How can I improve my skin's appearance?
September 10, 2008 8:05 PM   Subscribe

I'm sick of having horrible skin. I'm plagued with everything: acne, oil, dryness, blotchy redness, lines, large pores. Please help me improve my skin.

I'm 23. As the title says I'm sick of having horrible skin.

I have oily skin in my t-zone with large, very visible pores. This past year my forehead seems to think I am going through puberty again or something because it has a lot of tiny little acne that just won't clear up. My forehead has two very deep, visible lines (creases) that I've had forever, but they bother me. I've also noticed that above my nose, where a person scowls, has lines now too that are sometimes very prominent (usually when I have been sleeping so I think I must be scowling in my sleep). Besides the lines and oiliness and acne, I sometimes get flaky skin around my nose.

I take a multivitamin, plus fish oil, plus b-complex, plus a calcium supplement, plus I drink a lot of green tea. I drink a lot of water. That is mostly all I drink. I rarely drink any soda.

My current skin regime is to wash twice a day with a mild soap. I moisturize at night with Oil of Olay but I have tried Burt's Bees products in the past without any improvement of my skin. I also use a moisturizer with sunscreen in the day. I was toning with tomato toner by Burts Bees that I had success with but I decided to give me skin a break these past couple months and cut out makeup and toning to see if my skin would improve. I also cut back on the moisturizer to see if my skin was being over processed or something. It hasn't improved one bit and the acne seems to be getting a lot worse.

What bothers me the most: the large pores and the lines and acne on my forehead and scowl region. My skin isn't radiant or glowing or anything great like that. It is dull and looks terrible and marred with so many problems. What products can I use to change that? What can I add or remove from my diet? Any tips or suggestions?
posted by rainygrl716 to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (56 answers total) 32 users marked this as a favorite
I've heard that the regimen is really successful if you stick with it (I didn't).
posted by liketitanic at 8:11 PM on September 10, 2008

As far as acne, I personally had remarkable results with fish oil. You might want to make sure you are using a quality one and enough of it. I used a brand called 'Nordic Naturals' and took about 2tbsp a day.
posted by norabarnacl3 at 8:15 PM on September 10, 2008

"I can see you scowling to me in my sleep"

Hey, sorry about your bad skin. I read in the paper that a girl started using botox at 21, and she's looking good at 27. That might be an option, but it would cost you some serious coin.
posted by No New Diamonds Please at 8:21 PM on September 10, 2008

My skin sounds exactly like your skin. I am still struggling with it. It is not responded to Retin-A and most over-the-counter products I've tried have provided only temporary relief. Taking birth control helped some, but also made me crazy.

Something that produced some improvement was cutting out all sugar and grains and most dairy (sometimes eating hard cheeses or cottage cheese, but not much else dairy). Of course, I ate a shit-ton of fruits and vegetables to make up for it. I haven't ever stuck with that regimen long enough to see what it can really do, but even a month seemed to result in a noticeable acne/mottling difference. I'm planning on starting the experiment again in a couple of days, and keeping it up for a couple of months as I've heard that's the length of time you need on any one change to really see what it's doing.
posted by schroedinger at 8:23 PM on September 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

Have you been to a dermatologist? I've had bad, bad skin most of my life, but after starting on Tazorac, it improved greatly. Use the lower strength, at least at first. I also use PCA's pHaze 13, which seems to help as well.
posted by kellyblah at 8:26 PM on September 10, 2008

Definitely visit a dermatologist. Your health insurance may cover the visits.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 8:31 PM on September 10, 2008 [2 favorites]

This is what dermatologists are for. I know it can feel weird to go to a DOCTOR and complain that you don't like how you look, because you're not technically sick, but seriously... they can help you with this.

Also, you haven't really given enough info in the question for us to really comment on your regimen. This "mild soap" you wash with twice a day - is it really soap, or is it a mild cleanser meant for the face? Most fix-your-skin regiments recommend against actual soap, and instead say you should use a mild, oil-free cleanser like Purpose or Cetaphil. The Oil of Olay you're using at night - does it have oil in it? Last time I checked, OoO had half an aisle full of products, and the one you're using might not be right for your skin. Again, dermatologists seem to recommend a very simple, light, oil-free moisturizer (Purpose and Cetaphil make these too).

Finally, if you had success with the tomato toner, why not go back to using it?

