How I totally cleared my skin in lockdown
This post has been a looooong time coming. I didn’t want to share my skincare routine before I finished testing everything, and was absolutely, totally sure my skincare routine worked (for me). Now, skin is completely individual, and what works for me isn’t guaranteed to work for you. All I can do is share the changes I made that took me from perpetual adult acne all through my 20s to clear skin. Hopefully, you’ll find something here helpful.
My history with acne
Some background on my skin: I have very sensitive, acne prone skin that is normal-to-dry, but my T-zone can get oily sometimes (especially if I’m under-slept).
I have had adult acne all through my 20s, so bad at times that I didn’t want to leave the house or be seen by anyone. If you’ve never suffered from serious acne, that might sound silly, but if you have – believe me, I feel your pain. Feeling unattractive and uncomfortable with your skin really does a number on you psychologically, and can be a source of great anguish.
I pretty much always had breakouts and acne scars on my face, but things would get especially bad the week leading up to my period. I’d break out everywhere, too: forehead, cheeks, chin, jawline, temples – you name it. As you can imagine, I’ve tried everything to battle my acne these last 10 years. Every product and trick under the sun, but seeing little to no results. It was incredibly frustrating and disheartening.
This past April, I decided to use some of my downtime stuck at home to start researching – and really understanding – skincare and what the ingredients in it mean, rather than just relying on bold claims and empty promises that brands make. This is where the real journey began, and it’s what got me to where I am today.
No filter needed. Look at that smooth texture!
See an expert, if you can
My top tip is to visit a dermatologist, but of course access to a dermatologist is a luxury not many can afford. I was super fortunate to find a dermatologist in my city that was offering free consultations for a limited time, so I recommend you call around and see if any near you are doing the same. The info I got from that one session changed my life, and did more to help me than the 3000 hours I spent listening to skincare experts on Youtube and TikTok.
It’s not just about what you put on your skin
What your skin looks like is the result of a number of factors, and a holistic approach is needed to care for it. Dropping $250 on a fancy moisturizer isn’t going to fix things if you haven’t drunk water since the 90s or you like to bake in the sun. So aside from a great topical skincare routine, some things I did that improved my skin are:
- Drinking lots of water every day – at least 2 litres
- Eating green vegetables
- Reducing refined sugar
- Cutting out dairy as much as possible (though sometimes I desperately need a Neapolitan margherita pizza)
- Getting at least 6 hours of sleep a night
- Changing my pillowcases frequently (I bought extra pillowcases so I can change them every 2-3 nights)
- Taking a daily probiotic supplement
- Protecting my skin from the sun – wearing hats, sunglasses, and SPF!
- Using a 100% mulberry silk face mask, which doesn’t dry out or irritate your skin, which can cause breakouts
All of that said, let’s get into the actual thing you came here for: my skincare routine.
My morning skincare routine
I’m very lucky that I’m able to work from home during this pandemic, and as such my morning skincare routine has gotten more extensive since I have the luxury of time in the mornings now. If you’re pinched for time though, just cleanse, moisturize, apply SPF, and be out the door.
This is absolutely not an essential step, but it’s a schmancy facial device I’ve been using for close to a year now, and I really like it. It delivers micro-currents to your facial muscles to tone them, and thus helps to contour the face and reduce fine lines. After waking up and splashing water on my face, I apply COSRX Snail Mucin Power Essence to my skin as the micro-current conducting agent, then glide the NuFace for about 5 minutes on my face, jaw, and upper neck. If I’m in a rush that day, I’ll skip this step and do it in the evening instead.
I’ll either use the Youth to the People’s Superfood Antioxidant Cleanser or the Klairs Rich Moist Foaming Cleanser. I like to cleanse for about a minute, to make sure my skin has time to absorb the beneficial ingredients in the formula. In that time, I do a little facial massage and some lymphatic drainage to de-puff from the night before.
To add hydration back into my now clean and dry skin, I apply Secret Key Starting Treatment Essence, splashing it into my palms and gently patting it into my face, neck, and chest. This essence is full of amazing ingredients to help prevent fine lines and wrinkles, brighten, and even out skin tone.
- VITAMIN C
Once I give the essence a few moments to absorb into my skin, it’s time for vitamin C. Vitamin C is a superstar ingredient that you should definitely think about incorporating into your daily routine. It’s one of the most scientifically-proven ingredients to have anti-aging and brightening properties. This Klairs Freshly Juiced Vitamin C Drop has 5% vitamin C, which is a good introduction to the ingredient for those with sensitive skin like me. I squeeze 1-2 drops from the dropper into my palm, rub them together, and lightly press them over my face and neck.
Vitamin C is a notoriously unstable ingredient, but Vitamin E helps to stabilize it. Following up the Vitamin C serum with a Vitamin E-based moisturizer helps it to work better, in addition to being great for hydrating the skin. I’ve repurchased this Klairs Freshly Juiced Vitamin E Mask 3 times now, because it’s such a unique and lovely texture – almost pudding like – and nothing hydrates my skin quite like it. It sinks into the skin beautifully, giving a slight glow, and also works great as a base underneath makeup.
