How to stop spending money at Sephora and still keep my skin clear
April 14, 2007 1:05 PM   Subscribe

Help me devise an anti-acne regimen using only natural products.

I'm benzoyl-peroxide-Retin-A and salicyic acid-ed out. BP irritates like crazy and both Retin-A and salicylic are ineffective.

I'd like to find a regimen using natural, gentle products that would help with uneven skin tone and blackheads. My acne is not cystic and I don't really get pimples, just those pesky blackheads which then result in the scarring.

I think I would probably need, based on what I know of the problem: a good, gentle anti-bacterial wash, an exfoliating product and a fade product...though I might stick to the one non-natural product that I feel is working, which contains hydroquinone.

Oh...and I'm severely allergic to tea tree oil.
posted by notjustfoxybrown to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (31 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
I'm curious how blackheads result in scarring. Are you popping them? Are the pores getting permanently enlarged?
posted by scody at 1:16 PM on April 14, 2007

Response by poster: Sigh..I'm guilty of squeezing ocassionally. Enlarged pores only on the cheek area but keep in mind I've been suffering since I was 10 ... and I'm in my late 30s now.
posted by notjustfoxybrown at 1:21 PM on April 14, 2007

Some questions:

What do you mean by natural products? The sort you'd get at Whole Foods, etc?

How long and how were you using the BP, Retin-A, and SA?

What other products are you using now?
posted by granted at 1:27 PM on April 14, 2007

Oh, and what kind of Retin-A were you using - e.g., percentage, Retin-A Micro or normal Retin-A, and cream or gel base?
posted by granted at 1:29 PM on April 14, 2007

Response by poster: OK...Yes, I guess I mean the products you'd buy at a place like Whole Foods .... with minimum amounts of irritants.

How long have I been using BP etc? Try 20+ years. I have tried Retin-A in the past and never had much success. I tried it again this time and the first month, my skin was flawless...glowing I tell ya...Then, the proverbial sh!#!@ hit the fan and it's been breaking out, worse than before I started and the texture is horrible.

I had some success using the regimen on but found using so much BP really made my skin angry. Right now, I'm just doing the cleanser from the regimen and an AHA/sunscreen moisturizer in the morning and cleansing, using Peter Thomas Roth fade gel on some nights alternating with the Retin-A.

Hope that's not too confusing.
posted by notjustfoxybrown at 1:31 PM on April 14, 2007

Response by poster: Oh..and it's the cream form of the .05 percent Retin-A...and I have to admit, I did not get it through a doctor. I'll admit to no more than that....though it has been prescribed for me several times in the past.
posted by notjustfoxybrown at 1:36 PM on April 14, 2007

Ideas to consider:

1. Read Dr. Leslie Baumann's book 'Skin Type Solution.' (Sorry my computer won't let me link). She has a quiz in the beginning that helps you narrow down exactly what skin type you have and she makes product recommendations based on your results. She recommends drugstore brands as well as department store ones. She has a website at that has enough information to get you started.

2. Sometimes acne/oily skin is connected to zinc deficiency. BTW IANAD. Go to the healthfood store and get some Zinc Tally. This is a liquid that is used to evaluate if you have enough zinc. The instructions on how to use it are on the bottle.

If it turns out you are low on zinc you will want to take supplements. You need to educate yourself on this though because you will need to figure out how much zinc to take. It's not a case of 'if a little is good a lot will be better.' I recommend a book by James Balch called 'Prescription for Nutritional Healing' to determine dosage. The book explains that after taking zinc supplementation for a while you might need to add copper supplementation.

Also be sure to take zinc with food. It can make you feel queasy if you take it on an empty stomach.
posted by Soda-Da at 1:39 PM on April 14, 2007 [1 favorite]

For soothing and healing acne-ridden skin (preventing scarring), Camocare's Soothing Cream with chamomile. I tend to scar badly from even small cuts, and it has worked wonderfully.
posted by vers at 1:54 PM on April 14, 2007

Not confusing at all. OK, IANADermatologist, I just obsessively read the skincare information at Makeup Alley (an excellent resource, by the way - I'll add some specific links at the bottom.). So, I'll just throw some thoughts out, and you can disregard everything that doesn't apply to you

The thing about Retin-A, and all retinoids, is that they make your skin purge for up to three months or so. They work by speeding up cell turnover, which means that all the stuff that was percolating under the surface gets pushed out at once. After that's gone, your skin should look much, much better. So, if you've been using the Retin-A for less than three months, I'd keep at it and see if it gets better eventually.

