Help me deal with my ghastly combination skin.
September 28, 2010 8:01 AM   Subscribe

Help me deal with my ghastly combination skin.

I have very combination skin and especially recently I’ve been getting pimples and tons of blackheads/general skin gunk and my skin both looks and feels awful. I have little money and even less time, so I’m looking for suggestions for (ideally) inexpensive facewash and lotion/whatever that can be purchased at CVS or over the internet. If there is an option where I can just wash my face in the morning/at night and put on some lotion that would be perfect, but the facewashes and lotions I’ve tried haven’t really helped and sometimes have even made my skin worse (especially in terms of clogging up my pores). I generally get pimples about once a month as well and I don’t know if there’s anything I can do about that or if it’s just hormones (I’m already on the pill).

I also live in a city which I am told is really bad for one’s skin, and I’m pretty pale so if the lotion had an SPF number that would be great too. Mostly, though, I’m just trying to de-gunk my skin and make it look nice (without drying it out too much). Any solutions you have would be very much appreciated. Thank you!
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (23 answers total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
My skin has evened out over the years (its developed other issues but that's another story), but when I had true combination skin a couple of things helped with the breakouts. I really liked Neutorgena's Oil Free Acne Wash (this version, not the cream). Before that, I didn't wash my face so much as I wiped doen the oily parts with some witch hazel. The witch hazel was good but the Neitrogena really helped a lot.

Cetaphil makes a good moisturizer with SPF. Their face wash is also really mild. I don't think it's meant for fighting breakouts, but if you find the Neutrogena too harsh at first (I didn't but some people do), alternating with the Cetaphil would probably help calm your skin down.
posted by DrGirlfriend at 8:09 AM on September 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

Pardon the typos. I'm at work and trying to be stealthy. Heh.
posted by DrGirlfriend at 8:10 AM on September 28, 2010

I really like the Paula's Choice BHA exfoliants for general de-gunking and clearing out pores. They come in a lotion, a gel and a liquid form, so you can pick whichever one seems most appropriate for your skin's level of dryness. I find, paradoxically, that the liquid both de-greases and moisturizes, my skin, because it clears off all the crackly debris and unclogs the pores, letting the skin start moisturizing itself the way it's supposed to.

For gentle, not-too-complicated drugstore cleansers, Cetaphil seems to get a lot of recommendations.
posted by Bardolph at 8:10 AM on September 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

I also have combination skin and was having a lot of similar problems, and sorted it out by religiously following the three steps especially at night, but also in the morning:


Clinique's 3-step sysem is essentially that list, but you don't have to buy their products. I just use the cheap drugstore cleanser (I favour a gel, and anything with witch hazel in it), a cheap drugstore toner and my favourite moisturizer is Dove's facial moisturizer, which is also an SPF.

Also, do you wear any makeup or foundation? If so, that might also be causing problems - i found that switching to an oil-free tinted moisturiser helped my complexion a lot. I use Laura Mercier's which is quite expensive, but one tube will last six months.
posted by ukdanae at 8:10 AM on September 28, 2010

Neutrogena and Olay make decent skincare products for not too much money. MakeupAlley has tons of reviews of thousands of different skin-care products.

My favorite de-gunking product is Olay's Thermal Mini-Peel. It's designed for everyday use but you might want to start twice a week and increase gradually. I use it every morning (it's designed to be used on bare skin, NOT to remove makeup, and DON'T get it in your eyes). Bonus: it heats up on contact with water so it feels all spa-like! This stuff is the greatest thing since toilet paper IME and it also gets great reviews on MakeupAlley.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 8:14 AM on September 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

I've found alphy-hydroxy to help with redness and general bad tone/texture issues. But my newly found cure is tea tree oil. That stuff really works and does wonders for the skin! After first trying this soap, it's been a little tricky to find- but I'd recommend getting this if you had to fly to Tibet for it: Paul Mitchell Tea Tree Oil Soap
posted by Eicats at 8:15 AM on September 28, 2010

My skin breaks out if I even look at the wrong cleanser. I use The Body Shop's tea tree oil cleanser, and Cetaphil moisturizer. Though, now that I've read this thread, I may investigate toners...
posted by torisaur at 8:24 AM on September 28, 2010

The problem with most drugstore skin cleansers is that they dry out your skin, and then most moisturizers clog your pores, so your morning routine is a nightmare for combination skin, as each method irritates various problem areas. Note that in the "You were doing it wrong" thread someone mentioned that they had terrible skin until they tried the oil extraction method. That answer got 30 favorites, so apparently others agree.
posted by zoomorphic at 8:29 AM on September 28, 2010

Huh, am I really going to be the first person to recommend the Oil Cleansing Method? I used to use Cetaphil cleanser/lotion on my face and it worked great, and then I switched to the OCM and it worked even better! Then I moved to a new city and everything went to hell and I'm still trying to figure out whether I need to tweak my oil ratios, switch regimens, or just stop being dehydrated and stressed out.