- EYE CREAM
To further moisturize the delicate skin around my eyes, I lightly dab on the Secret Key Starting Treatment Eye Cream (Rose Edition). It has a smooth, buttery consistency, which prevents you from having to tug on that thin, fragile skin to apply it.
Do. Not. Skip. This. Step. Even in the winter, and even if you’re staying home all day. It’s the best thing you can do to prevent premature aging and fine lines. Do NOT try to take on the sun, y’all. You won’t win.I tried SO many sunscreens before finding one I loved, that didn’t break me out or make me itchy. If you have sensitive or acne-prone skin, I’d advise you to stay away from chemical sunscreens and choose a physical sunscreen instead. (There’s also been some research around chemical sunscreens messing with your hormones, so be careful.) Suntique – I’m Safe for Sensitive Skin is 100% physical, and is even safe for babies. It’s has a really light, milky texture and soaks into the skin beautifully, while feeling lightweight and non-greasy. As an added bonus, it adds such a pretty, healthy glow to the skin. I haven’t noticed any white-cast from this product – though it seems to have it for the first minute, until you finish rubbing it into your skin. It’s also really good under makeup, and doesn’t interfere with anything.
My nighttime skincare routine
- MAKEUP REMOVER / INITIAL CLEANSER
I’ll either use Youth to the People’s Superfood Antioxidant Cleanser, or Klairs Rich Moist Foaming Cleanser. Both are great products with stellar ingredients that’ll leave your skin feeling clean and refreshed, but not stripped and dry. If I’m removing makeup, I’ll do 2 rounds of cleanser – one to dissolve the makeup, and one to cleanse the skin.
- SECOND CLEANSER + EXFOLIATOR
To really make sure I’ve taken the day off, I follow that up with a dime-sized amount of this Clear Clinical polishing gel cleanser from my dermatologist. She told me it’s incredibly important to exfoliate (physically and chemically) to clear out your pores when you’re acne-prone. This particular cleanser has salicylic acid in it (a BHA), bamboo exfoliating powder for a mild physical exfoliant, and a gentle retinol for increased cell turnover and reduced fine lines. It’s one of the pricier products on this list, but it’s also 1 of the 2 products that made the biggest difference for my skin – and it will likely last me a year.
This step is kind of optional – if you’re looking to cut costs, this is the one to skip. Essences help to add hydration and allow any serums and moisturizers applied after to sink into your skin better. I use Secret Key Starting Treatment Essence, a Korean brand containing 94% galactomyces ferment filtrate that helps prevent fine lines and evens out your skin tone. It also contains great ingredients like niacinamide, aloe vera, centella asiatica extract, green tea extract, ginseng, and adenosine. (This essence is similar to the SKII Facial Treatment Essence, except it isn’t $240 a bottle.)
This step is specifically for acne-prone skin. I use a pea-sized amount of Clear Clinical Benzoyl Peroxide gel (again, from my dermatologist) all over my face to treat any existing breakouts and prevent future break outs. Benzoyl Peroxide kills acne-causing bacteria in the pores, and my skin responds really well to it. This and the polishing gel cleansers are the 2 products that made the most dramatic difference in my skin. I was honestly shocked at the transformation.
Moisturizer is so important. No matter what skin type you have, cleansing and moisturizing are non-negotiables. Since my skin is more on the dry side, plus I’m using benzoyl peroxide which further dries skin out a bit, it’s essential that I use a super hydrating moisturizer my skin will just drink in. I use the same moisturizer as the morning – the Klairs Freshly Juiced Vitamin E Mask, containing vitamin E, niacinamide, and adenosine. It makes my skin feel so bouncy and plump, without leaving a thick, greasy residue. Though it feels rich and luxurious, it soaks in beautifully and I wake up with hydrated, supple skin.
- EYE CREAM
Another kind of optional step. There’s no reason to spend a ridiculous amount on eye cream. It’s just priced so high because they know people will spend $$$ to prevent or reduce crow’s feet. If you’re using a good quality moisturizer, you can just use that on your eye area and you’re good to go. If you do want to use an eye cream, I really like the Secret Key Starting Treatment Eye Cream (Rose Edition). It contains galactomyces ferment filtrate and ceramides to reduce fine lines, niacinamide and adenosine to brighten, rosewater to calm, and shea butter and various seed oils to moisturize. All for under $15.
You may notice I don’t end with any occlusives, like rose hip oil or vaseline. While those products work for many people, they don’t work for me and my skin type. In fact, they clog my pores and cause me to break out. You gotta know what works for you!
Masks and more (for occasional use)
- Herbivore Blue Tansy Resurfacing Clarity Mask (containing natural AHAs and BHAs)
- Skin & Lab Glacial Clay Facial Mask (the most soothing, least irritating clay mask I’ve ever used)
- Banish Pumpkin Enzyme Mask (for when I really want to brighten my skin)
- COSRX Acne Pimple Master Patch (to suck all the goo out of a popped pimple overnight – these are miracle workers)
Boy that was a long post! I truly hope you found some of my skincare routine helpful, and if you’re on your own skincare journey right now, struggling with acne – you’re not alone, and there is another side to all this. I know what it’s like to feel hopeless and think you’ll just be stuck with this problem for the rest of your life, but you won’t. You’ll figure it out and get clear skin. Keep going!
Thanks for reading,