November 21, 2013

Skincare Q&A: Treating Adult Acne With Drugstore Brands

As an online esthetician, I'm always answering questions about adult acneingrown hair problems, rosacea, or general skin sensitivities. So! I thought that I would feature a skincare Q&A on my blog to address some of these issues.

There are some questions that are sent to me via email or through ChickRx, a site where anyone can ask questions that relate to various lifestyle topics and experts (like myself) can offer valuable advice or suggestions. If you have any questions that you would like to ask (or have featured on the blog), please don't hesitate to speak out in the comments below! If you would rather have a question be answered privately, I am always available by email. :)



This week's Skincare Q&A features questions about drugstore brands, why it's so difficult to find products that work for getting your skin clear, and how to pick the best acne treatment suited for your skin type.



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"What are the best drugstore brands for treating acne and scarring?"


I must be perfectly honest with you.


Acne problems are not easy to solve. Pores in an acne patient are more sensitive, produce more oil, and accumulate dead skin cells that are stickier than what other people produce. The bottom line is that what can be perfectly fine for most people just isn't appropriate for those with acne issues.

A good skincare regimen must be thoroughly cleansing without stripping, hydrating without pore clogging, and have acne treatments that don't over-irritate pores. The problem is that drugstore brands don't really fit the bill in any appreciable way for several reasons listed below.

1. It's very difficult to find cleansers that are meant for acne and that don't strip the skin so much that the skin is caused to over-produce oil.

2. It's almost impossible to find moisturizers that hydrate the skin instead of lubricate it without clogging pores. I have found that 90% of all moisturizers available at the drugstore level clog like crazy, and the worst offenders are often the ones that say "oil-free" on the label!  Which are the 10%?  Needle in a haystack, but CeraVe and Neutrogena have a few that are ok, but only in that they don't clog pores - but they're not hydrating enough to address the needs of acne clearing.

3. The most common over-the-counter remedies for acne breakouts, Salicylic Acid and Benzoyl Peroxide, are often in formulations that do more harm than good. 

Salicylic Acid is often accompanied by too much alcohol and is best when accompanied by other anti-inflammatories, but this combination is sorely lacking in commercial brands.

Benzoyl Peroxide is only to be found in gels that contain pore-irritating ingredients or in lotions that contain pore-clogging ingredients (I know!). The one drugstore brand of Benzoyl Peroxide that was formulated correctly, PanOxyl, now only makes a wash. Not helpful!

The truth is that when it comes to investing in getting your skin clear and healthy, everyone's skin would be much better if drugstore brands were truly effective at clearing acne. Acne clearing takes patience, perseverance, focused attention, and, above all, the right products. You're always going to have much better results when using products from a skincare professional who understands acne and knows ingredients.  On a budget?  Think of it this way - how much will you be saving not having to buy as much makeup to cover up what the right skincare can clear??

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"I've just bought St. Ives Apricot Scrub, and I want to ask for advice about using it. How many times a week should I be using the scrub?"



If you suffer from breakouts, apricot scrub can be a real problem. If you never break out, it can still cause damage to your skin's integrity.

Even if it's only once in a while, apricot scrub scratches the skin so much that it literally rips it apart. Interestingly enough, St. Ives Apricot Scrub contains a very harsh detergent so that it can be rinsed off and leave you with a feeling of extreme clean. However, this can prompt the skin to product more oil to compensate for the loss of acidity level. 

I know, it feels great, but it's also a total disaster for skin.

The damage is two-fold. You have microscopic tearing of the skin that lead to greater sensitivity, which can lead to further breakouts. Scrubs like these can cause the skin to overproduce oil in order to create a kind of "slip" so that the scratchy grains will "slide" over the skin instead of scratch it, which is a defense mechanism. There are scrubs that are more gentle and that don't cause these kinds of problems.

There are only two things I actually tell people to throw away rather than use up and replace with something else -- this apricot scrub is one of them.

For personalized help on what exfoliants will be best for your individual acne issues, please visit my website !

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"What are good skin toners?"


The best toners are spray-on, alcohol-free, and contain antioxidants or soothing ingredients. The best method is to apply the toner liberally to the skin after which either a potent serum or AM or PM moisturizers are applied while the toner is still wet.  