Hang in there. I know how frustrating this can be. It seems like every time I find something that works for my face, the season changes and it doesn't work anymore (curse you, dry fall air!). With any luck we'll each figure out what works best for us eventually.
posted by vytae at 8:35 PM on September 10, 2008

I had acne well past my teen years until I tried the regimen at, as mentioned above. I've never followed the entire regimen (it's very detailed), but the combo of 2.5% benzoyl peroxide twice a day plus moisturizer to avoid flakiness works like a charm for me. I've been doing it for two or three years now, and as long as I'm consistent, no acne at all. I started out using a small bit of benzoyl peroxide once a day, only on the oiliest areas of my face, and slowly used it on larger areas and 2x per day as my skin adjusted. Now I apply it to my entire forehead, on the sides of my nose, and my chin. I've never used as large a quantity as is recommended at; a pretty small amount keeps my acne under control, as long as I use it twice a day. This has gotten rid of both tiny pimples and the big, scary ones that start deep under the skin. Some people say it reduces oiliness too, which would be a bonus, but I don't think that side effect happened for me. I think I had to stick with it for a month or so before I got major results. It's been a miracle, really, and it was totally unexpected because I'd had acne for so, so long and had already tried many prescriptions and been to multiple dermatologists over the years.
posted by pitseleh at 8:39 PM on September 10, 2008

There are pros and cons to the "go to a Dermatologist" option...

I went to one for 2 years and tried various things but nothing ever consistently helped. Sure it'd look good for a month or two, but then it all came back.

But I'm actually on Accutane now (most of the Hive Mind will tell you that is a horrible option) and I'm actually loving how my face is looking. For the first time in my life I don't constantly feel self conscious about the way I look.

So yes, go to a Dermatologist, but do understand it might take a while for them to find something that works with your skin. For me, it ended up being Accutane, but I have plenty of friends whose faces are still clear from Tazorac or similar medicines.
posted by nokry56 at 8:44 PM on September 10, 2008

(And by the way, I just buy Neutrogena's 2.5% benzoyl peroxide, not the stuff they sell at Even though it's a small tube, it lasts a pretty long time for me.)
posted by pitseleh at 8:44 PM on September 10, 2008

Re the oil specifically, I was just about to say, sugar and grains like schroedinger says. Why should that have anything to do with it? I don't know. I'm not even sure that's what's doing it for me, but is all I've been able to come up with.

I'm on a mostly vegan diet trying to get my cholesterol and triglycerides way down, and because of the triglycerides I've also cut out most grains, sugars, and alcohol, aiming for low glycemic stuff. I've had a crazy oily T zone for years now and had basically given up on fighting it. But I noticed after a while on this diet that my face wasn't particularly oily anymore. It used to be like someone had sprayed me with olive oil. Had to dab it during the day so people didn't see their reflection in it. But if I backslide on the diet, it comes right back. Since I've also given up meat and dairy for the most part too, I'm not sure what's causing the effect. But I've been off most meat for a long time so that probably isn't it. As for dairy, I had already cut back so much on that prior to this diet, and also tend to have dairy when I backslide on this diet, so its levels haven't changed as much. The most dramatic change in all of this was the sugar and grains and alcohol. And I'm talking about rigid. No cookies, snacks, sweet drinks, sugar in coffee, desserts, pastries, beer, liquor, AAAAAGH. I even had to get a special nature freak ketchup because regular ketchup has high fructose corn syrup. I've read labels very carefully and have cut it all out. On my doctor's advice, despite sounding like a very bad idea, I've also cut out most fruit and all fruit juices for a while due to the natural sugars.

So you might just experiment with eliminating those things for a while and seeing if it helps with the oil. It's not easy. If I have to eat one more mouthful of kale, I'm going to fucking kill somebody. In better news, the weight drops right off! Don't know what affect, if any, this plan would have on acne, flaky skin, big pores, or wrinkles. Good luck, skin sister!
posted by Askr at 8:45 PM on September 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

Noticing all the comments. For me that didn't work. I tried it for 4 months with it getting better at first, then back to bad within 3 months. I really can't emphasize enough that everyone's skin is different and will respond to different things better.
posted by nokry56 at 8:45 PM on September 10, 2008

With the BP - does it smell? Is there a concern when the BP is drying does it possibly stain clothing?
posted by k8t at 9:00 PM on September 10, 2008

I'd consider killing the "all natural products" some people are allergic to them and all the extra ingredients can really upset some people's skin. You might be able to go back to them, but switching over to the purer stuff might help.

I would try like a lot of people. The 2.5% benzoyl peroxide helped my skin, but what I ended up using on my worst acne is Alpha Hydrox 10% Glycolic AHA (I'm sure there are other brands with 10% Glycolic AHA I just don't know any). You really have to be careful with it and start by using only a little every other day, backing off it when your skin gets irritated, but as your skin gets used to it, it should really start to clear up. Also it's anti-wrinkle so 2 birds with one stone. I should note your skin may be too sensitive to use it on your face, not everyone can handle it, unlike the 2.5% benzoyl peroxide which virtually everyone can handle.

