In What Kind of Skin Am I Dipping?

In bare skin.

I can practically see my brother rolling his eyes at my bad jokes from 30 miles away, so all jokes aside: My skin type is combination-oily. My T-zone (across the forehead and down the nose) and my chin are oily, but I have Goldilocks cheeks – not too oily, not too dry, but just right. My skin concerns include dehydration, acne (esp. hormonal), post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (PIH; most commonly known as “those dark marks after a pimple pops”), and sometimes sensitivity. EDIT 7/31/18: Always sensitivity. So much sensitivity. Word to the wise — don’t ever develop a food allergy, kids. This post by Caroline Hirons is the best I’ve found yet explaining the difference between skin types and skin concerns as well as what to do to for each of those skin concerns.

However, my skin doesn’t exist in a vacuum, so in order to understand it and my approaches to skincare, you need to understand the environmental factors that also factor into my daily life.

Like the good little prospective-law-student I am, I’ve made list of aggravating and mitigating factors that affect my skin:

Aggravating Factors

  • American southeast: I live towards the northern end of the American South, which means I have four complete seasons – temperate spring, humid summer, temperate fall, slushy winter. This means parts of my skincare wardrobe shift up to three times over the course of the year. This post by Cat of Snow White and the Asian Pear gives a more robust description of what it means to have a skincare wardrobe, but the tldr version comes from this one of her posts:

I look at my products as a ‘wardrobe’ of options; I may have items in my closet ranging from bathing suits to winter coats, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to wear every piece of clothing I own at once.

  • Anxiety: I have both generalized anxiety and social anxiety, and I take prescription medication in addition to making semi-regular visits to a therapist to keep my anxiety in check. I’m also an overachiever, and I like to stay busy. However, when I start to get overwhelmed with things that need to be done, one of the ways my anxiety manifests is by leading me to prioritize my to-do list over taking care of myself. It is not a healthy coping strategy, but it does sometimes happen, leading me to go days (or longer, whoops) without properly taking care of my skin. This inevitably leads to clogged pores in addition to breakouts from stress. Have I told you too much about myself? You’re welcome.
  • Exercise: I’m not entirely sure if this should count as an aggravating factor, but I do regularly exercise, and I’m not good at immediately washing off the sweat. I’ve never had any problems because of it, but most skincare gurus are very insistent that you should at least wipe yourself down within 15 minutes of working out. This post by Caroline Hirons has suggestions for how to build your skincare routine around your exercise routine, and when I just glanced over it again in pulling it up for this post, I realized that she also suggests you take off your makeup before you work out. Granted, I barely wear any makeup (usually just tinted moisturizer and concealer), but I don’t do this, either.
  • IUD: During a war with a disturbingly-irregular period from 2014 to 2016, I ended up switching off of oral contraceptives (“the pill”) to a Mirena IUD. The hormones are different: my version of the pill had both estrogen and progestin while the Mirena only has progestin. This change gave me chronic hormonal acne, for which I ended up with prescriptions for tretinoin (topical retinol), clindamycin (topical antibiotic), and spiroacutane (oral antibiotic). I’m off those prescriptions now because the chronic acne has cleared up, but my skin has been increasingly prone to breakouts since I stopped the medications. Now you really know too much about me 🙂 As a data point, it seems very common, albeit not talked about, for people to get hormonal acne for a period of time in their early twenties, so it’s entirely possible that my acne was aggravated by a combination of these two issues and/or that I would have gotten acne regardless of my struggles with birth control. If you are struggling with adult acne, you are not the only one.

Mitigating Factors

  • American southeast: Surprise! Living in the South is both a bust and a boon for my skin because of the humidity, which helps keep my dehydration to a middling level. In December 2016, I traveled up north for an extended weekend, and despite middling temperatures (circa 45°F), my normal routine provided nowhere near enough hydration for my skin. When I returned home, the difference in temperature was minimal (it’s 48°F as I’m writing this), but the difference in humidity was obvious (my face no longer feels like it’s two sizes too small).
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A candid photo of my skin every time I forced it to leave the hotel while up north.
  • Healthy lifestyle: For being a college student, I eat pretty well, and I rarely drink alcohol. I drink plenty of water and tons of tea, including matcha most mornings. Seriously, so much tea. My roommates and I are all tea drinkers, so we have an entire cabinet full of the stuff, which doesn’t even include the stuff that each of us hoards in our rooms. So. Much. Tea.
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In vain have I struggled to find this post again on Tumblr. It will not do.

I also exercise, as I mentioned earlier, but I’m counting it here as well since it does go a long way towards lowering my anxiety (and therefore preventing stress pimples).

  • Prior knowledge: As I said in my previous post, I’ve been interested in skincare on-and-off for years, but since my skin was always quite clear while I was on the pill, I never had a reason to research skincare the way I do now. I really began diving deep during The Great Acne Incident of 2015; I started with DIY, all-natural blogs and slowly worked my way towards more mainstream products. I visit plenty of sites in my research, but I have two great loves: Caroline Hirons and Christopher Pond (more commonly known as TophCam). The routine I’ve developed over the last year or so is most similar to Hirons’ suggested routine, but I tend towards the products that Pond recommends because (1) Pond and I are both in the U.S. whereas Hirons is in the U.K. and (2) Pond wrote this massive guide to good skincare on a budget, which is exactly the kind of skincare I’m looking for as an obsessed-but-broke college student. I also have recently fallen in love with Cat of Snow White and the Asian Pear, who shares both my combo-oily-dehydrated-acneic-PIH-prone-sensitive skin and my snow-white skin tone.
  • Tretinoin: I was given this prescription to help with chronic hormonal acne, and while it did nothing to fix that issue, it does keep my skin smooth and even-toned. I generally use it every third day as a maintenance product more than to combat any skin concerns, but since it is a strong exfoliator, it does help keep my skin decongested.

Since all of that was analysis and synthesis, here’s some summary for you: “Good and bad things happen to my skin.” So helpful.

I think it’s important to have a very clear idea of what your skin is like on its own and what things in your life and environment affect your skin when you begin your skincare journey because environmental factors will affect your skincare routine and product choices no matter how much you may hope otherwise. This list I’ve created is probably not comprehensive, but it’s certainly better than nothing. It will help guide me in evaluating products I already own – is the acid toner I love really the right one for me? – and products I’m looking into purchasing – how many hydrating products is too many? In it’s own way, this self-knowledge is a rudimentary way of practicing skincare mindfulness, as suggested in this post by adoredee (Cat is also a proponent of skincare mindfulness). Forewarned is forearmed.

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