She'd have such a lovely face, except...
January 11, 2008 12:07 PM   Subscribe

SkinFilter: What skin care regimen would help my oily, zit-prone face? Are there EFFECTIVE lighteners that aren't hydroquinone to get rid of old brown marks?

I'm caramel-y colored. I get zittified regularly. These zits, while small and relatively few in number, are an angry red and are painful, which is why I have picked at them. Bad call. My face is covered with dark brown marks (they're not exactly scars) from that and also from tweezing out stray coarse hairs before they were fully erupted.

I'm still not sure what products to use to care for my skin, and I've gone through dozens over the years. Right now I'm using Basis to wash 2x a day, but no moisturizing and no toner since I don't know what to use and don't want to make things worse. I feel the many, many little unseen pimples and I know that in a few days some of them will burst out like an old moonshiner chasing off the ATF. I used a prescribed course of 4% hydroquinone in the past, but the oil base just caused more zits, which I picked and created more dark brown marks. I despair looking in the mirror. I live in NYC, so I'd also be interested in any recs for a dermatologist who specializes in skin of color.

Yes, I've stopped picking at my face.
posted by droplet to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (22 answers total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
mathowie goes to the kiehl's flagship on third avenue and recommended i go talk to a consultant there about stuff for my face when i was complaining about being in my mid-20s and still having breakouts. kiehl's is great because they're very casual and don't try to hard sell you on products—you can ask for a sample of anything that you want if you'd like to try it at home first. i use the blue gel cleanser and tea trea toner and my skin's gotten much clearer.
posted by lia at 12:22 PM on January 11, 2008

p.s. i also use a tinted moisturizer every day, that's helped a lot with keeping my skin from getting too dry and then over-producing oil and creating zits and black/whiteheads. ask for a moisturizer recommendation while you're at it, it's really important and something people tend to overlook for too many years.
posted by lia at 12:24 PM on January 11, 2008

I had severe acne problems, and I figured, one day, "I'm thirty and I've scrubbed my face with every unguent known to man. They're not working."

A quick trip to the doctor and I got a prescription for doxycycline and a tube of of tretinoin creme. I've had incredibly clear skin ever since. It took about two weeks for the treatment to start producing results, and the antibiotics "cleared out" the existing acne I had, resulting in a day or two or reddish splotches around the zits and a bit of ... what's the word? "expression" of the acne. But that's it.

Now it's just Bronner's bar soap followed by cetaphil, and I think that's more because I like the routine than anything else.
posted by boo_radley at 12:32 PM on January 11, 2008

Believe me, I totally understand your frustration!

I used to have similar skin problems (excessive oiliness, pimples; both cystic and small, and dark acne scars and sun spots). After trying basically everything available, this is what I have found works for me:
  • For Cleansing: Just use something gentle that is good at removing make-up (if you wear it). I use Kiss My Face Olive Oil Bar or plain old Cetaphil. I'd also recommend something like Ivory or Tone (the unscented kind). I stay away from medicated cleansers.
  • For Acne/Oiliness: Milk of Magnesia mask every morning, for 10 minutes. Use plain Milk of Magnesia (no flavor or sugar; I use Phillips). It's a laxative in case you have trouble finding it in the drugstore. I find this really helps dry up pimples and really helps heal cystic acne super quick. It also keeps my face from becoming an oil slick (and believe me, before I used the MoM mask I was able to turn face blotting sheets CLEAR with soaked oil within hours of face washing on my nose alone. Gross but true!)
  • For Scars/Spots: After the MoM mask, I put on Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Dry-Touch SPF 55 to prevent further skin damage. As for removing the scars and spots I've started putting castor oil on them nightly after reading about it as a remedy in the Folk Medicine book my D.C Jarvis. I've tried other lightening products but none of them really worked for me. I haven't seen a huge change after using castor oil but that area of my skin seems much smoother (also, I haven't been using this remedy for very long).
Ending your face picking habit is a great start, btw.
posted by zippity at 12:33 PM on January 11, 2008 [4 favorites]

Ah, and a couple more tips:

Use an extractor tool weekly to get rid of blackheads and such, as the MoM mask brings them easily to the surface of your skin.

It couldn't hurt to use a cheap alpha hydroxy cream at night for overall clarity of your skin tone (I do this a couple nights a week).
posted by zippity at 12:36 PM on January 11, 2008

Seconding Cetaphil. You want to use something mild on your face to prevent further irritation. You still need an oil-free moisturizer, and sunscreen, daily.

