7 things that dramatically helped clear up my skin (my skincare story)

Confession: I used to have acne.

I mean, I still don't have perfect skin. It's gotten far better, but before it was definitely present. It wasn't cystic acne, or terrible acne, or I-need-Accutane acne, but it was acne and I hated it. I had blackheads (still do), large pores (these are forever), and just overall bumpy skin. Ever a perfectionist, I hated that my skin wasn’t perfect.

I tried a plethora of blemish-clearing products, from Biore, to Neutrogena, to Acne-Free, to Clean and Clear, to St. Ives, to Proactiv. Nothing worked, and I ended up just spending a ton of money and damaging my skin with a ton of chemicals.

I tried home remedies like apple cider vinegar toner, lemon juice, pearl powder, honey. Nothing worked, and I ended up smelling like apple cider vinegar or scrubbing honey off my face.

I watched every YouTube video under the sun on makeup and curing acne. Nothing worked, and I ended up feeling worse about myself (though I did discover some of my favorite YouTubers, like Michelle Phan and Bubzbeauty).

I tried BB creams to cover it up, acne-fighting foundation, green-tinted concealers. Nothing worked, and I ended up making my skin worse by trying to cover things up.

I tried a slew of antibiotics as well, progressively stronger ones. Nothing worked, and I would dry heave at 4:30AM when I took them before morning practice. "This is the price of beauty," I would tell myself, but I only stopped taking them when the strongest one made me puke up water and broke me out in a rash before the first day of junior year.

If there's anything I regret, it's taking that many antibiotics when I really didn't need to — now, faced with gut issues, frequent infections, and other health problems caused by heavy antibiotic use, I wish I could've told that little girl that she was beautiful just the way she was.

This was years of late night tears, wishing I could be perfect. Wishing I could have perfect skin. Wondering why I was doomed to have acne. A lot of self-pity, self-loathing, and a huge lack of self-confidence. I would look in the mirror and wonder if I would ever have clear skin. If I was just cursed to live like this. Ask why I was so unlucky.

I would look in the mirror and wonder if I would ever have clear skin

Of course, it’s definitely exacerbated by the fact that I was a dramatic teenager, but still — I regret how much I tried to hide because of my skin; regret the damage I did to my skin and to my body with the harsh products and antibiotics I took.

After a particularly bad summer in China, where the heat and humidity wreaked havoc on my skin, I moved to topical prescription creams, which worked for awhile. That, in combination with the Clarisonic and my discovery of gentle, more expensive, non-drugstore face washes like the Fresh Soy Cleanser, cleared my skin up all throughout freshman year of college.

Glowing skin during college!

As I delved more into eating organic, whole foods, I also took a closer look at what products I was putting on my body. I got my first facial and learned that a lot of the expensive, high-end makeup and skincare I was using actually contained as many chemicals and toxins that drugstore products did.

It was also during this time of extreme stress, lack of sleep, and digestive issues that my skin started acting up again. As I weaned myself off of the topical prescription medication, my skin was no longer as clear as it was when I began college.

I no longer based my value on how I looked, but I did want to take better care of my skin.

"Your skin is your body's largest organ," I remembered an aesthetician telling me. "It can tell you what underlying health problems might be going on."

I no longer based my value on how I looked

I no longer based my value on how I looked, but I did want to take better care of my skin.

bra by Lively

A couple of things that cleared my skin up:

1. Not eating dairy.

I used to only eat Siggi’s yogurt (no joke — that and Green Mountain Lactose-Free Yogurt were the only brands I’d eat), but ever since trying the Whole30 last January, I’d found that omitting dairy altogether has made my skin much clearer.

2. Sleeping more.

This one is simple but so true. Sleep allows your body to heal and your skin to repair itself.

Sleep tips

sleep tips

Tie your hair back and try not to sleep on your face/side if you can.

Use an overnight resurfacing peel or sleeping mask to do some double duty while you sleep (or apply blemish balm/mask before you go to bed).

Use a diffuser or humidifier to ensure your skin doesn't dry out. Plus, a diffuser with lavender essential oil will help you sleep!

3. Using a face wipe or washing my face after every workout.

Major key. This wasn’t a problem when I was swimming, but after boxing, hot yoga, and running, this is super important.

4. Exfoliating and using masks regularly (at least 1x/week).

As someone with large pores and oily skin, my aesthetician scolded me for not exfoliating more than 1x/month (oops). Now I exfoliate 2-3x/week and use a mask 1x / week. It’s like a form of self-care — putting on a mask is one of my favorite things to do.

5. Rarely wearing face makeup (when I do, making sure it had good ingredients and cleansing thoroughly after).

Personally, I don’t love the feel of foundation on my skin. I try and make my skincare routine great so make skin is even without wearing face makeup every day. When I do wear makeup, I use one that has ingredients I can trust, like Beautycounter Tint Skin Hydrating Foundation, which is awesome because it doesn't dry you out or feel like a mask on your skin.

Clarisonic Mia 1 face cleansing

to remove all my makeup, I do a multi-step routine.

1. Use a makeup removing wipe.

2. Take an organic cotton pad, add coconut oil and wipe again.

3. Use Cocokind cleansing oil on my dry skin and wash off with warm water.

4. Take my Clarisonic Mia 1 and cleanse using that and my foaming face wash. The Clarisonic is what I've found to be most effective at removing makeup! It has sonic motions to deep clean your skin of makeup. I follow that with my normal skincare routine.

6. Getting facials regularly.

This is expensive, so it might not be realistic for everyone, but my skin has changed drastically since getting regular facials. Again, it’s one of my favorite forms of self-care, but it’s also great for overall skin texture and health. Aestheticians are extensively trained and can get a ton of gunk out from under your skin. If you’re in Boston, I recommend Balans Organic Spa — I’ve been going for over a year and I love it.

At home facials

A cheaper option

A cheaper option: Invest in a Clarisonic and do your own facial at home. Use your Clarisonic in the shower with a foaming cleanser and the acne brush head if you have sensitive/oily/acne-prone skin like me or the radiance one for pretty much all skin types. Follow up with a facial steam to open up your pores. Extract your own blackheads carefully. Use a toner — I like witch hazel (I use Thayer's — super cheap) or tea tree — and then a mask. Finish by cleansing and using toner again, followed by a heavy duty moisturizer (I love the May Lindstrom Blue Cocoon for a luxe feel!).

7. Being informed about what’s in my skincare and beauty products.

This one is the most important one. I’ve played with a lot of different natural/organic skincare brands; everyone has different preferences and skin types, so different products work best for different people. No matter what you use, it’s important to know what the ingredients are and what ingredients to avoid. To learn how I switched to safer products, click here.

Current Products + Clarisonic

Disclaimer: This post is brought to you by Clarisonic and Her Campus Media. All opinions are my own. Thank you for supporting brands that make ApproachingPaleo possible! For 15% off the Clarisonic (valid until 7/15/18), click here and enter the code HERCAMPUS