Background: I began following a regular skin care regimen about a year ago. At the time, I was experiencing quite resonating ideological and emotional shifts regarding school, my personal life, and relationships. They somewhat darkened my perspective and drove me to behave irrationally and impulsively, which lead of course to grave consequences and regrets. On top of all that, I had to handle my profusion of non-inflammatory and cystic acne. Ergo, I thought quite basely of myself.
The first photo was taken in high school, when my acne was less cystic but still severe. The second photo was me in 12th grade, when I started getting cystic acne. See how the right cheek and side of the nose folded as I winked? That’s because the cysts were so distended that they forced my skin to overlap. The camera’s flash does wash me out, so my condition appears better than it actually was.
Journey: To make an extremely long story short, three magical ingredients ridded my skin of acne. In order of discovery, they include: salicylic acid, benzoyl peroxide, and glycolic acid.
- I first encountered salicylic acid (SA), a lipid-soluble aromatic compound,in the form of Step 2 of the Clinique 3-Step system (skin type 4). I began with the Clinique 3-step because it was cost-effective, reputable amongst friends, and Blair Fowler loved it. The system helped somewhat, but after a few months, my skin worsened. From what I now know, repeated exposure of the alcohol content present in Step 2 had irritated my acne so intensely that it overshadowed the alleged effects of SA.
- So I turned to other products to use in concurrence with the Clinique 3-step. First, I tried treatments from Neutrogena and Clean & Clear containing 10% benzoyl peroxide (BP), an antimicrobial ROS-generating compound, which should have improved my condition drastically, but due to the high amount of irritation involved, only improved my condition slightly. Since some studies suggest that lower
concentrations of BP work just as effectively as higher ones, without the additional irritation, I next tried the Acne.org 2.5% BP product. Unfortunately, the reduced concentration had no positive effect on my skin.
- By this time, I was already familiar with Paula Begoun’s review website Beautypedia. However, I had never seriously considered using her products because one, the gaping conflict of interests was too impossible to ignore and two, I hated that her products always received the highest rating possible. However, I was desperate. I purchased the 2% SA liquid treatment, as well as the 8% and 10% glycolic acid (GA) products. OH MY WORD! Within two months, my acne had been reduced by at least 75%. My postulations as to why the introduction of glycolic acid, which is typically better for dry and mature skin, worked so well for my adolescent and oily skin include the following:
- Due to the long-term damages of having severe cystic acne, my skin’s natural ability to exfoliate had been damaged and therefore, functioned erroneously. This is evidenced by the daily buildup of gunk or sebum that would come off in thick layers when I gently scratched my face in the shower. I’d include a picture, but that would probably be gross. Its consistency is best described as a hybrid cream-wax that was sometimes bluish and other times yellowish.
- Partly due to its low molecular weight and water-soluble nature, GA is quite adept at exfoliating the surface of the skin. For my skin, this meant thinning of the statum corneum (SC), which had that excess “gunk,” which in turn allowed for the SA to actually penetrate into the pores and induce desquamation at those sites.
- Furthermore, the new Paula’s Choice (PC) SA product is a better formulation than the Clinique product mentioned above because of the vehicle and penetration enhancers used. The PC product employed methylpropanediol and butylene glycol to enhance penetration. The Clinique product employed denatured alcohol and butylene glycol. Although denatured alcohol is quite effective at enhancing penetration, it is too volatile meaning that it evaporates quickly. Once the vehicle becomes volatile, SA becomes significantly less effective. Not to mention that in high amounts, denatured alcohol is irritating.
- The GA, which reduced the excess sebum on the skin, also allowed for the BP to penetrate more deeply. As you can see, GA was the critical component necessary for effective treatment.
*Please note that though changes in stress level, diet, and exercise probably played major roles in the improvement of my condition, they are not addressed because they cannot be easily quantified and therefore, elucidated.
