Oh the teenage years. The crushes. The battle with authority, limitations, and often—our own skin.
If you were anything like me between the ages of twelve and sixteen you struggled with oily skin and rude relentless breakouts. You also used harsh chemicals that promised to cure your acne but really just stripped your skin of its natural protective barrier, increased oiliness, and added inflammation and redness to the mix. Maybe you dashed into the bathroom between each class period to swab your face with extra concealer and powder, the poisonous kind. Add to that Molotov cocktail the frequent reapplication of lipstick in the uber-90s shades of coffee bean and rum raisin, which most assuredly fell under the frightening category of lipsticks that Alexandra wrote about last week. I shudder to think of the toxic load I carried around in my young, developing body. My hormones settled down, but I think often about my adolescent journey and wish I knew what I know now—that natural skincare has the gentle healing power I was seeking all that time.
The world is different than it was during my so-called life as a teen in the 90s. We have information at our fingertips, but it can be overwhelming to filter through it all and find real answers. This is why I jumped at the chance to share young Alexis’ question with you. Wise beyond her years, she knows that harsh products have caused even more damage to her delicate skin. She wants to go natural, but she’s a little overwhelmed with where to start.
Here is Alexis’ note…
I normally wouldn’t do this, and if you are too busy it’s no problem, but I’m looking for some help on creating a new skin care regimen with some natural, healthy products. I’m fifteen years old with the deadly combination of oily, acne-prone, and ultra sensitive skin, so finding products that work without hurting my skin is nearly impossible. I also am lost when it comes to natural skin care, as I’m a total newbie. I recently had a super-strange unidentifiable skin problem in the form of red, bumpy dry patches, (not unlike eczema, but definitely different), on my cheeks and other places. This led to my I Think My Skin Products Are Killing Me epiphany, so I decided it was time to switch up my generic brand skin care routine and try something that would actually stop hurting my skin (and maybe actually help it too!). I luckily came across your blog and have been perusing it for some time, but am starting to feel overwhelmed about finding new products. If you have any tips, particular helpful articles, or product recommendations, it would be so massively appreciated.
P.S. Also, pricing on products is no issue, as at this point I really just need something that works!
Let’s help Alexis find some simple, clean options that will get her through these tough years and allow her to establish a great self-care practice at an early age.
You see it over and over. Dermatologists and skincare experts tout retinoids (the prescription strength ingredients like tretinoin and tazarotene) as the one true god of anti-aging.
Sure, the Vitamin A derivative unclogs pores, boosts collagen production, and speeds up cell turnover. But it’s a hard pill to swallow. I mean, have you ever read the ingredients in some of those prescription retinoids? Not to mention the havoc it can wreak on the toughest hide.
So what about retinols?
Retinol is the over-the-counter ingredient that gradually converts to retinoic acid (the active ingredient in the prescription strength stuff). Retinol is much weaker and far less stable as an ingredient because it quickly degenerates with exposure to air and light. The same is true for Vitamin C, another powerhouse ingredient for repairing skin damage—it’s difficult to keep it fresh and active. We’ve read about advances in the stabilization and delivery of these ingredients, but it’s tough to know which products actually deliver the antioxidant benefits we all want and the science behind it.
One of our readers, Alexandra, submitted this great question about retinols and vitamin C…
I am trying to come up with the best skincare routine I can. I’ve done a lot of poking around on skincare forums about vitamin c serums and retinoids/retinols being the holy grail of beautiful skin. Up until this point, I have been enjoying pretty clean products (raw honey as cleanser, rose hydrosol as toner, and a moisturizer I got from Dress Green on Etsy—I love that store). My general assumption is that things like retinols are the opposite of clean.
So, my question is, which do you personally think is better? Have you tried those types of things on your skin before? Do you know if there are any retinol products that are MOSTLY clean (e.g. no parabens, etc)?
I want to be clean and green but I’m also vain and want nice skin. :) And I love product recommendations.
Just curious on your thoughts on retinols, vitamin c serums, and other chemical treatments!
Can you help Alexandra out? Let us know what you think about these ingredients and how they fit into your skincare routine.
Spots, spots, spots. Who doesn’t want perfectly even-toned skin? Why is it so hard to achieve?
I was wondering if you get many inquiries about clean treatments for melasma? It’s a darkening of the skin, and I have it right across my upper lip, leaving me looking like I have a 5 o’clock shadow, which is a big bummer. I have been poking around the net and the results are bleak—chemical peels and cancer linked chemically filled over the counter products are the only thing I’ve read women having much success with. I’m at the point where I’m even tempted to cave (and I’ve been a NMDL follower for years)!
