The following post is going to be rather lengthy, because battling acne is an intense fight! Besides from that, there are so many different causes, hence it needs a variety of treatments. I’m going to discuss my particular type of acne: hormonal. I think anyone who lives with this condition knows that there’s a continuous search for the right combination of products, and that oftentimes great results don’t last as long as we want. Many of us will simply need to battle with it the rest of our lives.
My goal, then, is to find a reliable routine that I can stick to, tweaking as necessary, that gives me good results. Not perfect, or amazing. That way, when I do get a breakout, or my skin freaks out for a couple weeks, I don’t panic. I adjust what I’m doing, trust that I’ll get back on track, and understand that these things will continue to happen.
I turned 29 recently, and if I’d known as a teenager that I’d be almost 30 and still struggling with acne, I would’ve been so disheartened. And yes, I do have many days like that. But now, I accept it, and that makes it much easier to cope with.
I’m sharing a combination of what I do now and things I’ve done in the past that also worked. Talking to an online dermatologist through YoDerm made a huge difference, and I’ll share what that doctor prescribed me.
Be forewarned: my favorite brands of all time are Mario Badescu and Makeup Artist’s Choice. I find them reasonably priced for how gentle they are and yet so effective. I’ll have plenty of recommendations from their skin care lines, but I am not affiliated nor receiving any commission. I seriously just love them that much.
Makeup Removal and Cleansing
This is such a tricky thing. In a perfect world, a person with acne would never wear any face makeup. But most of us don’t live in that world! I do go without it as often as I can. When I’m at home, going to the grocery store quickly, or sitting outside drinking coffee with my husband somewhere, I try to go makeup-free. But I do still wear it pretty often.
When it comes to makeup removal, it’s so important to be gentle and not irritate skin that’s already inflamed. That means no scrubbing with a washcloth! But then how do you get all the makeup off? This is my technique. It’s what works for me, but it might not be what’s best for you. It sounds like a lot of effort, but it actually doesn’t take much time.
I start with an oil. This is a great way to cut through all the gunk on my face quickly. I swirl my fingers gently all over my skin, taking very little effort to remove a lot of makeup. My favorite is raw, cold-pressed coconut oil. A good one is Coconut Country Living‘s version. ($14) I also love Trader Joe’s Jojoba Oil. ($15 at Amazon, or buy in-store.)
Next, I grab a washcloth, which I only use to wipe off my oily hands before I proceed to washing my face! I have several cleansers I’ve come to love over the years. Here’s my top three:
- Mario Badescu Enzyme Cleansing Gel ($14) – This basic cleanser makes me so happy. I can’t explain it! I love the cool gel. I love that it never stings or strips my skin. I always have this around.
- Aveeno Positively Radiant Brightening Cleanser ($7.99) – This has a great texture. It’s smooth and silky. You only need a little bit, mixed with water, to effectively cleanse your skin.
- CeraVe Foaming Facial Cleanser ($8) – This is my choice when I feel the need to get through seriously nitty-gritty. I don’t like it for daily use, though many do, but for particular times, it’s exactly what I need.
All of these have a smooth texture – it’s easy to wash without pressing hard into my skin, which is detrimental to the constant state of healing that acne-prone skin is in. I know a ton of people like Cetaphil ($18), which I’ve never been crazy about, but it is definitely worth a shot. If I’m not removing makeup, my favorite cleanser is still the Mario Badescu one.
The final step in makeup removal is my Garnier Micellar Water ($7). I adore this product. There’s two versions: a pink bottle, which is the regular one, and a blue one that works on waterproof makeup ($7). I like the pink one. I use a cotton pad instead of cotton ball as it covers more ground.
It definitely can seem like you’re simply putting water on your face, or that it’s like any other toner. But it works in a very particular way. Their website describes the concept: “Like a magnet, micelles capture and lift away dirt, oil and makeup without harsh rubbing, leaving skin perfectly clean, hydrated and refreshed without over-drying.”
I also use the micellar water to wash my face in the morning sometimes, and to clean up grime and sweat after heavy activity.
A similar one is Simple‘s version ($7.99). But Garnier works just as well and comes in a huge bottle that lasts a long time.
I don’t use toners much, as I prefer to get my treatments through serums or moisturizers. I’ve also read several times that they don’t serve much purpose. I don’t think I believe that anymore, however.
If you apply the toner every day, and let it dry completely before applying your next product, the ingredients in it are definitely going to be sinking into your skin and having some effect! These are my three favorite, in order of preference.
- Makeup Artist’s Choice Mandelic Acid Toner ($5.50-16.50). Mandelic acid is a great exfoliator and acne fighter.
- Mario Badescu Facial Spray with Aloe, Herbs, and Rosewater ($14) This is some seriously rose-scented stuff. It could be too much for a lot of people. But I like it, and I don’t find it irritating. It’s not so much a toner as a pick-me-up spray (great to keep skin fresh whilst traveling) or as a unique makeup setting spray.
- Makeup Artist’s Choice Acne Pore Minimizer with Sepicontrol A5 ($6-24.) I find this toner to be a very unique product. I’d only use it occasionally, as I find it a bit strong for my slightly dry skin. It would probably be excellent for oily skin. It’s supposed to battle the bacteria that causes acne, and has some interesting ingredients like cinnamon and sarcosine. Something I love about MUAC is almost every product is offered in a sample size, so it’s easy to try this stuff out. (Again, not affiliated with them lol.)
Naturally, I have quite a few treatments I’ve tried, and plenty of favorites. My favorite ingredients are sulfur, acids like mandelic & salicylic acid, and topical antibiotics. I’ll get into the antibiotics further down, under prescription treatments.