After my skin was basically clear, I set out to repair some of the damage done by my decade of untreated severe acne and lack of daily sunscreen use. There are two ingredients that have largely retextured, rebuilt, and refined my skin. In order of discovery, they are L-ascorbic acid (vitamin C) and retinol (vitamin A). Vitamin C stimulates collagen production while retinol, upon conversion to tretinoin—the active metabolite that the skin utilizes, inhibits the expression of enzymes that break down collagen and normalizes exfoliation. So the therapy is two-folded. While these two fantastic ingredients exhibit several other beneficial properties, its discussion is beyond the scope of this post.
Note that the photo on the left has makeup applied. I used the Laura Mercier Silk Creme Foundation in Cream Ivory, Lancome Maquicomplet Concealer in Clair II under my eyes, and the Makeup Forever Super Matte Loose Powder in 14 to set everything. The photo on the right does not have as much foundation applied. This is what my skin looks now. What a difference between the two, right? Makeup is amazing.
Right now, I have very oily, acne-prone, mildly-sensitive skin that is occasionally flaky and dehydrated in certain areas like around the nose, mouth, chin, eyes and between the eye brows.
Facial Skin Care
- Part 1: For a more detailed explanation, click HERE.
- Cleanser: (Paula’s Choice Skin Balancing Oil-Reducing Cleanser)
- Toner: (Paula’s Choice Skin Balancing Pore-Reducing Toner)
- Treatment: (Paula’s Choice CLEAR Extra Strength Anti-Redness Exfoliating Solution)
- Lip Moisturizer: (MAC Lip Conditioner in a Tube) OR
- Lip Moisturizer with SPF: (Jack Black Black Tea and Blackberry Intense Therapy Lip Balm SPF 25)
- Part 2: For a more detailed explanation, click HERE.
- Moisturizer: (Paula’s Choice Skin Balancing Invisible Finish Moisture Gel OR Paula’s Choice RESIST Super Antioxidant Serum AND/OR
- Moisturizer with SPF: (Shiseido Ultimate Sun Protection Cream for Face SPF 55 PA+++)
- Part 3: For a more detailed explanation, click HERE.
- Cleanser: (Paula’s Choice Skin Balancing Oil-Reducing Cleanser)
- Toner: (Paula’s Choice Skin Balancing Pore-Reducing Toner)
- Treatment: ((Paula’s Choice: RESIST Weekly Resurfacing Treatment OR Paula’s Choice RESIST Daily Smoothing Treatment) OR (Paula’s Choice RESIST Clearly Remarkable Skin Lightening Gel) OR (Nothing))
- Part 4: For a more detailed explanation, click HERE.
- Lip Moisturizer: (MAC Lip Conditioner in a Tube)
- Moisturizer: (Paula’s Choice RESIST Super Antioxidant Concentrate OR Peter Thomas Roth Retinol Fusion PM)
Body Skin Care
- Moisturizer with SPF: (Blue Lizard Australian Sunscreen, Sensitive, SPF 30+)
- Cleanser: (Assorted Philosophy Shower Gels with Salux Body Cloth)
- Treatment: ((Paula’s Choice Extra Strength Targeted Acne Relief Exfoliating Toner OR Paula’s Choice RESIST Clearly Remarkable Skin Lightening Gel) OR (Paula’s Choice 8% Alpha Hydroxy Acid Gel))
- Moisturizer: (Paula’s Choice Slip into Silk Body Lotion OR Olay Quench Plus Firming Body Lotion)
- Part 5: For a more detailed explanation, click HERE.
For a list of Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about my routine, click HERE.
For the update history on my routine, click HERE.
Which is your updated routine? Do you still get acne?
Oh, I haven’t posted it. No, my acne has pretty much gone since I started this old routine way back then. 🙂
I have had acne for the past 10 years. I started using Paula’s Choice Skin Balancing Cleanser and 2% BHA liquid (only at night) and am still getting pimples 5 weeks later. When did you stop getting new pimples?
It took several months for the initially “journey.” But I had to use multiple products and make multiple changes. It’ll be different for everyone. How are things going right now?
