How to Figure Out What the [email protected]$% Is Up with Your Skin
Is it stress? Alcohol? Mercury in retrograde? Skin experts tell us why we’re breaking out (and how to fix it).
We’ve sworn off dairy, slathered on coconut oil, and sat on our hands. We’ve tried Clarisonics, French tonics, and hyaluronics. We’ve caked on concealers, prayed for dimly-lit dinners, and hoped to God our date doesn’t notice the tiny tumor protruding from our chin.
We GOT BANGS, for crying out loud.
Our love-hate relationship with our skin has had more ups and downs than a Christina Aguilera chorus. But part of our problem is not knowing what the problem really is at all. “Adult acne” may be the umbrella term, but it doesn’t give us much insight into whether it’s what we’re eating, what we’re doing wrong, or what we’re slathering on our epidermis that’s causing our skin to freak out. We reached out to a couple of skin-care experts to figure out what gives—and how to fix it.
Calm the [email protected]$% down
Hands up if you’ve ever woken up the day after a breakup, tense meeting, or friend fight with spotless cheeks and a pristine jawline.
…Yeah, neither have we.
“Our skin is incredibly attuned to our emotions,” says Sarah Brown, founder of organic skincare line Pai. “Cortisol, the stress hormone, increases sebum production and inflames the skin, so take a few deep breaths and reach for a chamomile tea rather than every spot treatment you own!”
Categorize your breakout
As we know, not all breakouts were created equal. Celebrity aesthetician and skin-care-line founder Renée Rouleau breaks them into three categories: the acne cyst, the surface blemish, and the little clusters of bumps under the skin (colloquially known as the [email protected]$%—kidding, we made that up).
Acne Cysts: Those hard, sore bumps under the skin that often occur in the chin and jaw area and stick around.
“You think something is under there, and if you pick at it long enough, you’ll get that infection out, right? Wrong,” says Rouleau. “Understand that true cystic blemishes will never come up to the surface. They develop deep in the dermis layer of the skin, and they heal there, too.”
Cliffs Notes? Put the claws away.
“Since the infection is not on the surface, traditional spot-treatment drying lotions won’t do anything other than to just dry out the skin,” she says. “Apply a small amount of Renée Rouleau Anti-Bump Solution. This product penetrates deep into the dermis layer of the skin where the cyst is and works to dissolve and disperse the infection to make it go away fast!”
Pssst—if your cysts are primarily in the chin and jaw area, experiment with cutting out dairy. Some people find that it helps.
Surface Blemishes: Also known as the OG zit—red, sore, larger in size, and often erupting into a delightful volcanic whitehead after a day or two.
“The key here is to leave it alone and don’t touch the skin until the infection has reached the surface,” says Rouleau. “Then you can carefully wrap your fingers [with tissue or the covers in this kit] and gently try to squeeze out the infection. Remember the rule: Three strikes and you’re out! If it doesn’t come out after three tries, leave it alone and try again the next day.”
Post-squeeze, apply a nighttime spot treatment to help dry out the blemish and heal any remaining infection.
Little clogged bumps under the skin: These are the little clusters of bumps that usually live on the forehead, cheeks, and chin that don’t come and go.
“These can show up and last for months, and no acne-drying products will make them disappear,” says Rouleau. “In the world of skin care, they are known as closed comedones, which is basically clogged oil that is trapped under the skin.”
In these cases, the trick is not to over-dry the skin because there isn’t any infection going on, and focus on removing the dry surface cells to help remove the oil.
Basically, comedone the [email protected] down with the acne products, and focus on exfoliation.
The fact of the matter is it’s extremely difficult to determine the root cause (or more likely, root causes) of your skin woes.
“It’s really important that you consult a professional and not self-diagnose your skin,” says Rouleau. “I can’t tell you how many times clients have thought their skin was a certain type, when in fact it was something different.”
That said, there are certain rules that apply to all breakouts when it comes to product placement. If you think the culprit may be a product you’re using, but you don’t know which, do a patch test on the side of your neck (the skin is thinner and generally more reactive there than, say, the inside of your arm). The cheek area on either side of your nose is also a good place to test new products if you’re breakout-prone, because there are higher concentrations of telltale pores and oil glands. Apply a small amount for a week or so, and if all is well, proceed with the rest of your face.
Last, try to only introduce a new skin-care product once every five days—that way if you have a negative reaction, you can easily pinpoint the culprit, says Rouleau. And ingredients to steer clear of, no matter your skin-sitch? Sodium or ammonium lauryl sulfate, mineral oil, petroleum, apricot kernels, and alcohols. So check those labels.
Pick your battles
You’ve heard it a million times—there really is nothing more counterproductive than picking your skin. But as a species apparently devoid of willpower and riddled with OCD, we all do it—it’s such a universal issue, Rouleau made a “No-Picking Contract” for her clients to sign.
“The whole point of picking [a blemish] is that you don’t want anyone to see it. The problem is, if you don’t want anyone to see it, ask yourself what is more noticeable: a closed bump, or a scab?” says Rouleau. “A bump is smooth, can be camouflaged with makeup, and is only glaring in certain lights. A scab, on the other hand, is a rough surface that doesn’t take well to makeup and becomes impossible to hide during the healing process.”
Keep a diary
“I developed adult acne in my mid-twenties, and [my diary] was incredibly helpful when I was trying to get to the bottom of my own skin triggers,” says Sarah Brown. “Make a note of how your skin looks and feels each day, the products you used, what you ate, and any other potential factors, such as stress.”
It may not be a quick fix, but if you stick with it, you’ll be able to notice the patterns leading up to your breakouts.
“It’s an important step to taking back control of your skin and becoming informed,” says Brown. “Knowledge is power!”