Also, switch over to a moisturizer with Alpha hydroxy (I use Neutrogena) it moisturizes and exfoliates.
posted by whoaali at 9:02 PM on September 10, 2008

Oh and one other thing, I find my skin clears up dramatically if I get plenty of sleep (and I mean a lot). And conversely my skin is a disaster if I don't get enough sleep. You might want to try and get an extra hour or two a night and see if it improves.
posted by whoaali at 9:04 PM on September 10, 2008

There is no universal solution for acne. Skin is complex and acne can result from a number of causes and can be treated by a number of things, each one more effective than another for different people. That's a frustrating answer, I know. But it is the truth.

1) See a dermatologist. Especially if your insurance makes it affordable. They will not have an easy answer for you either, but they should be able to give you a good starting regimen and, like treatment for any other condition, expertly guide you through a series of treatments until you find the one that works for you.

2) Cut down on sugar... all sugar. Refined sugar, fructose, lactose, all of it. It really made a difference for me, but I have no data to back up that claim. Just passing along the word.

3) Wash your hands obsessively and watch out for touching your face. I neurotically touched my face and then obsessed and poked at the acne that occurred in the spots where I spread my greasy dirty fingers creating a cycle that continued ad-nauseum until I began obsessively washing my hands, making a conscious effort to never touch my face and keeping up with a decent facial hygiene regimen.

Good luck
posted by willie11 at 9:12 PM on September 10, 2008 [2 favorites]

On of my favorite topics! The thing that has most helped my skin has been prescription only so dermatologist or even your GP may be able to help. Your skin may be different, but I also have naturally large pores and if I break out it's usually in facial creases so what worked for me may work for you.

I've tried numerous acne treatments and the thing that finally did the trick was Differin (adapaline 2% gel). It's a retinoid, similar to Retin A, but it's better tolerated. As a retinoid, it retards cell turnover (or possibly interferes with keratinization - I forget), and thins the outer layer of dead skin. The downside is that this thinner skin means that you should wear sunscreen (which you already do). The upside is smaller pores, diminished wrinkles and baby-soft smooth skin. The stuff runs about $100 a tube, but a tube has lasted me a full year. It takes about 3 weeks to see results, but it is so worth it.

You may be able to get similar results using exfoliants like AHAs and glycolic acid judiciously. I had some luck with them, but if I over did it I had a terrible reaction. I find exfoliants tricky to regulate - and they also require sun protection for the same reasons.

Topical antibiotics like clindomycin are another option. They are great for treating surface zits but frustrating if you have deep cystic acne. I use Johnson's Clean & Clear face wash which contains triclosan as an antibacterial agent. If I forget to use Differin for 2 weeks I eventually get zits, and I find that Mario Badescu Drying Lotion works pretty well to heal those up.

For forehead lines, you might like Frownies. They are basically stickers that hold your skin in the un-wrinkled position while you sleep. I tried using them on my brow furrow and had good luck before I decided I just didn't care. Now I just rock my wrinkles.
posted by abirae at 9:14 PM on September 10, 2008 [4 favorites]

k8t: the BP has no added scents (and has no odor that I can detect.) It will bleach fabric if it touches it, though (like any BP product). It has also (over a long period of time) bleached out bits of the hair around my face, but I'm not very careful when applying it around the hairline.
posted by needs more cowbell at 9:15 PM on September 10, 2008

Thanks Needs More Cowbell. I hated the bleaching with ProActiv. It was such a pain to try not to bleach my clothes.

Any ideas on avoiding that?
posted by k8t at 9:18 PM on September 10, 2008

Your skin sounds like my skin. This is what my mom told me, and it usually works:
1. Sleep. This reduces physical and emotional stress that can cause flair-ups and blotches.
2. Change your pillowcase more often. If your lazy like me, buy a few so you don't have to run the wash so much.
3. Don't touch your face or pick, this spreads the gunk around.

I switch around the products I use. Right now its Clean&Clear Scrub, and the Neutrogena oil-free moisturizer with spf 35+ when I need it.

I also use a home face masque whenever my face feels blah. I swear by Kiehl's Rare-Earth Face Masque. I went with a perfume-fetish friend to Bloomingdale's one day, and got bored and wandered to the skin care stuff. What caught my eye about Kiehl's is that they use all natural ingredients, so it won't react with my skin. The face masque is about $18 online (they only ship within the US).

Those drug-store peel-off masques work too.

Acne on your forehead might be caused by bangs or long hair, and the type of your hair up one day and see what happens.

For her pores, an old roommate used to heat a pot of water to boiling, then stand with her face over the steam for 10 minutes, and then put a cold towel over it and lie down.