Best tip I ever got for healing pimples was to apply raw egg yolk; let dry and wash off. I can't remember what it was about the yolk that made it work (vitamin A maybe?), but it does help. No need to put it all over your face, just apply with a cotton swab (q-tip) to each spot.

Try it on one pimple first, to see if you have any sensitivities. My mom tried it once and her skin got really irritated.
posted by socrateaser at 1:05 PM on January 11, 2008

the dark spots will go away with time--that's really the only thing that will actually get rid of them. you can try covering them with a concealer a couple shades lighter than your skin tone.

susan taylor has an office in nyc somewhere. she splits her time between philly and nyc and specializes in skin of color.

i spent ages 18-25 taking antibiotics and using prescription stuff like retin a and tazorac etc. it helped a lot, but now that i'm not using them, the cysts are back (though only one or two at a time instead of a face covered in them).

i don't think anyone ever has a completely clear face fwiw.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 1:06 PM on January 11, 2008

Yes, I've stopped picking at my face.


The lightening: Over-the-counter, do-it-yourself treatments take a long time (months) to work and often the results aren't anything spectacular. Go to a dermatologist (or medical spa) and ask for a more permanent solution with results that are more obvious -- laser scar treatment or a peel. Don't go overboard with this -- just once and then really start getting to work on your skin.

The redness: Sounds like an infection, especially when coupled with the painfulness. Ask your dermatologist for an antibiotic topical and/or oral medication.

The zits: Your skin is never going to be what you just put on top of it. It's probably a reflection of whatever bad diet or exercise habits you may be retaining. Drink water. Work out. Eat more fruits and vegetables, less meat. Ease up on the spicy stuff. Take vitamins. Sleep well. Stress less. If you're not a healthy-lifestyle-regimen kind of girl, start thinking of it as your last line of defense against whatever wrathful demons are expressing their rage at the world through your epidermis.

And also: You need astringent to dissolve that oil. You need a clay masque to keep soaking up that oil. And oily-skinned people often make the mistake of thinking they don't need moisturizer. Not true. A good moisturizer designed for oily skin balances out (and soaks up) excess oil so that your face doesn't look like a member of OPEC.

Good luck.

PS - Seconding suggestions for organics, Cetaphil, and Milk of Magnesia. Also, salicylic acid will be your best friend.
posted by twins named Lugubrious and Salubrious at 1:12 PM on January 11, 2008

After Accutane took care of most of my problems a few years back, I've settled into Trader Joe's Thoroughly Clean tea tree oil face wash (so inexpensive and lasts forever) and CeraVe for moisturizer.

I personally never cared for Cetaphil, so was thrilled to get a CeraVe sample from my dermatologist. It's a very light moisturizer, btu still good for dry winter skin.
posted by at 2:15 PM on January 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

I've found that (8%) glycolic acid "matting agent" helps speed up the fading of the brown discolouration. It takes a while, though, and glycolic acid agents are kinda spendy.

I switched to a 2.5% benzoyl peroxide gel from - thin layer covering my entire face/neck once in the morning and once after dinner. It's been very effective in preventing breakouts and the breakouts don't last as long. The breakouts tend to be stress/sleep-deprivation induced, so I've been very happy with the 2.5% bp.

The clay cleanser from Dermologic is really good at sucking the day's oil (and stuff stuck in the oil) from my pores at the end of the day before the night's bp.

As for oilyness, I blot my face; I wash my hands a lot (work in a wet biology lab) and I'll dab my face with the paper towel after I've dried my hands. When I go out, I'll sometimes carry kimwipes (low-lint delicate task wipe tissues) but I've also seen "facial blotting paper" sold at pharmacies/drug stores/cosmetics places.

/male, fast approaching 3-o - the acne's about as good as it's ever been since I started getting acne
posted by porpoise at 2:19 PM on January 11, 2008

Twins you are actually being quite rude and dismissive of people who suffer with acne. There are plenty of people who live very healthy lives (food wise, exercise wise, and stress wise) who still have acne problems. Acne is not some sort failure to live a healthy life. Acne is frequently a result of hormones and genetics which is precisely why topical treatment can improve the condition but never cure it entirely.