One thing the OCM really is good at, I think, is dealing with clogged pores. Although I've been getting pimples again, my pores still look clear, and when I massage the oil into my face I can feel hard little bits of whatever coming out of my skin.

(On preview: aha, there we go.)
posted by pluckemin at 8:36 AM on September 28, 2010

In general the anti-wrinkle creams are what have always worked best for me. The hydroxy acid stuff used to work wonders but I'm having a hard time with newer brands and my old one was discontinued (St. Ives Alpha-Beta Hydroxy Acid cream). So after looking online for acne solutions I bought a ROC skin cream with Retinol-A in it which has been working quite well at reducing redness and breakouts, and getting rid of the congested feeling I have had one hell of a time finding something for a skin cleanser though. I currently use regular soap and moisturize right after patting my skin dry - the antibacterial qualities of the soap is what's important.

I've also found that keeping my pillowcases swapped out every few days is another big help, as is making sure I keep my hair fairly clean so it doesn't transfer residue onto my face. Constant Vigilance!
posted by lizbunny at 8:38 AM on September 28, 2010

A gentle brush can help to get your skin clean without harsh ingredients. I like Collective Wellbeing's acne cleanser When my current brush wears out, I'm thinking of trying one of these doo-dads.
Tea tree oil actually made my acne worse. Try a light gel-based moisturizer for you dry patches, and good old benzoyl peroxide.
posted by Sara Anne at 8:38 AM on September 28, 2010

(Also, I cleanse and night and apply an SPF moisturizer in the morning. And I use a paper towel instead of a washcloth for the cleansing; it doesn't retain heat as well as a washcloth, but I don't feel like generating tons of dirty laundry or using the same washcloth multiple days in a row.)
posted by pluckemin at 8:39 AM on September 28, 2010

My skin used to be a total disaster. Greasy, dry, flaky, red, black heads, and god awful cystic pimples. It was a process, getting nice skin, there wasn't a single magic bullet. But it was worth it, now I get one small zit on my chin the week before my period, and that's it. The blackheads on my nose have not completely gone away, but they've been reduced by about 75% And all my body acne is G-O-N-E.

The first thing I did was make the move to all mineral makeup. I use this brand for everything but mascara. (The EM mineral concealer is the single finest cosmetic I have ever used. During the process of skin improvement, it was a big help.)

I started using Dr. Bronner's or hand milled goat's milk soap to wash my body. A nice side effect of this is that, despite my chlorinated city water, I barely need to moisturize by legs/knees/elbows anymore.

After I made the switch to mineral makeup and Dr. B's, I noticed a significant improvement, but the single thing that made the biggest difference was ditching detergent shampoo and conditioner. (I've since discovered that lots of people have acne triggered by SLS and other hair product additives.)

I started using these on my very long, thick hair. I think partially because I have so much hair, there was a "transition process". My hair had about a week or two of looking weird, and then it started looking normal/good again.
For conditioner, I used a mixture of 50% apple cider vinegar and 50% rosemary and chamomile tea. (Don't put the vinegar/tea on your scalp, it'll make your hair look greasy.) Now I barely need to use the vinegar/tea, and can go much longer between shampoos, I only need to wash my hair 2-3x week versus every day. This has also had the side effect of making my hair even thicker. My mom had pretty thin hair, and her hair got MUCH thicker within about 18 months of ditching commercial hair care products.

For face wash, I used a 50%-50% mixture of honey and green tea, and swiped with witch hazel afterward to get rid of any stickies. This worked pretty well, but then I got an rx for Retin A Micro, and the witch hazel was too much. So I just use a clean, wet washcloth to wash my face, with Retin A at night and sunblock in the morning. The washcloth is only used once, then tossed in the laundry. This makes a difference in the amount of bacteria you are depositing on your face.

This is the only commercial sunblock that doesn't break me out like gangbusters. It's very expensive, but it doesn't expire the way chemical sunscreens do. Nonetheless, I learned to compound my own to avoid the expense. It's very similar to the linked brand. If you want to know how to make sunblock, memail me and I'll send you instructions. (Hey! All that college chemistry wasn't wasted!)

So now I have a very easy skincare routine:

Before Bed: Rub face with warm wet washcloth. Apply Retin A Micro.

In the Morning: Rub face with a warm wet washcloth. Apply sunblock.

It took some time and effort to get to this place of easiness, but it truly is an investment, because now that I know what works, I'm saving time and money.
posted by Leta at 8:48 AM on September 28, 2010 [5 favorites]

Oh, and I third suggesting OCM for inflamed and clogged skin. I don't do it much anymore, but during "the process", I would do it the way some people use a mask, once a week or so, and it helped. I'd put the oils on my face in the tub, let them sit, and then scrub them off with kosher salt. Plugs of oil, whiteheads, and blackheads would fall out of my face. So: gross, but effective.
posted by Leta at 8:53 AM on September 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

It's insanely simple, but my skin and hair are happier than they've ever been since I started "washing" with very dilute vinegar. I just pour it over my head, rinsing it through my hair and over my face, then rinse with water. I do this a couple of times in the shower, and then use a light lotion (I like aveno's lotion for sensitive skin), and olive oil in my hair. It's a little like making a salad on my head, but it works better than I imagined it would!
posted by rosa at 8:58 AM on September 28, 2010

I started taking an extra Vitamin A supplement (in the form of Beta Carotene) in addition to my regular multi-vitamin. I thought it made a difference, then I wasn't sure. I ran out and my skin got bad. Starting taking it again and it made a huge difference. I will not let it run out again.

