Hair and skin issues
August 29, 2014 2:49 AM   Subscribe

I've always followed the same, for want of a better word, 'beauty' regimen and until now there have been no issues. But now suddenly, I am experiencing many appearance-related issues and having to rethink decades-old methods. My problems are with my hair and skin. Is this a thirties thing? I could do with some advice on how to look decent again, as well as some help dealing with the emotional repercussions of suddenly looking terrible all the time.

OK I'm exaggerating, I don't look terrible but I don't really actively look good a lot these days. I am looking for advice to address specific problems, as well as more overarching advice regarding why I seem to be having all these problems and how to deal with it emotionally. Because at the moment I find it very time-consuming, expensive and depressing. Sorry in advance for the essay-length question.

I have always thought of myself as low-maintenance. I don't really stick to a particular brand of hair or skincare, but just buy whatever's on offer or looks interesting. I wear very little make-up.

Over the past 6 months or so I have noticed the following problems:

-Hair: I have curly hair which I've never had issues with (I consider myself well-versed in the care of curly hair) but its texture appears to be changing. The curls seem limper and frizzier and I have bad hair days more often than I used to. The ends look dry and the roots look greasy. I don't use expensive products, but I do the usual curly hair standards of trying to moisturise it a lot, never brushing when dry, vinegar rinses, honey, coconut oil etc. I style it with regular conditioner which I use as a leave-in product. This method has worked for me since I was 12. We all have the occasional off day, but now everyday feels like an off day. I have always had 'good hair' - shiny separated curls etc. It feels like an intrinsic part of my personality. It feels very depressing to have day after day of limp, frizzy, shapeless hair even though I'm doing everything the same.

Also on the hair-theme, my facial hair seems particularly luxuriant. I never seem to be entirely moustache-free even though I remove regularly with facial hair removing cream (I refuse to wax or thread my upper lip even though I do my eyebrows and other parts of body regularly).

-Skin: I am getting spots all over my face. I'm used to getting them in my T-zone but now I have a number of gross yellow-heads on my cheeks and throat. Also, I have rough skin patches on my hands. I remove make-up at night religiously, moisturise frequently, wear gloves while doing the washing-up. I've never been entirely spot-free, but I am definitely experiencing more spots than usual.

My hair and skin look much better whenever I go abroad - the effect is almost transformative despite the fact that my routine stays exactly the same. So I wonder if it might just be a hard water thing (I live in an area with very hard water), but then I've lived in the same city for a decade, and only started noticing these issues earlier this year so I don't understand why the hard water never seemed to cause problems before.

When I was in my teens I spent a lot of time experimenting with different skin and haircare methodologies and I have not really varied from what I found worked for me then. I didn't enjoy it, I am not wired for researching and experimentation and like to just find what works for me and stick to it. It is depressing me now that I am having to spend my lunch break trawling beauty blogs to figure out what I am doing wrong with my skin and hair. (The answers always tend to involve spending money on new products or extending my morning routine by a good 10-15 minutes.)

Other pertinent info: I'm 32. Overweight. Diet-wise, I tend not to overthink, as a general rule ingest a lot of water (I drink a ridiculous amount of water, I have colourless pee), vegetables, carbohydrates, caffeine, not a lot of chicken or fish unless I'm eating out. No supplements. Some daily exercise, but not enough.

Thinks in advance for your help, Mefites.
posted by Ziggy500 to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (19 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
A word on diet. Obviously a good diet will make you look good overall, however, you can't treat acne with diet. (Much. I mean there is some evidence that a low GI diet might have a role to play in managing acne, so that wouldn't hurt, but it's not a cure, just one more way of managing it. Also if you consumed huge amounts of shellfish or red wine, that could make acne worse, but you'd have to consume a LOT.) Basically don't get hung up on diet, treat it as a red herring for the purpose of this exercise.

Anyway, here is what I do:

Morning: splash face with lukewarm water, apply 2% salicylic acid face wash. The Garnier brand works for me, the Neutrogena brand does not, YMMV, SPQR.

