Chicken Pox?! Nope, Pimples

We all remember those high school days where we’d wake up horrified to find our beautiful, youthful faces pimple-ridden. At the ripe old age of 27, I never expected those days to ever haunt me again until…

I went off birth control.

To preface the story, I never had bad acne in high school; a pimple here or there (and always one on prom night). I never wore a lot of make-up, and still to this day don’t. I’ll wear eye shadow, eyeliner, and mascara but that’s about it. Sometimes I’ll use some under-eye concealer, cheek/lip stain and a light mineral-based facial powder.

I had been taking the Velivet 28 day tablet birth control pill for a year after being on Yaz for the two years before. My insurance changed and I was no able longer to pick up my prescription at the pharmacy down the street in favor of their mail-delivery service. So in an act of rebellion I simply quit birth control! Ha ha! I’ll keep my $15/mo tyvm.

Things were going fine – I even lost a few lbs. Three months later, my face exploded. My body was a minefield of raging hormones. I have never in my life experienced so many whiteheads. And HUGE ones, at that. (The acne wasn’t just limited to my face, but I’ll do another post on that later). It was so embarrassing. I wanted to quit my job and hide under my covers forever. I spent countless days with Dr. Google, looking at what seemed like millions of reviews on millions of products.

In the end, I’ve spent over $200 trying various products. Almost a year later, I think I’ve gotten a routine down and am able to stay relatively acne-free. I still have a little bit of scarring, but even that is starting to fade. I’ve gone from washing my face three times a day to washing once or twice.

Here’s how I did it.

Step 1 – Keep Your Face Clean

This is probably a big duh – if your face is greasy, you wash it. It’s not always that simple. Your skin has natural oils that keep your skin from getting too dry. Yes, washing is important, but the when and how often is really kind of a trial and error process. I found that during the worst periods of acne, washing my face three-four times a day was required. For the most part the two big baddies in the fight against acne are salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide.

Products I use – The Tried and True

Obagi Clenziderm Daily Care Foaming Cleanser – This contains 2% salicylic acid and is supposed to be used once in the morning and once at night. During the worst outbreaks I would sometimes use it a third time over lunch. It has a very sweet smell and only takes just a little bit to clean your whole face. Sometimes it can cause a tingling sensation. Be sure to wet your face with warm water before you wash with this stuff and of course avoid eye contact. This helps to clean your face and prevent clogged pores which cause acne.
Obagi Clenziderm Pore Therapy – This is to be used after washing with the Obagi cleanser. It also contains 2% salicylic acid. It has a similar sweet smell and is applied with cotton balls (or cotton rounds which are my preference). Like the cleanser, it doesn’t take much to get a good sweep around your face. I did find this to be the most drying part of the process. I would use it alternately with washing with the Obagi cleanser, or sometimes I would skip it completely – it really depends on how dry your skin is.
Ole Henricksen Truth to Go Wipes – These are great to stick in the purse or keep in your desk or car if you’re on the go a lot. This is not an acne-specific product and wipes have an almost sickly sweet orange smell. There are probably some good (cheaper) alternatives, I just find myself a fan of the Ole Henricksen brand. These are not overly wet and do a good job removing oil and dirt randomly through the day. Sometimes I’ll use this when I get home from work instead of completely washing my face.
Neutrogena Makeup Remover – This is a must at night or when you get home from work and feel safe removing your makeup (you know, when you’re good and out of sight of the world). I’ve found this works the best at removing makeup all around your face, even mascara and eyeshadow as it’s gentle on the eyes.
Blotting Paper – I keep a package of blotting papers in my purse at all times so if my face is feeling oily I can swab some of it off.
Clinique Liquid Facial Soap Mild – For days where my face isn’t overly greasy I use the Clinique Liquid Facial Soap Mild. It truly is mild, but effective at cleaning my face (I always use the makeup wipes to remove any makeup first).