The reason I asked about the Retin-A so specifically is that retinoids are really the most effective way (according to Science!) to clear clogged pores and help with uneven skintone (and help prevent/correct aging) in the long run. BP doesn't really treat clogged pores and actually ages you more quickly, so I'd drop that if blemishes aren't your problem. Salicylic acid does help clear pores but if it's not enough, it's not enough.

A couple caveats: Retin-A is very irritating. Using it with BP and AHA might be a little too much for your skin. Also, and this is very important, if you've been using BP at the same time as Retin-A, they cancel each other out - you'll only get irritation, no benefits. Finally, the cream base can actually be pore-clogging for some, so if you can get your hands on a gel, it might be more effective.

There's lots more to say about retinoids, and others to try instead of Retin-A, and a good place to read about them is here. You'll have to register, but it's not a big deal at all.

OK...I'll have to again pimp MakeupAlley for specific product recommendations as far as natural skincare. A couple suggestions of my own might be an oil cleanser at night. it sounds counterintuitive, but oil cleansers don't generally clog your pores. Oil dissolves oil - it won't make you produce more of it. You can buy oil cleansers online from DML or Fancl, or you can make your own using olive oil, castor oil, grapeseed oil, jojoba oil...whatever you want. If you make your own, you'll have to use a gentle cleanser afterward - I like Aquanil, which you can buy from

Finally, there is one product that trumps retinoids in the skincare word - SUNSCREEN!!! You must, must, must wear an excellent sunscreen, as sun damage makes the scarring and irritation worse. You didn't mention what sunscreen you're using, but most US sunscreens aren't very good. Here's another post of mine that pimps Neutrogena UltraSheer DryTouch SPF 55, which is what I personally use. (Actually, though, I want to take back what I said about it being okay to mix foundation with sunscreen - it probably isn't a good idea.) You can get other recommendations, and information, from MakeupAlley (you think I've talked your ear off...)

Anyway, please let me know if I've mischaracterized your situation or if you have any more questions. Best of luck to you.
posted by granted at 2:06 PM on April 14, 2007 [5 favorites]

Response by poster: Ah! This certainly makes Baumann more credible. I had some faith in Paula Begouin until she began touting her own line of products.
posted by notjustfoxybrown at 2:06 PM on April 14, 2007

Skin's breaking out? First buy some fresh eggs. Two things you can do with them... one is to take the egg white of an egg and froth it up good. Take that froth and smooth it all over your face like a mask. Let it dry until it's crackly & then wash it off. It can do wonders for pulling impurities out & clearing up blemishes.

If you have a big pimple in particular, don't pick at it or anything. You'll get it infected & then it'll take a HELL of a lot longer to get rid of. What you should do is take the eggshells from a cracked egg and peel the skin off of the inside of the shell in as big a piece as possible. Then place that skin (wet side down) on top of the pimple, covering as much of it as you can. Again, let it dry until it's hard and crackly. Then put some water on it and pull it off gently (if you try to pull it off while it's still dried and attached to your face, you might take the head of your pimple off with it. Don't do that.).

I promise you it can really help. I've had amazing results with it. Even though I buy expensive skin care stuff, I still do this when my skin is acting up.
posted by miss lynnster at 2:14 PM on April 14, 2007

Response by poster: Believe it or not, I've gone to Makeupalley but I simply do not have the patience to go through all the posts etc., so I really, really appreciate your thorough summary. I have been afraid to completely give up the Retin-A since I did get a glimpse early on what my skin could look like on it. I don't know about the gel form though since I think that would be just a tad too drying. Thanks for all the advice.
posted by notjustfoxybrown at 2:15 PM on April 14, 2007

Here are some habits that I changed that really helped my skin.

1. Stop touching my face, especially with my finger tips.
2. Making sure my hair stays off of my face.
3. Washing my pillow cases more often.
4. Washing my make up brushes often.
5. Using a new make up sponge/puff each time. Never reuse.
6. Thoroughly wash my face from make up before going to bed.
7. Lysol wipe my cell phone often.

In terms of exfoliant, I use a paste of baking soda and water. It's really gentle and effective.

I know you don't want to spend more at Sephora, but two products I swear by are Peter Thomas Roth's Oxygen Detoxifying Masque and Sulfur Cooling Masque. There was a time where I would use this every night. I'd wet my face, massage it with the Oxygen masque for 10 minutes, rinse. Then I'd spot treat with the Sulfur Masque and let it dry and rinse it off before I went to bed.