My advise to droplet is go see a dermatologist, they can help rule out if is caused by a allergy (some are) or if not run through a variety of treatment options (it may take some time to find the right treatment for you). If you can't afford a trip to the Dr. then go for a gentle cleanser (purpose and cetaphil are both available at drugstores and reasonable priced) follow with an alcohol free toner with glycolic acid or salicylic acid (these gently dissolve the dead skin, gritty exfoliants actually make acne worse, alcohol free to reduce drying the skin excessively which actually makes you produce more oil) follow with a mild benzoyl peroxide (2.5%) treatment all over the face (this kills the bacteria which cause acne) allow to dry and finally go for a light sunscreen (sun exposure will make the dark spots worse). This routine should be both in the morning and before bed (except the sunscreen but a little moisturizer would be helpful to prevent drying/peeling).
posted by estronaut at 3:05 PM on January 11, 2008

You might consider laser treatment for the facial hair. My bf used to get those regularly, and they were worse than the regular acne as far as facial irritation, etc. He'd get these ingrown hairs that wouldn't break out of the skin at all. After a few laser treatments, they're gone for good.
posted by me & my monkey at 3:52 PM on January 11, 2008

Do yourself a favor and pick up a copy of Paula Begoun's book Don't Go to the Cosmetics Counter Without Me (which I learned about in previous AskMefi questions). The 6th edition was her last printed edition. Read the skin care section, and once you have learned how to properly take care of your skin, you can sign up for her newsletters online or search her site to determine what are currently the best products on the market.

When I was younger I used Neutrogena, and when I got older and could afford it, I used to spend a fortune on Dermalogica. All of these types of products, I learned from the book, are WAY too harsh for my skin, and were actually causing me more breakouts. Now I use Cetaphil and the cheapest BHA product I can find at CVS / Walgreens / Target. I'm in my thirties and for the first time since I was twelve I have clear skin. This woman saved me a ton of money AND improved my self-esteem, only for the cost of her book.
posted by vignettist at 4:23 PM on January 11, 2008

I have two recommendations for you:

1.) Dr. Leslie Baumann's book "The Skin Type Solution." The book includes a questionnaire that helps you determine if your skin is oily or dry, sensitive or resistant, pigmented or non-pigmented, and wrinkled or tight. Once you figure out your skin type you can look through the many recommendations she makes.

2.) Get a Clarisonic. Designed by the guy that designed the Sonicare toothbrush, the Clarisonic is a face brush that uses sonic frequency to wash away makeup and dirt. That is the single most successful product I've used to reduce oiliness and hyperpigmentation, and I've tried them all (Retin-A, microdermabrasion, kojic acid treatment cream). I use the Clarisonic with Bliss Steep Clean cleanser but sometimes I use a glycolic acid cleanser. At $200 or so, it's an indulgence but I would never be without it.
posted by Soda-Da at 6:16 PM on January 11, 2008

Seconding the book "The Skin Type Solution". I'm an "oily, sensitive, pigmented, and wrinkled". My skin is oily and supple. I'm not wrinkled yet but I'm considered to be wrinkled because I've lived in Florida my entire life, and have had more than 25 years of major sun exposure. My skin care routine and products are straight out of Baumann's book. To cleanse I use PanOxyl Bar 5 or 10% (Usually I use the 10 percent bar because that's what is mostly available in drugstores and discount stores). To treat I use Advanced Brightening Complex on my entire face and Exuviance Blemish Treatment Gel on individual acne lesions. In the daytime I layer Purpose SPF 30 on top of the Brightening Complex and acne gel once it has dried. My dark spots are made worse by the sun, so sunscreen is crucial to prevent more darkening. The Brightening Complex isn't oily. It contains 2% hydroquinilone and retinol and helps lighten the myriad of dark spots I have (had) on my face.

At night, if I'm good, I cleanse again with the soap and apply an eye cream and Neutrogena's Anti-Wrinkle serum, or Neutrogena's "Anti-Wrinkle, Anti-Acne" lotion. Very recently I've started using Ziana gel. It's expensive and by prescription only. My mother was prescribed Ziana and she gave me some samples.