Leave it on for a couple minutes while I brush my teeth.


Once out of shower, pat face dry (no rub or scrub, no pulling or irritating the skin).

OPTIONAL: Apply Cetaphil Daily Advance Ultra Hydrating Lotion. Wait 15 minutes. You do this if the next step is really irritating your skin.

Get some benzoyl peroxide cream. Get the lowest percentage you can find, which will probably be 5% since they took my beloved PanOxyl 2.5 off the market. Put a thin layer over your face, avoiding eyebrows and hairline cause that stuff bleaches.

Now the most important thing with any topical acne treatment: leave it for 30 minutes to give it a chance to bind to your skin. Nobody will tell you this, but when someone did it was the single thing that made the difference for me.

Now, apply Cetaphil Daily Advance Ultra Hydrating Lotion. Wait 10 minutes.

Apply your sunscreen. You may have to hunt around to find one that doesn't make you break out. Zinc oxide based ones are likely to be the kindest to your skin, but it's a crapshoot.

EVENING: Fill a basin with lukewarm water, not hot, not cold. Splash your face with water. Take some Cetaphil gentle skin cleanser and schmear it all over your face, including eyelids if you are wearing eye makeup. Rinse off with 20 splashes plus an extra 5 for the eyelids. Pat dry.

Refill the basin and repeat the above step.

Refill the basin and do the final rinse: repeat the above step, but leave out the Cetaphil!

Drain the basin and splash your face with lukewarm water. Schmear on some salicylic acid wash. Go brush your teeth or something and come back after a couple minutes. Refill the basin and repeat the rinsing process.

OPTIONAL: if the acne treatment is irritating your skin, apply Cetaphil Daily Advance Ultra Hydrating Lotion and leave for 15 minutes.

Apply a thin layer of benzoyl peroxide cream as above.

Leave for 30 minutes.

Moisturise with Cetaphil Daily Advance Ultra Hydrating Lotion.

IANAD, IANYD, but my guess is that you will see at least some improvement after following the above regime for two months. BTW you always have to give any acne treatment at least two months to work, though a few of them take longer. Hopefully you'll be able to skip the morning application of benzoyl peroxide after a while, too.

I realize this shit is time consuming but it did work for me as long as I followed it religiously.

Depending on the state of your skin after this you might then want to consult a doctor since you'll have done all you reasonably can with topical treatments. Or you might want to swap out the benzoyl peroxide for some other topical treatment like Freederm and see how that works for you. Skin care is completely idiosyncratic so a product I think is the Holy Grail might be Nemesis to you. However benzoyl peroxide is a really effective and underrated treatment so I urge you to have a real go at using it properly as I think it's highly likely you'll get some benefit at least.

posted by tel3path at 3:20 AM on August 29, 2014 [2 favorites]

Have you had your thyroid level checked recently? Mine was fine until my mid-thirties, which is when a lot of women start experiencing underactive thyroid. It has all kinds of effects on your body, everything from hair and skin to metabolism and weight to ability to concentrate to cholesterol levels.

Perhaps you should probably also be eating more foods containing omega-3s (so more fish, if you're OK with fish, or maybe omega-3 eggs, avocados, almonds, dark leafy greans, etc.). IANAD either, but you should see yours and see if there's anything systemic going on and make recommendations--there are lots of hormonal changes to look out for in your thirties.
posted by tully_monster at 3:31 AM on August 29, 2014 [10 favorites]

Well, there are changes that happen in early 30s, but I can't speak to them other than noting that hormonal acne, specifically, tends to occur along the jawline and neck, as opposed to other areas of the face. 2nd benzoyl peroxide in general, but if it's hormonal, there are other approaches that a doctor is placed to help with.

