Sally’s Skincare Tips

I get tons of compliments on my skin, and they always make me chuckle. I am prone to whiteheads, blackheads, AND cystic adult acne under my chin, so I consider my skin to be a major pain. But it is relatively even in tone, has little scarring, and bounces back from all three kinds of acne beautifully, so I do my best to be grateful. I’m gonna share some of my skincare discoveries, practices, and preferences, and hope they’re helpful to anyone else with sensitive, acne-prone skin!

I don’t tan: I don’t go to the beach, sit out in the sun, tan at a salon, spray tan, or do anything at all to alter the color of my skin. This means I’m mighty pale for most of the year, but I’m A-OK with that.

I don’t drink or smoke: Not something everyone can adhere to, but it does wonders for my skin’s elasticity.

I don’t use foundation: I know there are a thousand foundations that are formulated to prevent breakouts but nearly ALL makeup makes me break out. With the exception of  undereye concealer. And it makes sense to me that limiting the number of substances that touch your acne-prone skin would also limit breakouts.

I use an SPF 42 sunblock: Every single day. Period.

I exfoliate once a week and use a Clarisonic every other day: Exfoliation is highly personal, and everyone should find her own level of frequency. I scrub once per week with Exfolikate which is strong stuff and makes my skin fabulously soft, and use a Clairsonic face brush every other night.

I change my pillowcase frequently: I sleep on one side, flip and sleep on the other, then change the pillowcase for a new one. The fewer oils I sleep in, the better.

I have a towel for my face: Separate from the one for my body.

I (attempt to) drink a ton of water: I do this because virtually every health expert on the planet recommends it for a multitude of reasons. But I notice that when I slack off, my skin gets duller and breakout-prone.

Even with all these precautions, I still get the occasional zit. My hormones are sensitive and powerful, and I am prone to anxiety and stress, so it’s just unavoidable sometimes. But caring for my skin this meticulously keeps things as in-check as they can be!

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65 Responses to “Sally’s Skincare Tips”

  1. Soho500

    Your skin looks flawless. Cetaphil is a great product. Inexpensive and does the trick.

  2. Kim

    This post speaks to me. It's interesting that your skin has led you to a healthier diet, as glucose intolerance can be a form of pre-diabetes.

    Everyone says I have good skin, but only because I work at it. This summer got bad from all the heat/humidity.
    I use witch hazel + tea tree oil as an astringent (you get used to the smell), and neutrogena's 55spf. C.Booths has a great oil-control mask that I try to use every other day. When I'm diligent, it makes such an improvement!

    I'm big on taking supplements: 4,000mg of pantothenic acid (vitamin B5) spread throughout the day; 300 alpha-lipoic-acid 2x/day; a B-complex, Coenzyme-Q10, and a fish oil capsule.

    I also gave up diary for the most part (I can't quit cheese!), and that has helps with whiteheads quite a bit. I've read some reports that people take up to 10,000mg of pantothenic acid a day to help with cystic acne. For a while I was taking 8,000mg, but I got sick of constantly taking capsules all day.

  3. Franca

    I'm not totally sure what cystic acne is, but I probably have it. I call what I have adult acne. I have tons of scars too.

    I have also found the pill to be the single best thing for my skin – I still get spots, but they're nice and manageable, pre-pill I was red and pussy all the time.

    The only thing that slightly freaks me out about my reliance on the pill is what will happen once we start trying for a baby. My only hope is that I'll get preggers super quick after going off the pill and that than the pregnancy hormones will sort out my skin.

  4. Melissa

    I had great skin through school until I hit college, and then I broke out REALLY bad. It was awful, to the point where I felt like I shouldn't subject other people to having to look at me.

    I tried Proactiv for about six months but it didn't work. I saw a dermatologist but since I have a tendency to get depressed anyway, I couldn't go on Accutane.

    Eventually my sister-in-law talked me into trying Proactiv again and this time I stuck with it for a YEAR. It finally cleared my skin up and any time I think I should try something else to see if it'll work, I break out again. Then it takes me months to get my skin clear again.

    I will never, ever, ever use anything other than Proactiv. Ever.

    Plus I try to make sure that I drink tons of water, exercise, eat well (although sugar is a big thing for me, I have a hard time staying away from desserts and chocolate). I'm doing okay for now but I'd really like to know when I'll be "grown up" enough to not get acne anymore! 🙂

  5. Mo

    I swear by Cetaphil as well (and the company's daily SPF 15 moisturizer) and also do not use foundation, do not tan, eat many raw veggies, am on birth control, don't smoke, and very rarely drink. And I basically never breakout and have been complimented on my skin very often.

    I also use coconut oil as my nightly moisturizer and I never exfoliate since I have very transparent skin which I'm guessing is very thin.

