My skin is revolting. Help me lead the charge against this mutiny!
January 8, 2013 5:50 AM   Subscribe

My newly 30 year old skin is acting like it wants to ruin my life. And my boobs are my skin's accomplice, apparently. What is happening with my hormones?

I turned 30 last September and my skin, it seems, has decided to revolt. I never had acne as a teenager and for a majority of adulthood I had healthy skin that didn't require me to wear makeup. My routine for the last umpteen years involves washing gently every night with hot water and Dove soap...and that's it. It's worked well for years...until recently.

I'm experiencing what looks to be miniature whiteheads just under the skin. They never become pop-able. They're not as large as cysts but they are red. One side of my face has had an outbreak of this, along with exceedingly dry skin no matter how much I moisturize and that spot is about 3" x 2" of dry, red, annoying awfulness. I'm also experiencing the same thing on the bridge of my noise and now it seems to be spreading to the other side of my face. I am no longer using OTC acne medication -- tried that and it just seemed to dry it out more and make it worse. I've quit exfoliating as well because that seems to aggravate my angry skin. I've also been dealing with blepharitis in the past few months.

On top of that, for the past three months before my period my boobs swell. I've always been rather flat chested and I swear, these things go up a size and become a little sore about 2 weeks before my period.

Both those things lead me to believe this is hormone related. Has anyone experienced anything like this? What did you do to calm your skin down (frankly, I'm fine with the bigger, albeit a little sore, breasts -- I can live with that!)? I've been washing my pillowcases once a week with no detergent in hot water but that's offered no improvement. I don't pick at my skin and I've not changed anything about what I do to my face. Shampoo and soaps are the same I've always used.

Today I'll be wearing makeup to work for the first time in, uh, years. I'm not a makeup wearing person and I don't think that'll help with the skin issue but frankly, my crazy skin is looking awful so it's necessary.

Again, if anyone's experienced this or anything like it, advice is truly appreciated.

Also, I am uninsured so would prefer to not HAVE to see a doc about this unless this is a serious hormone issue. I can save up a couple hundred bucks for an office visit if I HAVE to but honestly, I'd really rather not.
posted by youandiandaflame to Grab Bag (30 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Welcome to hormones in your 30s! It only goes downhill from here.

I would see a dermatologist before any other doctor.
posted by elizardbits at 5:54 AM on January 8, 2013 [2 favorites]

I cut down on coffee and I started eating spinach regularly when I started having adult acne outbreaks. Seems to work for me. I'm a male, so things may be different for you.
posted by DetriusXii at 6:02 AM on January 8, 2013

It may be hormones -- or it may be a reaction to something (like stress, even). I know being uninsured is a pain, but a good dermatologist can help you diagnose what's going on before you spend lots of dollars on products that may not even be appropriate. An office visit may not be that much - I second the advice above to do that first.

FWIW in my late 30s, I started having heavier periods and skin breakouts again like I did as a teenager. Arg. You're not alone - things get weird with the hormones.
posted by pantarei70 at 6:14 AM on January 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


I would ditch the bar soap; lots of people will probably chime in to recommend Cetaphil... Try browsing reviews at

IANAD; just guessing -- the redness, the dryness, the no history of acne, the no improvement with acne medication -- have you looked into rosacea?
posted by kmennie at 6:17 AM on January 8, 2013 [3 favorites]

the itchy redness sounds like some kind of skin condition -- I get some at the edges of my scalp, but it can hang out in my eyebrows and occasionally elsewhere. I second the dermatologist, and if benzoal peroxide isn't working, try some vitamin E -- that clears mine up almost overnight, and it's worth a shot until/unless the doctor offers something better. hormones, stress, and seasonal allergies all make mine worse, so your increased hormonal activity might be part of the deal.

there are some dietary changes that help mitigate hormonal craziness -- for example, avoiding soy and other plants that have heaps of estrogen-like compounds, or going all the way to a paleo diet (which gave me two months of crazy hormonal adjustment followed by everything calming down in a big way). but if you can solve it with a cream, that's worth buying you another decade before you need to worry about bigger interventions.

yay, middle age! :)
posted by acm at 6:21 AM on January 8, 2013

Oil cleansing method?
posted by k8t at 6:22 AM on January 8, 2013 [2 favorites]

Are you eating or drinking anything different - or in greater quantities? Any environmental changes?
posted by backwards guitar at 6:44 AM on January 8, 2013

I would switch from bar soap to an oil cleanser. It sounds like your skin is reacting to being dried out by the bar soap. Philosophy makes one that's a bit pricey, but works well and the bottle lasts a long time.

