This is a story about a girl named Lucky. Kidding. Actually, it's about the complete opposite: how I accidentally gave myself the worst acne of my life, and what I did to get my skin back under control after figuring out the problem.
NOTE: This post does include affiliate links to some of the (un-sponsored, paid for with my own money) products I personally use and love, but it also includes links to products that did NOT help (slash actually hurt) me, which I wanted to provide for your own research purposes. To differentiate between the two, I have identified links to products that I wholeheartedly recommend with an *asterisk. If a link is unmarked, it's an FYI only kinda thing!
As I've mentioned in previous skincare posts, I have very sensitive skin and my primary concerns are keeping acne at bay and delaying the onset of fine lines. If you've read my post about how I used *vitamin C to help reverse my melasma, then you have probably seen some of the before and after photos I posted—heck, you may have even thought hey, her skin looks really great. I thought so too, honestly, which is why I was so frustrated with myself when I legitimately caused the reappearance of skin issues I had in high school...except worse.
Whether you're a bride-to-be trying to get in the best skin-shape of your life before saying "I do" or just a fellow product junkie, I hope this crazy-detailed post proves helpful to you!
How I gave myself the worst acne of my life: a memoir
My death spiral toward the worst acne of my life started as many sad stories do: by spending too much time on Instagram. One night, when I was deep in the throes of contemplating age and mortality and my desire for another slice of pepperoni pizza, I started following a professional esthetician who does a lot of cosmetic injections and skin care treatments in the area where Taylor and I used to live. This is by no means meant to be a knock on her, so I won't share her name. Unfortunately, I just didn't take my skin type into consideration while watching a tutorial she posted about DIY dermaplaning.
I've had dermaplaning done professionally in the past, so I was intrigued by the idea of being able to replicate the look on my own. Essentially, dermaplaning just means shaving the peach fuzz off your face. As a bonus, it's supposed to be good for removing dead skin cells, exfoliating your skin, and promoting cell turn over. Even though I have fair hair, I like the way makeup goes on sans-fuzz and so I decided to give it a go. I purchased this set of facial razors from Amazon and, much to my husband's horror, proceeded to shave my face.
What I should have done: Started with a patch test, cleaned out my pores with a toner/acid afterward, and waited about a week to see how my skin would react before moving forward.
What I did: Went all-in, removed every follicle of hair at once, did not follow up with a toner/acid.
In addition to doing my upper lip, I DIY-dermaplaned from the sideburn area of my face all the way down to my jawline and neck. I also did a little bit right above my eyebrows to help give them some shape without plucking.
At the time I was not using any type of exfoliating acid, and I was also running low on on my all-star vitamin C. Subsequently, I had started experimenting with a few different brands based on reviews and recommendations that were posted in a Clean Beauty Facebook group I'm part of.
As I would find out later, all of this really added up to be a perfect storm of sorts for my poor, poor skin. Let's continue.
Acne, or Fungal Acne?
Shortly after dermaplaning, I started to notice an increase in red bumps that I assumed to be acne. I'm really bad about picking at my face and I could not resist trying to squeeze out the junk—if I can just clean out my pores, maybe this won't become a bigger issue, was my line of thought.
In retrospect, that was actually the worst thing I could have done since—after much Googling—I believe those bumps were actually ingrown hairs. To make things worse, at the time I had also just received a few full-size samples of Knours—a product line designed around the menstrual cycle that's meant to target hormonal acne—from a friend who is a YouTuber. The company sent her these products for free, and she in turn passed them on to me to try as she has very sensitive skin and tends to stick to proven products that she knows work for her. #WhyAmINotMoreLikeThis?
Anyway, if I was being smart, I would have patch tested these products on my skin as well. But I figured, They're low on the EWG scale—how bad can they be? Because the line was geared toward hormonal acne, I thought it might be a good solution for my now increasingly-inflamed skin, so I slathered on previously-unknown-to-me cleansers, gels, mists, moisturizers, and serums. I also subbed out my *proven brand of Vitamin C for the highly-touted Mad Hippie Vitamin C serum due to raves in that aforementioned Facebook group.
Long story short, I shot a good skincare routine to heck and proceeded to implement new products on top of already-problematic and inflamed skin—a huge mistake. Pretty sure this is where that saying If it ain't broke, don't fix it comes from, but I digress.
Instead of getting better, my skin started to get worse and worse. The acne and irritation I was experiencing turned into a full-fledged case of dermatitis and fungal acne, which was marked by flakiness, a very itchy facial rash, and large red bumps that filled with clear liquid rather than coming to a whitehead or blackhead as with normal acne. Oh, and they left awful, purplish post-acne marks too. Joy.
I had a really hard time covering the bumps with makeup, and overall was just really embarrassed for the better part of five months. I had just posted this blog about my skincare routine and, to be completely transparent, I think I lost sight of what is realistic in terms of results by comparing my skin (without makeup) to filtered full-glam photos on Instagram. Spoiler alert: None of us can live up to that!
Okay, so that's how I worked myself into a bad situation. Now let's talk about how I got myself out of it.
How I Cured my Fungal Acne
Almost immediately, I thought about a product I used to clear up a similar reaction that sprang up following a professional dermaplaning appointment years prior: a *mushroom mask created by the brand Actifirm. I used this mask while competing in the Miss Texas pageant system and I remembered it literally taking my inflammation and rash symptoms down overnight. Needless to say, I was crossing my fingers AND my toes for a repeat experience!
