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On spots and ‘bad’ skin

Day 47/365 - Silver Lining

This post started out as being about my experience with the oil cleaning method, but quickly deteriorated into a big moan about how terrible my skin is, and my feelings about ‘bad’ skin, so I thought I’d chop it up in two and pretty much just vent today. Oil cleansing another day/

Oh, and prior warning: there is explicit discussion of different types of spots. If you’re squeamish, maybe don’t read on!

My skin is a nightmare. It gets greasy easily, and it’s full of spots and blackheads, and open pores. When I was younger I would attack it with special stuff for greasy skin, but as I’ve aged, that won’t cut it any more. Because as well as getting greasy easily, it gets really dry easily. If I washed with a greasy skin facewash, it will feel tight, and dry flaking will appear in places.

I have been searching for years for a cleanser that balances the need to clean with the need to not strip oils. Same for moisturiser. Most standard moisturisers (as in neither for greasy not dry skin) will not really moisturise enough and the dry bits will still be there. Heavier stuff for dry skin will be too greasy and sometimes make the spottyness worse. Any eye cream I have ever tried (90% of which have been for ‘senstive skin’) now makes the skin under my eyes go red and dry.

So as you can see, I was caught between a rock and a hard place, skin care wise. And then I went and made it worse. I came off the pill in October, and it’s played havoc with my skin (and other things, but we’ll not get into that). The last time I had anything approaching clear skin was when I took those make up free pictures back in November. You see, my spottiness is hormonal. Nothing to do with diet, or what happens on the outside of my skin (believe me, I’ve tried it all. It did not work).

I first went on the pill aged 17 for my skin and it did help. I still got blackheads and little white spots but those big painful red pulsating spots that will stay around for two weeks regardless of what you do, the ones that go bright yellow, but if you squeeze them even under sterilised conditions they will scar, the pill took care of those.

But now they’re back. Not quite on the same scale as they were there when I was 16, but back nevertheless. And they’re also back on my chest and shoulders and back, it’s horrible and I’m actually a bit worried about being able to wear sleeveless things once it gets hotter. I am pretty much avoiding anything with a neckline (and we’re not talking low cut, we’re talking anything showing anything beneath the clavicle) or without sleeves at the moment and I hate it. I hate that I am limiting myself in this way, but I also don’t want people to see all the redness and puss that’s going on on my body. And so I cover myself up as if I was following a religious modesty code.

What I would really like is for there to be a spot-positive movement, like the way people are positive about being plus size or their wrinkles. I don’t want to feel self conscious about my skin, but I do, because, and I’ve said this before, there is no positive spin on spottiness. No one likes it, or even accepts it. Spots are what we must all fight.

I get why that is, because often spots are a sign off ill-health and run downness, but I’m not run down, my diet is good, I get plenty of sleep and exercise, in short I am fit and healthy. If anything, not swallowing hormones every day should make more MORE healthy. But people assume, just like I will assume of other spotty people. It’s bullshit, I tell you!

What do you think?

Photo shource

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  • Hayley 4 April 2012, 9:07 am

    Hey Franca,
    I too have super oily skin and was recommended by my facialist to use witch hazel (which is really cheap) as at toner after my cleanser because that balances out the ph levels in your skin, stopping it from going all dry and flaky. I’ve been doing that for about a month now and my skin is looking a lot better because when you use strong cleansers that dry your skin out your skin tries to compensate for that and produces even more oil than before. In fact, as of right now I have no actual breakouts (for the first time since I was 12!), just left over scars, but that’s a whole other kettle of fish. Also my face is much less shiny, and I’ve started to wear less makeup because of it.
    Any way, just thought I’d pass that on because it really has helped with me, and though your problem is more hormonal it might at least help with a bit of the oil.

    • Franca 4 April 2012, 9:18 am

      Tried it, dries it out too much! It was fine when I was younger and my skin was just oily, but now that’s not a goer any more. 🙁

      • Hayley 4 April 2012, 10:47 am

        Damn it :/ Tried rosehip oil?