I would really encourage you to get regular facials at a good place. There's the benefit of the thorough professional cleaning and I learned a lot from the aesthetician (and thankfully she wasn't a product pusher). Get a peel. The salicylic acid that spas/facialists get are at a higher percentage strength than the ones available to you or I.

My breakouts are rare, if any, now, but I still have scarring. The most effective thing I've had for it has been a series of photofacials and microdermabraisions.
posted by spec80 at 2:15 PM on April 14, 2007 [2 favorites]

Natural != healthier

Most compounds you'll find in OTC medications and face washes are derived from natural sources originally. They isolate the part that works and then put in in the cleanser. There's nothing unhealthy about this process.

Use whatever works for you, but don't be fooled by the 'all natural' advertising campaigns.
posted by chrisamiller at 2:24 PM on April 14, 2007

The more I look at this blackhead problem, the more it seems to me to have to do with the kinds of fats and oils, that is, lipids, in the diet.

Blackheads are the end result of plugged pores; the pores are plugged with sebum, which is 88% lipid in composition:

25% wax monoesters
41% triglycerides
16% free fatty acids
12% squalene

The wax monoesters and free fatty acids are derived from the lipids we eat, and the triglycerides are essentially the unmodified lipids we eat, as near as I can tell. But the triglycerides we consume vary tremendously in a quality which I think may be critical to their tendency to produce sebum which plugs pores: their tendency to 'dry' when exposed to air.

The 'drying' of oils is a process of polymerization resulting from oxidation; oils are classified into three groups: drying, semi-drying, and non-drying. The drying oils, which include linseed oil and tung oil, can be applied directly to wood and will harden into a stable finish, and they are often an essential ingredient in oil paint and varnish. The tendency of an oil to dry has been quantified as the iodine number of that oil. Drying oils have a iodine number above 130; semi-drying from 115-130; and non-drying below 115.

A surprising number of the oils we eat regularly fall within the drying and semi-drying range. Walnut, linseed (flaxseed), poppy seed, and soy oils are drying; cotton seed, corn, safflower, sunflower, sesame, and canola oils are semi-drying; peanut, palm, olive, and coconut oils are non-drying, as are beef and mutton tallow. Of all commonly consumed lipids coconut has the the lowest iodine number: 10. Beef and mutton tallow come in around 40 and 50. Pork fat depends on what they are fed, I think, since like us, they don't modify the fats they eat very much.

A drying or semi-drying oil in one's diet seems much more likely to produce a plug of sebum in your pores when it hits the air and polymerizes as it is secreted, than a non-drying oil would be. I reccommend systematically going through your diet and doing whatever you can to eliminate the drying and semidrying oils, and perhaps the non-drying with relatively high iodine numbers, as well.

I can tell you from personal experience that I had severe and intractable breakouts suddenly, well past adolesence, when I started stir-frying with walnut oil. They subsided into non-oily somnolence within days of giving it up.
posted by jamjam at 3:32 PM on April 14, 2007

Oh boy, do I feel for you. I first got hit with acne in fifth grade and struggled with it for years and years afterwards (I say this as if I don't still struggle - I do, but it's considerably more under control now, thank god!). I did Differin (Retin-A derivative gel), 2 courses of Accutane, antibiotics, just keeping everything around me ultra-clean, etc - *nothing* helped. What finally *did* help was going on an anti-androgenic birth control pill (Yasmin, Desogen, or Yaz, etc). I picked up a skin care book one day, when I was 25, that mentioned some acne is just a hormonal imbalance caused by an excess of androgens (testosterone-like hormone), which causes an excess of sebum in the pores - basically, your pores are infected by this before it ever shows on the surface, so surface treatments haven't a chance of working. I saw a change within the first month of going on the pill, and within four months I was almost 100% clear. It's been a godsend!

Of course, YMMV, but if it's hormonal it's something that you won't handle topically in any more than a minor fashion.

That said, I have a natural product for when I get a rash of breakouts for whatever reason: Origins Out of Trouble mask, which relies mostly on camphor and sulfur to dry out excess oil. It feels nice and cooling on, doesn't smell much, and the sulfur really goes a very long way towards drying out whiteheads without hurting your skin. It's been a great find (as are a lot of Origins skincare products).
posted by AthenaPolias at 3:36 PM on April 14, 2007

Thirding Baumann's book. I cannot recommend it enough. It changed my skin life.