I'm not a medical person, but excess weight, excess facial hair (if it's that and not just your perception) and acne are things that go along with polycystic ovary syndrome; if you have any issues with menstruation, I suppose that's a possibility that your doctor could help rule out along with any other major issues. (PCOS is thought of by some as a metabolic condition; if it's part of the picture, a high protein, high fat, low carb diet and exercise can help reduce symptoms.)
posted by cotton dress sock at 3:42 AM on August 29, 2014 [5 favorites]

IANAD but the confluence of changes to hair texture + increased facial hair + breakouts suggests something hormonal to me. I'd definitely make an appointment to get your levels checked out.

This all sounds really frustrating and depressing. In terms of making yourself feel better in the short term, I'd ask around and find a really good hair dresser (who specializes in curls) and facialist. Throw some money at this situation in the form of services. A great facial and a great cut/colour won't fix your problem in the long term, but it will make you feel better immediately, and you'll feel like you're doing something.

Personally, I'm super devoted to Paula Begoun, both for her products and her advice. Her website(s) are a TROVE of information about evidence-based skincare, and her reviews are really helpful for finding a new skincare routine and finding effective products (even from other brands). It might be worthwhile having a poke around to see what you can see. I also few of her products (most notably the BHA gel, antioxidant serum, but also some other things) and find they make a big, big difference.

Good luck!
posted by nerdfish at 3:59 AM on August 29, 2014 [6 favorites]

I'm skeptical of beauty blogs as a source of useful information. Beauty bloggers basically have to try out new products and routines all the time, or they won't have anything to post about! I learned a ton by reading articles by Paula Begoun, whose skin/hair care tips and product reviews are based in science. [Upon preview, I totally agree with nerdfish! ;)] It really helps to know which ingredients do what and which products are worth paying for.

What products and methods do you use to remove your makeup? I noticed a positive difference in my skin when I started spending an extra 10 or 20 seconds really massaging my cleanser in with my fingers. Also, following up with a good toner (not astringent!) only takes a few seconds and will remove any makeup remnants as well as moisturize your skin. And regular use of an AHA or BHA exfoliant can help prevent acne.
posted by neushoorn at 4:01 AM on August 29, 2014 [3 favorites]

Get some benzoyl peroxide cream...leave it for 30 minutes to give it a chance to bind to your skin

Oh my god. Please do not do this if you've never used bp before, or haven't in a long time. A lot of skin is incredibly sensitive to joke 30 minutes of it would burn my skin off. If you want to go the benzoyl peroxide route, test it first at night (so you won't be going anywhere after) on a very small patch of skin for just a few minutes. I used the stuff when I was a teenager with no problems and was very surprised to learn several years later that my adult skin just can't hack the stuff. I was pink for two days.

Just be careful.

That said, the fact that this seems to have happened to your hair and skin at the same time and all rather suddenly makes me think it's something hormonal. I agree with the folks above saying you should see a doc and get some bloodwork done.
posted by phunniemee at 4:30 AM on August 29, 2014 [9 favorites]

I went through something similar several months ago. All of a sudden, I was funky looking, with dry, frizzy hair and problem skin. I too thought it was an age thing (I'm 41), and was about to give up and just sink into no longer being hot when I happened to turn on the local news. There was a report about Louisiana requiring all cities to increase the chlorine in the water by a certain date. I did the math and that date was around the time that my disaster started to happen. I bought a filter for my shower and after a couple of days, I was hot again. It also helped my children. They were itchy all the time. I kept changing shampoos and soaps, thinking they were allergic. It was just the extra chlorine.
posted by myselfasme at 4:33 AM on August 29, 2014 [3 favorites]

Since it gets better when you go on vacation, seems like its either your water supply or its hormonal and compounded by stress (which i'm assuming you have less of on vacation).

A lot of people like products and routines, but I find a "use only what you need" approach works better for me. I would try going a week without using anthing on your face, just washing with water and using nothing, and see what state your untreated face is in. Then use just what you need to balance it. In my case its a bit of moisturizer. Maybe a little salycylic acid if i get a spot that feels too greasy or an AHA exfoliator if i feel like theres too much "stuff" on my face. BHAs (like salicylic acid) exfoliate by cleaning gunk out of pores. AHAs exfoliate by weakening bonds that hold dead skin cells (the outter layer of your face) so that the deadest of the dead can wash off.

