As we approach week 9 (58? 102??) of quarantine, many of us are noticing that our skin is reverting back to its acne-riddled high school days. Seriously, what the hell? We’re not spending much time outside getting attacked by free radicals and pollutants, and we have more time than ever to do our involved skin care routines. So, what gives? Dr. Shari Marchbein, a New York-based dermatologist and Clinical Assistant Professor of Dermatology at the NYU Grossman School of Medicine, spoke with us about why our skin is still not behaving even when we’re in quarantine, and what we can do about it.
Why Quarantine is Causing You to Break Out
According to Dr. Marchbein, hormones are a crucial reason our skin is breaking out rn. There’s no way to pinpoint just one culprit, she says, since our sleep, work, and skin care routines are all out of whack from sheltering in place. The key ingredient in all of these, she says, is stress.
When we think about hormones, our minds typically wander to testosterone, progesterone, and like, things that relate to the pill or middle school health class. However, Dr. Marchbein explains, the hormone causing our current skin woes is cortisol, “which increases in the blood at times of stress or with lack of sleep and can trigger acne breakouts by stimulating sebaceous glands to make more oil.” Increased cortisol, she says, “can worsen other skin conditions such as eczema, acne and psoriasis, as well as cause an increased breakdown of collagen and hyaluronic acid, which is the good stuff that gives skin its glow and plumpness.” Yeah, no thanks.
How to Prevent Stress-Related Flare-Ups
To avoid flare-ups in the first place, Dr. Marchbein recommends several ways to de-stress. “First and foremost, get plenty of sleep,” she says. When our body is sleep-deprived, it makes more cortisol, causing inflammation and bodily stress. Staying active is also important, according to Dr. Marchbein. Her go-to ways to de-stress are meditating and taking a yoga class. To help reduce your cortisol and stress levels, you can also go for a socially distanced walk, if possible.
And just like your mom’s been telling you for years, “maintaining a healthy, well-balanced diet and drinking plenty of water are key.” By following this advice, which tbh you should be doing anyway for your general health, you can be like that meme that’s like, “my skin is clear, my crops are flourishing, my depression is gone” (but like, with actual, non-sarcastically clear skin).
How to Treat Acne Flare-Ups
If you’ve got a particularly aggressive breakout, don’t freak out, because here are a number of treatment methods to try. Under normal circumstances (lol what are those), Dr. Marchbein would advise visiting your dermatologist for a steroid injection. These injections “reduce the pain and inflammation of cystic breakouts,” she says, but at this point, “most medical visits are being done by telemedicine, and in-person visits should be for true emergencies only.” So that’s out.
Then what to do about the acne glaring back at you in your reflection? For starters, Dr. Marchbein recommends certain over-the-counter products to treat existing flare-ups. Retinoids are one useful treatment for acne breakouts—Differin 0.1% gel is the strongest non-prescription one available, she notes. Salicylic acid, a type of acid that can unclog pores, is also helpful.
“I like St. Ives Blackhead Clearing Scrub with salicylic acid and green tea as a gentle scrub, and I use a St. Ives salicylic acid gel cleanser once daily,” Dr. Marchbein says. She also recommends stronger 1-2% salicylic acid gel for spot treatment. Products with benzoyl peroxide, which is anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial, can help calm irritated skin too. Dr. Marchbein likes 10% Panoxyl wash and 4% CeraVe wash.
Finally, acne patches deliver active ingredients to a pimple. “By occluding the pimple, these active ingredients are able to penetrate the skin more deeply allowing them to potentially work better,” she explains. Watch out if you have sensitive skin, though—acne patches might be too harsh for you and could make the situation worse.
“Most importantly,” Dr Marchbein warns, “do not pop or squeeze a pimple, as this will cause even more inflammation and can make a potentially bad situation even worse.” I know Dr. Pimple Popper videos can be satisfying, but seriously, don’t do this to yourself.
Skin Care Advice in the Time of Public Face Masks
As much as we’ve been staying indoors these days, we occasionally have to venture out into the real world to stock up on supplies or grab our curbside pick-up order of pad thai. For those of us responsibly following the CDC’s recommendation to wear cloth face masks in public, our skin might be suffering. Dr. Rajani Katta, a dermatologist and clinical assistant professor at Baylor University, warns against using masks made of irritating materials like polyester that trap sweat, in a blog post for the Baylor College Of Medicine. She suggests masks made of absorbent materials like cotton, which can help absorb sweat and prevent breakouts.
