My skin and I have had a less-than-perfect relationship ever since puberty. I was always told that after puberty acne would go away, but turns out sex-ed classes and tween gossip magazines didn’t have all of their facts checked.
I have tried just about everything to battle my acne; this varied from over-the-counter Nutrogena, Nivea, Vichey, etc. brands, to mail-order ProActiv (they didn’t have it at mall stands at the time), to prescribed antibiotics and Accutane. Twice. I even tried washing my face with dehydrated milk for awhile because I read that it was moisturizing!
Okay, so I was obviously a bit desperate.
I never had cystic acne, but I had plenty of those small, itchy red pimples that never would go away. The best opponent for that, for me, was two rounds of Accutane. Accutane is a very potent form of Vitamin A which you take in pill form after it’s been prescribed by a doctor. If you’re interested in more I will be happy to write about it. It’s an expensive drug with many side effects, but for me it was worth it.
Three years after my last dosage of Accutane, my skin is pretty good— except for blackheads.
I never used to get blackheads, but now they all hangout on my cheeks. Thankfully they don’t hang out anywhere else. So, I have been researching skin and blackheads, and am working on a healing regime to battle the beast.
Here are the top things I have found out (this is a learning process, so bear with me as I experiment):
- Blackheads are actually hair follicles blocked with dead skin cells and sebum (oil). Exposure of this to air oxidizes the oil and skin and turns it black (that’s why when you squeeze it, the top is black and the bottom is more yellowy).
- There is no discernible reason why they appear— experts can’t pinpoint foods or habits that cause them— they are mostly hormone and genetically based problems (Hello my favourite aunt Flo…)
- HOWEVER…. I definitely notice that if I am eating more sugar or drinking less water that my skin gets waaaay worse, so I sincerely believe those dietary habits can make a huge difference in your skin’s condition.
- Dermatologists say not to squeeze blackheads out because doing this will leave blackheads partially intact, and by squeezing some of it out the top, you are also squeezing the remaining guck in the bottom and into other, deeper levels of your skin. You can also cause scars by doing this.
- BUT… if you can remove all of it, or have an expert do it, then squeeze away!! I have had two facials in my life, and they are miraculous! With the right prep of cleansing, exfoliating, and steaming your skin is ready to go for a professional squeeze or two. Experts use a magical tool called a blackhead loop extractor, and boy do I want one of those… Okay, I’m no expert, but I’m going to squeeze persistent blackheads anyways, so I want to do it right.
It’s important to remember that a before you go squeezing your pores it is best to try some alternate approaches first, and that means giving your skin some TLC.
Here’s my starter pack for my blackhead-battle regime:
Okay, so it’s a bit of a motley crew, but let’s work through it, one by one….
Cleanse and exfoliate! It’s very important if you don’t want dead skin cells and oils to build up that you cleanse daily, and exfoliate at least 2 or 3 times per week. While my cleansers vary as I try out different approaches (I am currently using Bioré Deep Pore Charcoal Cleanser, twice daily) I have stood by on exfoliant for years: Cure Natural Aqua Gel . It is one of the top skin products in Japan, and while it is initially a bit pricey (the 8 0z. bottle is usually around $40) it lasts FOREVER and does it’s job beyond compare. It is an amazing exfoliant, but also very gentle.
Here’s how it works:
- After cleansing and drying your skin, pump about 2 pumps of gel into your hand.
- Using your fingers, put the gel on your skin and circulate in troublesome areas for about 1 minute.
- You will notice little white balls forming— these are dead skin cells!!
- Rinse off with lukewarm water (I actually cleanse again to get the dead skin cells off) and VOILA you have amazing, smooth skin.
Deep clean with a mask.
This is something I’d recommend 2 or 3 times a week as well. I like to put a mask on after exfoliating just because I feel like at this point only the cleanest version of your face is ready for a treatment. Different masks carry different purposes— the one I am using now is the Himalayan charcoal purifying glow mask from the Body Shop. It has green tea and tea tree oil to help infuse your skin with nutrients, while it also has charcoal from Himalayan bamboo to help extract impurities. Your skin feels tight and cool as the mask dries on your face, but when you rinse it off you can see a difference— if you have stubborn blackheads, they have been sucked out a bit so that they are now accessible. Even if your blackheads haven’t moved because they’re not ready to, your skin looks refreshed overall.
It’s after this step that I would use my blackhead extractor, if I had one. I’d then touch any tender spots up with a sweep of Tea Tree Oil.
After your skin has taken a bit of a beating with cleansing, exfoliation, and a mask, it’s time to replenish some of the moisture and nourishment it has lost. I change it up depending on the day, but two things I’ve found to be very gracious to my skin are:
- The Oils of Life from the Body Shop. You may be thinking “Oil? Really?! After so much effort to remove it?” But YES it’s amazing— you are taking away extra face oil full of acne-causing bacteria, and supplying naturally-derived and non-comedogenic oils to simply moisturize your skin— you need some moisture in your skin to dissuade new blockages, or to help current blockages to loosen up and rise to the top of your skin so that they’re no longer a deeper burden. Plus, the ingredients in this serum are full of vitamins and nutrients that make your skin glow. You only need about 4 drops for your whole face— just rub the oil between your palms and then pat onto your skin.
- Aloe Vera gel! It would be best to have pure aloe vera, but I simply don’t have any right now. So, I have this after-sun gel that is very high in aloe vera. Aloe is known to be very moisturizing and, more importantly, to help eliminate or alleviate scars. My skin has dark spots that are remnants of my impatience, but I’ve noticed if I apply aloe to my face at night, my skin becomes softer and the scars start to disappear!
So, that’s my current regime!! On days when I am not doing such an intense process, I simply cleanse my skin, and put a gentle moisturizer on, such as aloe vera, Cetaphil, or Laneige Water Bank Serum .
Hope that helps, let me know if you have any questions!