  • Alexandra Thérèse 4 April 2012, 10:56 am

    Hi Franca,

    Sorry to hear about your skin – although my skin has always been great this academic year I’ve been incredibly stressed and not kept to a healthy diet which has caused my forehead to become spot-central. I’ve tried to hide it with my fringe but that sparks the vicious circle of my hair making my forehead greasy. I’ve taken to clipping my fringe back off my hair at night, washing my face with a Clean and Clear deep-clean oil-free wash and then applying Freederm spot treatment to the really bad areas. I can honestly say that I’ve noticed an improvement in just five days and I reckon if I consumed the correct amount of vitamins and minerals I mean my skin would be a lot better. I know what you mean about sometimes your skin by oily and sometimes dry – my forehead and t zone gets horribly greasy but bizarrely, my eyelids and the skin just above them gets all dry and flakes away. The only advice I could give which may or may not be of any use would be to try and be make-up free as often as possible and in that time wash your face and apply a spot treatment. Hope you feel better soon x
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  • monkeysocks 4 April 2012, 12:49 pm

    Oh I feel your pain my dear. My skin is also a complex balancing point between oily mess and dry flakey desert. Skincare products completely ignore the “if I put the wrong thing on my skin it will explode one way or the other” combination problem, which really limits your options. We have to dance a tricky little dance where we sooth both without directly seeming to treat the other! My skin, since stopping being a teen, has swung more into the dry camp, but it takes nothing to make it a spotty mess. or for all my skin to get dry and peel off like I have leprosy or something. and then it takes MONTHS to get it back to something in the middle again.

    For me, I find that the best thing I can do, the only thing that helps both spots and dry, is exfoliation. But you do have to find the right one. I use St Ives Invigorating face scrub which is quite chunky, but not at all scratchy (do not use the blemish control one-it’s like paint stripper) once or twice a week, and then a really mild one that’s more of a smoushy face wash the rest of the time (currently looking for a new one as my old one got discontinued..grr). Then a moisturiser, all over everything, spots and all (otherwise I get that big puss filled spot surrounded by a dry flaky crater thing happening). I tend to stick to something of the level of a day cream for all over (I use Oil of Olay) and then use something a bit meatier for the hardcore dry bits (Aveeno, and selected use of neutrogena Norwegian formula concentrated hand cream (its like vaseline but not greasy)).

    Over all though, I find that my skin can be irritated by lots of things, and flare up, and though some of them are just hormones, some of them are caused by other things caused by hormones, if you see what I mean. Its really useful to try and work out your triggers. For example, when hormonal, I get hot and sweaty when I sleep. About a year ago, I realised that if I changed my pillows and bedding really often (every day or so) during this phase, my skin was much better. I was literally reacting to my own sweat. My back spots are also a lot better since changing deodorant and spraying myself more generally so I don’t sweat as much. I also tend to get crazy skin round my eyes when I cry, which again happens far more often when I am hormonal, and these also get stuck on my pillows. Try hot washing all your pillows and towels, and using a specific face towel, which you wash -a lot, as often the things that make our skin worse, are on the things we touch our faces with, or get stuck there. If you are having lots of problems with spots on your body, try changing washing powders. Have you noticed changes since moving? I find different water can make a really weird amount of difference, until your skin gets used to it.

    I would also suggest trying not to wear too much make-up (lets face it, if you’re flaring up, make-up never does much of a job to hide it anyway, and often looks worse). I tend to wear a light foundation that evens out the general redness a bit, but I don’t use concealer, if I have spots or flakey patches, people can tell anyway,and its not a crime (or so I try to tell myself!). It can also clog up your skin and spread oil around. Have you been using the same make-up/brushes for a while?, try washing everything and replacing things like concealer that touch you skin and then touch it again next time, sometimes they get germy and make things worse, and brushes can get build up of oil on them that you then smear back on your skin, the same way that fringes mess up your skin (as Alexandra has said, incidentally though I found in my teens that that got a lot better when I put dry shampoo on my fringe, even if it was clean, as it absorbs some of the oil. otherwise, the best thing I did was not wear my fringe down at all-it looked worse for a week or so (as it was visible) but then much better.)

    Also re the sensitive skin products. I often find them more irritating than normal ones. If you find you are sensitive to a particular chemical, (lanolin gets me along with a lot of other people) cut that out, but mainly they are just hype.

    Anyway, that’s enough waffle from me. I say show your spots. limited make-up and fresh air always does them good anyway!
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    • tagatha 5 April 2012, 10:06 pm

      Re the sensitive skin products: myself, I tend to stick to them because they’re usually the only ones without any kind of scent. I once bought a face cream and ended up using it as foot cream because I couldn’t breathe when I put it on.