I've been using an oil cleanser at the end of the day to clean my face and a gentle exfoliator in the morning, then moisturizer before make up. I used to get small blackheads & whiteheads, especially around my nose, but after about a month of this routine my skin was very clear.
posted by lootie777 at 7:07 AM on January 8, 2013

I started getting a face rash around 30 - it was a symptom of an adult onset food allergy (real bummer: wheat) but I do not know if that helps, as you have more issues (ie: boob swelling)
The allergy did affect my moods too though (and digestion) - basically my body was really unhappy about ingesting a now unwanted substance.

I did a process of cutting out wheat for a few weeks (and then foolishly overdoing it with wheat one day) It certainly made things clear.
posted by PistachioRoux at 7:08 AM on January 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

If at all possible, you should see a dermatologist. But you can also improve your skin care routine and see if that helps first.

Bar soaps are drying. Switch to an unscented mild liquid/cream cleanser like Cetaphil or, if you don't mind spending a bit more, a Paula's Choice cleanser.

Have you tried different moisturizers? I used to have terrible problems with dry skin and it never occurred to me to try a different product. I use Neutrogena Oil-Free Moisture for Sensitive Skin, which is fragrance-free. It's sometimes stocked with the makeup products, rather than with the other facial moisturizers.

During the winter, I pair moisturizer with a toner (which isn't the same as astringent). My skin doesn't tolerate scrubbing, and toner is nice for getting the last bits of gunk off (makeup, dead skin cells, etc.). Again, I recommend Paula's Choice; I've been using Dove Beauty Cleansing tonic with good results, but I'm not sure that product is available in the U.S.

For the little bumps, you can try an exfoliating lotion with BHA; I found that helpful when I had cystic acne thanks to hormones.
posted by neushoorn at 7:09 AM on January 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'm in the process of doing an elimination diet due to some issues with hives and itching.

It couldn't hurt, and the fact that I'm eliminating soy, which is an issue for hormonal stress isn't hurting anything either.

Swich to hypoallergenic soaps and moisturizers.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:19 AM on January 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

My skin totally did that too at 30, like clockwork. I had to go on the BHA regimen to clear it up, and I used Paula's Choice products for cleanser, BHA and moisturizer. That calmed it down. I already ate a paleo-ish diet, definitely no soy anywhere and my skin still rebelled.
posted by tatiana131 at 7:26 AM on January 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

Are you on birth control pills? If you are, maybe consider getting a different formulation. If you're not--and you don't have any other counterindicated conditions-- you might consider starting them. Several types are known to clear up and even out skin. (Plus it will chill whatever fluctuation is going on with your boobs.)

You're uninsured but if you have a Planned Parenthood near you, they'll give you a consultation and workup on a sliding scale. The pills themselves are pretty cheap through PP as well, even uninsured.

Good luck! My hormones went kind of nuts at 30 also. I went off the pill and everything got worse LIKE WHOA. Went on a different pill and things are back to mostly normal (my boobs still do the random hugeness thing. Oh well.)
posted by like_a_friend at 7:46 AM on January 8, 2013

Sulphur (MSM) supplement as recommended by my dermatologist has been a miracle for me. Per my doctor, you take a small half teaspoon daily for a month and then stop: it will either work for you or not; either way, taking it after a month doesn't add anything. I did it several times over the years (teenage acne, on/off the pill, and moving continents) and every time, it cleared everything up completely. I've always looked for pure sulphur, nothing added. It has no taste whatsoever so you can just put the powder on your tongue and wash down with water.
posted by rada at 7:47 AM on January 8, 2013 [2 favorites]

Seconding a look at rosacea. I've always been a rosy-cheeked easy blusher, but my rosacea really kicked into high gear about 2 years ago (I'm 32). The bumps, dryness, and redness you're describing sound familiar, as does the blepharitis (ocular rosacea/blepharitis is definitely a thing).