    I rarely had pimples in the first place but after I eliminated meat from my diet (not for health reasons) I ended up with even clearer skin. And I don't consume very much dairy other than yogurt and occasional cheese.

    And now I'm going to adopt your habit of changing my pillowcase often! I'm glad to know that I have most of the same habits as someone else with wonderful skin, so many people say I'm lucky but I think a lot of it has to do with my habits.

  6. Associate Girl

    For me, the less sugar I eat, the less milk I consume, the better my skin looks.

  7. Deja Pseu

    Good tips, and bravo for resisting the pressure to tan. Many years ago I asked my dermatologist what was the best anti-aging cream on the market. His answer, "sunscreen." You might find you want to bump up the SPF a bit when you're going to be out in the sun. My derm recommends at least a 30.

  8. CompassRose

    I have decent skin, although it's showing signs of age (from not wearing sunscreen in my youth, since there weren't any I didn't react to back then). It's nice as long as I leave it more or less alone.

    My only outbreaks of cystic acne happened in my mid-thirties, when I decided to finally take care of my skin properly. First, I tried Clinique, and got rashes and breakouts all over the place. Then I tried a system called Sage, recommended for very sensitive skin, and got a patch of cystic acne on my cheek that left a scar for two or three years.

    I finally found that my skin will tolerate Mexoryl-based sunscreens, or the new nanoparticle physical sunscreens, so I used La Roche Posay for a while, and am now using something that I forget the name of which is a physical sunscreen (and gives a nicer finish than the La R-P, which was kind of shiny).

    The only thing I can clean my face with is soap (Pears), or oil-cleansing. Oil cleansing is probably marginally better, but I don't care for the oily rings in the bathroom, or the oily facecloths it leaves. I have never tried a purpose-built cleanser, or toner, or anything like that, that didn't eventually give me some kind of breakout. I also have a separate towel for my face.

    I've heard that mineral foundations (some of them) are good for sensitive skin (there are a couple of ingredients in some of them that some people react to) but frankly I'm not that jazzed about the idea or look of foundation anyway, since my skin's even – as long as I'm not shiny. Even "expertly applied" I don't like the way it looks closeup – the sort of painted finish and weird porelessness. Maybe if my starting canvas were naturally blotchy or scarred, I'd look harder for a foundation. As it is, I only wear it on stage. Smashbox is tolerable for a week or two of brief usage like that. MAC was poison to my skin, as were any number of cheap drugstore foundations, and even worn for a couple hours a night would soon turn me into a horrorshow.

    I'm getting pretty anal about moisturising (ack! wrinkles) and like the Aveda Green Science; the eye cream makes a visible difference to my eyebags (as I found when I ran out of it once for a while) and the moisturizer doesn't make me break out.

    As far as exfoliating, I use an aspirin mask made of ground aspirin, white clay, yogourt and honey, with sometimes a drop of essential rose oil. It works really well, and doesn't make me break out (are you noticing a theme here?).

    I also can't use cheap or artificially scented shampoo, or I get breakouts on my scalp and round my hairline. Aveda is reliable there too. I tried the no 'poo method and washing with baking soda and cider vinegar, and both were dismal failures (probably cos my water is very, very hard and my hair is very fine).

    I should probably do more for my skin (especially sleep more) and eliminate more things from my diet (it's much better when I'm more careful about taking my Udo's or fish oil) but I don't.

  9. Anonymous

    Out here in the desert I use a 50+ sunblock lotion everyday as I have brown spots from when I was a stupid girl and laid out in the sun. And use just a little foundation to cover that up. I also take at least 1,000mgVitC, fish oil, and vitD everyday, too. That seems to help keep the breakouts down. I do a simple sugar scrub to exfoliate–1tsp white sugar mixed with a good, organic face soap–my skin glows afterward.

  10. Anonymous

    My skin is in pretty decent shape for a 40-something woman. My life-long skin care routine: avoid the sun, use sunscreen, do not use foundation, wash and moisturize before bed and in the morning, use warm water for washing and end with a splash or two of icy cold water, pat dry (don't rub). The less I touch my face, the better. I did have an acne problem in my teens and used some prescription topical medicine until I was 30. Since age 30 I have only washed and used moisturizer (and sunscreen). Occasionally I will use a home-made face mask (yogurt and oatmeal). I never exfoliate. I also use a silk pillowcase. It doesn't match my sheets, but I love it, and I don't have pillow face in the moring (and it keeps my hair from getting frizzy).

  11. Kendra

    Ugh, I suffer from cystic acne too, it sucks!! I have tried almost every prescription antibiotics, creams, etc… finally a combo of Atralin (a retinol) and Minocycline has taken a dent out of the acne, but I still suffer with constant breakouts.

    I am going through laser hair removal, and after one treatment the hair is much better but the skin hasn't followed yet, but I am trying to be patient. I am actually going to get a skin clearing facial today, my derm recommended it. Apparently they remove all the old blackheads and other junk thats in there, to give me a fresh start. I won't lie, I am nervous!