These are treatments that I might use occasionally or regularly to cope with breakouts.
- Mario Badescu Drying Cream ($17) This unusual treatment is sulfur-based, which draws the impurities out, and dries up the gunk. At the same time, I find the thick consistency very comforting and I feel an overall soothing effect. I find that this is especially helpful with those annoying large bumps that appear along my jawline.
- Clean & Clear Advantage Acne Spot Treatment ($6) When I end up with small clogged pores and tiny pimples (usually in clusters) I reach for the age-old standard: salicylic acid. This is perfect for pimples that come to a head and stay there forever!
- Aura Cacia Tamanu Oil ($12) I love this! It’s incredibly soothing. Many people dislike the tree/plant smell but I like it. This green oil blends well with your regular moisturizer, and isn’t terribly greasy like something along the lines of coconut oil.
- Makeup Artist’s Choice Gly-Luronic Serum ($5-35) This serum is one of those, “I didn’t know I needed this, but now I can’t live without it” products. With 15% Glycolic Acid, 50% Hyaluronic Acid, and pH balance of 3.4, this is the perfect treatment to exfoliate, moisturize, and balance skin.
- Makeup Artist’s Choice Rosehips Hibiscus Scar Cream ($2-22.50) Oh, I love this! This is less of a rich cream and more of a lotion. It’s unscented, very gentle, and is perfect for layering with other treatments. According to the product description this formulation “is a rich source of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, gamma linoliec acids (GLA) and contains polyunsaturated fatty acids (Vitamin F).” It does a great job of reducing the redness of my scars.
- Acne.org Benzoyl Peroxide ($20) I really don’t care for benzoyl peroxide, but I do keep this gentle one on hand when I’m really desperate! It seems expensive however it lasts forever, and ever and ever. They also offer a travel size ($12) to test it out.
I’ve spent so much time searching for the right moisturizers! I don’t want anything greasy that’ll cause more acne, but my skin also gets dry from the acne treatments, as well as the constant air-conditioning that comes along with living in the Arizona desert. Happily, I’ve found many favorites over the years, and I’m happy to share them with you.
- Mario Badescu Buttermilk Moisturizer ($18) I absolutely adore this little blue lotion. It contains lactic acid, which gently exfoliates, giving my skin a subtle overall glow. You only need a couple dots to cover your whole face. It’s rich yet not greasy, perfect for when my skin is especially inflamed and/or dry.
- Neutrogena Oil-Free Moisturizer – Sensitive Skin ($10) This is an old standby. It’s very simple, light, non-irritating, and fragrance-free. I always have it around. You can also get versions of the same lotion for combination skin, and with SPF.
- CeraVe Moisturizing Lotion ($11) Just like the Neutrogena, this is simple, no-brainer lotion. It has hyaluronic acid, which seals moisture in effectively. I also like the heavier moisturizing cream ($11). They are also a great deal considering how much you get for a reasonable price.
This isn’t a moisturizer per se, but I love to layer Makeup Artist’s Choice Aloe w/ Lavender Soothing Gel ($8.75) underneath my primary lotion when my skin is extra irritated. I’d love to hear recommendations from you, as I’m always looking for new moisturizers to try!
Sun protection is very important to me, and I plan to write an entire blog post about it. For now, these are basics of how I protect my irritated skin.
- Avoid excessive direct sunlight. Getting sun is important to one’s overall health. But it needs to be balanced with the risk of irritation. Avoid too much sun between 10am-2pm when its rays are stronger.
- When outside, use wide-brimmed hats. ModCloth often has really cute ones.
- If your skin is red after being the sun, or your acne worsens, use a soothing product such as the lavender aloe I mentioned before.
I’m still looking for a sunscreen I love. So this is another product that I’d love to hear from you about!
At the moment, I use Neutrogena Healthy Defense Broad Spectrum SPF 30 for Sensitive Skin ($14).
The final aspect of hormonal acne treatment I’m going to cover are prescriptions options. When it comes to this, it’s important to emphasize that only a doctor can assist you in deciding whether or not something is right for you. This is simply my own experience.
A popular acne treatment specific to hormonal problems is the birth control pill Ortho Tri-Cyclen. I loved this stuff. I combined it with tamanu oil and the two of them really cleared up my skin. It also convinced me that my acne was hormonal. I would’ve stayed on this pill, however I had a change in the medications I take for bipolar disorder, and this interfered with them. I had to choose my mental health over my physical appearance.
I was prescribed Retin-A about a year and a half ago, but I couldn’t continue to use it. I gave it a good six months, but it just gave me irritated little bumps everywhere. A lot of people have great success with it, though.
Recently, I had the opportunity to try YoDerm, an online dermatology service. I was very happy with my experience. I was prescribed Differin, which is similar to Retin-A but gentler. It helped clear up the tiny bumps that the Retin-A had caused. Just goes to show how different all skin types can be! I mix a dot of Differin with a gentle moisurizer (like the Mario Badescu Buttermilk Moisturizer) and use it in the PM every other day. This way I cut out any possible irritation, seeing as my skin is apparently sensitive to retinoids.
The derm also prescribed Spironolactone and Doxycycline. These have been very helpful! Finally, I use Clindamycin Lotion 1%. This is a topical antibiotic that I could not live without. I’m happy with my prescription treatments and view them as mainstays now.
So that’s it for now! What about you? Do you have hormonal adult acne? I’d love to hear your experiences and your favorite products! I’ll keep you all updated on my ever-changing routine. Sign up to follow the blog to stay in the loop!