Thank you so much for writing this. I am sure it will help many. Unfortunately I quit Paula’s Choice ( prescriptions are way cheaper for me. Thank you Blue Anthem). I’m praying Ziana will do the trick. My acne is only hormonal ( on my chin). Hopefully this and diet will help. Congrats to you and your flawless skin!
Keep me updated!
My opinion but you actually look cuter in that 2007 pic. I think you need to gain that weight back. 🙂 But congrats for winning your acne battle.
Haha well, I appreciate the compliment regardless.
WOW. Thank you, thank you, thank you. I first read this post about two weeks ago and already your advice has helped me improve my routine and I’m seeing results.
I purchased a 2% BHA, 5% AHA and 2.5% BP. I’ve been trying them in different combinations and at different times, but I’m not sure what will give me the best results the fastest without irritating my skin. What was your approach with these three in particular while your goal was to clear up acne? Which did you find was most important? My preference right now is to not use an exfoliant in the morning as my makeup tends have a weird finish, but I suppose I could suck it up if that’s what I have to do. I’ve been switching off between BHA and AHA every other night and then using BP as a spot treatment about every three days.
Any advice is greatly appreciated! Thanks!
I’m so glad to hear that! And I apologize that it’s taken me so long to get back to you. You can certainly switch the BHA and AHA products every night. But if you have a spot, apply the BP on the spot every night over the exfoliant products. This should help give you gentle, daily treatment, without being too irritating, as the exfoliant products will act as a buffer for the BP and your skin.
Does that all make sense?
I’m puzzled as to why you use the Jack Black lip balm you do, given it contains avobenzone and octinoxate? Something you wrote about it: http://www.futurederm.com/2012/10/12/how-does-octinoxate-degrade-avobenzone/
As you can see from the annotation above, I haven’t been using this exact routine since September of last year. I’ve since then found a better overall lip balm with SPF.
However, my rationalization to using this back then was that, despite the presence of both avobenzone and octinoxate, because I reapply lip balm so often anyways (due to eating, drinking, and a habit of wiping or licking my lips), the photostability issue isn’t really relevant.
I hope that helps. 🙂
Hi John, very interesting blog and articles. I read the ones you had on temptalia and then found my way here. I just had one question, I suffer from cystic acne in my jawline area and have been using a cetaphil cleanser, paulas choice clear regular bha toner, neutrogena 2.5 bp (plan to switch to paulas choice once this runs out), followed by ponds moisturiser (plan to switch to paulas choice resist skin hydrator). My cystic acne dramatically cleared since i started using the bp. I apply it all over the problem area of my face every other day. My concern is that you mentioned long term use of bp can cause premature skin aging. I’m 26 and even though bp is working in dealing with the cystic acne I dont want to ruin my skin after long term use. If I use the bp once a week can this still cause damage to the skin? would you recommend trying retin-a to deal with the acne as an alternative? Thank you 🙂
Thank you Harriet, and welcome to my site! Those Temptalia posts that I wrote are so old haha!
BP no matter how much, will damage your skin because it functions by generating reactive oxygen species. However,cystic acne will also damage your skin. And cystic acne destroys skin a lot more intensely than BP. I should know haha! So keep using it if that’s what works. You can certainly experiment using it less often. I’d suggest upgrading from the regular strength BHA to the Extra Strength version! It still contains 2% SA, but has a penetration enhancer that allows the SA to exfoliate a bit longer on the skin.
Also, if you can get your hands on a prescription retinoid such as Retin-A, that would be fantastic! Not only do retinoids deal with acne, but they also deal with “aging” issues. While the results for acne won’t be as quick as BHA/AHA/BP, in the long run (say after 8-12 weeks), Retin-A is definitely worth trying! Check with your family doctor or better yet, a dermatologist!
I hope to see more of your comments in the future! Thanks for writing! 🙂
Hi John–Do you think your vitamin C + vitamin A therapy for protecting/restoring collagen would work on skin that’s just a bit loose/inelastic after weight loss, or on sunken stretch marks? If so, would you recommend the Skin Balancing Super Antioxidant Concentrate Serum w/ Retinol that you use, or something else? Thanks!