A lot of people reccommend Paula's Choice and her Beutypedia reviews, which can be helpful, but I wouldn't take them as gospel as there's a bit of a conflict of interest there. Some of her products are good, others I don't really like, for instance I find the moisturizers are too reliant on silicones and I find silicone heavy moisturizers, while they feel nicer on the fingers, don't give me the moisture i need and I'm better off using straight oil (I use a variety depending on the season).
posted by WeekendJen at 4:54 AM on August 29, 2014

As phunniemee suggests above, if you use anything with benzoyl peroxide (or salicylic acid), use it sparingly. I can't even use those products every day or my face gets red and extremely dry and will actually start to peel. tully_monster is also bang on about the thyroid thing. A few years back, my skin went very dry (but broke out a lot more), my hair looked dull and dry and I gained weight. Turns out I had hypothyroidism. All those problems are gone now. As far as the hard water goes, I spent a summer in England a few years ago and the water was very hard and it made my hair and skin go nuts. So there's that.

Finally, as someone who has finicky skin, I would suggest that less is more. Since I stopped using a bunch of products to try and calm my face down and just started washing my face less and applying less crap to it, it actually got a whole lot better. Now I just wash with Kiehl's Ultra Facial Cleanser and moisturize with Clinique Dramatically Different (my old standby). I also have a tube of prescription stuff (Biacna/Ziana) that works wonders to clear up breakouts. I use that very sparingly and only when things flare up.
posted by futureisunwritten at 5:01 AM on August 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

Sure, I noticed this at 31-33, like a switch had been flipped. AFAIK it's normal hormonal changes. I exfoliate more (in areas your skin can take it), use less shampoo, moisturize occasionally. Also, I have to shave my chin!!!! Your specific fixes may vary, but I think it's normal--ask your ob-gyn. Happily/sadly, the extra attention to grooming has me looking better than before, I think.
posted by 8603 at 5:21 AM on August 29, 2014 [2 favorites]

For your hands, have you tried hydrocortisone cream? You'd only have to use it for less than a week. If the rough patches are from some kind of eczema or a contact dermatitis, OTC hydrocortisone should clear it up.

For your hair, coal tar shampoo helps me pretty well -- I use it a couple times a week, and my scalp is a lot healthier because of it, which has the happy side effect of giving my hair a better texture. YMMV, though, of course.

If I were you, I would see a doctor about this, though, because the extra facial hair especially is something she'd probably be interested in. An increase in facial hair could mean a hormonal issue. Your doctor will probably want to check your testosterone level, to see if it's too high, because that can cause an increase in facial hair in women. If it is too high, then that's an indication that the problem might be PCOS.

Also, if you're thinking about doing anything holistic -- vigorous exercise with lots of sweating seems to be good for the skin. In my experience, diet and exercise are better for improving skin texture than for acne or dryness, though.

W/r/t benzoyl peroxide: last week, I talked to my GP about finally getting rid of low-level but intractable acne that has flared up a bit over the past year (I'm in my late twenties), and the first thing he's recommended is to try benzoyl peroxide in the morning and a prescription retanoid (Differin) at night. He said to contact him about it again if this doesn't work after a couple months, and he'd try something else or send me to a dermatologist. Of course, I've only been doing this for a week, so I can't really tell you whether it works or not, but I do think that's a pretty run-of-the-mill treatment for adult acne and not an extreme measure.
posted by rue72 at 5:34 AM on August 29, 2014

Have you gained weight recently? Sounds exactly like PCOS. Excess free testosterone causes all those problems. I have those issues too and PCOS is the cause for me, wasn't really sudden for me but seemed to be a lot more sudden for my sister - in combination with rapid weight gain.
posted by missmagenta at 6:11 AM on August 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks for all the advice, guys. Look forward to trying out some of your suggestions.