A drying or semi-drying oil in one's diet seems much more likely to produce a plug of sebum in your pores when it hits the air and polymerizes as it is secreted, than a non-drying oil would be. I reccommend systematically going through your diet and doing whatever you can to eliminate the drying and semidrying oils, and perhaps the non-drying with relatively high iodine numbers, as well.

I am interested in your source jamjam, or you deriving a guess? Are you saying that by that choosing the type of oils we ingest we can in turn change the composition of sebum? If we could change the composition, which doesn't seem likely, it's the amount of sebum produces that's a problem. There is no way to control the amount of sebum humans produce without drugs. All we can do is mimic "normal" skin through skincare. And there is no scientific evidence that diet causes acne.
posted by LoriFLA at 3:55 PM on April 14, 2007

Please don't assume that "natural" products are safer, gentler, or better. Natural products often contain the same ingredients (under different names) as department store cosmetics with the exception of minute amounts of "botanicals" which are often in such small amounts that they only serve as fragrance. They're also even more ridiculously overpriced than department store products.

As mentioned, if you've been on Retin-A for a while, it's likely the outbreaks you're having are just the oil glands reacting to that - it has to happen for the Retin-A to make any difference. (The same thing, although more dramatic, happens with Accutane.) Nothing in skin care is a quick fix. Three months is not a long time to wait for results.

Most people only need three basic products: a gentle cleanser, a disinfectant, and an exfoliant. Pick fragrance-free, "botanical"-free products in all instances. Just because something smells nice doesn't mean it's good for the skin: quite the opposite, actually.

If you need something more, don't self-treat: see a professional. A herbalist may have two weeks' training (all but a few days of which is in sales), a dermatologist fifteen years. Which one would you trust?

Last but not least, DON'T MOISTURIZE. Not with an "oil-free" moisturizer, not with a "gentle" moisturizer, not with anything. The biggest mistake we acne sufferers make is to slather on moisturizer when it's not necessary because a saleswoman or a family member have told us how necessary it is. It isn't. Your skin makes enough natural moisturizer (your skin oil); don't add to the burden.
posted by watsondog at 4:28 PM on April 14, 2007

i like unscented liquid neutrogena for washing (cetaphil is good if your skin is very dry). unscented dr. bronner's liquid soap might work, too. it's all natural, and the baby mild doesn't have any scented oils to cause breakouts.

i exfoliate with a small facial brush (the body shop sells them) and sometimes more intensively with a mixture of honey and rock salt.
posted by thinkingwoman at 4:28 PM on April 14, 2007

Huh, I somehow lost my original post

Higher percentages of benzoyl peroxide aren't necessarily more effective. I've switched to a 2.5% in gel form full face morning and night and have been satisfied with the results (from Dan Kern).

I've been told that joboba oil is a similar shape (molecular shape) as some components of sebum - so using it is supposed to help your skin not to produce sebum. Since adding a small drop of joboba to my morning moisturizer (Biotherm Homme aquapower) it seems like I haven't had to blot with kimwipes to take off the shine as often. ymmv.

I've recently been introduced to Dermalogica's clay cleanser My aesthetician said that the clay particles help draw out sebum and oil-based makeup out of pores. Clay's natural, right? Clay has a negative charge so I can see how it could help attract and bind cationic lipids, which might help prevent accumulation and oxidation of sebum into blackheads.
posted by porpoise at 4:48 PM on April 14, 2007

Last but not least, DON'T MOISTURIZE. Not with an "oil-free" moisturizer, not with a "gentle" moisturizer, not with anything. The biggest mistake we acne sufferers make is to slather on moisturizer when it's not necessary because a saleswoman or a family member have told us how necessary it is. It isn't. Your skin makes enough natural moisturizer (your skin oil); don't add to the burden.

Not necessarily. Sometimes skin can actually overproduce oil due to being dry, causing breakouts. Also, dehydrated skin (whether from using products that are too harsh, from weather, or whatever) is more sensitive to irritation, which can also cause breakouts.

My skin is acne-prone, but in the winter, it gets really dry and flaky. If I didn't use moisturizer, I'd just have really dry, irritated, broken-out skin.