    Other than that I swear by cetaphil too, and moisturizer with SPF for sure!

  12. Zeynep

    I think my skin is OK… I'm totally fine not wearing makeup, but I think my pores are kind of big, and I have no way how to make that better. Maybe they're just blackheads? Not sure. I used to do those Biore strips, but then I heard they can make your pores worse, so I stopped.

    My skincare regimen…
    I don't tan. I wear Neutrogena facial moisturizer with SPF 15 each day. I actually exfoliate every morning with Neutrogena's Deep Clean Gentle Scrub. I wash at night with Neutrogena Oil Free Acne Wash. I don't drink milk, although I will never be able to give up cheese. I generally don't eat too much sugar (no soda, no candy) and I can't really eat nuts or I break out. I don't smoke, but I do drink a couple times per week. I am also on a low dose of birth control and have been for probably 10 years now. I use a different towel for my face as well, and I try to blot my face dry rather than scrub it. I take fish oil supplements and vitamin D each day, as well as a multivitamin.

    I don't use foundation but I use foundation powder from MAC if/when I do use makeup. It doesn't really bother my skin, although I really should wash my makeup brushes more often.

    Skincare is just like makeup for me. I am pretty clueless, and I have no idea where to turn for answers. Everywhere you go, you get a different answer. I can never trust websites or magazines because who knows which company paid them to endorse their product. I wish a Skincare Guru (and Makeup Guru) would sit down with me and tell me exactly which products would work best for me.

  13. Mrs. Lyons

    Oh, I am prone to that kind of acne too! ICK, it is the worst. The best control I've found for it is diet, too.

  14. Erin

    Great article. Thank you for the tips!

    One question – what moisturizer have you found that works well for you? I've tried a few different ones (mostly organic/paraben free), but they all seem to make my skin break out. I'm not sure how long it takes your skin to adapt to a new product… so perhaps I'm not using them long enough to see if they really work with my skin?

  15. bubu

    Great tips and your skin looks great. I too have sensitive, fair skin. Like you, i've found that lots of veggies and limited sun are important. Though I don't think you mentioned it, I know you exercise regularly and I too have found that is important – the blood circulation seems to keep the skin healthier I think. I have found that Clinique superbalanced foundation works well, does not cause breakouts, and especially helps with the dryness in wintertime without clogging pores. I also have come to just use the Aveeno line of skin care products (day and night moisturizer, cleanser and scrub) and seem to do well with those. Thanks for the tips!

  16. Rebekah

    I wanted to leave you a thorough, thoughtful comment, but thinking about my skin makes me want to punch holes in the nearest wall.

    So frustrating.

    I'm going to think about bunnies instead! La la la! Here I am, not thinking about king-sized pores!

  17. Sal

    Erin: Ah, I forgot to mention my moisturizer preferences! I use Boscia with SPF 15 for day, and Aveda Botanical Kinetics at night.

    Interestingly, the Cetaphil moisturizer that works wonders for Mo is far too thick ad greasy for me. Makes me break out within two days!

  18. AbraCat

    I have super oily skin, and I learned a lot about my skin how to control the oil when I started reading Paula Begoun's reviews and started using some of her products about 10 years ago. I wash my face at night with Olay Sensitive Skin Foaming Wash (it does pretty well with my ultra-matte foundation and waterproof mascara), and then I put Paula's beta hydroxy acid gel on my face and neck and a bit of Neutragena moisturizer around my eyes and on my neck. In the morning during my shower, I gently scrub my face with a bit of baking soda to exfoiliate, and nothing else on my face– I've found by washing my face at night, I don't need to wash it in the morning. The baking soda freshens my skin up a bit without stripping the natural oils, and then my skin doesn't over-produce oil to make up for it.

    I definitely agree with Sally on diet, staying out of the sun/using sunblock, separate towel for your face, and no drinking or smoking. I agree on the pillowcase changing too, but I'm not with-it enough to remember very frequently. I still have the occasional cystic acne, but my skin's oil production is way down and my skin's a lot clearer.

  19. Gillian

    I'm so jealous of your skin! I have also gotten compliments on my skin recently, and it's hard not to laugh in people's faces. I've been struggling with acne since I was 12 years old, and it's a little like growing up being overweight. You get so used to being acne-covered, that once you actually have good skin, it's almost as if your mind doesn't notice.

    Luckily, I'm my mind has finally started to catch up. 🙂

  20. rachelwrite

    I had cystic acne until I went on Accutane for several months. I realize Accutane is a very polarizing product (much more so that Cetaphil!), but it worked for me.

    Also, cystic acne is the deep-rooted, swollen stuff. Most acne is only on the surface and isn't cystic.