However, for very greasy and congested skin that benefits from Salicylic Acid, which needs a little bit of alcohol as a vehicle to penetrate the skin and do its job, these toners are applied with a cotton-round.  Just make sure you use a swiping motion to apply this type of toner, rather than rubbing as though you're removing cleanser or dirt.  Remember :  Toners are meant to hydrate and balance, not to "continue the cleansing process".  If you see something "dark" on the cotton-round, that's not dirt, that's actually dead skin cells.  If you see makeup, then your cleansing and makeup removal needs correction.

I very much recommend toner as part of a daily skincare regimen. Toner balances out the skin's oil level by ensuring that the skin doesn't have to overproduce oil to balance its own pH level or fix itself. It also balances hydration levels by giving your moisturizers something to hold onto your skin. 

As for brands or types of toner, your best bet will always be with brands obtained from a skincare professional who knows skin and skincare well enough to analyze your concerns so that you can get the best product for your needs.  On a budget?  Witch hazel and apple cider vinegar can be very drying when used alone and don't do enough to hydrate the skin, while floral water or aloe used alone don't do enough to balance the skin's pH.  Better to combine all of these.


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"How do I know what the best acne treatment is for me?"


There are as many promises out there as there are products! Too many lines are cookie cutter and treat everyone the same.  Many feature "old school" methods where oil needs to be dried up and skin needs to be exfoliated every day (both are so not true!), and way too many treat oily or acneic skin like it's still 16 years old.

If you're in your late-20s, 30s, 40s, or even 50s and still suffer from acne, it's time that your treatment gets personalized for your individual skin condition and anti-aging needs.

A few rules of thumb:

1. The more hydrated your skin is, the more pliable it is. The more pliable your skin is, the less it holds onto the oil that makes blackheads. Every blemish starts out as a microscopic blackhead. (A blackhead is nothing more than solidified oil mixed with dead skin cells.) 

Your products should be hydrating and designed to prevent water loss, include a cleanser that isn't harsh, as well as an alcohol-free toner and hydrating lotions. This way, oil flows freely without getting backed up in your skin, and oil-absorption can happen with a clay mask rather than after a massive cleansing.

2. The way you tell if a cleanser is right for you is if it rinses clean within 2-3 splashes and doesn't leave your skin tight or dry. If it doesn't rinse well, this means that your skin isn't really being cleaned or a film is being left on the skin that can potentially clog pores. If your skin is tight after rinsing, your skin's pH level has been thrown off and no matter how much moisturizer you put on, your skin will over-produce oil to get back to the right pH level. The irritation from dryness can also create a slight breakage in the skin's integrity that can create a kind of sensitivity that makes it easier for blemishes to develop.

3. Daily scrubs, especially ones that are very scratchy, can actually prompt the skin to produce more oil and can cause impacted breakouts in the long-run. Scrubs can also sensitize the skin, and sensitized skin breaks out more easily as it becomes more and more reactive.

4. Not every item in your skincare routine needs to be medicated. One item left on or rinsed off can be enough -- it depends on your oil and irritation levels. Choose your over-the-counter acne medicine very carefully.  Salicylic Acid is great for inflamed blemishes, while Benzoyl Peroxide is great for impacted breakouts with blackheads.

5. You must make sure every single thing that goes on your face is non-comedogenic. 

Here's where it gets tricky. It can happen that a label can say "Oil-free so it won't clog pores!" but can be the most clogging thing around.  In fact, "Oil-Free" can be a major red flag! The most pore-clogging ingredients were invented to replace oil so the product will still have spreadability and feel good. However, almost all of these ingredients clog pores in the space of about 3-6 months. 

You must keep in mind that the term "non-comedogenic" is not a regulated term, so a label can lie. Your best bet for getting a skin safe moisturizer is at a skincare salon staffed by people who know and understand acne.  

As for makeup, your best bet is always going to be pure mineral makeup (concealer, foundation, blush, and bronzer). Loose powder is always better -- it's very difficult to make pressed makeup of any kind that is safe for acne.




For a completely personalized approach, I provide a free skincare consultation service by email, which is specially designed for Gen-Xers to Baby Booomers. After providing me with information and pictures of your breakouts, I send you a full analysis of what's going on with your skin, and we go over everything that you're using to see what you can keep and what you should throw away. I also send a sample packet of my products to your home, which lasts 2-3 days so you can determine what you like and order from my website

Tackling adult acne and sensitivity is all I do, so you'll be guaranteed to have my full attention!

Know anyone who might benefit from this post ?  Please share!