Would love to know if readers have insights, I’ve tried clean skin brighteners and lemon juice but haven’t seen any results. Thanks so much! Your blog is an indispensable resource and wonderful community. Keep up the stellar work!
Don’t cave, Kathleen! Let’s help this frustrated gal out!
Eczema can be one of those real eff-my-life conditions. Sometimes it behaves similarly to an allergy, and even shows up in conjunction with other reactions. Yet in many cases it has no known cause at all. Which offers a whole lot of shrugs to those who suffer from it.
My husband, we think, used to get it on his scalp. Never officially diagnosed, it would come and go. When I forced clean products on him, it seemed to help, but didn’t eliminate the problem completely. Then one day he shaved his head and stopped using shampoo entirely, and boom, it totally disappeared.
My lay theory there: It was the lack of shampoo and the addition of direct So-Cal sun on his scalp that was helping. Many people claim sunlight is a boon for eczema, including our reader below. At any rate, it’s mostly gone now for him even though he has longer hair again and shampoos (with Acure) every few days. While we never tracked it closely enough, I suspect certain dietary and lifestyle changes have improved it—namely more golf (there’s that sun again) and less stress.
What do the experts, like the trusty Dr. Weil, say? First and foremost: Reduce stress, an aggravator in most malaises. Try hypnotherapy, meditation, visualization, or whatever works for you.
Other key recs: Try aloe vera gel on it, take skin-nourishing gamma-linolenic acid (GLA), avoid soap as much as possible (to that I’d add shampoo, if you can bear it), watch for triggers like a hawk (whether it’s a food or a mood!), and eliminate potential allergens (which our reader has already done). We always think acupuncture and ayurveda can help detect general imbalances that may be causing conditions too.
Here’s the lovely letter we got from Lisa about her case. Pleaseplease, include any tips you have or have heard of in the comments!
Dear Alexandra and Siobhan,
I’m a regular reader of the blog, a follower on OpenSky and Quarterly, and pass your book along to every glam-loving gal and clean-loving guy I can. So I was hoping to source you a little bit on the issue of being a clean girl with eczema, particularly on the scalp (seborrheic dermatitis). In the toxic old days, I would slather on a shampoo with coal tar…which sounds as gross and stinky as it is except, darn it, it really works! Since going clean, I’ve tried ACV rinse (which was nice, but made my scalp more oily and didn’t kick my undesirable flakes and itchiness. Nor has doing oil soaking on my scalp – I’ve tried virgin coconut and olive oil and though it is soothing, it doesn’t stop the problem. I have tried shampoos with neem oil, but it made my scalp worse :(
I used to have more problems with eczema in general, but since going clean about a year ago, my skin really does look and behave better. Evan Healy is my hero, and rosehip oil is my salvation. It’s just my scalp that is going crazy! The only thing that helps for sure is lots of water, sunlight and no winter, and only one of those things is something I can definitely control. With the onset of Spring, things will surely improve, but what will I do next winter? I have heard some people have success with food elimination and am open to that, though it would be difficult – I am an omnivore, but we already eliminate all nuts, most dairy and all fish due to my husband’s allergies. No one really knows what causes eczema, so it’s hard to pick a successful strategy here. Right now I wash my hair every other day with Yarok or Acure and air dry, sometimes with the John Masters Sea Salt Spray as a leave-in (which is probably terribly drying as well, but I was having trouble well before I started using it.) Ironically, I’m having the best hair of my life, even it comes with the worst scalp. :)
Thanks for all you both do to help find strategies for living cleaner, happier and healthier!
Thank you for the lovely letter—and all the support! Now, let’s help a girl out. What do you guys know about treating ezcema? Who has some great anectodal evidence if clean tips that help?
Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone! Let’s show a little love to the boys today and help this reader out. Have any of you found a clean men’s cologne? Or made one yourself? From our inbox…
I’m having an extremely difficult time finding a good cologne for my husband! He used to wear Polo Blue, and while it smelled wonderful I won’t let him wear it anymore. I was buying him the Herban Cowboy one from Whole Foods for a bit, but I read somewhere that it might not be any better for him. I got him a sample of Honore de Pres Nu Green, and his response to whether or not he liked it was a shrug. I think it was a bit too feminine. Most websites, like SBL just have a unisex fragrance section, and the scents aren’t quite “manly” enough. Could you tell me, or ask our lovely community, whether they have any suggestions? Or maybe someone has a good recipe using EOs and vodka or something that I could whip up for him. The rest of his routine is clean as a whistle, but there are just so few options to fill this void. Poor guy needs to smell nice too!