  21. Ketura, The Wardrobe Workshop

    Great post. I love Cetaphil, too — and I love the price point. I actually never thought about the pillow case issue, but thank you — I am going to get religious about changing it frequently!

  22. Lady Jenn

    I follow a strict regimen also – I wash my face with Ivory soap and warm water. I use Oil of Olay with SPF 15 for a daily moisturizer and I stay of the sun – all the time. (which can be a feat living in southern AZ!). But at 37, my dr praises me for having beautiful skin that is not showing any signs of aging yet!

    I do wear foundation almost daily – but I stick with Covergirl, because they feel less greasy and do not make my face break out. I do get occasional pimples, but only 1 or 2 a month.

    People are amazed to find out that I only use soap and water. Just like my mom and grandma did.

  23. Sheila

    Good for you for finding what works for you – your skin is lovely.

    I've been plagued with acne for nearly my whole adult life, mostly whiteheads and blackheads, but often little cysts around my period.

    The biggest change I did for my skin was to change my diet. You haven't mentioned it, but I drink a LOT of water and it's made a huge difference. When I first started on Weight Watchers 4 years ago, I was 3 weeks in when I ran into an acquaintance – and she marvelled at how glowy my skin looked. Yup, it was all the whole, unprocessed food and the water! There's nothing like a healthy diet.

  24. Hope

    These are great tips, Sal!

    I'm always willing to hear what works for other women, to give me ideas for myself.

  25. Lise F

    I've also generally had pretty good skin, although I think it's more genetics than anything else. Lately, however… I dunno if I'm just coming into that same stretch of adult acne my mom had in her 30s, or if it's hormonal, but my skin has been a lot worse.

    Another complicating factor is the fact that at night, I use a CPAP machine to treat my sleep apnea. The mask has a rubbery surface that sits next to my skin, and it makes my face even oilier than normal. I do wash it, but probably not as often as I should.

  26. Andie

    I do much of the same as you- wash with cetaphil, drink a lot of water, use no foundation and use SPF15 sunscreen everyday.

  27. Work With What You've Got

    Yay! For not tanning (and I swear by changing my pillow case often, I use old clean tees to save money and simply take them off and put them under the pillow when I make the bed.

  28. Laura

    I'm just happy to hear that someone else shares half the month with period related stuff too. I'm Not alone – YAY
    this is totally not related to this post but i just ordered 2 flirty dresses online from your post a few days back. Keep up the good blog.

  29. SarahN

    My skin has always been good, but at 35 I'm noticing some changes: a less even tone, bigger pores, the effects of gravity. My routine is similar to yours, but I haven't experimented with diet the way you and others have. I get exactly one giant pimple per month (I have one now, in fact), and somehow I don't think eating differently will change that. Being on the pill in my 20s and early 30s kept that zit away, but I didn't like how it made me feel, and I just didn't want to be on an artificial cycle for the remainder of my child-bearing years.

    As another commenter mentioned, the less I do to my skin the better. No sun, no foundation, and I'm *trying* to cut back on caffeine. I drink moderately but I don't smoke. Mornings I scrub with Noxzema (another love-it-or-hate-it product) and baking soda and apply either Kiehl's UFM SPF 15 or Neutrogena's Healthy Skin Anti-Wrinkle SPF 15, sometimes with a bit of Clinique Turnaround mixed in. At night it's eye makeup remover and a splash of cool water.

    I remember reading in Bobbi Brown's book that she studies her skin every day in the mirror and then adjusts her routine accordingly. That has stuck with me and I try to do the same. I always enjoy reading people's skin stories, but I think no matter what we do it comes down to genes and hormones.

  30. leah

    I get yucky acne, same as you. I struggled as a teenager and my self esteem is really tied to my skin. People say it's nice now but I still get self conscious. It's only recent that I have stopped wearing a full face of makeup which is very freeing.

    I wear a 30+ sunscreen every. day. I also use it on my neck, decolletage and the back of my hands. I did have a dermatologist tell me once that a bit of sun exposure can help acne, but I don't like the thought of getting rid of my acne and then causing wrinkles and damage so I avoided that particular solution.

    The best thing I ever learned is to not overcleanse and let my skin self regulate where possible. I might go weeks without washing my face with anything other than water, if I feel like it doesn't need it. If I need to exfoliate I use a 2% BHA lotion as that works gently without the abrasiveness of a scrub. I use olive oil to moisturise dry parts in the winter time.

    Also, no fragrances, no menthol, no alcohol, no -cones in anything I put on my face. You'd be surprised how many of the expensive face creams and potions have all that stuff in them.

  31. Stacy

    I have a feeling I'm going to be paying for the lack of sunscreen in my youth. I used to live on a farm and ride horses and we never used sunscreen and were fairly tan (well, farmer tans LOL…pasty white legs for sure!). At 36 I am starting to get wrinkles and I'm not happy about that.

