I wish I could turn back time. I want to tell my 15 year-old, 20 year-old, and even 30 year-old self to stop all the nonsense I was putting on my face so that I can save my poor skin from all the damage I’d unknowingly inflicted upon it for years.
Well, at least from all the wayward skin adventures came the accumulated wild experiences to write this post of horrible skincare advice, especially for acne and sensitive skin, and what to do instead!
#1 It Doesn’t Work If It Doesn’t Burn
When I started to get oily skin in my early teens, a relative told me that I should wash my face more often to get rid of the grease. One of the old myths of acne used to be that acne = dirty skin and there was so much disdain for those suffering from acne. As though our shiny faces were so reflective they hurt their eyes.
Then a classmate recommended the infamous St Ives Apricot Scrub. She told me it made her skin feel baby smooth. And so I used it every single night as a cleanser for a good few years. After cleansing my skin felt tight, and I thought tight was right. I didn’t know anything about moisturizing either. So I was stripping my skin of all its natural oils and not hydrating it after. Double damage!
Everyone said that it made their skin super soft, but in reality it was scratching the s*** out of the surface of the skin. I was trying to exfoliate the flaky bits off my skin, not realizing that it was exactly the cause of the flaking. I cringe when I think about how my skin suffered under the abrasive exfoliating beads.
I really don’t understand why it was so hyped up and why it took everyone so long to realize it was causing such damage to the skin.
By the way, I still use the St Ives Apricot Scrub now – TO EXFOLIATE MY FEET!
Then Clinique was all the rage and I got started on their 3-step skincare. The cleanser totally dried out my skin and the toner basically felt like straight up alcohol and burnt my skin but I continued using it because if it burns, it must be doing something right. Can’t believe I repurchased their alcohol-heavy toners for so many years. *rolls eyes
Recently, when I started using active ingredients, I didn’t know how they should feel on my skin. I applied Paula’s Choice C15 Super Booster straight after Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant, my skin suddenly felt hot and painful. I continued with this combination until I saw obvious orange spots on my face. I had given myself a minor chemical burn! Luckily the damage was reversible and my skin recovered after a few days of intense babying. I actually love these two products now, because I use them responsibly and to my skin’s level of tolerance.
AHAs, BHA and Vitamin C are all acidic ingredients. Unless you have a strong skin barrier which is highly tolerant to actives and have been using them for a long time, be careful when mixing them together because it might cause irritation, especially on sensitive skin.
#2 Exfoliate Daily With Chemical Peels
This esthetician I went to in 2015 prescribed me Stieva-A (by prescription only), a retinol to combat my horrible acne. He told me to apply it every day, every night, and even though my poor skin was suffering from severe dehydration and peeling like crazy, he told me to KEEP GOING. On top of that, I was also told to apply Differin.
Look at that! I had peeling, flaky skin, and the area around my nose and mouth was sooooo tight that making tiny facial expressions HURT.
I’m glad I made the decision to stop going to that esthetician even though it was a sponsored treatment. My skin condition went from ok to bad to worse during those months I saw him.
On my own, I made mistakes with chemical exfoliation too. When I first dipped my toes into the glorious world of chemical face peels, I was super excited to try out all these fancy chemicals that promise to make my skin glowier, smoother, brighter, and clearer – basically resurrect it from the dead – without leaving the house!
A few review videos and blog posts later, I made chemical cocktails for my skin. What I didn’t realize was that these people had probably built their skin to a level of resistance to be able to peel every single day without rest.
It’s not what a chemical peel newbie should do!
I think the worst skincare mistake for me was over-exfoliating with chemical peels. I hit the acids too much, too soon. I didn’t give my skin time to adjust, to figure out what hit it, and gave it no time to heal. I also didn’t educate myself enough on the right pairings and suffered minor chemical burns with certain concoctions. I think the frequency depends on what your skin needs, how much exfoliation it can take, and how strong the exfoliant is.
I’m more responsible with my acids now. I learned that my sensitive skin doesn’t need a lot of actives to be happy. When it comes to acids, less is more, and peels should always follow with generous amounts of hydration and moisturization.
#3 Less Is More
In some cases, ‘less is more’ turned out to be ‘less is less’ for me.
I was advised by another esthetician to use as few skincare products as possible because I have sensitive skin. So for 2 whole years, my skincare routine consisted of Cetaphil Gentle Skin Cleanser, Thayers Unscented Alcohol-Free Witch Hazel and Cetaphil Moisturizer. My skin felt dehydrated, rough, congested, looked grey, and I STILL HAD ACNE!