Unfortunately, this particular combination won’t help that much just because the issue of loose skin has nothing to do with the surface apperance of the skin. It may help a bit, but don’t expect miracles. 😦
The Skin Balancing Serum doesn’t contain a lot of retinol, so if that’s your purpose, then no I wouldn’t recommend that product. But if you’re just looking for a good and matte-finish serum, then it’s a good choice. Try the PC retinol serum if you want more retinol. It most likely contains 0.25%-0.5% retinol and is more emollient, which may help soften the appearance of stretch marks.
Why did you choose not to use prescription retina a?
Because I never thought to go to a dermatologist. You have to remember that this was many years ago, before I had accrued any kind of knowledge about skin care. As to why I don’t use Retin-A now, I find that my current routine works perfectly and I don’t want to experience any unnecessary irritation from tretinoin, the active ingredient in Retin-A. Any other questions? 🙂
I stumbled across your lovely website on google as I’ve been searching for “acne/pimples/bumps”.
A little skincare background….
I’m currently using Clinique 3 Step System *Type 3/Combination* and it has slightly improved my acne and for a week, my skin has been “purging”. (I’m on my 2nd week and a half week now). It’s slightly getting better, clearer but I’ve noticed that I started to have MANY skin coloured tiny bumps on my face and I have no idea what it is. I’m happy that it is sort of clearing my skin but what’s with the skin coloured tiny bumps? My complexion is so horrible now with the bumps…It’s on my forehead, cheeks and chin. I’ve never had it on my cheeks and chin before. Only in the past
on my forehead.
I think its the DDML (The 3rd step) (Dramatically Different Moisturising Lotion)…… so I stopped using it and picked up a drug store Neutrogena Oil-free moisturiser.
Do you have any idea how did the skin-coloured tiny bumps come from?
I squeezed a few bumps (itchy hands, bad.. yes I know) and white stuff came out? The bumps are tiny so, the pus isn’t that horrid looking…..
I know your not a dermatologist or a skin care consultant but I had no answers from googling. Would love for you to give me any ideas of what’s happening….
Glad you found my site and that you like it! 🙂 Since you’re posting on this particular page, I’m assuming that you read through all of it. I personally am not a fan of the Clinique 3-step because of the alcohol present in step 2, which will promote inflammation and therefore acne, and the lackluster step 3.
Now the little bumps that you’re seeing are most likely whiteheads, which is a form of acne. They’re probably caused by the DDML like you said; in particular the sesame oil content (which is the 3rd ingredient in the DDML), has large amounts of the fatty acids, oleic and linoleic acid. These two ingredients may be a blessing for dry skin, but they are detrimental for oily skin types because they can clog the pores, due to their similarities to sebum.
You need to use a pH-correct chemical exfoliant like salicylic acid or glycolic acid regularly to reduce the chances of an acne bump appearing.
Also, your skin should never purge, unless you’re having an allergic reaction. The idea of “purging” is just something that’s made up by the skin care industry giants that encourages brand loyalty.
Anyways, I hope that helped and my next contributor post for Temptalia.com chronicles the stages of acne and how you can fight them, should be up soon on the site. (I’ll link it here regardless) Make sure to check that out to see if that can help you. Furthermore, if your problems are still not resolving themselves after following my advice, feel free to submit a completed questionnaire to me. Here is the link:
Good luck and thanks for commenting!
Hi! i want to congratulate you for your efforts,which are resulted in a flawless skin:)my prior skin problem was acne a few years ago.i dont have such a problem anymore but now i have lots of scars especially on my cheeks and also some brownish spots which are probably resulted from inadequate sun protection. i read your posts and you said that after acne treatment you used vitamin A and vitamin C to fasten treatment of scars if i did not understand wrongly.How did you use these vitamins?took as pills or is there a way which is more effective than taking vitamin pills , like using them on face or something?:)i am using La Roche Posays Effaclar seri for my scars now but i cant say they are really effective on my skin.I want to have such a perfect skin like yours:)Sorry for my bad English ,i hope i was able to explain myself clearly:)thanks in advance!
