Acne Treatments That Really Work
Those of you who follow my blog, know that I have been chasing acne treatments my whole adult life. Sometimes I find things that work well for acne, but they dry my skin out too much. Or, I find products that help for a little while, but then the cystic acne comes right back. Today I’m happy to say, I’ve cleared my acne by 95% (I only get one or two random ones before my period and they are not nearly as big or angry). No BS – I’m going to share the acne treatments that REALLY WORK with you today.
I’ve had cystic, hormonal acne (as well as the usual blackheads and clogged pores) since puberty. When I was 16 years old, my doctor put me on a prescription acne medication Spironolactone. It didn’t get rid of my acne, but it got rid of about 75%. It seemed like a really benign, no-side-effects kind of drug (other than feeling dehydrated and needing lots of water and electrolytes often) BUT every time I tried to go off, the acne came back with a vengeance. So I stayed on it for TWENTY-TWO YEARS. As far as I know, there’s no safety data for staying on it that long, and it’s not supposed to be used as a life-long drug. But the doctors I saw along the way said it was fine as long as I wasn’t having issues with electrolytes. No one ever suggested checking my hormones. Fast forward to last year, when I asked Candace Burch to help me check my hormones (cortisol, estrogen, progesterone, testosterone, etc.). I found out I have very low testosterone, adrenal fatigue, and I’m estrogen-dominant (low progesterone). I have a host of health complaints that I won’t get into here (you can read about it in this article I wrote more than a year ago), and I believe taking Spironolactone for so long caused or at least contributed to these problems. I’m finally off! It took about 6 months of weaning off (it causes crazy side effects with blood pressure so I had to go slow), and then about 4 months for my acne to calm down.
I don’t have any great before and after photos for you because my acne is always cyclical and tied in to my periods. When my acne is really bad, I just want to hide – I never think – hey I should take a picture of this! But those of you who watch my Instagram stories have seen it! I have a lot of scarring (and melasma) that I’m still still working on, and some under-the-surface-waiting-to-wreak-havoc bumps that you can’t see. What I can tell you is that I’ve been seeing fewer and fewer period pimples and overall less inflammation. I was previously popping zits and using those Cox-RX pimple patches to draw out the gunk (those are a GOD-SEND by the way) almost every day, and more recently, I haven’t needed to use one in about a month. I’m starting to feel better now that I’m off the Spironolactone, and I’ll re-test my hormones soon. So let’s get to the stuff that WORKS!
Acne Treatment 1 – Diet
I know most of you are groaning right now, because no one wants to change their diet. It’s disruptive, a pain in the butt, and requires a lot of mental fortitude and planning. I get it. But if you REALLY want to see a change in your skin, you have to stop eating things that cause inflammation. These things may vary from person to person. I have certain sensitivities and food triggers that you won’t have. But, there are a couple of acne-triggering food categories that most experts agree on: dairy and sugar. I was on a paleo diet for most of last year (except right after my wedding when I ate whatever the hell I wanted for a bit!).
Currently I’m on a dairy-free, low-carb, low-sugar, keto diet, and I’ve seen amazing results in my skin. I also avoid things that trigger inflammation for me, like tomatoes, alcohol, egg whites, etc. Those are my personal triggers, and not likely relevant to you. If you think you have food sensitivities, I highly recommend doing an elimination diet to discover them.
Since I’m on a keto diet, I don’t eat gluten right now either, and that’s another one that many people who suffer from acne seem to have issues with. Some acne experts also recommend staying away from iodine and seaweed (and I have even blogged about this), but after more testing, I haven’t seen that to be true for myself. I believe iodine and fluoride have a competing relationship in your body, and when you start taking iodine, there is a purging period where it pushes out the fluoride and causes acne. I have read that this is temporary and adding selenium to your diet can help. Read more about this here. Plus, avoiding iodine can really hurt your thyroid, so do your research and be careful.
So bottom line – cut out sugar and dairy (and perhaps gluten) for 30 days and see if there are any changes. Keep in mind that some acne takes 30-90 days to erupt, so if you can stay sugar and dairy-free even longer that would be best. And do an elimination diet if you think there are more dietary triggers for you. A good nutritionist can walk you through it step by step, or you can look for resources online.
Acne Treatment 2 – Platinum Skincare (Retinol, B Vitamins and AHAs)
I’ve tried several products from Leaping Bunny certified cruelty free skincare brand, Platinum Skincare, (after stalking…er researching the brand on Instagram – check out their before and afters!). The founder, Jennifer Tilney, is a wealth of information. She knows her stuff, and has a lot of educational YouTube videos you can check out. I feel like she deserves her own category, because although I’ve tried three of her products and loved them, I think there are more I want to try! Here’s what I have tried so far:
Platinum Skincare AB Cleanser – this deep-cleaning cleanser has AHAs (glycolic acid) and BHAs (salicylic), plus antibacterial tea tree and eucalyptus oils. Great for normal to oily, acneic skin types.