It’s not that these products aren’t great – they are, and I still use them, but now along with more products targeted to fix issues like congestion, dullness, and intense dehydration.
Then I fell pregnant and had fabulous skin during my pregnancy, all the way until I stopped breastfeeding. The pregnancy and breastfeeding hormones afforded me the best skin I ever had, for 1 year and 10 months.
Of course, after all that stopped, my horrible skin returned.
On top of alI the skin issues I had before, my skin had lost its elasticity and I could see an obvious downward pull of skin. NOOO!!!
It was then that I started taking skincare seriously, educating myself on actives and antioxidants and all that jazz.
My basic (and pretty useless) 3-step skincare corner has since exploded into a whole erm, alcove of shiny bottles labelled with the most interesting ingredients that promise glorious results. My skin has IMPROVED significantly with the introduction of new skincare products that treat different issues.
The weather changes, we experience different stress levels in different phases of our lives, and our diet may change. As such, our skincare routines constantly need updating and adjustments too.
#4 Baking Soda Is A Good Exfoliator
Yea, it is, for toilet bowls!
Another widely circulated myth is that baking soda is safe, and even good, to put on your skin. Many naturalists swear that baking soda is the safest thing to go. They seem to think that just because something is a household ingredient, it’s good.
Some people concoct magical baking soda scrubs with a slice of lemon, sugar, table salt and water, and rub it all over their face as an au naturel facial exfoliator. Another recipe is mixing coconut oil with baking soda.
Baking soda is way too harsh to be safe for skin. The pH of your skin is about 5.5, making it slightly acidic in order to protect itself from viral infections and bacterial infections. Baking soda is a whopping 9. It is far too alkaline!
Baking soda (and some strong soaps) will remove the natural skin oils that protect skin and neutralize the naturally acidic environment of your skin.
The top layer of your epidermis is called the moisture barrier, and this keeps your skin supple and moisturized. The moisture barrier is protected by a thin film called the acid mantle. When you apply a product with high alkalinity, your skin becomes too alkaline, and its natural acid mantle and moisture barrier are damaged. Eventually, after prolonged use of products that are too alkaline, you could cause permanent damage to your skin’s moisture barrier and it will lose its ability to retain moisture.
So stop using something that is used to clean toilet bowls on your skin!
Besides these long term damage baking soda has on your skin, it honestly doesn’t even exfoliate your skin as people might think.
Invest in good chemical exfoliants – AHAs like glycolic acid or lactic acid or BHA which is also known as salicylic acid, both of which are naturally occurring.
I am currently using:
AHA: Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 8% AHA (Glycolic Acid) Gel Exfoliator
BHA: Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA (Salicylic Acid) Liquid Exfoliator
On days where I cannot be bothered with so many steps, I use the Some By Mi AHA, BHA, PHA 30 Days Miracle Cream. It contains AHA, BHA and PHA for exfoliation, and Centella Asiatica Extracts and Tea Tree Leaf Water for soothing effects.
#5 Sunscreen Causes Acne
This nugget of ‘wisdom’ is from one of the many estheticians I went to.
When my acne did not get better after using his prescribed topical acne treatments and two round of crazily invasive Agnes acne treatment, I casually asked whether sunscreen could be a cause of my recurring acne.
He said it could be and told me to STOP WEARING SUNSCREEN. I was shocked to hear that because I knew sunscreen is important. Then he told me to make a choice between having acne and having hyperpigmentation. I said I wanted to get rid of acne, so he said ‘ok SUNLIGHT WILL HEAL YOUR ACNE’.
So I continued using the topical acne treatments, full on everyday with no sunscreen, as advised by my doctor. Sunlight may stump the inflammation, but the collateral damage can be high and permanent.
My heart aches for my poor skin during the time I was with this aesthetician. My skin was in the worst state in years after seeing him, and it got worse every single time. Alarm bells started going off but I kept thinking that ‘it needs to get worse before it gets better’. No, my skin never got better with him. It got better after I stopped going to him.
How he simply struck sunscreen off as non-important and made it a choice the patient can make baffles me to no end. Not only did he not educate on the importance of sunscreen, he gave really bad skincare advice.