    I've always had pretty good skin and only occassionally do I get small break outs. My cousin called my skin peaches and cream, and I've gotten compliments on it in the past. I don't use foundation, I use pretty good lotion and I drink tons of water and have for most of my life. I never sleep in my makeup and have had a pretty good skin care regimen with cleaning and moisturizing. I think just taking care of it and not stressing your skin too much will make it look better.

  32. gina

    When I'm more healthy in general my skin is noticeably in better condition. By "healthy in general" I mean exercising regularly, drinking lots of water, getting enough sleep every night of the week, eating fresh fruits and vegetables and lots of plain chicken and fish, and drinking very little alcohol. I don't smoke and my sugar intake is usually pretty low (a little in coffee and that's about it; I only rarely eat candy or sugary desserts), so those are not factors that are ever really in play for me. When I'm drinking alcohol more frequently, not sleeping as well, not exercising regularly, not drinking as much water, and eating lots of oily and high calorie and salty foods, I don't feel as energized and my skin doesn't look as good.

    If it weren't for my tendancy to get dark circles under my eyes, I probably wouldn't wear makeup very often, but without some concealor and foundation to cover the dark circles, I end up looking tired or ill pretty much all the time, regardless of how good I'm feeling.

    You have lovely skin, Sally.

  33. Diana

    I am not acne-prone, but I do have very sensitive and somewhat dry skin… I also hate the feel of anything heavy on my face, such as foundation or heavy moisturizers, and I hate anything smelly (this means both fragrance or weird sunscreeny smells, etc). What I use is a very minimalist regime of Liquid Neutrogena facial cleanser followed by Olay Sensitive SPF15. I was devastated when, a couple of years ago, Olay changed their formula to something with a lot more harsh chemical sunscreens that was both smelly and irritating, but so many people complained about it that they changed it back to the old primarily Zinc Oxide formula. I'm like you in that I can't exfoliate too much, especially in the winter, but when I do, I really love Lush's Ocean Salt scrub.

  34. lady

    you do have a very clear glowing complexion. i've been using Cetaphil as well for the last few months and think i'm going to stick with it.

    i've had good skin since my teen years and although i appreciated it, i'm feeling that just wasn't enough. currently i've been dealing with breakout after breakout. i do use mineral makeup but tried a MAC foundation Labor Day weekend. i used it for about 2 or 3 weeks. my skin has never been so broken out. i stopped and going on 3 weeks later my forehead is still sorting itself out. i'm hoping to purge all that crap out of my pores the next 30 days.

    this was also a reminder that my diet has been crap lately. it's been showing on my body as well and i haven't been feeling great about it. yet another incentive to choose healthier options: so i can get my great skin back!

  35. beautybets

    You're my hero, Sal! Super post, and I totally second the effect sugar consumption has on skin. So glad you pointed that out, as well as the positives of fresh produce. With all of the fancy products out there, getting back to basics is often the way to go (and so much cheaper!)

  36. Michelle

    Your skin is gorgeous!

    Like you, I wear sunscreen, use Cetaphil to wash my face, don't tan, and don't smoke. I will (very) occasionally have a glass of wine and I'm working on getting the sugar out and more whole foods into my diet. The other thing that I've found has made a big difference in my skin is exercise. Because of injury, I haven't been able to work out for several weeks and my skin has suffered for it. Hopefully I'll be healed up soon!

  37. rb

    So, this is sort of my thing, having bad skin. I, too, get compliments on my skin and I'm thinking – what?? I'm just good at covering it up. Also, I think all the stuff I do for my acne, like Retin-A, makes the rest of my skin look really good.

    I use Clinique City Block SPF25 for moisturizer, sunscreen, and a sheer foundation. It's all physical block (titanium dioxide and zinc oxide) rather than chemical sunscreen (e.g. avobenzone) and it's supposed to be the least acnegenic form of sunscreen, so I stick with it. I don't use anything else except a bit of concealer when I have a cyst.

    I have done the accutane thing, when I was 19, and I have done the antibiotic thing, recently. I ended up having a reaction to the minocycline that is an indication I've now had my total lifetime dose, so I can't take any more. It's a shame, because it worked the best for me of anything.

    So now I use Retin-A (brand name only, the generic has an oily base – DUH!) at night, and Clindagel (clindamycin) days under my sunblock.

    I wash with Neutrogena Fresh Foaming Wash and I never use scrubs. I think I am using enough chemical exfoliants that I don't need a physical one.

    I still break out monthly,. I have done the food journal thing and am completely sure my acne is hormonal, not food related. I wish I could take the pill but I have some breast cancer risk factors that would make hormone therapy a bad idea for me.

    This month I had four ($(^&*) large painful cysts on my chin. I am considering Spironolactone as a last resort.