Platinum Skincare B-Complex Vitamin B Cream – This is my new holy grail moisturizer. No joke. It has not only been great at clearing and preventing acne, it is also the right level of moisture for my skin. The formula is great for all skin types, and contains niacnimide (B3 has acne busting properties), panthenol (B5 has skin moisturizing and healing properties), squalane (a great moisturizer made from olives), Pentavitin (R) (a deep moisturizer that doesn’t clog pores), and hyaluronic acid (for hydration). This stuff makes my skin look happy and moisturized, keeps acne away AND doesn’t clog my pores! I literally just bought a new bottle because I don’t want to run out!
Platinum Skincare Retinol – I’m just starting to really experiment with retinol and I know my skin is crazy sensitive and easily dried out, so I started with Platinum Skincare’s Retinol Ten (0.10 percent). It was so gentle, that I actually needed more power, so I went up to the Retinol Twenty (0.20 percent). Retinol not only helps with acne, it is also one of the most powerful anti-aging ingredients out there (just ask my grandma!). I was shocked to see that Retinol Twenty did NOT dry out my skin at all, and I’m starting to see better texture, fewer fine lines, and fewer acne spots. Platinum Skincare prides themselves on having powerful, effective products, so you can really go up in strength (up to 0.50), but I recommend starting at a lower level and working your way up. If you contact Jennifer, she can help you decide where to start. They also sell lots of powerful peels and other acne and acne scar treatments that I haven’t tried yet.
Acne Treatment 3 – Glycolic Acid/AHAs
Glycolic acid is my holy grail ingredient for congested, acne-prone skin. It is an AHA (alpha hydroxy acid) that dissolves the “glue” that bonds the top layer of skin together. If you have extremely sensitive skin, you may prefer lactic acid, which is a slightly gentler AHA. I like both, and I can literally see a difference overnight when I use the right AHA products. These products not only help with acne, they also help to lighten acne scars and improve skin texture. I’m not crazy about salicylic acid (a BHA), but some of you may love it. Read more about AHAs vs BHAs here. Important to note – you may not want to use AHAs and retinol at the same time if you have sensitive skin. My skin is pretty darn sensitive and I’m okay with separating them out – so I may use a glycolic cleanser and then a retinol. Or I might use glycolic in the morning and retinol at night. I pay very close attention to my skin and if it feels sensitive, I back off. And very important – always use sunscreen with retinol, AHAs and BHAs!
Here are the glycolic and AHA products I recommend:
Paula’s Choice 8% AHA Lotion Exfoliant – Anther holy grail for me! I LOVE this product! I can VISIBLY see a difference overnight when I use it. My skin is brighter and more clear, and it doesn’t irritate my skin when I use it in moderation – I use it about 3-4 times a week. It’s great for acne and for anti-aging (wrinkles, spots, etc.). You can buy the 1 oz small size to test it out or the larger size on Amazon or the Paula’s Choice site.
Platinum Skincare AB Cleanser – See above – a really nice, deep cleaning cleanser with glycolic and salicylic acids.
Pixi Beauty Overnight Glow Serum – This is a really great drugstore option, and one I recommend to just about everyone who asks me what to buy at Target for acne and anti-aging concerns. It has a high amount of glycolic (10%) along with other skin-soothing ingredients.
Pixi Beauty Peel & Polish – This is a wonderful scrub that I like to leave on in the shower. It has lactic acid, sugar cane and papaya enzymes to exfoliate, plus it smells SO GOOD!
Acne Treatment 4 – Benzoyl Peroxide
My skin tends to get dry with benzoyl peroxide, so I use it 1-3 times a week all over, and as a spot treatment for blemishes. I’ve tried a lot of benzoyls and my favorite will always be from Jan Marini. She has a 5% and a 10% depending on your level of sensitivity. I have used them both and find that 5% is better for me. I see less irritation with Jan Marini’s formula. It’s a bit pricy, BUT the bottle is HUGE and will last forever.
Acne Treatment 5 – Monthly Facials
Another thing that has vastly helped my skin is monthly facials. I go to Verabella Spa in Beverly Hills. I have seen many of their fabulous aestheticians, including the owner, Vera. They are all fabulous and they use only natural, cruelty free products. I am a huge fan of their Aloe Tea Tree gel as a cooling, healing and bacteria-killing skin treatment. You can schedule an appointment or buy products online.
Acne Treatment 6 – Supplements
Note: I’m not a doctor or healthcare professional, so please do your own research and consult your professionals! This is not medical advice – this is just what I believe.
There are many supplements that can help your overall health and skin, but let’s focus on two things. One – avoid taking mega doses of biotin (found in most hair, skin, nails supplements) – that can trigger acne. And if you have hormonal acne, you may want to try taking DIM (extracted from cruciferous vegetables) and calcium d glucarate. These supplements help to detox the circulating hormones via your liver more efficiently, which can help with PMS, moodiness and of course, acne. I have seen incredible results with this one from Emerita. I am crazy sensitive, so I only take about 3/4 of a capsule daily (most of you will take the dose recommended on the bottle). I also take breaks now and then (as I do with any supplement) so my body doesn’t get too used to it. I’ve been told that even though DIM comes from cruciferous veggies that are also goitrogens (which can be rough on your thyroid), it won’t affect thyroid function. I don’t know if that’s true or not, so I think taking breaks is a good idea (just in case).