Finally won a battle--help me win the war (against acne).
January 26, 2013 3:42 PM   Subscribe

Washing my skin with just water has gotten rid of 90% of my acne. How can I get rid of the remaining 10%?

I'm a woman in my late 20s who's had moderate to severe acne on my face for at least the last 10 years. My skin care routine has always involved several products: I've always used some combination of an exfoliator, a cleanser, a toner, and moisturizer. I've used's The Regimen, Clinique's acne solutions 3-step products, and Paula's Choice Clear system, so my routine has almost always involved salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide. I've seen several dermatologists and used prescription-strength versions of these products. Through all of this my skin has never been that good, and while some routines have been better than others I've pretty much always had a fair bit of visible acne all over my face.

About a year ago, I stopped using any products at all and started washing my face just by splashing it with water twice a day and using no toners or moisturizers or anything else. After a short while, my skin started to improve A LOT. After tweaking this routine by adding in this 5% alpha hydroxy acid exfoliator that I use at night, about 90% of my acne has vanished and hasn't come back. This is obviously beyond awesome! But now I'm wondering if there's anything I can do to get rid of the remaining 10%. The pimples that I get now are almost all small pustules (the kind filled with pus that can be popped) on my chin. This is a huge improvement from before, when I used to get all kinds of pimples all over my face, including the big, deep, under-the-skin ones and other painful red bumps.

My skin is very fair/pale and scars easily. While I was using different products it was extremely oily (like, I had to blot it with blotting paper multiple times a day) but since starting washing with just water it's hardly oily at all: it starts out a little dry, flaky, and tight in the morning and gradually gets less dry until the end of the day when it's just slightly on the shiny side.

I change my pillowcase often, wipe my phone down with alcohol wipes, minimize dairy, and have switched to an all-natural shampoo.

Knowing that using fewer products has helped more than anything else, what could I try to deal with the few remaining pimples I keep getting on my chin? I'm already thrilled with how much of a difference I've see, but I'm SO CLOSE to having totally clear skin and would love some suggestions of how to finally get there.
posted by tomorrow to Health & Fitness (24 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
Have you ever tried a non-soap cleanser like cetaphil or its generic equivalents? That's what I've been using since I got off accutane 5 years ago and it keeps my face noticeably clearer compared to just water (I can't use cleansers with medications in them because they dry out my skin too much).

You probably won't get rid of acne 100% until you grow out of it in a few years or resort to something drastic like accutane, but I've got mine down to the point where my face is completely clear about half the time and looks clear with a couple small dabs of concealer the other half.
posted by WhitenoisE at 3:53 PM on January 26, 2013

The benzoyl peroxide will be the most effective at getting rid of those whiteheads. I'd try using a bit just on your chin, maybe not every day, to see if that aids the process. Or a more natural antibacterial, like tea tree oil?
posted by gilsonal at 4:12 PM on January 26, 2013

Do you lean your chin on your hand when you're sitting?
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 4:14 PM on January 26, 2013 [7 favorites]

Do you sit with your chin resting on your palm a lot? If you do... stop?

(Also: i find it really fascinating that your skin improved so much after you stopped using products, i feel like you've revealed some big secret that the Cosmetics Marketing Machine doesn't want anyone to know. I'm really wondering if you use any makeup, and if 'just water' is enough if you do.)
posted by Kololo at 4:15 PM on January 26, 2013 [4 favorites]

Yes yes yes washing my face with just water worked for me too! I'm the same age as you, and I felt so dumb that I'd spent so much time/money on eight million skincare regimens when washing my face with water was the trick the whole time. Ugggh. (And Kololo, I totally do use makeup. If I'm wearing a lot of it I'll wash my face with water and a washcloth at the end of the day, but that's it.)

Like you, I have found that the pimples around my mouth and on my chin are the stubborn ones. I have no solutions for you, but here's what I have found. Those zits (the small poppable chin ones) go away completely when I am at my mom's house, which is also when I am not working and therefore have no stress. So I think that either it's the (very hard) water in my apartment, or the stress. Sadly I can't do anything about either of those problems, and possibly you can't either. I've been told that the chin ones are related to stress and hormones, so...yeah. Trying to stop touching my chin helped a bit, too.

In the meantime, using a sulfur treatment (I have a bare minerals powder one) on my zits does help clear them up faster and reduce redness, without causing mega breakouts like BP and SA treatments do. I only use it on active zits, not all over my face.
posted by goodbyewaffles at 4:50 PM on January 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

Do you feel like you need the exfoliant each night? I don't use products except exfoliant once in a while. I find a wash cloth is better for me to use daily.