  38. Jessica

    This post really hits home for me. Like you, Sal, I have boughts with cystic acne. I get painful cysts / breakouts along my jawline / under the jaw. I've been to the dermatologist and have been on prescription meds as well as Atralin and a sulfur face wash for about a year now. The unfortunate side effect is the constant yeast infections. (I know, TMI). I think I'm going to speak with my doctor about possibly switching to the pill. Currently, I have an IUD, but it will need to be removed by the end of the year. (TMI overload, sorry!)

    My routine is to wash in the morning with the sulfur face wash and I use Purpose by Johnson & Johnson SPF 15 daily moisturizer. I try to touch my face as little as possible. At night, I wash with Purpose face wash and moisturize with Kinerase. It's expensive, but with as little as I use it lasts about 6 months per tube. I don't wear makeup, I rarely have as makeup of any kind usually makes my skin feel awful, like it literally can't breathe. Despite my cystic acne, my skin tone is relatively even and I don't mind not wearing makeup.

    I did have 3 'acne surgery' treatments when I began seeing a dermatologist, which as someone above said, they have a small vacuum machine that they basically use to suck out old white / blackheads. I noticed a dramatic improvement in my skin after that in both look and feel. It wasn't a painful procedure, but it might not be covered by insurance (mine, thankfully did cover it).

  39. Julia

    I went off birth control recently after 10 years (!!!) on it, and the difference in my mood, energy, and general outlook on life has astonished me. Yes, I've gotten a bit of the acne back, especially around my period, but I use prescription products anyway (aczone and tazorac). It's worth the pimples to feel like myself again. Truly an amazing, noticeable change without BC.

    I use the tea tree oil cleanser that Trader Joe's stocks, either thicker Olay moisturizer or thinner Neutrogena depending on the dryness of my skin, exfoliate often with an apricot scrub, and wear a covergirl foundation that actually calms my skin with some mineral powder on top. I tend to get oily, so I blot my face throughout the day with ricepaper. I'm like you in that I don't think my skin is great, but I get a lot of compliments!

  40. K.Line

    Great post! I should email you to tell you about my latest (insane) PMS / menstrual miseries. OMG – you will be able to relate!!

    For my part:

    No tanning under any circumstances.

    No smoking. I definitely drink. (Wine.)

    I like to say I don't eat sugar but it's a life-long struggle to avoid it. I really try though.

    I use pricey foundation that's very light (Touche Eclat). Doesn't worsen my skin…

    I wash with this blue foaming potion by Avene (it has the word clean in it). Very good! MUST have bubbles.

    I moisturize (though I have the greasiest skin for a 40 year old woman you've ever seen in your life). I use SPF 40 by L'Occitane. Doesn't grease up my skin or lead to any break outs. It feels powdery till it soaks in. Then no sign of it. Of course, it costs a fortune.

    I exfoliate occasionally. I should change my pillow case more often.

    I use a sep towel for my face.

    I take a LOT of supplements for a whole host of things but also to manage my hormones which do impact the shape of my skin, for sure.

    PS: Had a yeast infection for 7 months when pregnant and I almost lost my mind. A year?!? I don't know how you managed.

  41. Sara

    I have been reading your blog for a while and really like your clean, minimal make -up look. You have inspired me to improve my diet and try a few new products.

    The hardest thing for me is to avoid the sun. While I don't ever tan or sunbathe, it seems like I am often outside (pre-school teacher). Even with a strong sunblock I feel like I get too much sun. Oh well, maybe lots of veggies can counteract some of the damage….

  42. Rad_in_Broolyn

    Ah, skin, the bane of my existence. I find, in addition to avoiding sugar (dairy products are a killer for me too), destressing, sleeping, water, little/no makeup, and exercising, a big thing for me is to except that I'm not perfect. It's hard, because sometimes my skin looks good, other times it looks pretty bad. But I have to remind myself that even when my skin isn't looking its best, that doesn't make me less capable, smart, attractive, interesting, or human. And it's also nice to be around people who treat me as such.
    Thanks for the great post. It's always good to share our struggles together.

  43. Megan Mae

    My skin story is nearly identical to yours, up to and including the antibiotic/HBC pill. Only the antibiotic made me horribly sick.

    Oh, I also cannot use an SPF in my lotion. It also causes me to break out.

    And for the zits that pop through I love Burt's Bees willbark/tea tree oil spot treatment. Heals them up mighty fast.

  44. Gloria

    You and I share many good skin habits: no tanning, no smoking or drinking, and washing with Cetaphil. I also have cystic acne around my Woman's Time. Bleh! BUT, I have just started cutting out sugar so I am hopeful that I will see the good results that you have. I am on a low dose antibiotic which does pretty well and so far no crazy things happening with the Vajay-jay. I am going to start using a fresh towel to dry just my face and be more on top of changing my pillow case. thanks for the tips!