Thank you for your kind words! Please note that I wasn’t referring to deeper physical scars, but the pigmented ones. For hyperpigmentation, topical certains forms of vitamin C are definitely effective at reducing their intensity. And while vitamins A and C can lessen the appearance of physical scars, you’ll need to see your dermatologist for more severe scarring such as rolling or ice pick scars.
I will be doing a detailed post about this in the future. Unfortunately that won’t be until at least after January. If you read my latest post, I say why. 🙂
For now I recommend going to a dermatologist or submitting a request for me to review your entire skin care routine. Here’s the link for the form you need to file out:
I hope that helped, and let me know if you need any more help. I’m here for you guys!
just wanted to ask if you tried tretinoid cream (Isotretinoin) it is a vitamin a derivat and repairs the skin! I use PC and this cream and my scares and wide pores are all gone after i have been using this creme for 6 month i look like a babyface!
I think u can get if from obagi…
Also u should try green peel!
Isotretinoin is typically reserved for oral therapy instead of topical. I think you meant to say tretinoin, which is slightly different but distinctly so. If you look in my routine, I am using a retinol product, which will convert to retinal and then tretinoin once it is properly absorbed. But thanks for the tip!
Also, I’m not familiar with green peel and since its contents are proprietary, I can’t view them to determine estimated efficacy.
Thanks for stopping by. 🙂
Thanks soo much for all the effort you put in in getting the words out in ‘knowing and taking good care of our skin’.
I first read your posts & responses on Temptalia. Whilst I love all beauty related posts, what I need is this.
Your knowledge at such a young age is outstanding. Am sure you will make a great dermatologist.
I do have a question re. your routine. I note that you use AHA product only once a week. Is that also the case in the beggining when you’re still getting things under control.
I started using PC BHA 2.5 months ago. However I held back as new breakouts keeps popping up. I figure 2% liquid might be too much so I started using the 1% gel every other night since 2 weeks ago since I figure my skin needs the exfoliation to prevent clogging. I guess I just have too much junk underneath so the purging is taking a while. I want to persist since the science behind it does make a lot of sense however the zits and scars can be discouraging.
I did try to use the AHA 8% the nights that I don’t use BHA. I do like how my skin feels with it.
Understand that every skin is different. Am just trying to find a routine that would regulate my acne prone, oily (though less so after BHA), hormone-raging, uneven-toned skin. Pretty annoying to keep seeing cystic acne popping up but would like to go through all the options before going on Accutane.
Sorry for the long post. Really looking forward to your reply!
I know acne is can be so frustrating, but keep going at it! I’m going to be doing a post for Temptalia about the stages of acne and what ingredients combat those different stages. Thank you for your kind words.
Now to your questions. No, when I first started using the glycolic acid, I used it multiple times per week just depending on how my skin looked and felt. Back then, I didn’t really know what I was doing. So basically I just used the glycolic everyday, sometimes at night and sometimes during the day.
Also, remember that although salicylic and glycolic acid both have solid amounts of research behind them, they may not be right for sure depending on a variety of factors. Maybe you’re allergic or too sensitive to one of them. I don’t know. You have to pay attention to how your skin reacts when you apply them.
So you need to ask yourself. Is the 1% SA making any difference? What about the 2%? If both are not effective, I would recommend using the glycolic (8%) at night-time, then using the salicylic during the day. Make sure to wear sunscreen. The glycolic will thin the stratum corneum, which will allow the salicylic to penetrate more deeply into the oil glands.
Also note that there are many options before resorting to Accutane. OTC treatments include benzoyl peroxide and retinol. Prescription ones include oral and topical antibiotics like clindamycin, tetracycline and finally oral retinoids like isotretinoin AKA Accutane.