He didn’t even ask what sunscreen I was using, whether it is comedogenic, didn’t tell me there are physical and chemical sunscreens, didn’t advise that I should try other brands first because sunscreen is so important and everyone should wear it. Some formulations might clog pores or aggravate sensitive skin, so you really have to test it on your skin to know whether your skin reacts well to it.
Sunscreens that do not break me out and I love:
- Neogen Dermalogy Day-Light Protection Sun Screen SPF 50+/PA+++
- Purito Centella Green Level Unscented Sun SPF50+ PA++++
- Krave Beauty Beet The Sun SPF 50+ PA++++
#6 Use Only Products From The Same Brand
I used to keep my entire skincare routine to only a couple of brands because of sales pressure from ill-informed or preying skincare salespeople who would tell me that adding products from different brands will render the other products ineffective, or not work as well as they could.
There is no research showing that skin suffers using products from different brands. Skin cannot tell and doesn’t care if you use a toner from Brand A before moisturizer from Brand B. As long as the products are well-formulated, the ingredients are appropriate for your skin type, and you use it in the right order, your skin can benefit from a range of products from different brands.
#7 Cover Acne With Makeup
Why spend money on skincare when you can cover it up with makeup?
That was my mantra for the many years I had cystic, hormonal acne. I probably had simply given up on my horrible, untameable skin and decided that since my skin was crap with or without makeup, I might as well put on makeup so that I see a better version of myself during the day.
The worse my skin got, the thicker the foundation I applied. Enough of tinted moisturizers and sheer BB creams, I went full on Huda Beauty Foundation (oily skins will love this matte finish!) mode to cover up all my blemishes.
I still hated how my skin looked when I took all the makeup off, but at least I could avoid the stares from people looking at my troubled skin about a metre away.
Some people say that makeup could be the cause of acne. So then I went cold turkey and stopped using makeup for 2 years. But, I still had acne.
Makeup wasn’t the problem.
The problem was that even though I had eliminated the supposed cause, I didn’t properly learn how to treat and heal my skin. It was also my lack of knowledge in skincare, especially for my confusing combination of oily, acne-prone, sensitive, dehydrated skin. I also didn’t know I was essentially poisoning my body and skin with sugar, dairy, and gluten, foods I consumed in embarrassing amounts in the past.
If you have been struggling with acne or skin issues, it’s high time to re-evaluate your lifestyle. My body was trying to tell me something is wrong internally and it took me so long to finally listen to it. I also got down to properly understand my PCOS condition and how it leads to acne.
While in some cases it is fine to cover up bad breakouts with makeup, it’s also important to remember to prioritize the skin underneath first.
That mantra I held on to, on hindsight, feels almost silly right now. It’s akin to asking ‘Why lose weight when you can hide your body under clothing?’
#8 Stop Picking
So easy to say, so hard to follow.
I always tell myself ‘leave them alone, don’t touch them, don’t pick‘. But the more I tell myself to ignore the urge to touch them, the more I want to bother them.
In the past, I didn’t know what to do after I popped a pimple so after inflicting severe damage onto my skin by squeezing all the pus, blood and water out of the pimple, I would just leave it to air-dry, thus exposing vulnerable skin to bacteria. And I wondered why all my pimples took forever to heal.
I wish I had found out about hydrocolloid patches earlier! From then on, I’ve been an acne patch addict.
What I do is, once the pimple has a head, I would prick it with a disposable injection needle, gently squeeze the area around the zit to lead the pus out, then quickly slap on the acne patch to seal it from the evils of the world.
Benefits of hydrocolloid bandages:
- Protects the pimple from external bacteria and sun exposure
- Satisfies your picking urge. Pick all you want at the bandage!
- Gives ultimate gratification from seeing the bandage swell with white toxins absorbed from the pimple
Therefore, rather than telling people to stop picking their zits because it’s advice that nobody heeds, it is much better to teach people the right way to pop ripe zits.
#9 Kill Pimples With Rubbing Alcohol
Acne occurs when bacteria become trapped inside a hair follicle, causing inflammation, presenting itself as red, swollen pustules, nodules, or cysts.
Rubbing alcohol kills bacteria.
So using rubbing alcohol on your face should kill acne-causing bacteria, right?
In theory, this seems almost convincing.
However, this multi-use household product is not meant to be used as an acne treatment.
If you’ve got an oily or acneic skin type, it may be tempting to reach for something to dry it out quickly. But using rubbing alcohol will only backfire. Striping your skin with something so harsh, like alcohol, can actually increase oiliness, as overly dry skin can trigger oil production. Once your skin’s surface is striped and destroyed, the essential barrier that keeps your complexion healthy and protects against bacteria and other environmental assaults can no longer hold in moisture. This ultimately will lead to dehydration.