  45. lisa

    I've been using a prescription acne cream twice daily on my face since I was 14, so it's always astounding when I hear aestheticians, hairdressers, makeup artists, and other people say that my skin is fantastic. Hey, I'll take the compliments I get. 🙂 Aside from the acne cream, I don't tan, I drink tons of water, I use SPF daily, and I moisturize.

  46. GG

    I can relate to many comments here, especially those that say it surprises them when people compliment their skin – I'm one of those people too. Moral of the story: We focus on our flaws so much that we fail to notice that things are not so bad despite those very flaws. When I look in the mirror, I can only see my open pores, the blackheads, the scars, the whiteheads, the oil wells whereas my friend always tells me how my skin glows and how youthful it looks for its age.

  47. Jen

    Wow, I've really got to try that separate towel and pillowcase change. I've had all kinds of acne since I was 12. At 26, I've found that Seasonale (the 4-periods a year) bc is the best for my face, my mood, and my cramps. Without it, I would be pmsing and cramping so bad I didn't get out of bed for about 2 days out of 7. Been on the generic Quasense for 4 years now.

    I rotate daily cleansers, currently using Neutrogena Fresh Foaming Cleanser and Clean and Clear Deep Action Exfoliating Scrub. I exfoliate about once a week using either St. Ives Gentle Apricot Scrub or their Hydroxy Masque. I love L'Oreal True Match mineral make-up for foundation and I'm using a Cover Girl pressed powder, but it's just meh. I've also gotten lots of compliments on my face lately, and I just think . . . if you only knew all I've been through–antibotics, medicated creams, even a laser acne removal (ow, don't reccommend).

    I wish I could go without foundation, but I have lots of acne scarring I'm self-conscious of.

  48. Audi

    What, you mean you don't cave to pressure when someone tells you to get a tan? 😉

    I hadn't thought about the separate towel and frequent sheet changing, but that makes sense. Certain laundry detergents have caused me to break out too, generally the more heavily scented ones. I try to stick with the clear, unscented detergents.

    Drinking lots of water and getting plenty of fresh fruits and veggies makes a noticeable difference for me. I also love the oil cleansing method, and instead of commercial exfoliants (which usually result in redness for me) I use a 50/50 mixture of powdered green tea and powdered kelp. It's a very gentle exfoliant and perks up my skin. I'm sure cutting out alcohol would do wonders for my dark undereye circles, but a girl's gotta have her vices. I figure what I can't accomplish through teetotalling and adequate sleep I can always fix with a good concealer.

    Your skin definitely reflects the care you put into it, Sal; you have a lovely complexion. And it doesn't surprise me one bit, given how much of your blog is devoted to self care and self love, that you would put a lot of effort into keeping your skin healthy and happy.

  49. orchidsinbuttonholes

    You have amazing skin, Sal. Your tips are obviously working for you – thank you for sharing them!

    I'd add only that I always ALWAYS wash my face at night, no matter how tired I am, no matter how I'd rather just skip it. Makes a huge difference.

    And finding facial soap and moisturizer that work is also key. I love that Sephora will make up a free sample – it helps in finding the right combination!

  50. Rebecca

    I drink a ton of water, take a multi vitamin and fish pill, and use proactive along with a moisturizer and philosophy face wash. I take hormonal birth control, but that doesn't make much of a difference. I may go see a derm, but I'm not sure how much they'll do to help since it hasn't helped in the past.

    My skin has always been my biggest physical insecurity, and I've had problems with it since I was in jr. high. Like Rad, the biggest thing for me has been learning to accept that I don't have perfect skin.

  51. Sidewalk Chalk

    Love these tips. I do a lot of these, but never thought to change my pillowcase often. What a great idea.

    I saw a huge transformation in my skin when I switched to a higher-dose birth control (Nuvaring) and started drinking Crystal Lite everyday. I also downgraded my foundation — I used to use MAC, but now use Clinique's Almost Makeup SPF 15 that's almost like a tinted mosturizer. I also don't tan, drink or smoke either.

  52. CompassRose

    @Erin: I don't know about anybody else, but if a product is a bad fit for me, I'll break out within one to two weeks, and using it any longer than that doesn't cause any adaptation, it just makes things worse and worse.

    This is of course very expensive… even using drugstore products, let alone anything fancier. Shoppers Drug Mart in Canada will accept returns on cosmetic products that cause problems; you could see if any stores in your area do that, or offer samples.

    (I sometimes suspect that the skin product industry is for the most part a huge scam; they sell stuff that makes a lot of people break out, then add in a whole range of other goop that claims to "fix" the issues caused by the original thing.)

  53. italophile

    Love this post, Sal! Your skin is gorgeous, and it's great to hear your experiences and tips.

