One day your skin is fine and the next it’s congested – full of little bumps and uneven texture. It feels like overnight someone has planted a little microcomedone in every single pore. How did this happen?!
And how to fix it?
There are several ways a product can make your skin freak out – it can cause irritation like itching, redness, or dryness. Or it can cause acne or congestion. Today we’ll focus on this scenario.
First of all – how do you know whether to blame a product or something else like hormones or diet change?
If it’s a product, the breakout will generally be pretty severe, pretty rapid and it will occur in a more generalized way. For example, if you usually only break out on your chin, you might see acne on your cheeks and forehead too.
The breakout will usually start as microcomedones (ie, lots of tiny little bumps that may quickly evolve into whiteheads or blackheads or both) This is if the product you used is only comedogenic.
If it is comedogenic AND inflammatory, you might immediately see some bigger, red acnes as well.
What makes a product comedogenic? The most likely products to be comedogenic contain a lot of all of the following: oils, butters, waxes and emulsifiers.
Sometimes, you can almost predict whether a product is comedogenic by the feel it leaves on your skin and the kind of iffy, “uh oh” feeling you might have after applying it. Trust your instincts.
Here’s what to do if you’ve applied a product that you SUSPECT is going to make you break out just based on how your skin feels and your gut feeling about it:
Rule number one: Don’t use anything new. All the skincare you are going to use should be old tried and true favorites.
Remove it as fast as possible, gently and thoroughly. I recommend a FOUR STEP cleanse:
First cleanse: use a trusted oil cleanser that you’ve used before without any issues. It can be one that emulsifies with water OR one that you remove with a washcloth – whatever you have on hand that you TRUST.
Second cleanse: I recommend a gentle, light gel cleanser that contains some version of salicylic acid (natural salicylic from plants like willow bark or meadowsweet tends to be more gentle so this is what I use and recommend). Again, hopefully you have something like this on your shelf already that is tried and true. The reason we are including salicylic is because it is a beta hydroxy acid (BHA), which means it is oil soluble. BHA acids tend to work on the skin’s surface AND in the sebum filled pores, unlike water-soluble exfoliants. They help to “unglue” and dissolve potential pore cloggers. If you don’t have a cleanser with salicylic acid, that’s ok – just use whatever gentle gel cleanser you have that you trust.
Third cleanse: If you have any detoxifying masks you love, now is the time to use them. If you didn’t have a cleanser with BHA, maybe you have a mask with BHA that you can use. I don’t recommend doubling up BHA – just use it during the second cleanse or third cleanse, not both. If you don’t have a mask with BHA, no worries – just a detoxifying mask you trust will do. Leave it on for just a few minutes – 5 or less – then rinse.
Our last cleanse is the oil cleanser one more time. This helps to rebalance and replenish the skin after the gel and mask cleanses.
You may be very tempted to slather all kinds of acne-combatting products on your skin at this point but resist the urge. Go with something very simple that is lightly hydrating, and again, tried and true. Don’t do anything too heavy. A light lotion or moisturizer or a combo of a simple, high linoleic facial oil and a soothing mist. Make sure your hydration is a balance of hydric and lipidic.
Over the next 7-10 days, keep your skincare very simple, light and without anything too active, like AHA or other exfoliants (BHA is ok though). Hopefully you’ve avoided a break out!
But – what to do if you’ve already broken out? Your skin is covered with comedones like never before, and you just wish you could scrape it off and start over?
A tried and true oil cleanser is your friend – spend extra time every time you cleanse gentle massaging the skin – this will help loosen and draw the comedones out.
Resist the urge to throw all the harsh, most active products you own at the situation. The best fix is a targeted, gentle consistent routine until your skin clears – and it WILL, so don’t worry! Keep your routine very simple and light until your skin has cleared.
It is critical to keep your skin lightly hydrated, otherwise you are inhibiting your skin’s natural metabolic processes of cell turnover and healing. Skin that is too dry does not shed skin cells efficiently and impairs the skin’s natural ability to expel pore plugs. Alternatively, avoid anything too heavy and creamy as this can contribute to congestion, especially with microcomedones already seeded. It is critical that your moisturization includes both lipidic and hydric components, so avoid exclusively using anything that is billed as either “oil-free” or “anhydrous”. If you are using facial oils, it is imperative you layer in a hydrating mist or serum.
If you are doing 1, 2 and 3, this is enough.
If you have products you trust you can go further: look for products that SPEED cell turnover – but without causing irritation. Please do not use any enzymes or acids – these simply remove skin cells and cannot clear out your pores. Products that speed cellular turnover include: phytoretinols (aka bakuchiol or moth bean extract), retinol and retinoids (research these well, as many have a high potential for irritation), some essential oils (helichrysum, carrot seed), some carrier oils that are high in retinoic acid (rosehip and cacay), and some formats of vitamin C (look for non-irritating, stable versions like sodium ascorbyl phosphate and textrahexyldecyl ascorbate. Other ingredients that speed cell turnover include n-acetyl glucosamine (NAG), allantoin, or the peptide Acetyl Hexapeptide-8 (with the name Reproage).
Products that we have in this category include CR Citrine Suspension (contains Cacay), Potentci (contains NAG), ABC Serum (contains bakuchiol, allantoin and vit C), B2 oil (contains bakuchiol), Concentrated Pigmentation Fade Serum (contains vit C, NAG, reproage). Even though Illumina contains many of these ingredients, it is too exfoliating to recommend for this application.
If the microcomedones start growing and showing signs of redness, swelling and inflammation, incorporate tried and true products that modulate inflammation and contain some of the following ingredients. There are numerous herbs that are known anti-inflammatories, two of the most popular being blue tansy and comfrey. Bisabolol, allantoin, niacinamide, panthenol and chamazulenes are all isolates that promote soothing.
Products recommended include B2 oil (blue tansy), Soothing Hydroserum (allantoin and soothing herbs).
Use a next-gen spot treatment on existing acnes. Next-gen spot treatments heal without drying and have multi-correctional formulas that are dedicated to minimizing scarring and post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation as well as diminishing the visibility of the acne quickly and gently. At moss we have two we are extremely proud of – the Zen Physic Botanical Spot Treatment and the L4B Overnight Spot Shrink Mask.
Seek out an esthetician who is known for their skill at extracted impacted comedones and/or an esthetician that can perform a microcurrent treatment. Using microcurrent and a conductive gel, impurities are drawn out of the skin and tissue regeneration is stimulated.
Patience is the name of the game – you cannot speed healing, you must allow your skin the time it needs to get clear. But it will! So keep that in mind and distract yourself with other things so you don’t spend too much time being miserable. Plan special treats for yourself, be very gentle and indulge in self-care that does NOT involve skincare or make-up, this is too triggering during this time.