I also find that my diet is what has the most effect on those white chin pimples. Cutting down on oily or "junk" food and increasing water usually helps... plus trying hard to not touch or lean on my chin (SO HARD!)
posted by Swisstine at 4:51 PM on January 26, 2013

Stop using alcohol wipes on your phone? That would definitely irritate my skin.

Data point: I also only wash my face with water. And only when it's dirty. This is entirely due to laziness, not a philosophical choice but I have never had acne.
posted by fshgrl at 4:53 PM on January 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

Is it possible that your toothpaste is irritating your skin and making you break out? Some people find that their chin acne is caused by their toothpaste - specifically the SLS (sodium lauryl sulfate) in the toothpaste. Try switching to a SLS-free toothpaste and also wiping your chin with a damp washcloth or cotton square when you are finished brushing and flossing.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 4:58 PM on January 26, 2013

Diet, diet, diet.

Do some research on how diet can affect skin health. Personally, going gluten-free and suger-free has helped me a lot - it's cured my mild rosacea and reduced my breakouts (face and back) to almost nothing. If I fall off the wagon and spend the weekend drinking beer and eating breads and desserts then the following week it's all back. As an added bonus, my allergies are also minimized - cats are no longer harbingers of doom.

At the same time, you can research about minimizing/eliminating shampoo and soaps and deodarant/anti-perspirant, using water only most of the time. When combined with a good diet, your body generally knows how to maintain itself well. When you find yourself having to utilize chemicals it usually means something is unbalanced. (there are always exceptions, but most of can achieve normal health on our own)
posted by jpeacock at 5:10 PM on January 26, 2013

This is the sort of acne that getting regular facials eliminates for me. The lady pops my small pustules with a metal implement like this and they go away after a few hours of redness. Not all "facials" are the same (I curse you, times I've paid 80 bucks for a lady to pit a mask on my cheeks!), but I found my esthetician through my dermatologist, and she's great. (But that extractor, it hurts!)
posted by purpleclover at 5:12 PM on January 26, 2013

I'm pretty much in the same position--have been struggling with acne to a greater or lesser extent for the last 30 years, and recently got 90% clear except for my chin. (Not that it matters, since water alone is working for you, but I did it by switching to using Dermalogica Daily Microfoliant and no other products whatsoever.) Turns out, according to this last dermatologist, that what I thought was acne on my chin is actually perioral dermatitis, and I'm on a low dose of minocycline for it. It's only been a few days and it's clearing up already. Perioral dermatitis is known to be aggravated by SLS, and I had already sort of figured that out on my own by switching from regular toothpaste to baking soda, which greatly improved but did not cure it. I was still stupidly using Cetaphil, though, not realizing that it, too, has SLS in it. So I guess my recommendations would be 1) make sure you're not using anything with SLS in it, especially toothpaste, and 2) see if maybe it's really actually perioral dermatitis.
posted by HotToddy at 5:31 PM on January 26, 2013

My acne didn't entirely go away until I did The Whole 30, which is an elimination diet. If your acne is caused by your diet, it will not go away any other way without changing your diet. It's only a month, so if it sounds daunting, I would recommend keeping that in mind that you're not committing to doing it forever. Your acne will either go away or it won't, and if it does, you can decide what to do with that information.

Personally, I get the reluctance to elimination diets, but if I had to choose between buying expensive stuff forever and never quite getting the results I want, or trying something free that might inconvenience me for a few weeks, I'd try the free thing. I spend less than $5 a year on skin-care and I get compliments on my skin all the time now. I also have peace of mind that I'm not putting harsh chemicals on my face, and I don't have to use make-up with known carcinogens and heavy metals, etc. I did those things in the past and felt uncomfortable about them.