Of course, a lot of moisturizers contain products that are super-irritating, and "oil-free" isn't always the best route. One of the best non-comedogenic moisturizers is actually Aquaphor Healing Ointment - it's hardcore, but it works. Slather it on at night and wake up to lovely lovely softness. My favorite everyday moisturizer is CeraVe Lotion.
posted by granted at 5:06 PM on April 14, 2007

You can buy oil cleansers online from DML

By which I of course meant DHC...DML is another good non-comedogenic moisturizer. my bad.
posted by granted at 5:09 PM on April 14, 2007

Response by poster: OK..Good points on the moisturizer but now this: The moisturizer I use, from Neutrogena, contains sunscreen. Any recs for non-greasy sunscreen to replace it?
posted by notjustfoxybrown at 5:26 PM on April 14, 2007

My crummy skin (since high school also) cleared up when I began washing my face with jojoba oil. I occasionally exfoliate with a salt and honey mask, or steam my face then use a clay mask. I also avoid eating junk, and take an omega/fatty acid supplement.

It's all natural, all cheap, and has been very effective for me. You can check out the oil cleansing method here; I have found jojoba oil works better for me than live oil.
posted by oneirodynia at 6:26 PM on April 14, 2007 [1 favorite]

posted by oneirodynia at 7:51 PM on April 14, 2007

Find a doctor who will sell you Skin Medica products. There is a specific regimen in the plan for acne, although the doctor and/or his aesthetician may want to double check and make sure you have a proper plan in place. This should be a "free consultation" type of visit since the purpose is to sell you products. If you happen to be in Vegas, let me know and I can help you find somebody.

Otherwise, please make sure you are using an appropriate non-comedogenic cleanser, toner, anti-acne serum, and moisturizing sunscreen. A lot of acne patients skip the moisturizer, thinking "my skin is already too oily!" but the fact is that oil and water are very different things. And for that matter, sun damage will be with you long after acne is gone.
posted by ilsa at 8:00 PM on April 14, 2007

The most amazing organic body/skin products company in all the world is Trillium Organics, swear. Check out the oil-free face polish. It's done wonders for my super-sensitive skin. The 8oz jar lasts forever (with daily use), and you can start with a 2oz jar if you want to try it out before making a committment to the bigger container. Love them.
posted by spinturtle at 8:56 PM on April 14, 2007

OK..Good points on the moisturizer but now this: The moisturizer I use, from Neutrogena, contains sunscreen. Any recs for non-greasy sunscreen to replace it?

Try Neutrogena's Dry-Touch Sunblock. I used to hate wearing sunscreen until I chanced upon this stuff.
posted by everybody polka at 10:00 PM on April 14, 2007

I recently had a skin issue that I since resolved by switching to the OCM. I made my own out of organic olive oil, sweet almond oil and castor oil in a ratio of approximately 2:2:1. I also added a few drops of two essential oils: orange and tea tree. I know you said you were allergic to tea tree so I wouldn't recommend that part to you but there is a whole list of oils here that you can choose from. Since I started using the OCM I've noticed I no longer get that sheen on my face partway through the day and that my blackheads are getting smaller. My face feels cleaner and better moisturized that it has ever.

Good luck and I hope you find something that works for you!
posted by LunaticFringe at 6:21 AM on April 15, 2007

You might find that less is more. I'm skeptical of the huge array of skin products available; a lot are extremely harsh on skin and end up making things worse. Why not try a simple soap (think Dove or Cetaphil) for a while? If you're insistent upon using natural products, witch hazel (without alcohol) is a natural, mild astringent that has been used to fight acne and miscellaneous other skin ailments for ages.

I'm seconding trying birth control, even if your acne doesn't "seem" hormonal. It's worth a shot - it requires some patience, but you may find after several months of taking it that you don't even need to worry about what products to use anymore.
posted by qz at 9:06 AM on April 15, 2007

LoriFla, while it is true that if jumping to conclusions were to become a recognized field event, I might be quite disappointed not to be named to the MetaFilter team, I did reach that one step by step, and I hope the links are enough for anyone interested to retrace them.

Speaking of the links, I quoted the 88% lipid figure from memory, and did not bother to add up the percentages in the table I reproduced; they come to 94%. Also, I did not mention, because I was not aware, that squalene is itself a drying oil. I have not so far found an extensive enough table of iodine values online to be worth reproducing, but what little I did find was on biofuels sites, evidently because oils with high iodine values tend to clog the pores of fuel filters.
posted by jamjam at 2:03 PM on April 15, 2007

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