THE GENESIS OF SKIN RELATED ISSUES
Since the onset of puberty, I have had a pretty terrible relationship with my skin. I had somewhat severe acne from the ages of 11 to 17, and really objectively terrible advice on how to treat it. I remember getting into an argument when I was 12 with an older boy, and him telling me to ‘go get a facicure’ before I spoke to him. I was horrified. Someone else once viciously commented that I had a great body, and that the only thing that ‘spoilt it’ for me was my face. Jesu Kristo! I was shook! Every time I visited my aunts, or other relatives, the first thing they always commented on was the state of my skin. I appreciated all those who tried to help albeit unsuccessfully, but most just gawked at me with slight disgust. That period of time was also really jarring for me both emotionally and mentally. I was juggling a myriad of sudden and disruptive changes that had occurred seemingly simultaneously. At 12 years old, I lost my mother to breast cancer. At the same time, my body was blooming into womanhood, starting off with the swelling of my breasts. I had to try and develop a healthy relationship to the same body part that killed my mother. Despite my confusion about my enhanced femininity, my mind started to get excited or sometimes afraid of the prospect of eliciting male sexual attention. This was then topped off by the fact that though my body was budding into a voluptuous frame, my face was erupting with ‘gross’ and ‘impossible to manage’ acne. The dissonance was unreal. I could not tell if I was attractive, unattractive or a weird mix of both. I also could not tell if I cared about what I was at the time, because my mind was numb, dealing with the trauma of losing my mum. I did not know how to deal with any of it, and there was no one I could really turn to to help me. Mum would have helped me, but she was gone.
HOW I INITIALLY LEARNT SELF CARE
When mother was alive, we spent most of our evenings together doing some form of self care. We painted our nails, she braided my hair, we would steam our faces, have at home manis and pedis, do some reflexology massages, etc. Mum was particularly fond of extractions. Every so often we would steam our faces followed by a long session of pimple extraction, spiced up with funny stories about what happened in school and what was currently exciting both of us. These sessions became one of the primary ways that mum and I bonded. I came to love doing extractions. I saw how they relaxed her, and in turn, that relaxed me as well. When mum died, I found myself performing extractions on myself as a way of relieving stress, relaxing and quieting my mind. It became one of the main ways I utilised to calm myself. I would stand by the mirror for hours slowly carefully patiently extracting every pimple, blackhead and pore from my face. The result of this was devastating for my face. These sessions would lead to a lot of skin tears which often resulted in infections which would in turn increase the severity of the acne. But I could not stop extracting. I was caught in a loop. A series of bad DIY skincare choices followed over the years as I fought to get a handle on my skin. I did everything from Lemon masks, to honey and turmeric, to egg whites and tissue. Worst of all was the sugar scrubs. All that these hacks did was exacerbate my already flaring acne and cause micro tears that got infected. This was further worsened by my insistence on picking at my skin. It was a full mess. I was a mess. And for many years I had given up on ever having okay skin. I just accepted what was happening to my face as the norm and refused to really take accountability for learning about what to do to help myself. Luckily for me, from the ages of 18 onwards, my hormones balanced themselves out, and my acne resolved itself. All I had to combat with was some hyperpigmentation, minor scars and the occasional period pimple which I happily squeezed out of my face whenever it appeared.
MAKEUP AND THE DISTORTION OF SELF
When I was about 20 I really started experimenting with makeup. I loved make up and the creativity it allowed me. At some point I even worked for a short time as a makeup artist. I did not however realise that the seemingly innocent relationship I had created with make up had somehow evolved to a dependant one. All of a sudden I could not leave the house unless I had makeup on- not even to go to the grocery store. I became hyper aware of my face and how other people perceived it. I convinced myself that I looked terrible and sickly without makeup and thus should not be seen without it. This conviction was not sudden though. It was a gradual chipping away at my sense of self as I continued to embrace the painted distorted version of myself, and reject the real me. I became a bit of a product junkie- at some point boasting 7 shades of red lipstick from a total collection of 23 different lipsticks. I was also not very keen on quality of the products I used on my face, as long as the colour payoff was great. Due to this, my skin did in fact look sick and neglected without makeup. Rightfully so, because I did not invest any time or effort into taking care of it. All I did was mask it.
THE SHIFT TOWARDS SKINCARE
The shift towards taking care of my skin happened accidentally at first. I was on a weight loss and health journey 2 years ago that had me on a strict low carb diet. Along with this diet came other beneficial habits such as cutting out sugar, eating lots of fresh vegetables and great foods, drinking lots of water, reducing my alcohol intake and minimising take out meals. This had a wonderful impact on my skin. And for the first time I started really enjoying how I looked without makeup and turned to using it only occasionally to enhance my features rather than mask it. I however still did not have a dedicated skin care regimen. I just relied solely on my diet and coconut oil to help my skin glow. I thought that that was all I needed to do to look great. So I did not invest further.
