There’s a saying that goes nothing is certain except for death and taxes. I could add something else to that saying – acne. For years, I’ve tirelessly tried to find the cure for my face. Nothing has worked. That is, until I quit all my skincare products last month.
I’ve struggled with acne for what feels like an eternity. It all started when I was 16. For most of my life, my skin was perfect – clear without a blemish in sight. But overnight, it turned angry, breaking out with a vengeance I had never experienced. I went to a dermatologist soon after and was prescribed a topical treatment which helped. Nevertheless, my skin hasn’t been the same since.
What has followed is a six-year ordeal of trying different products, changing my diet, and feeling utterly hopeless. I have tried everything. And I mean EVERYTHING. I’ve used countless products, made a number of diet changes, tried strange home remedies – all to no avail. Sure, some things work for a while. But often, my acne just comes back with a vengeance.
It all came to a head (pun intended) about a month ago with a particularly aggressive month of blemishes. Usually, the spots on my face ebb and flow with my cycle. That month they just sat angry and bloated on my face. And nothing was working.
I’ve used countless products, made diet changes, tried strange home remedies – all to no avail.
I was eating well. I wasn’t drinking coffee, which I know is one of my acne triggers. My cycle was fairly normal. I wasn’t wearing makeup at all – partially because I don’t want it to break me out and partially because I despise it. But, I had started using more products. I had multiple face masks, two different moisturizers, a toner, three serums, a cleanser, a spot treatment, and a face peel. Why? A few months prior, I had discovered a popular “natural” beauty brand through some college acquaintances. Chances are you’ve heard of it. Chances also are you know somebody who sells it. I thought every product they hawked would be the cure for my face.
I was sure there was no way that these products were my problem. But, they were the only difference in my routine that I could pinpoint. So, I decided to quit them. For two weeks I would use nothing but a cleanser in the morning and a moisturizer if I needed it. At night, I would wash my face with water and apply moisturizer if necessary. For blemishes, I would allow myself acne patches. And so, I started.
Quitting Was Harder Than I Expected
I thought quitting skincare would be a lot easier than it was. But, I soon found that applying skincare had become an obsession. When still using my products, I could never miss my routine or apply them in the wrong order. I was convinced if I missed any part of it, my breakouts would be worse than they already were. During the two weeks, I found myself absentmindedly trucking to the bathroom when I felt like my skin needed one of my 40 skincare products. It took a lot of willpower to resist slathering stuff on my face. It felt almost wrong to just let my skin be.
That’s not surprising when you think about the influence that the beauty industry has on our everyday lives. It all starts in the grocery line at age 5 with the pictures of perfectly airbrushed actresses on the covers of People and Cosmopolitan. As soon as we enter high school, we’re pushed to wear makeup every day to “enhance” our natural beauty. Now, with the rise of social media, the skincare industry has a chokehold on the internet. You can’t open Instagram or TikTok without being bombarded by reviews of skincare products or filters that drastically alter the faces of our favorite influencers. Our entire lives, we’re taught that perfect skin is a virtue and we’d best do all we can to perfect that virtue.
We’re taught that perfect skin is a virtue, and we’d best do all we can to perfect that virtue.
But the reality is that we probably don’t need 400 skincare products to achieve healthy skin. The active ingredients in skincare can strip skin of its necessary oils and destroy the skin barrier. The beauty industry preaches the infallible dogma of the moisturizer, but there are some dermatologists who say using moisturizer is making your skin worse, not better. While beauty products have been around in some form for thousands of years, humans have existed just fine without a myriad of skincare products. And your husband or boyfriend who infuriates you when he washes his skin with just bar soap yet has perfectly clear skin? Maybe they're onto something. Men don’t have the hormonal fluctuations that can cause acne in women, but maybe the simplest route is the best way to go when it comes to skincare.
During my two weeks, my skin felt transformed. My inflammation vanished almost overnight. I had considerably fewer pimples crop up. My skin felt lighter and more supple. Often, my face itches because of my irritation and inflammation; it didn’t itch once during my two weeks off skincare. I consider myself someone who desperately needs moisturizer. But, I didn’t use it for the last few days, and there was hardly a noticeable difference in my skin.
All in all, not using skincare products has cleared up my skin considerably. While I’m excited about that, I’m just a tad infuriated that I’ve spent so many years slathering on product after product when I could have been just washing my face. When I calculate all the money I’ve spent on skincare the past few years, it’s downright appalling.
So, where do I go from here? I’m quitting mainstream skincare products. A week ago, I tried the more natural route and attempted honey as a cleanser. It may work for some people but not for me. I’ve been back on my cleanser-only routine, and I’ve never felt better. I’ll still buy my cleanser from Beautycounter, but that’s all I’ll ever buy from them again. I still have a moisturizer on hand for the winter months. But, I won’t use it unless my skin actually feels like it needs it.
Yes, I still have acne. It’s better than it's been in a long time, but it’s still there. Currently, I’m focused on healing what remains of it. I’m getting my hormones tested soon to determine if an imbalance is causing my skin issues. Once I know that, the real healing can begin.
So, what does this mean for you? For starters, I would suggest rethinking your skincare routine. By no means should you throw all your products away or quit skincare cold turkey. But, consider how the skincare industry has shaped how you view yourself. This experiment helped me unpack years of self-esteem and self-worth issues. I equated skin imperfections with ugliness.
Every day, women are influenced to believe that we’re not good enough if we’re not perfect. Just a few days ago, a popular Instagram influencer lamented how her skin had changed with pregnancy. The change she spoke of was a few clogged pores, some more texture than she usually has, and extra oil. Her skin looked near perfect in the photo she posted. She then advertised six different products that she uses to “fix” her skin. Another influencer posted her 7-year-old daughter using a facemask. The child has perfect porcelain skin (as 7-year-olds do), but there she was with a skin-perfecting face mask on.
Maybe changes to your skin aren’t inherently bad. Maybe your skin knows how to regulate itself.
Maybe these products work well for this woman. Maybe this little girl will be unaffected by using skincare products at such a young age. And, if so, that’s great. But maybe you don’t need to obsess about your skin texture when you’re pregnant. Maybe it’s just your skin’s response to your changing body. Maybe we shouldn’t teach young children that their skin needs work at such a young age. Maybe skin imperfections are normal. Maybe changes to your skin aren’t inherently bad. Maybe your skin knows how to regulate itself. Maybe your skin doesn’t need to be fixed by hundreds of dollars worth of skincare products.
At the end of the day, use what works for you. But realize that the perfection of your pores does not define your worth. Spending time and money on trying to perfect your skin just isn’t worth it. I understand wanting to be the best version of yourself. But, that doesn’t come in an aesthetically packaged bottle of chemicals.
A month ago, I was obsessed with my skincare routine. I let the skincare industry exploit my insecurities. I fell for the marketing tactics of perfectly clear skin just like so many other women.
But, quitting my skincare routine was arguably one of the smarter things I’ve ever done. It helped my self-esteem and body image issues. I now know what actually works on my skin and what doesn’t. My skin is nowhere near perfect. I still struggle with acne, and I probably will for a while. But, it’s freeing to know that my skin won’t be cured by a single serum or facemask. Rather, I can focus on the real healing that needs to happen and work on being comfortable in my own skin.
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