Other products I’ve tried

Clinique 3 step system – This system works all right. I found the cleanser wasn’t enough to help TREAT the acne and the moisturizer was pretty gunky which definitely didn’t help the cause.
Neutrogena Blackhead Eliminating Daily Scrub – This contains 2% salicylic acid and is quite a bit cheaper than the Obagi (plus it can be found at local stores) but I still seemed to see better results with the Obagi cleanser.

Boots Botanics Conditioning Clay Mask– I would use a mask once a week to get a deep clean and found it to be quite helpful. I used a clay mask which seemed to do awesome at absorbing oil, but others could be sufficient.

Step 2 – Kill Zee Pimples (Acne Treatment)

From what I’ve read, there’s mixed advice on popping pimples. Popping whiteheads can lead to inflammation and cause the skin to tear resulting in nasty, painful scabs. I’ve found it best to pop them if they are close enough to the surface where it won’t tear the skin and cause painful sores. Besides washing with acne treating face washes there are a lot of spot treatments out there. I typically use spot treatments on particular gruesome pimples during the day, and slather on a spot treatment before I go to bed.

Products I use – Tried and True

Murad Acne Spot Treatment – The main active ingredient in Murad’s acne spot treatment is sulfur – which means it doesn’t smell that great, but it works pretty good for reducing existing pimples or preventing the ones you know are under the surface from rearing their ugly whitehead. The downside of this is the list price is $19. I typically use it at night, but you can use it multiple times a day.

Clearasil Rapid Action Treatment Cream – I got this as a cheaper alternative to the Murad since I was going through it quickly. The active ingredient in this is benzoyl peroxide at a whopping 10%. Honestly, sometimes I see better results with this than I do the Murad. Sometimes I’ll alternate and sometimes I’ll use them both at the same time. Some reviews of the Clearasil say that it will stain, so if you’re wearing it to bed you might want to cover your pillow with a white towel or something.

Other products I’ve tried

Biore Pore Perfect Pore Strips – Meh. I haven’t had great success with these but I have found them helpful with the occasional blackhead. They also seem all right for getting gunk out of larger pores.
Tanda Zap Acne Spot Treatment Device– I’ve very recently acquired this to try to help combat some of the stubborn remaining zits. At time of writing, it’s $49 at Sephora and has 3.6 out of 5 stars. The premise is you turn it on and press it lightly against a zit and the blue light, warming sensation, and vibration will help it on its way out. I’ve seen very minimal results after only 3 uses on certain zits, only time will tell how effective it can truly be (I’ll add an update later).

Step 3 – Moisturize

It sounds counterproductive, I know, but salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide can seriously dry out your skin making it important to replace your skins moisture after stripping it of it’s oil (and acne causing bacteria).

Products I use – The Tried and True

Ole Henricksen Truth Serum – This stuff is awesome. One of my favoritest beauty products. On bad acne days I would use it after the Obagi Clenziderm Pore Therapy. Now I use it in the morning before I put on make-up and right before bed.

Benefit Cosmetics Total Moisture Facial Cream – Ohhhhhhhhhhh my goodness. I LOVE this stuff. It’s so creamy, delicious and amazing smelling. It also does a pretty good at moisturizing. Oh, and the container is awesome, too.

Boots Expert Anti-Blemish Night Moisturizer – I used this religiously as part of my nightly cleaning process. I’ve found it CAN be a little drying so days where my face isn’t oily I use the Ole Henricksen Truth Serum instead.

Other products I’ve tried

Ole Henricksen Invigorating Night Gel – I’ve had a good experience with this before the acne started. After that it didn’t seem to do any improving and sometimes seemed to be responsible for making the acne work. Great product, just wouldn’t recommend for oily faces.
Clinique Dramatically Different Moisturizing Gel -The gel does an all right job of moisturizing but I’ve found I have to reapply it often and it can sometimes get a little gunky.

Murad Mattifying Moisturizer – There’s nothing about this product that is bad, exactly. It works all right but has a sort of funky smell to it – reminds me of dill.

bare escentuals Purely Nourishing Cream – Dry Skin – I’ve just started using it and it’s pretty delightful! I’d almost rank it up there with the Benefitin terms of effectiveness, but it doesn’t rival the sweet smell.