Limiting products is a good strategy...I don't bother with face gook besides cleanser, and moisturizer in winter. Toner isn't good for combo skin, since it makes your dry areas even dryer. Make sure to exfoliate. A washcloth and warm water work very well.
posted by shinyshiny at 9:18 PM on September 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

re: schrodinger - I also found that my skin cleared up when I ate a lot of carrots as a raw foodist. It's hard to say though because my breakouts are also affected by my menstrual cycle, stress levels and numerous other variables and I haven't really teased them apart. But vegetables can't hurt.

re: benzoyl peroxide - I'm a baby when it comes to the stuff. I tried it as a teen and I hated the smell and the way it bleached my pajamas. It also dried out my skin and I never bothered to use moisturizer so I was perpetually flaky. That said, in clinical trials it has efficacy up the wazoo, it's incredibly cheap over the counter and may even be covered by your insurance.

Best of luck!
posted by abirae at 9:23 PM on September 10, 2008

Well, I'm a guy, but I recently started with the classic Clinique 3-step (face bar, scruffing lotion, moisturizer, once in the morning and again in the evening), and my skin has never been better. Walk up to a Clinique counter, chat to one of the guys or gals, and ask for a 3-step sample pack for your skin type. Worth a shot, and hey, it's free! With the sample pack you'll get a good week's worth of cleaning, probably more, because you only need to use the stuff very sparingly.

In fact, most cosmetics companies will be happy to let you try stuff out and give you a bunch of samples, so you can mix brands and products until you find a combo that works for you. The key things you want:

1. A good, gentle face wash, preferably in gel form (no creams or soaps)

2. A chemical exfoliant (like the aforementioned scruffing lotion, though I don't think the girl's stuff is called that)

3. A manual exfoliant (something with "chunks" in it, be they plastic microbeads [bad for the environment so avoid if you can] or bits of apricot kernel or lumps of shrapnel or whatever, but you'd only use this every three or so days)

4. A toner (Anthony Logistics makes a great one but, again, the scruffing lotion doubles as this)

5. A quality moisturizer

When you're washing your face, you need to wet it thoroughly first with hot water, to open the pores. Then do the routine. Then cold water to rinse and close the pores back up. Then moisturize.

You want to find a combo of products that you can use all the time, and forever.
posted by turgid dahlia at 9:33 PM on September 10, 2008 [4 favorites]

The BP itself doesn't have a smell, but I've occasionally noticed a slight smell after I actually apply it. I noticed the smell more often when I first started using it; I can't remember now the last time I noticed a smell. Maybe I'm just used to it? It bothered me a bit at first, but I figured it's a small price for clear skin. My boyfriend (who sometimes gets very close to my face :) says he's never smelled it, so it's not a strong or long-lived smell.

The only advice I have to avoid bleaching is to wash your hands with water very thoroughly after using the BP (obvious, I know). My clothes and pillowcases don't seem to get bleached, only my towels sometimes when I'm not very careful. I try to use a white hand towel in the bathroom to avoid that problem; I suppose you could get white sheets/pillowcases too.
posted by pitseleh at 9:37 PM on September 10, 2008

Cetaphil. Tried a lot of OTC things myself, it was the only one that worked, and like a charm. Never tried prescription/expensive regimens though.
posted by sophist at 9:45 PM on September 10, 2008

My makeup (foundation) seems to actually help my skin stay clear, probably just because it absorbs oil? -- so now I wear it even on weekends. Even a day without it makes a difference, which I think is weird. (FYI this particular kind that works for me is Clarins True Radiance oil-free foundation. I also used the oil-free Prescriptives foundation for a number of years.)

My skin gets worse with more caffeine. :( Is some of the green tea you drink caffeine-free? Cutting out most dairy products also seems to help. (I'm lactose-intolerant anyway.)

The no-face-touching advice from willie11 and others is very true. I get a lot of chin and side-of-the-face acne when I forget about that. Keep your nails as short as you can tolerate, especially if you have a habit of touching your face. My dermatologist advised this and it is also strangely helpful.

Over the summertime my skin broke out whenever I used sunscreen, so I have no recommendations there. Clean&Clear makes a moisturizer with 2% salicylic acid that I use in the wintertime.
posted by oldtimey at 10:03 PM on September 10, 2008

Two things that worked for me: First, never touch your face—your hands are full of nasty bacteria. Second, stop washing your face completely. Seriously, if you don't wash your face (or wear any makeup, natch) for two weeks, your oil levels will balance out and your acne will start to clear up.
posted by danblaker at 10:07 PM on September 10, 2008 [2 favorites]

I'm 21, and I was in your boat (minus the wrinkles) forever. For five years I tried every OTC project and behavioral change -- weird diets, strange regimens,, near-obsessive standards of cleaning, you name it. Nothing. Then I spent five years with a dermatologist, and let him try me on everything he had -- antibiotics, retinoids, prescription-strength bp . . . again, you name it. I saw only the slightest of changes.