  • Susan (Rad) 4 April 2012, 2:37 pm

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I am similarly in the “skin is a nightmare” camp. Although I haven’t been sleeping so well lately, I know that my spots make me look like I don’t take care of myself and that I’m super stressed. I don’t know if there will ever be a “spots positive” movement. I don’t have product suggestions. I similarly wash with a “oil control” wash and end up with dry spots, and fine lines due to overdrying (and I slather on moisturizer on top). I generally don’t wear any make up, although I am considering a BB cream. I will be 32 in two months. It’s a shame that I have to deal with acne and wrinkles. The most effective treatment for both is supposed to Tretinoin (Retin-A), but I want to have a baby soon, and it causes birth defects. Ah, the joys of late early adulthood (or conversely, very early middle age)!

    • Franca 4 April 2012, 4:12 pm

      I don’t know the name of it, but the one I’ve heard that really works also causes depression (possibly same thing. Healthy!)! I’m not even thinking about it.

      • Susan (Rad) 5 April 2012, 6:48 am

        Oh, no, this is a topical medicine that works to turn over your skin cells quickly. I used it in high school. It’s pretty expensive and can lead to sun sensitivity. I believe what you’re thinking about is taken orally, and is called Accutane in the US. That stuff is scary.

  • THE-LOUDMOUTH 4 April 2012, 2:48 pm

    I think you’re cute, spots or not, but we’re all our own worst critics. Have you seen a dermatologist? Maybe you need something prescription-strength. That’s my only suggestion. But if it makes you feel any better, my skin got worse after the Pill too!
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  • Susan, the one in Berkeley 4 April 2012, 3:41 pm

    I hear your pain! I worked in natural skincare remedies for years, so I have a few suggestions. (Just anecdotal experience, I’m not a doctor.)

    Damage control:
    – Green clay helps to dry up cystic acne quickly with less scarring. Mix up a small amount with a bit of water and apply only to your spots. Leave it on until it fully dries. Wash off with water. Often you can feel your skin pulsing, if it is uncomfortable wash it off.
    -Tea tree oil also helps. Apply full strength on the spots.
    -Try to find these as single products, not as ingredients in combination with others. It’s cheaper and more effective.

    Spots are a sign that something is wrong in the body, that there are toxins that the body isn’t eliminating for some reason.
    -Avoid foods that upset your tummy, even if you like them! Very often digestion is a cause.
    -Change bedding and wash pillows often, as mentioned above.
    -Don’t touch your face unless you are cleaning it.
    -Try taking fish or flax oil supplements, the omega-3 oils help to moisturize the skin. It may be just a sign of dry skin. It’s weird that dry skin can cause acne. The body desperately produces huge amount of oil to compensate, but results in spots.
    -Reconsider your diet. I had cystic acne as a vegan and now I have clear skin as a meat-eater. Everybody is different!

    Finding the causes can take a long time. I’m still finding triggers, but now that my skin is clear they are easier to isolate. Good luck and don’t give up the fight!

    • Sarah 5 April 2012, 8:28 am

      I second the advice to reconsider your diet. I was a vegetarian for 8 years, and had acne to varying degrees for most of that time. I started eating meat again about a year ago, and my skin is now the nicest it’s been since before I hit puberty (I’m 30)! I’ve also found that using coconut oil as a cleanser and moisturiser really seems to help the texture of my skin.
      I hope your skin improves soon, I know too well how much spotty skin can knock your confidence.

  • Helen 4 April 2012, 4:27 pm

    Have you seen a doctor about your skin? I’d heard horror stories about antibiotics for acne but it turns out there are several different ones to try and not all of them have horrible side effects. A dermatologist has put me on a 3 month course of 1 a day tetracycline and my hormonal spots cleared up within the first month.
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    • Hedera 6 April 2012, 6:21 pm

      I second this!

      I went to the doctor when I approached 30, as I was sick and tired of having spots of all kinds (including the really bad ones, also on neck and back etc) since I was about 11 years old.
      (and yes, nothing I did to the outside of my skin made much difference at all; neither did diet)

      The pill did help some, but got rid of maybe 20% – nice, but not enough.

      My GP first prescribed Tetracycline, which actually made it slightly worse, but then he referred me to a dermatologist who prescribed an antibiotic that I took for two or three weeks, and which cleared up my spots *completely*.
      He told me that sometimes they’re caused by a lingering infection that just keeps travelling underneath the skin.

      Since then, I have had one or two a month maybe, but it’s such a relief to be rid of them!