Step 4 – Conceal

I know, make-up is one of the bad guys of acne. But who wants to go to work/school/grocery store with a pimply, splotchy face? Not I.

Products I use – The Tried and True

Neutrogena SkinClearing liquid makeup -I have had excellent luck with this foundation. You can simply dab it on with a fingertip (remember clean hands!) and layer it for effective covering. One downside is the more you apply the flakier it can get so make sure the area is properly moisturized. I’ve found sometimes that washing it off and reapplying in the afternoon helps it look a little better. Oh! And I usually have a tough time finding foundation that matches my skin tone (ghostface) and the classic ivory works beautifully!

bare escentuals bareMinerals blemish therapy – This comes in an incredibly small jar so I usually just apply on areas with acne and use it over the Neutrogena. It seems to do well in helping absorb oil and preventing further breakouts. It does moderately well at covering acne.

Clinique Age Defense BB Cream SPF 30 – This is a very nice light cream that works doubly as a moisturizer, foundation or at least a base. I tend to use it under my eyes to help conceal dark circles and over red acne areas. It’s also great for using over the entire face to even out the skin tone. I will warn you, it smells like sunscreen. I’ve had better luck applying it with clean hands than with makeup pads, too. It has enough tint to cover smaller acne spots on its own. I’ll follow it up with bareMinerals powder. It’s a little expensive so there may be something better out there that I haven’t tried.

Other products I’ve tried

bobbi brown concealer – I’d read that this was an amazing stick concealer. I don’t necessarily share those views. It takes multiple applications to truly hide the redness of a zit. I have a feeling there are cheaper and/or better.

Step 5 – Breaking Bad Habits, Making Good Habits

Breaking Bad #1: Don’t touch your face! – Picking at your acne will only make it more red in appearance and the oil and other nasty stuff on your hands can actually cause MORE acne (bacteria and such).

Making Good #1: Wash your hands! – You’re probably going to keep touching your face and obsessing over pimples, so start washing your hands to keep them clear of grease and dirty and other nasty things you pick up from sharing a touchy-feely world.

Breaking Bad#2: Avoid the sugars – From what I’ve read, sugar does not CAUSE acne. BUT, sugar causes fluctuations in your body’s insulin which can mess with hormones which can cause….ding ding! Acne.

Making Good#2: Drink more water – Water can probably help balance your body yada yada or something. It’s good for you and you need something to quench your thirst since you’re quitting sugary drinks. ’nuff said.

Breaking Bad#3: Don’t forget to wash your hair – I’ve found that washing my hair every day helps a LOT in the forehead oil department. To counteract the everyday cleansing I use a hydrating shampoo/conditioner, and then follow it with products that also provide oil-absorbing qualities. The BEST is Bumble and Bumble BB Texture Creme. It’s fantastic for root volume, texture, and keeps your hair oil-free.

Making Good#3: Vitamins are good for you –Some sources say that there are certain vitamins that promote skin health and can help treat/ward off acne. Those vitamins are: vitamin A, zinc, and omega-3 fatty acids. I’ve found that taking vitamin A and zinc supplements have been helpful, but only if you do it every day (this is where the habit part comes in). Having a better diet will help you gain these naturally. You can use the myfitnesspal app to track both your meals and the nutrients you’re getting.


Obviously there are a LOT of product choices so by no means do I expect you to stick to what I’ve found has worked for me, but hopefully it can give you a good starting point and help you realize you’re not alone!

Though I’m sure I could’ve made the acne go away if I had gone back on birth control – I honestly feel better now than I have in a long time (a year after going off of it). Not saying anybody should do what I’ve done but just explaining my reasoning.

Please feel free to share any tips and useful product advice by leaving a comment!

By | 2017-05-18T13:26:53+00:00 May 4th, 2012|Acne, Favorite Products|0 Comments

About the Author:

I’m a just-turned thirty year old atypical Minnesota girl. Sometimes blonde hair, always blue eyes, with a sense of humor and nerdy tendencies. I thrive on advertising, pop culture and fashion. My latest obsession is Benedict Cumberbatch's Sherlock Holmes!

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