Then I went to another dermatologist, who prescribed me Accutane (actually, a generic, Sotret). I'm on my last month now, and while my skin isn't perfect, it has never, ever looked anywhere near as good. I still have a few breakouts, and the scars will probably never go away completely, but my pores are tight and my skin has that glowing look. I can get away without wearing makeup, which is insane.
posted by booksandlibretti at 10:17 PM on September 10, 2008

I have gigantic clogged pores, and I've found that the Biore Pore Minimizing Refining Exfoliator makes my skin look and feel a whole lot better. It's a little bit harsh (compared to something like St. Ives Apricot Scrub), so you really need to follow it up with an oil-free moisturizer with sunscreen.
posted by thisjax at 10:19 PM on September 10, 2008

Hormones, dude.

My skin was SHITTY until my mid-20s, then shitty again while I was pregnant and nursing in my late 20s-early 30s. Then I spent the whole last year experimenting with different birth control methods and also having shitty skin. I'm just now coming out of the dark with that.

For me, damage control is the only option. I use a gentle cleanser (Cetaphil, for me), I spot-treat blemishes with tea tree oil, and I use a sanitized blemish extractor to pop pimples or extract blackheads (I am a popping addict, your mileage may vary).

I'm old as hell so I also use various anti-wrinkle shit, but you probably really don't need to. But if you're worried about your lines, Neutrogena's anti-wrinkle/anti-blemish products are pretty great.
posted by padraigin at 10:25 PM on September 10, 2008

Oh, you have my sympathies. I've tried everything from Accutane to Retin-A to every over-the-counter product known to humankind and I know how frustrating this can be.

Avoiding iodized salt (also, sea salt and kelp/kelp extracts) wherever possible helps me a lot. Sensitivity to iodide runs in my family, but YMMV. Iodized salt is used pretty commonly in processed food and restaurant food, which can make eating out something of a drag, but in the end, it's worth it.

MyChelle makes products which, I am not kidding you, literally changed my life. (I don't work for these people, I promise!) The clear skin serum and the Pumpkin Renew Cream are not cheap, but they are amazing and worth every penny. Their sunscreen is the only thing that doesn't make my face break out in huge red welts. Again, YMMV.

And not to sound like some horrible Activia commercial, but making an effort to stay "regular" can have a huge effect on your skin.

Best of luck to you!
posted by corey flood at 10:27 PM on September 10, 2008

I had moderate persistant acne for nearly 20 years, and the only thing that had a major effect for me was Accutane. It was harsh but worth it. I've also found the following products helpful (but with less dramatic effects): Avene Diacneal lotion for chemical exfoliation, Cetaphil or Spetrojel for cleansing, Cetaphil cream for moisturizing, and Ombrelle for sunscreen.

The product reviews at MakeupAlley are an incredible resource for product reviews. I first stumbled upon it when searching for reviews on ProActiv!

My personal experience with the regimen, specifically benzoyl peroxide, was negative. I would not characterize my skin as sensitive, yet BP treatment left me with bleached pillowcases and swollen, peeling skin. Proceed with caution!
posted by exquisite_deluxe at 10:28 PM on September 10, 2008

1. Quit sugar if you eat it.
2. Quit soda if you drink it.
3. Drink a LOT more water. Seriously, a lot more water. It will help.

None of the stuff you smear on the outside will do anything for you if your body is reacting to something on the inside. Drink a gallon of water a day and I guarantee you will see results. (You'll be in the bathroom a lot at first, but that becomes less of a problem as your body adjusts.)
posted by bink at 10:41 PM on September 10, 2008

I have pretty sensitive combination skin and what makes it happy is ... nothing. I don't wash or moisturize or exfoliate or anything anymore, beyond a quick rinse in the shower. I try not to wear sunscreen and if I do, it's the mineral stuff with a vegetable oil base (not mineral oil or petroleum by-products). If my skin is dry in the winter, I put some olive oil or grapeseed oil on a cotton ball and give it a quick wipe. Works a charm. When I wear makeup I use Ponds cold cream to take it off and I use the mineral make up. I swear that stuff actually improves my skin. Every once in a while I slap a mask on there to deep clean it but that's about it.

If you're reluctant to give up everything at least give up everything with a petroleum byproduct or mineral oil base for a month and see how it goes. A lot of people are sensitive to that stuff.

Be very wary of anything that has "botanicals" or smells pungent if you tend to break out.
posted by fshgrl at 10:53 PM on September 10, 2008

About a year and a half ago, someone asked a similar question here on AskMe and someone recommended this book. I ordered it, took the quiz, determined my skin type, followed the recommendations and now have near flawless skin for the first time in 40-some years of looking in the mirror and wondering, "WTF is up with my face?"