If you’ve got sensitive skin, it might even lead to contact dermatitis, which is the result of continued exposure to an irritant. Damage from alcohol can lead to an increase in bumps and enlarged pores, adding on to your skincare woes.
Use rubbing alcohol only as a disinfect for a surface wound or to clean skin of bacteria. So if you really have to pop a pimple, swipe the pimple and the needle with rubbing alcohol to disinfect. Lance a sterile needle into the very tip of the zit’s white centre. Apply more alcohol (it will sting) to the now-deflated zit.
Then seal it with an acne patch.
#10 Let Me Pop It For You
I get so angry when I think about how I let an ex-boyfriend, who knew nothing about skincare, squeeze a pimple for me. He kept asking and said he can do it so I relented, and now I have a pitted scar on my right cheek to remember him by for the rest of my life. Grrrr!!
Never trust an unprofessional to pop your zit.
#11 Pore Strips Remove Blackheads
I remember pore strips being placed at eye level on prominent shelves in store. Today, I had to hunt for them and finally found them on the bottom shelf at an obscure corner. They used to be really popular but hardly anyone uses them anymore, which is great! Because they are nothing but a marketing gimmick, preying on people desperate to get rid of blackheads and whiteheads.
After the first time I ripped the strip from my nose and saw blobs of black and white gunk on it, I got addicted to the strips! It was so satisfying and I felt like I had found the perfect solution for removing blackheads.
I used them twice a week. Young me was desperate. Older me has to deal with the consequences. The damage is permanent. The pores on my nose and around the nose, basically in the shape of a pore strip, look a lot bigger than anywhere else on my face.
Apparently pore strips are only a temporary solution and can make your pores appear larger over time and can even cause scarring!
The best way to treat blackheads is to exfoliate regularly with salicylic acid (BHA). BHA can help with sebaceous filaments too (the “blackheads” people see on their noses). From personal experience, Paula’s Choice 2% BHA Liquid is probably the best in the market.
#12 Wait For Mask To Dry Completely
‘The longer you keep a face mask on, the more work it’s able to do with the extra time and the more benefits your skin is getting. Besides, the fun part is watching that thick goo turn into hardened cement! Then you try your best to stifle a giggle because doing so will cause the clay mask to crack and leave you wrinkles. Once your face feels like dried wall plaster, it’s time to rinse it off.’
I’m guilty of this! I thought that the tight sensation after removal is a sign that the clay/mud mask made my skin ‘firmer’ and that all the gunk in my pores had been sucked up by the mask that had been rinsed away.
I also naively believed that the red marks on my face meant the clay had worked right. Nooo! It meant that my skin was irritated!
Regardless of whether it’s a fancy mud mask from Glamglow or a budget DIY Aztec Secret Indian Healing Clay with apple cider vinegar, NEVER wait for the clay mask to reach the completely dry and flaky stage! Doing so can actually do more harm than good to your skin.
It is during the damp phase that your skin absorbs all the beneficial minerals from the mask. When left too long on the skin, the dried mask actually draws out moisture from the epidermis, causing dryness, itchiness and irritation.
So once you see that the mask turns a lighter shade, is drying around smaller areas like the nose and lips, but is still slightly damp across the larger areas like cheeks and forehead, it’s time to rinse it off.
I haven’t used much of clay masks ever since I started using actives though. No need to spend time making my own clay, applying it, waiting for it to dry, rinsing off. No hassle, no mess!
#13 Makeup Wipes Are Enough
For a while, every beauty company was heavily marketing their makeup wipes and heralding them as a radical change in the way we remove our makeup.
I also thought they were a great invention – no need to bring a bottle of makeup remover, cotton pads, and no need for water to rinse off! How convenient and innovative!
I used them so often that when my skin started to show signs of makeup wipes overuse, it was a little too late. My skin had become dry and rough from frequent use.
Even if the wipes do not contain alcohol, the very action of swiping and rubbing them on your face can cause friction and slowly tear at the skin.
If you really have to use makeup wipes because using a good cleansing balm like Banila Co Clean It Zero Original Cleansing Balm to remove makeup under 1 minute is too much and you have absolutely no access to clean water, limit to using those wipes for emergencies.