      I have used tretinoine as well from time to time (a mild cream version); nothing in the notes about birth defects, but you do have to be careful in bright sunlight.
      It doesn’t treat the spots so much, I find, but it helps the skin regenerate faster, so it’s good for getting rid of the discoloration etc after a spot.

      But, maybe because I’m still (ten years after that treatment) quite used to looking in the mirror and seeing a face covered in spots, I don’t really notice them on other people that much… Well, I do see them I guess, they just don’t really make much of an impression either way.

  • poet 4 April 2012, 4:48 pm

    Oh, I hear you! I have the same problems, though maybe not to quite such an extent, and they’ve been getting worse since I tried The Pill last spring (it messes with my personality in ways I don’t like at all so it’s not a long-term option for me…). I feel really self-conscious about this, especially since I’m getting older and my skin is taking even longer to heal. I’ve been investing a lot of money in organic cosmetics (which seem to help a little) and concealer, so I’m curious what you have to say about oil cleansing!
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  • MarieAnge 4 April 2012, 5:42 pm

    I’m in the middle age class and I still have teenage skin!
    One of the few products that has worked for me is an exfoliating wash from Yves Rocher.
    It’s a gentle scrubber and since I started using it 6 years ago, the amount of spottiness has cut back dramatically. I never wear makeup so what you see is what mother nature gave me.
    I hope you can find a solution to clearing up your skin.
    There should be a pro-spot movement, but i doubt that will ever happen LOL
    Sisters unite! 🙂
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  • Carina 4 April 2012, 6:11 pm

    Das Foto ist so cool!
    Tut mir leid zu hören, dass du dich wegen deienr Haut momentan so schlecht fühlst :-/ ich habe zeitweise ähnliche Probleme mit kleinen roten Pickelchen die kommen entweder vom Parfüm in Bodylotions oder vom Schwitzen im Sommer oder so. Und dann trage ich auch nicht gerne ausgeschnittene Shirts.
    Hm also wegen deinem Hormon-Problem: es gibt ja auch diese Micropillen, die weniger Hormone haben. Oder nimmst du die schon? Falls nicht kannst du dich ja mal beim Arzt informieren,
    Oder die Pille ganz absetzen und zu anderen Methoden greifen?

    Ich hoffe du fühlst dich bald wieder besser!
    Liebe grüße!
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    • Franca 4 April 2012, 8:58 pm

      Hi, das problem ist ja nicht die Pille, sondern dass ich sie jetzt nicht mehr nehme! Di Pille ist das allerbeste gengen Pickel fuer mich, nur wollen wir eben bald Kinder.

  • Rebekah 4 April 2012, 11:35 pm

    Franca, if we lived in the same country, I would cry on your shoulder and buy you a drink. I’ve had a bumpy face for years. I’ve always got a few big, red bumps, dozens of smaller, colorless bumps, lots of blackheads and darkened, clogged pores.

    I’ve tried a lot of things over the years; exfoliating with baking soda or green clay masks, moisturizing with natural oils, benzoyl peroxide, over-the-counter BHA and AHA products… you know the story.

    Even though I don’t have insurance, I finally visited a dermatologist last month. I’m on a course of four (!) medicines now: two topicals, two pills. For the first time since I was a young teen, my forehead and nose are smooth to the touch. My nose and chin are no longer covered in dark, highly visible clogged pores. I DO still have big, red bumps, and I AM supposed to wear sunscreen every day— but this is a lot more progress than I ever made without a doctor, and looking in the mirror is a lot easier now.

    Cheers, fair maiden! Whatever your skin woes, you’ve always struck me as a lovely, vibrant woman.
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  • Jen 5 April 2012, 1:04 pm

    I’ve been using products with Salicylic Acid (2%) that are also hydrating (Neutrogena Acne Stress Control) with fairly good results. Best of luck with it all!

  • J 5 April 2012, 3:07 pm

    I have never had skin problems to the extent you describe, but do have combination skin and am rather on the spotty side at 32. I use a locally made organic) facewash that does seem a little drying, but as moisturizer use weleda baby moisturizer, it is very light and very effective, might be worth trying to see if you like it (I originally bought it as a substitute for a different weleda product (the amazing ‘baby winter protection cream’) that I use on my daughter’s outbreaks of excema, for which it did not work)

  • jesse.anne.o 5 April 2012, 11:16 pm

    Spots and bruises alike! It annoys me that if I’m walking my bike and my pedal smacks the back of my calf and leaves a big bruise, it’s not acceptable to wear skirts for the next week and a half to work.