One of the things I really like about this book is the author makes name brand recommendations of products which can, for the most part, be easily obtained in chain drugstores. She's also got a website with an active forum (although the forums are more useful after you've taken the skin type quiz in the book).
posted by jamaro at 11:23 PM on September 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

Wash once a day and moisturize twice. Worked a charm on my adult acne. I use a gentle cleanser most of the time, but keep a salicylic acid cleanser and spot treatment lotion on hand for the occasional flare up.
posted by crazycanuck at 11:30 PM on September 10, 2008

Reading the skincare boards at is always enlightening. For what it's worth, their standard advice is a gentle cleanser plus a prescription retinoid (Retin-A, Differin, or Tazorac) plus an antioxidant serum plus a good sunscreen. Moisturizer sunscreens suck - wear an actual sunscreen if you're at all concerned about sun damage, and you should be. This one is my favorite.
posted by granted at 11:53 PM on September 10, 2008

You should see a dermatologist; there are multiple causes of acne and we can't necessarily know what's causing yours. If your skin seriously is bothering you, that's really the only way to know how to proceed.

Anyway, some suggestions, though. I had similar skin. Mine is caused by a hormone imbalance. I kept my skin relatively clear -- except for two days a week before my period, where nothing worked -- using the tea tree oil products from The Body Shop. Specifically, I used the liquid soap, the toner, and the mattefying moisturizer. That moisturizer is the only cheap one I ever found that worked worth a crap. Right now I'm using the MAC SPF 50 facial primer but that's considerably more expensive. Since you have oily skin, you generally don't want to moisturize unless a moisturize is designed to make oily skin not oily. I also had good results with Pro-Activ back when I used it, I just stopped because I had issues with their customer service and billing department. fwiw, they've made changes to clear those issues up.

Anyway, I highly recommend the tea tree oil to most people; it's an anti-fungal, anti-bacterial, and anti-viral, so it deals with more causes of acne than a lot of products. You don't have to use Body Shop products, there are lots of tea tree oil products out there. I mentioned them only because the moisturizer does work well on oily skin.

Now I'm on Yasmin and I just don't get acne. Since my hormonal problem is PCOS, and the progestin in Yasmin deals with that better than progestins in other birth control, it clears up a lot of problems for me.

Oh, one final thing. Most soaps contain SLS: sodium lauryl sulfate. It's fine for most people, but some people -- like myself -- get rashes or otherwise break out because of it. You can develop this allergy at any time in your life, like many allergies. Some people are also more sensitive on some parts of their body than others. Three years ago it got to where I couldn't use SLS bath soap on my limbs without horrible rashes. It never got to that point on my face, but I still avoid it altogether. You might try switching to a natural soap that doesn't use SLS, just to see what happens.
posted by Nattie at 11:58 PM on September 10, 2008

It's possible to drink too much water, so be careful. You can damage your kidneys by over doing it. I had terrible acne at your age and the only thing that helped was tetracycline. Lately I've noticed that cutting out milk has made my pores smaller.
posted by bonobothegreat at 1:18 AM on September 11, 2008

...My skin isn't radiant or glowing or anything great like that. It is dull and looks terrible and marred with so many problems

Google "Eva Fraser"+"Facial Workout" There's a book and a DVD.

This is a program of exercises for the muscles in your face. Ten minutes a day, building up the range of exercises slowly, will increase the blood circulation to your facial muscles and the lymphatic drainage. This should improve both your facial tone and give you some glow.

I had doubts about it when I first read of it, but after six weeks, I sure had a strong, glowing face.
posted by Arqa at 2:29 AM on September 11, 2008 [2 favorites]

i would skip the moisturizer--i have yet to find anything that doesn't make me break out. instead wash with a very mild soap (like cetaphil) and you'll be fine. if your face feels dry, try buying a humidifier instead of using a lotion.

change your pillowcase often--every day, if you can. wash your hands a lot--you touch your face more than you realize. clean off your phone and the frames of your glasses or sunglasses every day with an alcohol swab.

i find that benzoyl peroxide makes me break out, so i use topical products (neutrogena's no-stress lotion these days) with salicylic acid instead. i find it much kinder on my skin. i put it over my whole face, not just on zits.

exfoliate a couple times a week, but never using a bottled scrub. the pumice bits are tiny and can get caught in your pores and make your acne worse. i use coarse sea salt mixed into a paste with honey. the nice thing is that salt is water-soluble, so when you rinse, it just dissolves away. you do have to wash your face afterwards because the honey will make it feel a bit sticky. don't use a commercial salt scrub, either--those contain tons of oil and will turn you into a superfund site.
posted by thinkingwoman at 4:32 AM on September 11, 2008

Just to throw another possiblity in to the mix: Some people's allergies / intolerances show up as acne. A friend saw a big difference when they cut out cows milk from their diet.