So try glycolic at night and salicylic during the day. Also, if you find that the 8% isn’t doing much good, you can upgrade to the 10% liquid exfoliant.
Let me know what you think, and if I can be of any more help.
Thanks for commenting.
If you would like for me to help give a more accurate recommendation, I would suggest you submit a request for me to review your entire routine. Here is the link for the template:
Thanks so much for the reply. Really appreciate your insight.
I have been doing the 1% gel in the AM and 8% AHA at night for about 1.5 weeks. The same purging-like effect has came back with a vengeance where I now have 6-7 active pimple with some bumpiness under the skin a whiteheads popping up. The active pimple is a little painful tho all eventually develop a head. Every pimple left a scar as my skin scars easily and takes forever to fade.
I’ve been reading on reviews re. this purging effect and wondering whether this is my skin purging all the bad stuff or am I irritated and should stop. I want to persist to see improvement but the scar does starting to scare me.
I switch to the 1% SA in hopes of minimizing the purging effect but I guess it comes afterall.
What do you think – should I persist? If so, at what point should I stop? 1 month or more? I do note you mentioned that you see 75% of acne reduced after 2 months of AHA application. My skin does feel less dry by alternating BHA/AHA morning and night.
Appreciate your comments on this – it’s been a tough couple of days seeing things worsen.
I will take some time this weekend to list my routine and email it for your input. Would love to get your thought on it.
Thanks a mill, John!
I’m sorry to hear that about your condition.
Now there are two reasons why your acne is getting worse: One is that you may be allergic to either AHA or BHA. Two, the bacteria in your skin had been previously sealed (think like a bubble) by your dead skin cells. However, after you started exfoliating, that seal disappeared and allowed the bacteria to proliferate and spread to other sites. Though possible, it is unlikely.
Also, the “purging” process is mostly untrue, especially when it comes to acne. With a few exceptions, it should never get worse before it gets better. Acne is the result of several factors such as the accumulation of dead corneocytes that stick together to “plug” a sebaceous gland, the bacteria that amass there to feed upon them, and the inflammatory response of the immune system to combat said bacteria. Removing any one factor should and will decrease the severity of the condition. So yeah, the “purging” process is just a term coined by the skin care conglomerates in an attempt to persuade consumers to stick to one brand…. THEIR brand. Haha!
So what I recommend is to stop using the AHA and BHA altogether and let your skin calm down for about 2 weeks. See if your acne gets worse or improves. If your acne stays the same or worsens, then apply the AHA and BHA to one portion of your face and see if you get the same “purging” effect. Now, if after the 2 weeks, your acne gets better, that would indicate that you are allergic to either AHA or BHA. You’ll have to test out each one separate in order to determinte the culprit. Let me know what the result is so that I may better assist you. We may have to move on to benzoyl peroxide and/or retinol.
And yes please, submit away! I’d be happy to review your routine and therefore, be able to give you a more personalized recommendation and answer any other confusions that you may have.
Please keep in mind that I am no medical professional (yet) so take my recommendations based on common sense and of course, listen to your skin! And don’t hesistate to go see a REAL dermatologist Lol!
Anyways, thanks for commenting and hang in there! It will get better!
what life changes stress , exercise and diet changes did you make? what foods did you begin to consume more and which you tried to avoid?
That’s too long a story to write haha! But I didn’t really consciously choose what foods I ate, I just ate less school food since I left school. So I guess eating at home forced me to eat less fatty and junk foods.
Thanks again for commenting! Also, I will be having a page talking about the links between nutrition and skin condition, so yeah. Hopefully, you’ll be able to learn something after I post that page!
i have sensitive skin would this whole routine work for me?
That is a very difficult question to answer! I have pretty sensitive skin to certain things… but I really don’t have an answer for you. I’d recommend that you try incorporating one product at a time into your current routine, and see how your skin responds from each one. Then build your way up. All of our skin types are different, so you don’t have to just copy my routine.
Thanks for writing! xD