Girl Stuff: Out, damned spot!

Two of my gorgeous friends, both in their 20s, are currently suffering from facial acne. And they're none too happy about it. Not only does waking to a face full of pimples make you feel crapola, it's also hard to digest the pity stares you get from your clear-skinned comrades. Cue bad self-esteem and social angst.

Both girls have bumps on their cheeks and hairline. Unlike the pimples you get as a teen, which can usually be tamed with a little topical treatment cream, your typical case of adult acne needs to be fought on a few fronts – dietary, hormonal, superficial and lifestyle. A fancy skin-care pack from your department store ain't the answer. Oh no.

Using my former practising beauty ed. knowledge, beauty tomes and some lovely webby resources, I've come up with some solutions for saying ciao to the acne in your (or your friend's) life:

While it's popular to dismiss what you eat as the cause of your skin's woes, there's no denying that what you feed your body will be reflected on your exterior. It just makes sense. Recent research published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition has shown that acne sufferers who go on low-GI diets see improvements in their skin's condition, while others noted that their skin condition worsened when they consumed certain 'trigger' foods, like chocolate, greasy take-aways and soft drinks (if your skin flairs up after a day of carefree chowing on chips and Cola, there's your answer right there).

Dr. Nicholas Perricone, author of The Clear Skin Prescription, says acne is a systemic inflammatory disease, therefore the best place to start is your diet. He says: "In addition to eating foods that are rich in antioxidants (nature's natural anti-inflammatories), you must avoid pro-inflammatory foods. Foods that are starchy – bread, potatoes, chips and sweets – cause inflammation at a cellular level that leads to a clogged pore, the first step towards an acne lesion. Therefore, what you eat is a direct cause of your break-outs, and you need to stop the cycle. Start a supplement regimen that includes antioxidants, a good multivitamin with zinc, the B vitamins, and essential fatty acids [omega-3s and omega-6s found in oily fish like salmon, unsalted nuts, pumpkin seeds, etc.]"

Coincidentally, an anti-inflammatory diet will also help lessen the onset of wrinkles (whee!) and appearance of sun damage (bonus!). In short, a sensible diet will definitely aid in your quest to clear you skin – the added benefit of which will be improved overall health. Plenty of fruit and veggies rich in antioxidants, low-GI carbs, low-fat protein (fish, turkey, chicken), essential fats and hydrating water will help. For comprehensive dietary info, read this piece at

Diet alone will not cure your skin woes. Depending on the severity of your acne, you may also need to go on a course of antibiotics (doxycycline, tetracycline, erythromycinor), or, if you're not averse, an oral contraceptive. Oral contraceptives reduce the amount of male hormone in your system, which has the affect of decreasing sebum (oil) production. Diane 35 and Brenda 35 are popular Pill brands for reducing acne. The oral retinoid treatment Roaccutane, though very effective, has caused some controversy due to reported side-effects, such as depression.

Of course, you can't self-prescribe, so see a doctor or skin specialist. Oral treatments should be used in addition to diet and cleansers, etc., to maintain clear skin (i.e. not an excuse to skip on removing your slap before bed when you're overtired).

Back in the 90s, when I was experiencing teen acne, I used to scrub my face with a gritty, grainy mixture procured from The Body Shop. I thought this wonderful stuff would unclog my pores and clear my pimples. In fact, it had the opposite affect – it just aggravated them. While exfoliants have developed to the less abrasive acidic variety now (I couldn't buy one containing, say, salicylic acid back then), they should be used weekly (or twice weekly, as instructed), with a gentle hand. I personally recommend Olay's Total Effects Cleanser for blemish prone skin (cheap as chips from the supermarket), which contains a mild dose of salicylic acid to tame breakouts. You can use it everyday or just when your skin's freaking out.

It goes without saying that you need to keep your skin clean to avoid pore blockage. You'll need a gentle cleanser that won't dry your skin out and a topical treatment cream containing benzoyl peroxide (dries out affected areas and kills bacteria) or salicylic acid (unclogs pores and breaks down blackheads/whiteheads), which can be bought over-the-counter at a chemist. You'll also need oil-free moisturiser to stop your skin from drying out (over-dry skin will compensate by producing pore-clogging oil) and a topical treatment cream to apply to target areas containing salicylic acid, benzoyl peroxide, azelaic acid or resorcinol (I keep OXY 5, which contains benzoyl peroxide, in my cosmetics bag for emergencies).

Topical retinoid creams are increasingly popular for the treatment of blackheads and whiteheads. They're based on Vitamin A and cause the skin to peel, thereby unblocking pores. They can be irritating and make your skin more sensitive to the sun, so proceed with caution (use at night).

Your skin can also be aggravated by the products you use, so look for the words 'non-comedogenic' (translation: non-pore-clogging) on the labels of your cosmetics and skin-care products (foundation, blush, bronzer, moisturiser, cleanser...), and make sure they're oil-free. You don't want to ruin all your hard work by clogging up your skin with nasty cosmetics. Mineral makeup products are popular amongst girls with sensitive or acne-prone skin.

It goes without saying that adequate sleep, stress management, outdoor activity (while protected by SPF), regular exercise and love/hugs/smiles will go a long way towards healing your skin.

Recommended reads: The Skin Type Solution by Dr. Leslie Baumann and The Acne Prescription by Nicholas Perricone.

Yours truly,
Girl With a Satchel


rachel said...

Great advice, Erica. Thanks!

frangipani princess said...

I've suffered from acne since I was 11, and now (finally) am on roaccutane. It's so great! clear skin!! Everyone that has persistant acne really needs to go to a derm and ask. It works wonders!! Great advice erica =)

gg xx