If you’ve got dry skin, Dr. Katta advises moisturizing before putting on your mask, but if you’re particularly acne-prone, she recommends skipping greasy products like foundation. “These products can get trapped under the mask and possibly cause more skin issues,” she explains. For healthcare workers on the front lines, Dr. Marchbein recommends avoiding retinoids and exfoliants. Wearing abrasive N95 masks daily, she says, “could cause further irritation and shearing of the skin.”
If your quarantine = breakout central, all hope is not lost. There are plenty of products and habits that can help repair your skin and prevent further flare-ups. Plus, it’s not like many people are seeing you these days. If you’ve got a particularly nasty zit, just turn off your video on Zoom.
We’ve all been there—you wake up, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, ready to seize the day but…there it is, rearing its ugly head and taunting you, a huge-ass pimple. Okay, more like, you roll out of bed, check your phone, then look in the mirror just to face the same inevitable truth: a huge-ass pimple on your face. Your first urge is to pop it, but you know you shouldn’t. Then you look at the five million products you’ve collected over the years and have to decide which one to use today. But will any of them even work?? They all claim to, but every f*ckboy I’ve ever dated has also claimed he would never hurt me. So, yeah. Men and acne medications are why I have trust issues.
To figure out the best practice for dealing with blemishes, I consulted with Dr. Jill C. Fichtel MD of Transformative Dermatology in Nashville. She told me how to deal with pimples (don’t pop them) and what products actually work to treat or minimize them. She also shares her best tips for preventing them in the first place. These are her favorite over-the-counter products to treat acne.
1. Differin Adapalene Gel Acne Treatment
This treatment was previously available only by prescription, but thankfully, is now sold as an over-the-counter product with the prescription-strength acne-fighting retinoid, Adapalene. According to Dr. Fichtel, “It prevents Comedonal acne—the kind that causes blackheads, whiteheads and bumpy skin rather than inflamed pimples—by normalizing pores so they don’t clog.” She adds that it also has anti-aging properties, which are an added bonus for anyone trying to keep fine lines and wrinkles at bay. Get you an acne treatment that does both.
2. PanOxyl Acne Wash
This benzoyl peroxide wash also used to only be available by prescription. THANK GOD all these companies got with it enough to switch them to over-the-counter for all of us peasants who can’t afford monthly dermatologist appointments. Dr. Fichtel said that, while benzoyl peroxide has been used as an antibacterial in acne treatments for many years, it remains an important acne fighter. She says, “This is because it fights acne-causing P. acnes bacteria but does not cause bacterial resistance, even with long-term use.” Propionibacterium acnes bacteria (P. acnes) lives in hair follicles in our skin. According to Dr. Fichtel, “PanOxyl also includes anti-Comedone and anti-inflammatory properties and minimizes irritation in part because it is a wash-off product instead of one that you leave on.”
3. Paula’s Choice 10% Azelaic Acid Booster
Dr. Fichtel says, “This product uses Azelaic acid, the same ingredient used in higher concentrations in prescription products like Azelex and Finacea for acne and acne rosacea.” She adds, “Its blend of Azelaic and salicylic acid has pore-normalizing effects that prevent whiteheads and blackheads, decreases the hyperpigmentation that acne marks leave behind.” Because, not only do we have to worry about treating pimples, we also have to worry about the potential scarring they leave behind. F*ck you, pimples. Also note, Dr. Fichtel says this product is good for sensitive skin!
4. CLn Acne Cleanser
According to Dr. Fichtel, this product is a great preventative for acne-prone skin. She says, “It combines salicylic acid and sodium hypochlorite, which helps to eliminate clogged pores and kill acne-causing bacteria. It’s also free of steroids, antibiotics, parabens and triclosan and is good for all skin types and ages, including tweens, teens and those with hormonal changes.” So if you know any angsty teens out there with skin issues, let them know this is definitely a great option for them. But it’s just as great for adults who never got acne in middle school and suddenly get huge pimples on a regular basis in their late 20s. Speaking hypothetically, of course.