    When I hit my thirties I had a similar situation and I know you are not looking for advice re spots but I am going to spill what I did anyway in case you haven’t tried it and it helps hormonal regulation: I started taking evening of primrose oil in the 2 weeks or so leading up to my period and the cystic acne stopped. (I can’t tell you how many acne products I tried – sulfer spot treatment, salyclic acid, benzoyl peroxide, gentle cleansers, clay masks, avocado masks, Mederma, etc.) That and cardio exercise eventually helped.

    I thought it was horrifying that the dermatologist immediately sent me to my gyno to put me on hormonal birth control (also at the time I was a lesbian). The first round made me depressed. The second round was the Nuva Ring, which caused clotting; later I found out that a number of women who used it had strokes due to clotting. I sensed there were clotting issues and called my dr for advice. He never called me back. I removed it and ceased using it on my own. Now (even in a straight relationship) I never use hormonal birth control because it screws with my body too much.

    Anyway, good topic.
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  • Sarah 6 April 2012, 3:23 pm

    Personally I don’t use much make-up (whether that improves my skin or not is another matter) and generally what I do use is for highlighting (e.g. eyeliner) rather than concealing. I’ve never used foundation or concealer beyond once having my face done by a Benefit lady in a department store. My thinking is that it’s a face, how bad can it be? Men walk around with no make up on at all and no-one recoils in horror, so why should I feel obligated to cover up any imperfections?
    (Spots aside, I can understand that people feel more confident when their face is “done” and I know that I’m lucky to not feel that (perhaps because my Mum never wears make-up) but the idea of a full face being “essential”, as often presented in magazines, disturbs me.)

  • Desiree 11 April 2012, 8:47 am

    Oh sister, you are talking to the hormonal horror from hell here! I ended up going to my GP in a fury and she put me on doxyhexal – it’s the first time in my 44 years I’ve ever taken antibiotics for my shitty, moody skin. She also prescribed a spot cream called Duac, but at $40 a tube, I can’t really afford it often. I’m on the pill – but it made no difference. In fact, I’ve acquired more scars on my cheeks, decolletage and upper arms in the past two years than in my whole life. Anyway, the antibiotics seem to work, but I scared to go off them coz I don’t want it all to start again. I cleanse with Cetaphil, apply rosehip oil or Bio Oil while skin is damp and slather on Vitamin E cream from top to toe. It’s the best routine I’ve ever used and my skin is far less “angry” than it used to be and I can go without foundation a lot of the time (BIG YAY!!). Thanks for sharing hon, I’m not grossed out at all, I’ve seen it all! xoxoxoxo
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  • Cory Robbins 16 April 2012, 4:58 pm

    Thanks for this great blog!!. You really convey what it is like to have BAD skin.
    I still have really greasy skin and spots and I am now in my mid twenties. Well (fingers crossed) I did have BAD skin. I have recently been using a natural treatment that is intended for acne and pimples called teenage dream. It has taken all of the greasiness away and the spots with it and my skin feels amazingly soft in to the bargain. It is a blend of oils which is rather surprising to use on oily skin but I suppose when you think about it the stuff that strips the oil from you’re face doesn’t really work anyway so why shouldn’t an oil. It apparently regulates the oil your skin produces. I have thrown away my moisturizer and don’t use anything now except this. Normal acne treatments can leave my skin dry in patches on my cheeks but this does not do this. It might be worth a try.

  • Alex 5 May 2012, 11:43 am

    Hi Franca – I’ve just found my way back to your blog after a year or so because you keep appearing in people’s link round ups, and I have no idea why I drifted away in the first place!

    This post really resonated with me (especially not wearing anything below clavicle-level, I’ve worn round necked camisoles with EVERYTHING for about the last decade), I think we may have the same skin.

    After 15ish years of dealing with all the skin issues you describe (I’m now 33), I think I’ve tried most of the things (or versions of) mentioned in the comments and nothing has ever made a long-term/permanent difference (and rarely even a temporary difference, except the scary, side-effect-ridden, prescription remedies). Clearly that’s just my personal experience though, I don’t mean to take away from anyone else’s recommendations.

    Rather than exhaust ourselves trying to find ways to make them go away, I reckon spot-acceptance might be the only way forward! Sign me up.


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