Soap and hot water makes my skin freak out now (so does drinking lots of alcohol or eating lots of spicy food unfortunately). I wash with warm water only (unless I'm removing makeup), and use very gentle moisturizers. I can also recommend Paula's Choice products, they are pricy but they really seem to encourage my skin to calm down.
posted by Knicke at 7:51 AM on January 8, 2013

Yeah, welcome to 30. Honestly, I wish I had ponied up to see a GOOD cosmetic dermatologist years earlier instead of wasting years trying OTC stuff. The only thing that worked for hormonal breakouts for me was a prescription for Spironolactone. Bad news: you're messing with your hormones, good news: it's a really cheap prescription. I tried the oil cleaning method, the regimen, etc. etc. but this is all that worked for me. So don't give up, you'll find a solution.

Those little bumps just got worse on me and nothing topical got them out. Finally one day I got them extracted at a dermatologist (yes, expensive) but they came out and by using a retin-a like topical exfoliator it keeps them at bay. By the way, the time I save getting ready in the morning with good skin is life changing.
posted by Bunglegirl at 8:05 AM on January 8, 2013 [3 favorites]

It could be a diet thing. My acne cleared up when I started eating meat again.
posted by chairface at 8:09 AM on January 8, 2013

It doesn't sound like acne... I'm not a woman but I do have skin issues, and I wouldn't wash my face with bar soap.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:12 AM on January 8, 2013

Are you eating or drinking anything different - or in greater quantities? Any environmental changes?

No changes at all. No more stress than usual, not eating differently, no excess alcohol intake or anything similar. No environmental changes either (other than the weather).

I am not on BC but I'll look into it. Honestly, I have no need for it currently and getting a pap smear just to get the pill sounds like UGH! but if it'll clear up my skin at this point, I'll certainly go that route.

Also, bar soap: I've always used it. My mother uses Dove religiously and I've done so since I was 15. Love the stuff. However, it might not be helping now that my skin is a bastard that hates me and anything I put on it so I'm gonna check into the Paula's stuff that everyone mentioned.

Thanks for the advice, y'all!
posted by youandiandaflame at 8:16 AM on January 8, 2013

tatiana131: I had to go on the BHA regimen to clear it up, and I used Paula's Choice products for cleanser, BHA and moisturizer.

I'm wondering, do I need ALL that? As I said I don't wear makeup (honestly, I probably put it on about twice a year, no joke) so could I just go for the BHA and moisturizer or should I get the cleanser too?
posted by youandiandaflame at 8:19 AM on January 8, 2013

Less is more, if you can. Start with less and only add more if you find you need it. I do wear makeup and I still usually just wash with warm water. My skin's much happier for it.
posted by redfoxtail at 8:25 AM on January 8, 2013

Just chiming in to say that this happened to me, too, at age 30. I found that Cetaphil and a washcloth helped smooth my skin.
posted by feste at 8:39 AM on January 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'm wondering, do I need ALL that? As I said I don't wear makeup (honestly, I probably put it on about twice a year, no joke) so could I just go for the BHA and moisturizer or should I get the cleanser too?

While the source of the problems are likely the same for all of us (aging, hormones, etc) the solutions will always be very individualized. Oil cleansing method was grotesque and awful for me, I can't take HBC, etc. I cut down on sugar and caffeine, I only use bar soaps without SLS and related detergents, I use a clarifying moisturizer, and I try (and fail) not to pick at things.

There is no reason for you not to try as of our suggestions as you want in order to achieve the desired effects, but you should definitely not do all of them, forever, religiously, nor should you continue doing anything for more than a couple of months when there are no noticeable effects for you. This is why my first suggestion was "see a dermatologist," because here we can only offer suggestions for what works for us personally.
posted by elizardbits at 8:41 AM on January 8, 2013

Just nthing that Cetaphil is fantastic - I don't use it with water but with a tissue. But have nothing to offer other than BC for hormonal issues. BCs wrought havoc with my hormones, however, making me moody and giving me extremely dry skin to the point where I developed sores. Others have the opposite experience. So you might have to experiment with different ones and/or try to treat the skin issue separately.
posted by walla at 8:59 AM on January 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

