I’ve written here and there about my struggles with adult acne, but I realized that I’ve never dedicated an entire post to the topic. My own acne is mostly under control, mild compared to what many people deal with, and considerably better than it used to be. But some of that is because I have had to change my behaviors on many fronts to ensure a relatively breakout-free existence.
Pillowcases and towels
In order to keep exposure to my own old sebum to a minimum, I change my pillowcase every other night. I sleep on one side, flip to the other side on the second day, then throw the pillowcase into my laundry basket. I use a new washcloth every night, and dry my face with clean, unused towels only. I use hand towels to dry, and have found that I can make them last for four uses by using half of each towel side per use. I own my home and do laundry once per week in my own basement. At least one person has mentioned that the amount of dirty linens that I generate through this system seems prohibitive, and I hear that. But when I travel for long periods and am unable to keep this up, I can see a difference within about a week.
For many years I took hormonal birth control for my acne because without it I suffered from incredibly painful cystic acne on and under my chin. It did seem to mess with my moods quite a bit, but I’d tried many creams and pills and consulted with many dermatologists over the years and it was the most reliable solution. More recently I have been taking spironolactone – originally formulated for high blood pressure, but now known to help with cystic acne in women – and it is equally effective without the mood swings. (I am terrified of Accutane and don’t think my case is severe enough for it anyway.)
My cysts stay away so long as I keep to the spironolactone, but whiteheads and blackheads seem to be triggered by dietary choices. I make absolutely no claims that my own choices have any bearing on science, other people’s acne, or anything in the world except my own complexion, but sugar makes me break out. I try to eat candy, baked goods, ice cream, and just about anything sugary in extreme moderation to keep the pimples at bay. (And I dream of diving into pools of chocolate mousse. Really, I do.)
I got my first facial at age 37, and by the time I was approaching 40 I realized that getting one quarterly kept my skin in amazing shape, acne-wise. Yes, they are a huge, HUGE indulgence and not something everyone can afford. But if you can set aside the money for three dinners out and put it toward a facial every three or four months, it can really work wonders. (Or, anyway, it has for me.)
I began using this tool in 2012, and haven’t stopped since. I use mine every other night for deeper cleansing and a bit of exfoliation. A reader gave me a great tip ages ago that has made my use of this tool even more effective against acne: The Clarisonic is supposed to get rid of dirt and makeup. But if you use it to remove those things, you may end up just grinding them deeper into your skin. So now I wash my face first, swipe on more cleanser, and THEN use the Clarisonic.
Very little makeup
For a while, I wore BB cream every day. Now, I just do bare skin. Even BB creams and foundations meant for fussy skin and formulas that are “guaranteed” not to clog pores upset my skin eventually. I do undereye concealer and blush, a bit of powder when absolutely necessary. No foundation, no BB cream, just slightly splotchy, natural skin tone.
I’ve saved this one for last because I know it’s relatively controversial. I do my utmost to keep my hands off my face. I keep my hands clean, but know that they’re still collecting dirt and bacteria all day long. And I’ve noticed that if I rest my chin in my palm for long periods, I get pimples. Right there. So I just don’t touch my face. I’ll scratch itches and rub my eyes and such, but just avoid prolonged contact with my hands.
And that, friends, represents a significant investment of time, money, and energy to keep my acne only somewhat at bay. I still break out regularly, still typically have three or four zits on my chin and neck. I don’t like them. They’re a part of my natural biology, but I have failed entirely to embrace them. I’ve read a few articles and posts that ask why acne never gets folded in with the other issues associated with body acceptance, and lamenting that fact. It’s a valid point, ya know? Some people have acne and can do very little about it. Why should they be shamed? It seems like skin conditions – eczema, rosacea, and others – are near-universal triggers for judgment/embarrassment. In my case, my acne can be agonizingly painful and I feel that’s a good reason to work hard to keep it in check. But I’ll admit that even the non-painful, everyday zits irk me. And I am yet to feel body-love-related holistic acceptance of them.
If you’re an adult dealing with acne, I hope some of my tricks might be helpful to you, too!