Before my interest in makeup, there was my interest in skincare–the result of a long and often failing battle with acne. I learned about the causes, and the common treatments of acne, but even armed with the information I needed to make better choices when it came to how I was treating my skin, I wasn’t seeing the results I wanted.
While my most frustrating and embarrassing pimples where those monstrous pustules rooted deep in my skin, red and throbbing and usually white headed (and thus a target for my terrible picking habit), it was actually the clogged pores, uneven texture, and dark spots that made my face look so ravaged.
The first real improvement I made was fighting to keep my hands off my face. Yes, your fingers are covered in bacteria from everything you encounter over the course of a day, and when you touch your face you are transferring those microorganisms to your sensitive skin, making it easier for pimples to form, but picking was my real problem. It was a compulsion I really had to remind myself over and over to ignore, to check if the newest bump was still there, still as big as I thought, still painful. And then to pop it brought a perverse relief, to extract the gunk from my face as much as to release some of the pressure that made it hurt.
Of course it’s been said and written and repeated many times before, but popping a pimple, though satisfying for a few moments, causes lasting and sometimes irreversable damage. When you squeeze a blemish, not only are you releasing the contained bacteria to spread across your face and infect your other pores (or even forcing the bacteria and debris deeper into your skin with the result of worsened pimples and pitted scars) you are also damaging the shape of the pore which makes it more vulnerable to becoming clogged and infected again. It is a cyclical habit: the more you touch your face, the more you pop your pimples, the more likely you are to cause new acne to manifest.
I still struggle with keeping my hands off my face. I will find myself leaning my chin into my palm when I am bored at work and too lazy to hold my head up, or running my fingers across my cheeks when my foundation feels heavy or greasy, subconscious actions that I know, if I was a little more awake or a little more aware, I could avoid for the health of my skin. And when I wake up with that lone whitehead, the urge to squeeze it almost always wins out over the logic of leaving it to heal (and really, the resulting red mess is always more prominent, and harder to hide, than the bump).
But telling myself not to touch my face, and following through, and seeing the positive results put vigor into my otherwise lackadaisical approach to my skincare. None of the treatments I bought from the drugstore seemed to be effective, and so I used them sporadically and for short periods of time without any real hope that they would work. But not picking at my skin was an improvement I could control and measure and the results were obvious. Fewer scabs, less redness, and over time fewer blemishes and less irritation.
Subsequently, I sought to learn even more about taking good care of my skin, not just about acne and how to treat it, but how to prevent it, and how to take care of the left over texture and hyper-pigmentation and enlarged pores.
AHA VS BHA
AHA, or alpha hydroxy acid, like glycolic and lactic acids and BHA, or beta hydroxy acid, like salicylic acid, are chemical exfoliants. They have subtle but important differences, and I found the most helpful information on Paula’s Choice, an online encyclopedia of beauty information and product reviews. If you are looking for easy to digest information, its a good place to start.
Salicylic acid is a BHA and a common acne treatment. It works better than AHAs on oily skin, and is mildly anti-inflammatory. It “degunks” pores but can be irritating to sensitive skin. Glycolic acid is an AHA, and “unglues” dead skin. It works better for dryer skin and can help improve collagen density.
I have oily skin, and thus should get along well with AHA’s but I’ve found I like glycolic acid best. Discovering Nip + Fab’s Glycolic Fix Exfoliating Facial Pads at Target (though I’ve found they are less expensive at Ulta) was the second (accidental) step I made toward clearer skin. I liked the way they made my face feel after cleansing because I use drying, and by extension harsh, facial soaps and the pads make my skin feel less dry and less tight, but still very clean.
Both BHAs and AHAs come is many forms, liquids and creams, toners and lotions, but I like using those soft, presoaked pads the best. They were an easy addition to my skin care routine and I think they work at keeping dead skin from clogging my pores. Any retexturing to which they contributed was gradual and mild, so if you’re looking for a more powerful exfoliant, you’ll need something with a higher concentration of BHA or AHA, and there are many options out there. This is where experimentation rears its complicated head, because you need to know what your preferences are, and you need to move on when something isn’t working for you, but you also need to be consistent and patient enough to give the product time to work.
If you’re thinking of adding a chemical exfoliant to your daily routine, here are some tips from Paula’s Choice:
- You can apply an AHA or BHA product once or twice a day.
- You can also apply either of these around the eye area but not on the eyelid or directly under the eye.
- Apply the AHA or BHA product after your face is cleansed and after your toner has dried.
- Once the AHA or BHA has been absorbed, you can apply any other product in your routine, such as moisturizer, serum, eye cream, sunscreen, and/or foundation.
- If you’re using a topical prescription product such as Renova, other retinoids, or any of the topical prescription products for rosacea, apply the BHA or AHA first