Basic Skincare Cont.
Ok, actives are what you’re going to want to use to combat things like acne, hyperpigmentation, uneven skin texture, roughness, acne scars, etc! Most of these work in similar ways, by increasing cell turnover, so it’s just a matter of what works best for you/what you prefer. This is also a good time to address the myth that if you’re breaking out from something, it’s just “purging”. Purging only occurs from actives or certain clay masks, so if you’re breaking out from a cleanser or moisturizer, or your Clarisonic, stop using it! With actives, however, you can definitely go through an initial purging phase when your closed comedones come to the surface.
Acne/Clogged Pores/Sebaceous Filaments
Ok, so clogged pores, acne, and sebaceous filaments respond best to BHAs (beta hydroxy acids), retinoids, and benzoyl peroxide. All of these can be drying, so they need to be introduced slowly and used with a gentle cleanser and moisturizer. Salicylic acid is the most readily available BHA and it helps your skin shed, so it’ll bring clogged pores to a head and prevent more from forming. A good drugstore option is the Stridex Maximum Strength Pads. You have to use the ones in the red box because those are the only ones at the correct pH for exfoliation. They do have menthol so they can be a little irritating, but if you can’t use them on your face, these are a good option for body acne because they’re pretty inexpensive and easy to use. I’ve also had great success with Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid, which is pricier but lasts a long time. Benzoyl peroxide is another option for acne that works by killing bacteria. 5% is pretty much the cap when it comes to effectiveness, so anything higher is just going to be more expensive and needlessly drying. I’ve never used benzoyl peroxide because it can be kind of harsh and will bleach your clothes and towels. Retinoids (Retin-A, Tazorac, Differin, etc) need to be prescribed by a doctor and work similarly to BHAs but are stronger. They need to be used very consistently and you need to build up the strength, but are very effective, so if that interests you, speak to your dermatologist or primary care doctor! Just be sure to apply retinoids to a completely dry face, since contact with water can make it irritating.
Post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation is basically your skin increasing melanin production in an area in an attempt to heal, accounting for the dark brown, purple, or red spots we get after acne, an ingrown hair, etc, has healed. Like BHAs, AHAs also increase cell turnover and result in a more even appearance in the skin. The most common AHAs are glycolic and lactic acid, and as with other treatments, you should start at a lower percentage to build up you skin’s tolerance. I use Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 8% AHA Gel, but some other brands that make AHAs are Garden of Wisdom, Makeup Artist’s Choice, Nip + Fab, and Alpha Hydrox. You can also treat PIH with retinoids, Vitamin C serum, and niacinamide. Vitamin C and niacinamide both inhibit the production of melanin, and the latter can be found in the Cerave Foaming Facial Cleanser I mentioned in my previous post. I also mentioned that sunscreen is very effective in reducing and preventing PIH, but it becomes doubly important when using an AHA or retinoid, because both thin the skin and increase sensitivity to the sun.
I used to be a big fan of physical exfoliation, but if you introduce chemical exfoliants into your routine, you’ll find you don’t need to do it at all. If you’re going to exfoliate physically, be really gentle. Stay away from any scrubs that use beads without a uniform texture, like crushed walnut shells, salt shards, sugar, etc. Those jagged pieces will cause microtears in your skin and let bacteria in, and the overexfoliation and drying will compromise your skin barrier, letting even more bacteria in. If you absolutely need to exfoliate, look for a scrub with jojoba beads, which are spherical and dissolve in water (unlike plastic microbeads, which don’t dissolve and pollute bodies of water), or something like a konjac sponge, which is really gentle and hard to exfoliate too much with (and fun to use). If you introduce a retinoid, you might get tiny flakes while your skin adjusts to it, and a konjac sponge is a great option to get rid of those. Otherwise, I definitely recommend chemical over physical exfoliation.