How I cured my adult acne: skincare tips for spot flare-ups and oily skin

Acne. This one single, very active, word has quite literally been the bane of my life for the best (or rather, worst) part of the last decade. Sore, bumpy and raging red was all my complexion knew when I first began to breakout, and for many others, these same flare-ups can be caused by heightened stress levels (of which there is plenty right now) and even changes in weather.

At 26 years old, I’ve lived out the entirety of my adult thus far with imperfect skin. That’s not to say I haven’t had good days, months even – carefree days of university and my immediate life after graduation saw a clearer, even and, dare I say, radiant complexion. But after landing my first job, those same sore, raging red bumps began to creep back into everyday life again. I saw the pattern emerge: stress equals breakouts, in my case anyway, but how could I manage something so uncontrollable? 

Desperate for clear skin, over the years  I tried everything from altering my diet (staying well away from anything fried or dairy) to resorting to a fair share of cosmetic skincare routines and prescriptive topical acne treatments which, in the long run, came to no avail. It’s only now however, after seeing dermatologist Dr Sam Bunting pre-lockdown, that I finally feel I have a grip on things.

Contrary to what I always believed,  Sam says, “acne isn’t complicated. You’ve got a genetically predisposed person, hormones, and then we throw in skincare choices which may or may not be helpful. In the end, a lot of what we do can pull ourselves away from the threshold of breaking out”.

Having always had an obsession with beauty products, I was definitely guilty of having thrown in far too many choices into my skincare mix. As such, Sam’s first recommendation was to completely strip back my skincare regime and effectively start again from scratch. Gone were the vitamin c serums, glycolic exfoliators and charcoal infused face masks (Dr Sam suggests ignoring certain skincare trends that are unhelpful to a breakout-prone skin type), and in its place emerged a new, streamlined four-step skincare protocol. 

Dr Sam's Flawless Moisturiser, £25

Dr Sam’s Flawless Moisturiser, £25

Consisting of a non-comedogenic (meaning non-clogging) cleanser, namely, the La Roche-Posay Effaclar H Hydrating Cleansing Cream £12.50, Dr Sam’s barrier supporting Flawless Moisturiser £25, Vichy’s Ideal Soleil Solar Protective Water Spf 30 £19and two active topical treatments (a benzoyl peroxide based treatment for the mornings and a prescriptive retinoid for the evenings), Sam’s minimalist, yet potent, new plan was like music to my ears, especially after building up a complicated routine that clearly hadn’t worked.

“The first line therapy for acne is a retinoid”, Sam explains. We’re well aware of the benefits of vitamin A-derived retinoids on ageing skin, but on an acne-prone complexion, “retinoids normalise exfoliation of skin cells inside the pore so they don’t clog, and they may also have some anti-inflammatory benefits and can help eliminate the dark marks blemishes leave behind.” In other words, think of it as your skin’s fairy godmother. 

La Roche-Posay Effaclar H Hydrating Cleansing Cream, £12.50

La Roche-Posay Effaclar H Hydrating Cleansing Cream, £12.50

While the prescriptive retinoid, Treclin, dealt with the pore unclogging preventative step in my routine, Duac 3 per cent, the benzoyl peroxide based treatment, covered the anti-inflammatory side of things to keep everything under control if a blemish ever arose. The only other products in my new routine – the cleanser and moisturiser – worked to soothe and support my skin. 

Though I initially wondered if my skin would be able to handle two very powerful topical actives daily, Sam noted “the best approach is to use different ingredients that work in different ways together, as acne is a multi step process”.  Plus, there are many ways to counter skin irritation from acne medication, like alternating the days between your use of actives, laying a moisturiser down before applying the topical on your skin or even diluting it in your face cream before application. 

After being on Dr Sam’s protocol for a number of months, I’ve discovered the most consistently clear, blemish and texture-free skin I have in years. A combination of using the right products and the right amount has seen my complexion get the kind of compliments I would have never associated with my skin. “One of the first things people do when they break out is to over-complicate as they spiral into panic and despair,” says Sam. “What you need to do is manage your skin with what you use every single day – acne doesn’t like surprises, it wants consistency”.

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