THE BREAKING POINT
The beginning of last year, Corona happened and the whole world was forced to wear masks whenever we left the house. Three months into the pandemic I noticed that my skin had started to break out around my cheeks. I assumed it was something that would resolve itself, but it did not. It just got worse. I had developed Mascne (Face Mask Acne). I went into full panic mode as the fear of reverting into that awkward insecure 12 year old version of myself assailed me. For a couple of months after that, I went into a rabbit hole of harmful DIY skin care using turmeric, honey and coconut oil. Again this just served to aggravate my already angry skin. My face looked dull, textured, irritated and sickly. My self esteem started to take a nosedive as I fumbled over and over again trying to wrestle with the Mascne. Then I met a lovely girl called Ivy who spoke about her skin care journey. She put me on some research about what I should do with my skin. After lots of research, I ditched the coconut oil and headed to the pharmacy to buy myself a skincare routine. I bought the Neutrogena Hydroboost cleanser, The Ordinary Hyaluronic acid, The Ordinary Vitamin C, Neutrogena oil free moisturiser with spf and the CeraVe retinol serum. A week later, I bought the La Roche-posay sunscreen.
THE FIRST 3 MONTHS
This was a very interesting time for me. The first 2 weeks, my skin was glowing. I was so excited to see that my pores looked smaller and that the texture on my skin was also evening out. My hyperpigmentation was also nearly completely resolved. Then the Purge began. Skin purging refers to a temporary acne flare-up that occurs when introducing a new product to one’s routine. It is usually seen with products that increase cell turnover like retinoids or hydroxy acids. The skin purges because the increased cell turnover brings pre-existing micro comedones to the surface. These turn into whiteheads, blackheads, papules, pustules, and cysts. I had all of them. Simultaneously! It was mad! I knew my skin was purging and not irritated because, this reaction only happened in the areas that I would usually get breakouts. More so the rate of recovery for these flare ups was much faster than an ordinary acne break out would be. For the next 2-3 months, the skin on my cheeks broke out ridiculously. It was like puberty on steroids. My self esteem was in the trash again, but this time I had enough research and knowledge behind me to know that this was only temporary. So I held on for better days. I still found myself occasionally picking at my skin, but I have been trying to train myself to self soothe in healthier ways.
For those first 3 to 4 months, I decided not to amend my routine at all. This was so I could really give all the products a chance to work before I trashed them. The initial skin purging subsided after about 3 months, but I was still getting mild weekly breakouts on my cheeks. I finished the three products pictured above and before restocking the products I decided to do a bit of research. My vitamin C ran out first. I noticed that about 3 days after I stopped using the vitamin C, the mild acne flair ups completely disappeared. Previously, I relied on 4 main Youtube channels to educate me on skincare. These were; Cassandra Bankson, Hyram, Dr. Dray and James Welsh. Their videos are very very informative and very easy to digest. But they all had one thing in common, they were all white, so I thought perhaps there was something I was missing by tailoring my routine using regimens that worked for white skin, which acts very differently from black skin. I then started to research more using Black/ melanated Youtube dermatologists and aestheticians like LA Beautyoligist, Dr. Vanita Rattan The Hyperpigmentation Clinic and Dr Alexis Stephens. From these channels and other research, I came to find that black skin is very very sensitive to hyperpigmentation from all forms of irritation, and this can be difficult to treat. And for our skin, prevention was a much better strategy than cure. The best thing was to use gentler products with a lower percentage of actives that would not aggravate my skin. I came to realise that perhaps the vitamin C I was using was too strong for my face and was causing irritation. I required a Vitamin C that was less aggressive. I also came to understand that my skin needed a lot more moisture, especially as it healed from the breakouts. I would have to switch out my moisturiser as well in favour of something more heavy duty.
WHAT MY ROUTINE LOOKS LIKE NOW
Here are the all the products that exist in my routine now. I try and keep it simple and only use products that I feel my skin genuinely required.
I do not wash my face in the morning. My skin tends to be more on the combination to dry side, so I found that washing it twice daily was totally stripping my skin of its moisture. So in the morning, I wake up, I wet my face, use The Ordinarys Ascorbic Acid 8% + Alpha Arbutin 2%, then I slather my face with CeraVe mostiturising lotion, top that with Arimis and seal it all off with the La Roche-posays’s Sunscreen. Sunscreen is the most essential step in the routine. Without it, I may as well not attempt any form of skin care. Sunscreen is the key to preventing hyperpigmentation and blocks the sun from degrading the skin and ageing it. If I am out and about for more that 3 hours, I try to reapply sunscreen. I am not always successful, but I try,.
NIGHT TIME ROUTINE
I use the 60 second rule when washing my face at night. I use the La Roche-posays’s cleanser. I then go in with the ordinary’s hyaluronic acid (Sometimes) then the CeraVe’s retinol serum (always). I am having a love hate relationship with hyaluronic acid and I am not yet convinced of its efficacy in my routine. I finish the night routine with a generous amount of CeraVe’s lotion topped with the trusted Arimis petroleum jelly to seal everything in.
I must say that for the first time since this journey began, I am finally feeling excited about my skin. Except for a few blemishes that were caused by the purge and my annoying picking, my skin looks and feels healthy. And I am so excited about this. I have also never felt more confident in my skin as I do now. I hardly wear makeup any more, including eyebrows! I no longer feel as attached to other people’s perception of my face. I would like to attribute this solely to not wearing make up and fixing my skin issues, but a lot of it has also come in with a lot of background practices like focusing on gratitude, self care, positive affirmations, tons of research on psychology, femininity, the pursuit of happiness, anxiety, etc., eating well, exercising, avoiding alcohol and most importantly, really being kind to myself. Everything worth doing takes time, and it is so important that as we pursue whatever goals we place on ourselves, we do not burden ourselves unnecessarily by being too self critical. Empathy is essential, but this first must be turned inwards to yourself.