Good luck.
posted by LoriFLA at 7:48 PM on January 11, 2008

Peter Thomas Roth makes an excellent gel-based hydroquinone product that also contains licorice, Vitamin C and some other useful stuff. I swear by it. It's very pricey (around $45 for a small bottle) but it last a good while and it's effective. I'm chocalate-y, not caramel-y and I've notice great results. If you use this in conjunction with a retinoid product, you should see a difference in about six weeks. OH..and IANAD...
posted by notjustfoxybrown at 8:18 PM on January 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

Nthing the Cetaphil- you want something that cleanses while being as mild as possible. If you have a chronic ingrown hair problem I'd recommend TendSkin- most folks use it on their bikini line, but it works all over. Beyond that, the products that are best for you are ones that you need to consider carefully with someone who can offer you good advice- it sounds like the next step is finding a Dr. you like and trust.

I've had good experiences with Dr. Robyn Gymrek (Prof. of Dermatology at Columbia Med, but has an office in midtown) but from conversations with friends I think women of color have some specific issues that merit particular attention and expertise, and I'd ask the office personnel about other people in her medical practice that might be able to offer some more specific advice.
posted by foxy_hedgehog at 11:09 PM on January 11, 2008

It's not about skin color -- my family's background is Irish, and I'm incredibly pale, with the same browny-purple marks you have, for the same reason. They stand out pretty impressively when you're otherwise milky.

What has made the acne go away: So far, after 5 years of trying to treat it on my own with everything sold OTC, then 5 years with a dermatologist who put me on just about everything but Accutane, nothing. Right now I'm washing with Purpose (a gentle non-soap cleanser), taking the antibiotic Bactrim, and using Cetaphil and Retin-A as needed. It makes it a little better, maybe.

What has made the postinflammatory hyperpigmentation (the not-quite-scar marks) fade: Using a benzoyl peroxide scrub in the shower, and rubbing it in with a baby hairbrush. It sounds weird, but I'd tried every bizarre regimen on the planet, the dermatologist had given up, and I figured if this failed, I was out $5 for the baby hairbrush. If you visit, there's a long, long thread about this. It sounds weird, and I don't usually put a lot of faith into home cures like this, but it's really lightened my spots a lot. Maybe because the BP is a bleach, maybe just because the brush improved circulation -- I'm not sure, but I'm loving it. My e-mail's in my profile if you want more information about any part of my situation.
posted by booksandlibretti at 11:16 PM on January 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

I use the oil cleansing method, except I wet my face first, and use only jojoba. It's made a huge difference in my skin.
posted by oneirodynia at 1:05 AM on January 12, 2008

Dermalogica changed my life. I use both their Dermal Clay Cleanser & Daily Microfoliant every day and Skin Prep Scrub once or twice a week, and my skin has never been better.
I've been using Skin Doctor's Cosemeceuticals White for a few months for hyper pigmentation caused by contraceptives and I'm blown away by the results. Maybe SD Gamma Hydroxy might be suitable for you? I tried the Gamma Hydroxy a year or two ago, but I wasn't disciplined enough to use it regularly enough to see results.
Anyway, I would consult both a dermatologist and a beauty therapist who uses Dermalogica products to see what they say.
Dermalogica products aren't really meant to be readily available without consultation and they encourage you only use products that have been professionally recommended to you. Many of their products are practitioner only, such as the utterly AWESOME peel Accelerator 26.
Get professional advice, then see what your budget allows.
posted by goshling at 6:41 PM on January 13, 2008

Response by poster: Thank you all for you answers and help. I'm printing this page out, definitely. The hive mind, man, wow. Can't beat it with a stick, can you?
posted by droplet at 7:05 AM on January 14, 2008

Replying late to totally disagree with everyone...but I suggest trying just plain water. About two years ago I went through several months where my skin became a mess (at age 28, living in NYC). I had breakouts, blotches, cystic acne, redmarks, everything. I tried the oil cleansing method, I tried fancy cleaners, I tried drug store cleaners, nothing helped.

So I started washing with *just* water. And it works--my skin is great, and has been for the past year, with the exception of occasional hormone-related breakouts, but those are better as well. I rinse my face in the shower in the morning and then wash well with plain water at the end of the day. I use a SLS-free lotion with sunscreen (Alba brand, in a green tube, forget the name) after both washes. A friend of mine had sworn by this for years, after trying everything from drugstore products to Proactive with no luck, and she convinced me to give it a try. I exfoliate with St Ives Apricot scrub once in awhile, but that's the only washing product I use on my skin.

It took a few weeks to notice, but now my complexion is much more clear and even, and I think I have less of the dry/oily patches I used to get. It's worth a shot, especially since it's very cheap and easy!
posted by min at 9:53 AM on January 14, 2008

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