This has been happening to me, too - I never had acne problems before. I've been using a face wash from the pharmacy with salicylic acid, which helps often; I've also found I get really dry, ugly looking itchy red skin at times - maybe the skin doesn't stay as hydrated as we age? I dunno. But I've been using hydrocortisone lotion on that instead of regular moisturizer, and, man, does that EVER make a difference. I also have started using a little face powder at times when the acne gets out of hand, because I'd rather look halfway decent at work when possible! I've used a very hypoallergenic one, and I wash my makeup brushes out to keep bacteria from building up. I haven't noticed dietary changes, just aging. :)
posted by mccn at 9:40 AM on January 8, 2013

Cetaphil bar (the non-antibacterial version) and moisturizer! Cetaphil is much cheaper than Paula products, it's available everywhere, and it's also touted by the people. Cetaphil saved my face after a terrible terrible experiment with the oil cleansing method. I just found out that my SIL, who used to have a lot of breakouts, is also a big user of Cetaphil.
posted by aabbbiee at 9:56 AM on January 8, 2013

For the really dry patches, you could try pure rosehip oil (no added silicones or vitamin e [tocopherol]). It's a dry oil, so it soaks in really well and won't leave a greasy film behind, and I've found it works much better than many dry skin moisturisers on the market, many of which have irritating or heavy ingredients in them (mineral oil, petroleum etc) that can make sensitive skin even more sensitive. Whenever I have a dry patch I'll dab a little on and then put a light gel moisturiser on top to keep everything hydrated. If you're interested in trying it, test it out on a small spot first: I've never broken out using it, but your skin chemistry is going to differ from mine.

YMMV on the BHA/chemical exfoliants thing - if your skin is already red and irritated, I would hold off on those until your skin calms down or you see a dermatologist who can recommend specific products. I once put 10% glycolic acid on an angry spot - burned like fire and the skin sloughed off.

As for the bumps - aspirin masks? While they never completely kill weirdness lurking under the skin, they seem to make them come to a head faster and make things easier to extract. I use these on cysts to prevent deep scarring and they work pretty well.
posted by zennish at 11:57 AM on January 8, 2013

I'm wondering, do I need ALL that? As I said I don't wear makeup (honestly, I probably put it on about twice a year, no joke) so could I just go for the BHA and moisturizer or should I get the cleanser too?

Nope, any mild cleanser should work, like Cetaphil, etc. If you just get the BHA, and any good (again mild, non-irritating but rich) moisturizer, you should be good to go. I already used her skincare, but added the BHA twice a day, and within two weeks it was clearing up.

I also had no changes to routine, bc, diet or life, so my skin had no reason to freak out and there wasn't much to tweak. 2% BHA twice a day for a few weeks did the trick. Of course I will nth seeing a dermatologist, I didn't have anything other than cystic acne to deal with.
posted by tatiana131 at 12:00 PM on January 8, 2013

I, too, ran into a skin mutiny around my mid-30's that continues to this day (lo, so many years later). Over the course of a few years, I tried a lot of "acne' related cleansers with very little success. (And gave up the beloved Dove bar soap!)

A little over a year ago, I finally caved and tried the route: cleanser, treatment, moisturizer, jojoba, aha+. For the most part, it all works for me except for their standard moisturizer which isn't moisturizing enough if I actually need a moisturizer and causes my skin to break out.

In the last year, I've been able to substitute out the cleanser with either of these OTC options: Neutrogena Ultra Gentle Daily Cleanser or Purpose Gentle Cleanser which has been really handy because I use more cleanser than anything, and it was getting to be a pain to just order the one item - expensive shipping and that rememory thing.

Currently, I only use two products from the arsenal: the 'Treatment' and when needed, the AHA+ moisturizer. My every day is a morning and evening wash and every day use of the treatment in the morning and sometimes at night if I feel like something's coming on.

I also do not wear make-up, wash my hair twice a day and keep up on the sheet/pillowcase changing. One HUGE issue for me was to stop using lotion on my hands and lip balm before I went to sleep. If I'm going to use either it's done between the time I am almost ready to leave the house in the morning, and nothing after my evening shower. This is pretty brutal in the dry, cold winter air but somehow I still manage to carry on.
posted by Mysterious Trousers at 12:03 PM on January 8, 2013

Keratosis pilaris exists and mimics acne, so you should definitely consult a dermatologist.
posted by nicebookrack at 5:10 PM on January 8, 2013

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