Might be worth exploring: a pin prick test would at least tell you if there's anything out there that might be causing trouble.
posted by pharm at 5:00 AM on September 11, 2008

I would definitely recommend finding a dermatologist, but in the meanwhile: I have found that most ingredients that are supposed to fight acne actually cause acne for me. For years I thought that I had really tough, oily skin that needed to be beaten into submission with chemicals, and a dermatologist finally pointed out to me that they are in fact simply irritating the shit out of my skin. Turns out I have sensitive skin - I don't get red and rashy like I thought sensitive skin is supposed to do, I break out instead. I can't use salicylic acid, any kind of hydroxy acids at all (AHA or BHA), vitaimin C, BP in 10% form, or pretty much any sunscreen. Nothing with fragrance or color, even natural stuff like Body Shop or Aveda.

So what does that leave? I can use really really really mild retinoids, like Differin .01%. I can use, sparingly, a 2.5% benzoyl peroxide lotion. I LOVE LOVE Sulfacetamide Sodium Sulfur lotion - it's a clear lotion that I put on daily and it keeps things about 75% calmer than without it. It's by prescription only, but comes in a big bottle and is in a generic form so it's pretty cheap.
Find a soap/cleanser that does not have sodium laurel sulfate or sodium laureth sulfate. (Those are hard to find, PM for recommendations if you want to.) Find out what kinds of ingredients are irritating or acne causing, don't just believe the labels that say they are non-comedogenic or hypoallergenic. The two sources I use the most are these two websites, I literally look up EVERY SINGLE ingredient in something before I buy it, which while a giant pain in the ass means I do a lot less unplanned splurging at Sephora. I've yet to find a sunscreen that doesn't break me out, so I use those sparingly, but I tend to do better with the physical blocks like titanium dioxide than the chemical blocks.

I nth the recommendation for the Skin Type Solution book, if anything convinced me that I have acne-prone yet sensitive skin, that was it. You don't have to buy it, I went to the library, sat there and took the quizzes and wrote down my answers and looked up everything on Baumann's website when I got home.

It's taken me years to put this all together and learn, and while I still have far from perfect skin, it is a hell of a lot better than it was 10 years ago. Good luck!
posted by 8dot3 at 6:58 AM on September 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

My empathies...

This article was interesting, and it led me exploring the oil-cleansing method. After reading everything I could, I'm going to explore it. I understand what you're going through - after all, at your age, let alone my age, to be dealing with teenage acne and old age wrinkles at the same time feels like both an insult and a mystery.
posted by peagood at 7:02 AM on September 11, 2008

You drink soy milk? Try switching to rice milk for a couple of weeks. (Soy contains a psuedo-estrogen which can cause pimples.)

Do you drink cow milk? Try switching to organic cow milk or rice milk. (Again, less hormones.)
posted by kamelhoecker at 7:12 AM on September 11, 2008

I tried so much stuff and then I bought Nature's Cure (the homeopathic pills) and it somehow worked for me. I don't even believe in homeopathy, but it worked.
posted by onepapertiger at 7:50 AM on September 11, 2008

My skin doc told me something that changed my life.

Stop using soap on the face. Start using sunscreen. (Also, that I have rosacea, so ymmv.)

So my advice to you is, see a dermatologist.
posted by bilabial at 9:01 AM on September 11, 2008

Couple of things -

I found that a chunk of my problem was that my skin reacts to most of the commercial products out there - I do a lot better with naturally based ones. Things I've tried that have helped:

- Oil cleansing method already mentioned. (I get mine from a small etailer called CocoaPink: I like her oil blend a lot.) I use it about every other day in the summer, and most days in the winter.

- Seeing an herbalist has helped with a lot of underlying low-grade chronic issues that have also improved my skin. (Especially adrenal and endocrine system issues.) I didn't go for the skin reasons, but it's a really nice side benefit. (I still get occasional acne, but not nearly so often, and they don't linger.)

- Using natural soaps - stuff where I understood the ingredients. I do best with olive-oil based soaps with relevant herbs or oils (tea tree, lavender - also antibacterial, or with honey)

- A face mask at least once a week: either French green clay based or honey.

- I've found that throwing about a cup of vinegar in the bathtub once or twice a week helps the rest of my skin (and my hair, which is why I started doing it) - something about rebalancing skin Ph. I've also found it helps my face. (And I get many fewer heat-rash type things in the summer.)