It doesn't solve everything, so I'm going to try the oil cleansing method linked above as well, though I've been a fan of Burt's Bees tomato soap for years and years. I have had amazing success going on a Curly Girl low-shampoo diet, and I'm beginning to realize that our way of using expensive complicated drugstore detergents for our skin and hair and world isn't really the best way of taking care of ourselves. What a surprise!
posted by aabbbiee at 8:59 AM on September 28, 2010

Oh, and if the ends of my hair and/or my knees/elbows/feet get dry, I rub them with a little cooking oil. I like coconut oil, the hubs likes olive oil. This doesn't break us out the way mineral (baby) oil would.
posted by Leta at 9:03 AM on September 28, 2010

I've looked high and low in drugstores to save money on skincare, but I always come back to these products for my fussy combo skin. I do have your budget in mind, though, so maybe my experience will be helpful.

Philosophy's Purity Made Simple (not the foaming version) is my one stop treatment for my skin. No other cleanser works like this for me to remove all makeup and leave both the dry and oily parts of my face clean and soft. You don't use much, so a bottle lasts a long, long time. It can be found on eBay for good prices sometimes.

My other fave cleanser is Mario Badescu's Enzyme Cleansing Gel. They also have nice, lightweight facial lotions with sunscreen. The Mario Badescu line is very comparable to Neutrogena, pricewise, which is why I'm recommending it. You can consult with them online by filling out a questionnaire; they will contact you and and send you generous samples of your recommended products for free.

A drugstore line I liked all right was the Aveeno Calming line, but the cleanser didn't remove makeup well. If that's not a concern, then it might work for you. Still Aveeno's not cheap, and for that money you can get Mario Badescu products.

I have the best skin of my life using the above, and I wish I'd found them much sooner.

Good luck!
posted by sister nunchaku of love and mercy at 10:08 AM on September 28, 2010

Queen Helene's Mint Julep masque is a godsend for me when my combo skin gets out of hand, but if you're at all dry or sensitive in areas, I'd only use it on your T-zone. I use this once a week, or whenever I feel like I need it. I buy the big jars at Sally Beauty Supply, which I recommend for ease of use - the tubes can be hard to squeeze - but make sure your hands are clean before grabbing a wad of masque.

I have a hard time with moisturizers with SPF too, as a lot of them give me milia. Right now I use the CVS brand version of Aveeno Positively Radiant (SPF 15), and it's working pretty well. For more prolonged exposure, I use Neutrogena Dry Touch (SPF 70), but on a daily basis the Aveeno/CVS is great.

I find the less I do to my skin, the better it feels. Foaming/soapy-type cleansers dry me out too much, so I use good old Noxema most of the time. Cetaphil is also great, and is my cleanser of choice in the winter. Also, wash wash wash your makeup brushes.
posted by timetoevolve at 10:46 AM on September 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

I went through every face wash known to anyone, and I finally learned that 99% of my problem was allergic/irritation reactions to what was in them. I am now down to an organic facial cleanser with rosemary & sea kelp in it... I can't touch anything with retinol or other harsh cleaners or my face will explode and then fall off my head. For moisturizer, all I do is apply some pure aloe gel- this has both helped sooth any of the breakouts I have (due to stress/hormones) and kept my skin oil free. I also found that giving up soda and drinking a ton of water helped my complexion.
posted by haplesschild at 11:20 AM on September 28, 2010

I'm a recent convert to the oil cleansing method. The peeling and uneven oiliness are gone, and my blackheads are much reduced. I'm still getting a few pimples here and there, but I haven't been really regular about my routine. I use 25% castor oil and 75% sunflower seed oil. I don't bother with lotion right now. My skin is soft and even.

I was previously using a salicylic acne wash and Oil Of Olay oil-free moisturizer. I briefly switched to the Cetaphil face wash before going to oil. Cetaphil was gentler on my face than the acne wash, and evened things out a bit, but didn't do anything for the blackheads or pimples.
posted by moira at 11:38 AM on September 28, 2010

I too have combination skin and it's a lot less like a rumpled (and spotty) blanket now that I use Angels on Bare Skin. It does seem to polarise people - see reviews on Make-up Alley - but it might be worth a try?
posted by calico at 12:05 PM on September 28, 2010

The regimen at has really helped my 30-something, female, acne'd skin. They have some small sizes to try out. I started just with the BP Gel and it alone worked wonders.
posted by getawaysticks at 11:27 AM on September 30, 2010

« Older Help me introduce my peanuts to peanuts.   |   Precautions for a visit with a hepatitis A patient Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.