This mask is not very cheap and it's not widely available—it can be purchased on Amazon or through the Actifirm website. It's also worth mentioning that I heard several years ago that the company's formulation for the original mushroom mask changed. Whether it was due to this rumored formulation change or a case of viewing my past skin-cidents with rose colored glasses, this time around I cannot say that I found the mask to be a "miracle" product. My woes were not cured overnight courtesy of this mask, but it did help dry out those nasty bumps and calm down some of the inflammation associated with my dermatitis. Overall I'm still really happy with this mask and would order again!
Usage: As needed (max 1-2 times per week)
I also decided to try Actifirm's signature product—the *Z-Peel enzyme exfoliator at 15% (also available here). This peel is created from mushroom enzymes and I was absolutely sold on the promises of the product:
"Evens tone and texture and helps increase firmness and elasticity as it hydrates, moisturizes, and reduces the appearance of fine lines. Quickly brightens skin, leaving a smoother feel and an optimal surface for makeup application. Lavender, aloe and chamomile extracts calm and soothe skin. Gentle enough for daily use on most skin types."
Yes, please. Because I had used this line before and previously purchased it through a licensed esthetician, I wasn't too concerned about how my skin would react. In typical fashion I went all-in with this peel, and I'm happy to say that I did not have a negative reaction to it at all! Even better: it really helped me shed the layers of discoloration that were left behind by the post-acne marks. This continues to be a *go-to product that I use after I've had a lot of sun exposure!
Usage: As needed (max 1-2 times per week)
THE OLD FAITHFUL(S)
Next, I went back to WHAT WORKS for my skin and repurchased a bottle of *Klair's Freshly Juiced. You heard it here first: I will never cheat on this vitamin C again (unless I wake up one day and find that I am suddenly able to afford Skinceuticals).
You guys, I have tried at least four different types of vitamin C in my quest to kick melasma to the curb. I tried the Triple C Lightning Liquid from Soko Glam. I ordered this product from Amazon which I do NOT (x 1,000) recommend and immediately sent back—the serum was a milky, just nasty looking color when it arrived and there is no way I would have put on my feet, much less my face. It also smelled like a funeral parlor filled with decaying roses, so there's that. Next, I tried the Mad Hippie product I mentioned previously. I had a lot of hope for this one since it came so highly recommended, but it didn't do much of anything for me. It felt a lot greasier and oilier than the Klair's brand, and I found that it sat on top of my skin instead of soaking in and hydrating it. Since I didn't have a full-on negative reaction to this product, though, I'm continuing to use it on my neck and chest instead of tossing it.
I also temporarily subbed out my moisturizer for this product, which Soko Glam recommended for acneic skin (watch Prayva's story to see what inspired this decision). While it did not made my breakouts worse, I don't know that it actually helped either. Also, it has alcohol in it (not my fav) which makes my sensitive skin sting a bit. So once again, I returned to my proven *Klair's moisturizer. As a summer alternate, I'm also a big fan of this *snail essence. Don't knock this ingredient until you've tried (and loved) it!
THE NEW STAPLES
Last but not least, I added two products from Paula's Choice to my routine that have probably made the biggest difference in regard to my skin condition as of late: this *2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant and *10% Azelaic Acid Booster. I have already reordered both!
Azelaic Acid is a completely new ingredient to me, and I came across it while doing some serious Googling about the differences between true acne and dermatitis/fungal acne. Based on what I read, it sounded like Azelaic Acid would be perfect not only for my active acne and inflamed hair follicles, but also for the post-acne marks that each left behind. I find that it works perfectly when I put it on right before my moisturizer. As for the BHA Exfoliant, it has a reputation as a cult beauty favorite for good reason! Instead of stripping my skin, I actually feel like it helps to rehydrate my face while simultaneously cleaning out my pores of gunk. If you're looking for a nice glow and some help preventing both acne and fine lines, this is the product for you. It's officially a new staple for me!
Usage: Daily | Note: I use the Azelaic Acid as a spot treatment right before applying moisturizer. To apply the BHA Liquid Exfoliant, I pour a little product on a cotton pad and wipe it all over my face like a toner, being sure to extend up to my hairline, underneath my jaw, and behind my ears. To avoid over-exfoliation, I do NOT use the BHA Liquid on the same day as the Z-Peel.
MY CURRENT ROUTINE
- 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant
- Vitamin C
- Sunscreen (*Missha Sun Milk for everyday wear or *Solar 48 for water use)
- Oil-based cleanser (currently using *this product)
- Water-based cleanser
- 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant OR mask OR peel
- Azelaic Acid Booster (spot treatment as needed)
- Moisturizer OR Snail Essence
- Eye cream
THE FINAL WORD
Okay, so this is officially the longest blog post ever. Before signing off, though, I feel like it's really important to touch briefly on the dark side of skincare.
We are in the throes of a massive "Clean Beauty" movement, which for the most part is pretty cool. New trends equals more product innovation! However, please be aware that there is so much money and so much hype surrounding the entire beauty industry (looking at you, CBD oil). I'm speaking to you here as a fellow frustrated consumer who has frequently bought into the idea that the latest "miracle ingredient" will cure my problems instantly, only to be left with a feeling of disappointment, a lighter wallet, and/or a horrible reaction.
At the end of the day, the fact that a product is labeled as "clean" or "organic" does not necessarily mean that your skin is going to like it better than any other product. We all have different skin types/needs/concerns, so do your research (and for Pete's sake, patch test!) to find out what's right for you. The same things that worked for me, a beauty blogger, or a popular esthetician on Instagram might not be right for you.
I hope this helps anybody else out there who is struggling through adult acne, fungal acne, dermatitis, or a crazy combo of all three like me! If you have a routine that works for you, I'd love to hear about it in the comments.