I had extremely oily, sometimes flaky skin, and usually had a few pimples at any given time. I also had an oily scalp. I improved my skin greatly through the oil cleansing method, but it didn't entirely get rid of acne and oiliness, just greatly alleviated it. Diet was the final step. It's primarily dairy that makes my skin oily, but everyone is different. If I have a lot of grains I will get mildly oily skin, even though I'm far more sensitive to grains in more important ways. I never ate chocolate enough to notice if it made a difference. Nuts give me acne if they're not sprouted. The differences are really binary and dramatic for me; I never eat those things without getting oily skin or acne, and I never get acne if I don't eat those things. I can stop oil cleansing method and literally not wash my face or anything for days and my skin is still fine. Before The Whole 30, I could do everything perfectly (other than diet) and my skin would not be fine.
posted by Nattie at 5:37 PM on January 26, 2013 [3 favorites]

I actually do best with oil cleansing - I use 1/3 castor oil, 2/3 olive oil. My skin has never looked better.
posted by 168 at 6:26 PM on January 26, 2013 [4 favorites]

My acne didn't entirely go away until I did The Whole 30

seconding this (but not at all endorsing whole30).

for my wife, who had a lifelong battle with acne:

stopped using anything but water for washing (except crotch and underarms)
stopped eating wheat, vegetable oil, soy, grains, processed crap

result: acne gone (as well as, for her, a long term GI issue)

I did the same thing, and while I had much, much less adult acne, what I did have (mostly on my back instead of my face) vanished completely. If I eat the above for more than a few days, I get a breakout (same for wife), especially when shaving.

We do nothing at this point to manage our skin except get a little sun now and then (and wear sunblock when it's more than a little).
posted by rr at 7:10 PM on January 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

I totally second Nattie's comment about the Whole 30. Just like you, I had a TON of success getting rid of my adult acne when I stopped using cleanser and just washing with water, but I didn't get a totally clear face until I did the Whole 30. It was incredible how much my face cleared up in just a month, and it has pretty much gone away permanently, even though I introduced grains, sugar, and dairy back into my diet.

My second tip - something that has also transformed my skin completely - is to use raw honey on the parts of your face that are breaking out. Usually I wash with just water, but if I happen to get a pimple somewhere I will apply raw honey directly to it for a few minutes (or sometimes overnight) and it will disappear really fast. One warning though - most people I know that have tried this have loved it, but I did have one friend who had a bad reaction to the honey, so just test it out for a minute or two on a small patch on your face to make sure it suits you.

Also, I find that if I exfoliate too often my face actually tends to break out, so daily would be way too much for me. I'm not sure how often you exfoliate, but you might want to try cutting back on it now that you have your acne more or less under control. I use a small amount of baking soda to exfoliate about once every two weeks, and that always leaves my face feeling great.

Good luck!
posted by luciernaga at 7:15 PM on January 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

Medication may not be your first choice but my dermatologist started me on Spironolactone a year ago for my (mostly) chin acne and my skin has never looked better. He says that the Spironolactone works really well on acne that's on the lower half of the face. If none of the above suggestions work, it may be worth having a discussion with your doc about Spironolactone, and if it would be right for you.
posted by whatideserve at 7:32 PM on January 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

I know this is likely wrong for you, but I've always put bacitracin or neosporin on break-outs. Or on that one weird pimple that pops up.

I have very fair and sensitive skin. The less I do, the better.

A lot of what you mentioned in your past regims would have decimated my face. Too harsh!!

I did exfoliate with baking soda and a little water back when I needed that. Now I use Boots No. 7 Glycolic Peel (It's totally mild!) whenever I feel like it (once a month?) and this negates daily or weekly exfoliating.

Funny you asked this question!

Waaaaay back in the day, when it first came on the market, I used a face wash with salyciic or alpha hydroxy acid - and it was crap on my skin.

Just yesterday I was wondering why the at-home glycolic peel works so well, and is so mild, where the other acids were harsh and did not clear up my skin at all? Hmmm?

Make of that last bit what you will.
posted by jbenben at 8:03 PM on January 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

What ultimately cleared my skin was doing the counter intuitive. All the regimens geared toward acne sufferers are for oily skin - except it turns out I have sensitive, dry skin and very small pores.

I currently use mary kay timewise products for dry skin and dermatologist prescribed creams at night. I alternate each night between tazorac (similar to a retinol, but less harsh) and aczone (anti inflammatory), neither of which are benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid. I figured out my skin hates bp - the second i stopped using it ever my skin improved.

I'm also on ortho tri cyclen - I have strong PMS and I used to get chin cysts. That doesn't happen anymore.

I think it's all trial and error. I had a million suggestions that didn't work for me. Eventually I just figured out my skin.
posted by amycup at 8:38 PM on January 26, 2013

I don't have issues with acne, but I've always had one or two zits at a time here and there and I deal with blackheads. I came across Nature's Gate Vitamin E Oil at the drugstore and have been using it as my primary face moisturizer for the last 4 or 5 months. I love it so much. The 2 ounce bottle isn't even a third gone yet and the oil isn't sticky and doesn't stain linens/clothes.