To answer some of your questions, I have regular periods and have not experienced sudden weight gain. On the contrary I've been overweight for most of my life.
posted by Ziggy500 at 6:30 AM on August 29, 2014

In my late twenties, I started getting acne that was yellow. I'd had pretty nice skin until then. I spent probably thousands of dollars on Dermadoctor and other pricey brands trying to get rid of it. One day, I came across a thread that suggested to stop washing my face. It suggested not cleaning my face in the morning, instead using just water and Cetaphil moisturizer. Wash with soap at night, moisturize again, and that's it. I was skeptical, of course. But it worked. I haven't had a pimple in a long time. So that worked for me.
posted by amodelcitizen at 8:44 AM on August 29, 2014

I could have written this question at 32 (I'm 34 now), although my hair didn't really freak out. But I got dermatitis on my scalp and broke out like mad. My skin care regimen and diet have always been pretty decent, so there was nothing I could do much differently.

My doctor gave me a very clean evaluation and gave me a prescription acne cream. It worked like a charm. Before that I tried BHA, salicylic acid, some other stuff. Nothing worked. The antibiotic cream I got cleared my skin up in two weeks. It was glorious.

I joked with him that I've had more small annoying health issues since turning 30 than I have in the previous decade combined (throw in my first UTI and seasonal eczema flare up), but such is life, hormones and aging. I consider myself lucky that I have acne and not say, diabetes like some friends, or high blood pressure like others.

A good side effect of this transition has been to finally get regular exercise to stick. Seeing real observable changes in the body scared me straight, and now I work out more regularly and eat a touch better. I lost about 30 lbs in the last 2 yrs and built a foundation of muscle that I hope to keep forever.
posted by tatiana131 at 9:04 AM on August 29, 2014 [2 favorites]

As you age everything changes. I never used conditioner on my stick-straight hair. My hair was oily, so I shampooed daily. Suddenly my hair changed texture. As it grayed, it turned curly. I'm thrilled with the body, but now I only shampoo every other day, and I use Garnier shampoos for smoothness and shine. It's a brave new world.

Ditto my skin. I've always had a nice complection, I used Clinique forever and that was fine. I got cheap and now I use the Garnier line for radience. I need to moisureize more.

My suggestion is hit your GP for bloodwork, anemia, thyroid and hormone levels can have the effects your describing.

You may also want to consult a dermatologist. Breaking out is not anyone's new normal, it's a symptom that something's off.

Sure, you may have to dick around with new products, but there may be a legitimate health issue here. If nothing else, rule it out.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 10:28 AM on August 29, 2014

Nthing get hormone levels checked. I experienced changes similar to what you had, and the doctor did a quick blood test to test my hormones. My levels are consistent with PCOS, even though I am not diabetic, I am active, my thyroid is fine, and although I could stand to lose 10-15 pounds I am not very overweight (nor have I had sudden weight gain).

The part that was reassuring to me: PCOS is more on the "mildly annoying" side of things in terms of severity, and often the treatment is (free!) hormonal birth control with estrogen. I'm happier knowing that I have a common, known, well-researched, cheap-to-treat hormonal issue rather than some exotic disease that would be hard to diagnose and expensive to treat.
posted by nicodine at 11:06 AM on August 29, 2014

I'm 32 and in a similar situation to nicodine... My thyroid was low, I was severely anaemic, and my ovaries are cystic (although hormone levels were normal). No super obvious or sudden onset of symptoms... Just a bit of a downhill trudge like you're describing. It's one blood test... I'd just do it, since it's good to check once in a while anyway. Bonus is that my $35 Dr appt for it was faster and cheaper than experimenting with products... And if it IS hormonal that's going to be a long and frustrating process. If it's not hormonal and everything checks out, then you can start experimenting with a new beauty regime.
posted by jrobin276 at 2:33 PM on August 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'll mention that my periods were like clockwork too.
posted by jrobin276 at 2:39 PM on August 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

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