    I agree with you 200% on the dietary recommendations. Our skin can be no better than the food we put into our bodies. I am struggling to quit smoking at the moment. My mom has harped on me for years about lung cancer, heart disease, etc., but when I saw those crow's feet becoming more pronounced, it was a wake-up call. Ah, vanity.

    I've always been prone to breakouts, and I rarely used foundation until I discovered L'oreal True Match. We need to create a Nobel Beauty Prize for the person who invented that stuff.

    At 34, I'm starting to notice shocking changes in my skin. Mama said it would happen. Olay commercials said it would happen. But when it happens… wow.

  54. McKristie

    Ok this was soo interesting! I love skin care products and what people use – I turned 35 this year and my skin changed, so I updated my routine!

    Clarisonic once a day (noone mentioned this amazing tool!), twice when I have a break out.

    Vitamin C serum twice a day and I use as natural as products as I can –

  55. Anonymous

    I am surprised no one mentioned rosacea. I have very sensitive skin and rosacea (inflamation and redness, common in fair skinned people of celtic and north european descent, but can affect others as well). I have to stay out of the sun, and away from alcohol, smoke, perfumes, and facials. Even makeup for sensitive skin is irritating. I was diagnosed a couple of years ago and have used several anti-biotic creams.
    Ah, as I type this the last mine rescuer just started the trip up. Wow what an inspiring story – thank you science and engineering and the human inpulse to help.

  56. Julia

    Pillowcases: I also turn the pillowcase inside out and flip again so I get 4 nights per pillow case instead of 2.

  57. Erin

    Why is Cetaphil controversial? I'm curious because I have the crabbiest skin ever and their soap and moisturizer work great for me.

    I have very dry, very sensitive skin, so staying hydrated is key for me. Also getting enough sleep – I think this is actually the most important.

  58. Sal

    Erin: I've heard people rave about it, and call it super-duper-overrated and drying. I think, like all skincare products, it just depends on personal experience.

  59. Aimee

    Hi Sal!

    It took a skincare post to get me to de-lurk, but I've been reading your blog for a few weeks and love your style!

    The best thing I've ever done for my skin was to stop fighting it with harsh chemicals and switch to the most gentle natural, organic products I could find.

    The difference was amazing – my skin is so much clearer and heals faster when I do get a break-out. I also did the same thing with my shampoo and hair products, now my hair is thicker and prettier than I ever thought it could be.

    The main things I cut out were any petroleum products and chemical detergents. Instead, I use plant-oil based products with as few ingredients as possible. My normal routine is an olive oil/tea tree cleanser, alcohol-free witch hazel toner, and vitamin e lotion. I only use the cleanser at night, just a swipe of witch hazel and moisturizer after my morning shower.

    I am on a low-dose BC pill as well. The combination of keeping the hormonal changes in check, along with this skin care routine has given me the best skin I've had since childhood.

  60. Erin

    Oh man, I'm SOOO in the same boat. I go by all of your suggestions (except sugar is tough for me. I love me some chocolate)
    I also started this program on that is AMAZING.
    It's just a super gentle cleanser (cetaphil), moisturizer (cetaphil), and a shit ton of benzol-peroxide.
    It worked like a charm for me and all my sisters.

  61. Kelly

    I know sugar is bad for my skin but I LOVE it. I can't help it. I'd rather have a cupcake in my face and have to slap on a little more makeup than pine away for a cupcake and be naturally clear-skinned.

  62. Anonymous

    First of all, your skin really does look great. 🙂

    Mentioning the pill as a way of improving one's skin is something that always puts me off. Of course, it works to some degree (and my doctor even recommended it), but it has such a large amount of severe side effects and a supposedly big impact on emotional processing etc. while – at least to me – still being a lifestyle drug.

    All the best,

  63. The Raisin Girl

    Until I turned eighteen, I was the luckiest girl in the world, skin-wise. My skin tone was fairly even, I was generally break-out free, and I could abuse my poor body with cokes and chocolate and chips for weeks before it would show in the form of a zit.

    And then I turned eighteen. And everything changed. And I started getting the most ridiculously frequent and painful break-outs ever. I could wash my face every day and use light moisturizers and stay away from makeup, and nothing helped. And they were always on my CHIN, never my forehead or somewhere else I could hide under hair.

    Depo provera finally cleared them up, to my joy. And even though I've gone off depo now, I seem to have been on it long enough for the worst of the ridiculous hormonal roller-coaster ride to pass by. I now have to work harder to maintain my skin, especially on my forehead where my insistence on having bangs tends to create problems, but I still don't feel I have to wear makeup to have nice skin.

    On a different note, the one really TERRIBLE experience with skincare I had in my teens happened when I mixed Neutrogena foundation with Cover Girl setting powder. They reacted badly and I ended up with chemical burns all over my poor face for WEEKS. Sure, once the burns were gone the skin underneath was really soft and smooth, but it was painful and hideous and mortifying for weeks until then.