Glad to be emailed for further details. Nice thing about this is that - barring a specific allergy which you'd probably already be aware of - none of them are expensive to try, or have long-term effects.
posted by modernhypatia at 9:23 AM on September 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

As a retinoid, it retards cell turnover (or possibly interferes with keratinization - I forget), and thins the outer layer of dead skin.

Actually, it increases cell turnover, and that's a good thing. I use it and have had good results.

But really, as everyone else has said, you need to see a dermatologist. There are so many variables that could be at work here.

Oh, and ask your dermatologist about TCA peels. They did wonders for me.
posted by Evangeline at 10:15 AM on September 11, 2008

Nth-ing Cetaphil. I use the one for Normal to Oily skin. I have an oily T-zone and dry skin elsewhere, but the Normal to Oil Cetaphil does not dry my skin out at all and is the only thing that has calmed it down. I never had a breakout until I was 40, and then all of a sudden my skin thinks it's 14 again.

Don't use a washcloth. It spreads bacteria around your face. Just a couple of pumps of Cetaphil, foam it up a little, rub it over your face, rinse in tepid water, twice a day. Before I shower I rub it into my (dry) face and let the shower rinse it away.
posted by essexjan at 12:02 PM on September 11, 2008

posted by elks at 12:44 PM on September 11, 2008

At the risk of repetition, I wanted to chime in. Please don't be deterred by all the bad press around Accutane. It took two rounds of treatment for me, but I went from feeling ashamed to go out in public to getting unsolicited compliments on my now nearly always clear skin.

Don't think the pill is out of the question because of a bad experience on one particular brand. A low-estrogen pill, such as Ortho-Novum or Yasmin, is very likely to help your skin and not come with burdensome side effects.

Daily: Cetaphil lotion with a gentle sponge, Cetaphil moisturizing cream, MDFormulations Total Protector Sunscreen. Retin A at night. Ever so often, a cleansing mask: Dr. Haushka or even cheap old Queen Helene from the drug store.

Good luck. You will be able to make this better.
posted by foxy_hedgehog at 1:43 PM on September 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

I would recommend that you don't use soap to wash your face as it can be very drying, stripping your skin of the good oils as well as the bad. I really like the cream cleanser made by Earth Science and also Weleda's Iris cleaning lotion. Earth Science is very natural so you're not aggravating your skin with chemicals. They make nice toners, face masks and scrubs that I highly recommend. The cream cleanser will clean your skin well and remove makeup, but not strip your skin to that squeaky clean level...all good.

After you wash your face, apply moisturizer right away, especially at night. Aveda's Spot Relief is good for acne breakouts as well as their Balancing Infusion.

There isn't much you can do to shrink pore size, as this is hereditary, but if your skin is clean and well moisturized without breakouts, the pore situation won't matter as much.

The wrinkle problem sounds like lack of truly restful sleep and also diet. Make sure you are getting enough fats in your diet (low-fat diets can really mess with your skin); the fish oil supplements are great for that. Be sure to drink a lot of water and eat a LOT of fuits and veggies.

Look into some other supplements like MSM and silica which are supposed to be good for what ails the skin. Good luck!
posted by kenzi23 at 4:44 PM on September 11, 2008

Oh, yeah, and Nthing the advice to treat your face like a stripper: no touching.
posted by turgid dahlia at 9:10 PM on September 11, 2008

Cut out all caffeine. This is definitely one of my acne triggers. The other is chocolate (which may simply be due to the caffeine connection).

I also break out from ingesting anything apple-related, but that may just be my own quirky sensitivity.

Check out the Origins line of skin products, especially their "Perfect World" serum and moisturizer.

Invest in excellent makeup, including cover-up, of which I know nothing better than the kind produced by the Laura Mercier line.

Find a good spa and go in for a facial. It feels amazing and the people performing them tend to know almost as much as a dermatologist (plus they may put cucumbers over your eyes and massage your forearms, which I don't think happens much in a doctor's office).

Good luck!
posted by macinchik at 9:38 PM on September 12, 2008

In case anyone checks out this post, I found a regime that works for me. I use Cetaphil for normal to dry skin to wash and Neutrogena Anti-Wrinkle, Anti-Blemish everyday. I also at night put on the Neutrogena Anti-Wrinkle, Anti-Blemish on my forehead, chin, cheeks and on my nose I'll apply Neutrogena Pore Refining cream to help reduce my pore size.

My skin is considerably less oily now and the constant acne on my forehead is gone. I still get minor break-outs but that is life. I no longer have constant acne. I also don't ever wear cover-up or any foundation because I don't feel the need. I get complements on my skin now.

I guess I just had to find out what products worked well for me.
posted by rainygrl716 at 9:02 PM on March 29, 2009 [1 favorite]

Ooops, that should have been Cetaphil for normal to OILY skin.
posted by rainygrl716 at 9:03 PM on March 29, 2009

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