5. Dr. Fichtel’s Go-To Concoction
Lastly, Dr. Fichtel shared her own go-to treatment for pimples. She said, “Mix benzoyl peroxide-based Persa-Gel 10 Acne Medication with over-the-counter hydrocortisone, let it dry, and put an adhesive bandage over it.” Alternatively, she recommends using a baking soda toothpaste with no color, flavor or mouthwash ingredients, again with a bandage.
Now, for preventing pimples in the first place, Dr. Fichtel shares six key tips:
- Wash your face every morning and night.
- Only use makeup, sunscreen and other skin care products that say “noncomedogenic” on the label. That means they don’t cause blocked pores that lead to acne. If that is missing from the label, you’re an acne magnet.
- Clean your makeup brushes and sponges regularly. Otherwise, they will develop bacteria that you will be rubbing directly onto your face.
- Don’t use old makeup or skin care products. Once the preservatives that prevent the formation of bacteria and fungus break down, applying those products is like inviting a pimple invasion.
- If you’re doing everything right and you still have outbreaks, try using hormone-free milk and dairy products. The hormones in milk can cause acne.
- Not all pimples can be prevented. If OTC products and good skin care still leave you struggling to keep your skin clear, speak to your dermatologist for prescription solutions.
So there you have it, straight from a dermatologist! Pimples suck, but fortunately there are methods to preventing them and products to treat them.
Images: Judeus Samson / Unsplash; Target (2); Dermstore; Amazon
Betches may receive a portion of revenue if you click a link and purchase a product or service. The links are independently placed and do not influence editorial content.
Winter is coming, as Game of Thrones likes to remind us, and with it, shitty winter skin. Honestly where the fuck did these images of creamy white, rosy-cheeked, happy winter people come from? Take a pic of my dry-ass, flaky, and tired skin for a real glimpse of the coldest, shittiest season and the horror that comes with it. Lucky for you, we scoured the internet and, more importantly, scoured hilarious Amazon reviews (we may have got caught reading those Haribo Sugarless Gummy Bear reviews again and died laughing) and found the best fucking face masks for any kind of skin, ever.
Buy all of these for your skin care arsenal against a cruel god that sends us flaky zitty skin that refuses to be tamed.
1. Aztec Secret Indian Healing Clay Deep Pore Cleansing
Ok, you can grab about a pound of this for under $10, so it’s definitely worth it budget-wise. This one comes to you in powder form, requiring your ability to mix it with apple cider vinegar or water. Once you slap it on your face, you’ll feel the “pulsating” effects. It helps a lot with acne, including the shitty under-the-skin kind. If you’re dirty and need a detox, get a tub of this shit and go to town.
2. Pure Body Naturals Dead Sea Mud Mask
Ahhhh, a good old-fashioned mud mask. This mask, too, helps immensely with your zit face and can even have a calming and chilling out effect on the spots where you picked your pimples when we told you not to. It’ll also bring down any swelling or redness around said zits. Just moisturize super well after this one and don’t tell us how it compares to the real Dead Sea mud you put on your face during Birthright. Nobody cares, Sarah.
3. Alba Botanical Hawaiian Pore-fecting Papaya Enzyme Mask
Wanna small like fruit without eating because we’re on a cleanse? Try this mask, infused with some tropical shit. It shrinks the size of your zits and helps even out your skin tone, so going without makeup is totally doable although still probs unrealistic yay!
4. SK-II Facial Treatment Mask
Cate Blanchett uses this shit, and her skin is fucking luminous, fam. It leaves skin brighter and refreshed as fuck, thanks to some signature shit that we don’t understand but also won’t question. It moisturizes, it firms, and you need it right meow. OH but it’s like $85 for five masks soooooo keep that shit in mind.
5. Formula Ten O Six Deep Down Detox Facial Masks
Want to rub something on your face that feels like a giant vacuum sucking the shit out of your pores?! Grab a tube of this and get to work. If you like things that burn (obv it’s working), you’ll love this shit. It’s super good for oily or combo skin—just be sure to pat on that moisturizer afterwards.
6. Majestic Pure Cosmeceuticals 24K Gold Facial Mask
Do you want to feel like a pretentious asshole while sitting in your house waiting for a face mask to dry? You’re in luck! The 24K Gold Facial Mask is actually really great for reducing wrinkles, helping firm your skin, and chilling your acne out. Plus, it’s gold, which immediately makes us feel extra and, therefore, awesome.