I use to have a whole regime, too, and last year I stopped using it all and went to washing with Cetaphil just at night, massage in the Vit E oil on face, lips, and throat, and in the morning splash my face with lukewarm water. About once a week I use this St. Ives Apricot Scrub. Those few zits I would get are now pretty much non-existent, and the oil has made the blackheads easier to extract and my skin really supple and vibrant.

Also, I avoid touching my face unnecessarily (like leaning chin on hand - that definitely makes me break out) and I have a Mirena which I've noticed makes my skin slightly more dry than normal.

As far as diet goes, if I consume a lot of dairy I break out with a few zits on my face and back. It took a couple greek yogurt binges to figure that one out and with some googling I discovered that's a common reaction to dairy.
posted by E3 at 1:20 AM on January 27, 2013

I had a similar problem with zits on my chin. A dermatologist that I know suggested I put vitamin A cream on the area every other day and (she stressed) use sunblock the next day. I seriously have not had a single zit on my chin since then, and I cannot remember a time before I started that I didn't have a zit on my chin. The vitamin A cream increases the rate at which your skin replaces itself (hence the sunblock requirement). I don't remember why it helps with zits but I don't care. I probably forget to do it half the time, but it's strong stuff, so it's very effective. Too much will make your skin peel, apparently. Once I used the cream on my whole face and it looked red and splotchy, so now I just do my chin. She also said I could start to use it more often with time once my skin gets used to it.
posted by stinker at 7:42 AM on January 27, 2013

seconded on the oil cleansing. I have this problem intermittently and DHC cleansing oil followed by a quick steam and scrub with a hot damp washcloth gets the job done, followed by moisturizing with a few drops of argan oil (you can get 100% argan oil for like 10 bucks an ounce on amazon, and one of those bottles will last you at least 3-4 months).

I think once you're out of your teens (maybe even before, but I have no anecdata to support that) the whole avoid-oil-like-the-plague school of thought regarding acne starts to actually be counterproductive.
posted by dynamiiiite at 9:18 AM on January 27, 2013

Wow, lots of suggestions to try the oil cleansing method! I like the idea of it, but after reading this thread where several people said they got cystic acne and other problems after using it for a while I'm really nervous to try it. I'm enjoying having relatively clear skin after so long with such miserable skin and I'm hesitant to do anything that could make it worse! But it sounds like lots of people love it, so...I'm going to have to think about it.

These are all great, thought-provoking suggestions. Thank you. The hard part is that the advice varies so much and it's hard to sort through what will be best for my skin in particular. I've seen three dermatologists and none of them really seemed to be basing their advice on my individual skin, but rather using a one-size-fits-all approach that wasn't helpful. I wish I could shop around for another dermatologist but it's too costly.

Oh, and goodbyewaffles: that's so crazy, my skin also looks the best when I've been staying at my mom's for a week! For me I definitely have MORE stress there so I don't think it's lack of stress, but it's so interesting that you have the same experience! Funny.

Thanks again, everyone. If you have any other suggestions, feel free to add them.
posted by tomorrow at 3:50 PM on January 27, 2013

I think that such a localized, superficial breakout is probably related to resting your chin on your hand, something that you might be wiping your mouth with after eating or drinking, alcohol wipes on your phone or other "external" factors. Try an alcohol free sanitizer at some point if nothing else works, but for stubborn spots I like tea tree or neem oil, and just putting on a layer of jojoba oil has also helped clear up problem areas. I've also has very good results from topical niacin for healing and eliminating all sorts of skin eruptions. The collagen serum from Skinactives works wonders for my skin when I use it regularly- it has lots of niacin and stabilized vitamin C, among other good stuff. I use it on cuts and scrapes too, because it seems to make everything heal very quickly.

PS: Paula's Choice AHA stuff is kind of expensive- if it matters, Garden of Wisdom's GoW Blemish Prone BHA/AHA Exfo Tonic 2% is cheaper, with the same exfoliating actives and less fillers. Their other exfoliants are here.
posted by oneirodynia at 4:16 PM on January 27, 2013

I have sensitive skin so salycilic acid was too harsh for me. I just use unscented dove soap which is very gentle.
posted by mai at 8:01 PM on January 27, 2013

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