#14 Coconut Oil Is Good For Skin
For a while, coconut oil was super hyped up as Pinterest’s cure-all snake oil for everything. Everyone and their dog slathered it on their hair, body, face, and cuticles.
People loved that coconut oil is a natural anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, and gives the appearance of glowy skin. It also can remove makeup, like most oils can.
However, coconut oil is highly comedogenic, which means it can clog pores. It tends to sit on top of your pores and feels heavy on skin. It’s a heavier oil and can clog pores and cause blackheads, whiteheads, or even breakouts on those with combination, oily, or acne-prone skin. Consequently, it may actually make acne worse for some people.
I tried extra virgin coconut oil on my skin and just hated everything about it, from how it smelt and felt on my face, to the washing off and having to scrub off oily water in my sink.
If you’ve got the right skin type, coconut oil can be great when used as a moisturizer, if you don’t mind the smell and heavy feel. However, coconut oil is not recommended for those with oily and acne-prone skin.
But if it works for you and you love it, good for you! Different strokes for different folks. ^_^
#15 Use Toothpaste To Dry Out Pimples
I think anyone desperate enough to get rid of their acne must have tried this unorthodox method at some point. I did.
Toothpaste seems to be the solution for anything from soothing burns to drying up acne. Toothpastes are usually filled with drying ingredients like alcohol, which is probably where people first got the idea to put them on pimples.
However, similar to baking soda, toothpaste can be an extreme irritant on the skin. Most toothpaste formulas are filled with ingredients like alcohol menthol, baking soda, and hydrogen peroxide. All these do not kill any bacteria and are very drying, which cause people to assume is a method to dry up a pimple, but they can irritate the skin barrier and cause the skin to overproduce oil to compensate for the loss of moisture. This imbalance in sebum production can lead to clogged pores, breakouts, blackheads, and oily skin.
Not quite worth the risk, yea?
Toothpaste is formulated for your teeth, not the sensitive surface of your face!
If you’re dealing with acne, a dab of over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream can help with the inflammation after applying your moisturizer.
To prevent and treat acne, I use Differin (Adapalene), a topical retinoid.
#16 Use Lemon Juice To Get Rid Of Acne
When I was searching for natural home remedies for acne, my search results were flooded with Pinterest posts and DIY recipes using freshly squeezed lemon juice.
Lemon juice contains Vitamin C, it tastes great in food and drinks, the antioxidants in lemon protect our skin against free radicals and sun damage, and it’s natural! So it must be safe to put on the skin!
Some people apply it straight up on acne to dry it up, others make a mask out of lemon juice and water or apple cider vinegar, some swipe wedges over their skin to ‘shrink pores’, others lie down with slices on their cheeks because…. they see other do it.
From my earliest memories, I remember seeing advertisements from mainstream with these young women showing radiant skin, putting lemon slices on their faces or eyes.
The active ingredient in lemon juice is ascorbic acid, which is the purest form of Vitamin C. There’s also citric acid and Vitamin C helps reduce blackheads, evens out hyperpigmentation and scarring, reduces inflammation, and even encourages collagen growth in your skin. It is antioxidant that counteracts free radicals, making it good at protecting your skin from the sun.
However, while the Vitamin C in skincare is scientifically and carefully formulated, natural lemon juice can cause nasty skin irritations. DIY lemon juice recipes might leave you with contact vitiligo, which is a loss of skin pigment following contact with chemicals to destroy the skin pigment cells.
Reserve your lemons for food and water!
To achieve the full potential benefits of Vitamin C, go for a skincare product with a known concentration of Vitamin C. Paula’s Choice C15 Super Booster is a popular choice and is REALLY potent with 15% pure vitamin C. If you’re just starting out, try Klairs Freshly Juiced Vitamin Drop which has a modest 5% of Vitamin C and is gentle enough for sensitive skin types.
#17 Use Dog’s Urine, Potato, Vicks, Period Blood
Since we are on the topic of home remedies, these are some of the weird things people have been told to put on their faces to get rid of acne. Please be very careful of such ‘natural home remedies’ and talk to your doctor if you have any doubts. Some people have had to go to the emergency department for urgent care, skin burns, almost lost an eye, after applying these things on their faces.
Wow! That was a long list of horrible skincare advice. I’m sure there are plenty more out there being shared and followed. Some people can throw anything on their skin and it will still be smooth and clear. That’s why advice like putting toothpaste on the skin to clear up a pimple still gets rave reviews.
Have you received or followed any similar skincare advice before?