushing, and salux use) and switching cleansers, you will see a difference right away.
I hope this article has been helpful and informative! Please feel free to leave comments if you have any questions and best of luck on your journey to amazing skin!