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(Note: This article is a part of our 31-day series, “31 Days to a Whole Body Makeover“.)
It doesn’t seem fair that as women we still break out well into our 20’s, 30’s, and even our 40’s and beyond! I am going to show you how to best care for blemishes at home, and to clear up your acne the right way. No more picking at your skin and making it ten times worse! (Who hasn’t done that, am I right?)
I am also going to give you a recipe for homemade blackhead removal strips, comparable to those expensive Biore strips.
The Physiology of Acne
The technical term for breakouts is a comedone, but everyone knows the three big ones by these names: whiteheads, blackheads, and pimples (or acne).
I drew a handy chart to help you visualize exactly what each type is.
A. Healthy pore: This is a healthy, normal pore (opening of skin) with a hair. As you can see, there are glands within each pore called sebaceous glands. They produce an oil called sebum that, in a perfect world, travels up the hair follicle and lubricates the skin.
B. Whitehead: Sometimes, though, the oil may be overly produced, and the dead skin cells at the very most superficial part of the skin, as they slough off naturally, fall into the pore, and the mix might become a blockage within the pore. Throw in there sweat residue, makeup, and all of the environmental dirt we pick up throughout the day, and you’ve got yourself clogged pores. A whitehead has a thin layer of skin covering its opening.
C. Blackhead: A blackhead is a whitehead with no skin covering it. When it mixes with the oxygen in the air, it blackens the blockage in the pore. Because these are already open, they are much easier to extract. (Technique for extracting blackheads down at very bottom of this article.)
D. Acne / The Start of a Pimple: Bacteria has been introduced into the pore and your body’s immune system is trying to attack it. Large red bump, but no white head… yet.
E. Acne / Pimple: At this point, the clogged pore is infected from bacteria, and it is inflamed and angry! A white head comes to the surface, and as tempting as it is to take two fingers and pop that sucker, DON’T. I’m going to explain to why you should never squeeze a pimple with your fingers… it’s the worst thing you could do! So hang tight!
Factors that can contribute to breakouts (whiteheads, blackheads, and acne):
Diet – According to the Journal of Nutrition and Dietetics, sugar, dairy, and any food with a high-glycemic load will contribute to acne.
Stress – When stressed, our bodies produce androgens, hormones that stimulate the oil glands of the hair follicles in the skin. Cortisol, a stress hormone, raises our blood sugar, making us crave even more sugar, which in turn adversely affects our skin.
Dehydration – Our skin will overcompensate for not drinking enough water by overproducing oil. Super oily skin is actually a sign of dehydration!
Dirt and bacteria – Not washing our face morning and night or exfoliating once a week will cause breakouts.You may most noticeably get these breakouts on your forehead, and may also be from whatever products you use on your face and hair.
Hormones – In addition to androgens and cortisol mentioned above, reproductive hormones play a big part in producing blemishes. If you break out around your mouth and chin, or under your cheekbones, AND they pop up just a day or two before your period, it’s highly likely it’s hormonal.
Good practices to avoid breaking out:
Get 8 – 8.5 hours of sleep per night to help reduce stress and allow skin proper time to repair itself, and to regulate your hormones.
Don’t pick at your skin – Picking at acne aggravates it, causing it to get much worse! As tempting as it is to pop a pimple, you can actually spread acne under the skin by applying too much pressure on a pimple. A pimple is already very angry and picking causes even more damage and more inflammation, making its appearance much worse. Plus, you can so easily leave behind unsightly scarring!
Eat a good diet of real, whole foods – Eat foods that are protein-rich with lots of green, leafy vegetables, and fruit. When you can, opt out of processed foods, especially fast food.
Drink water – Hydrate your skin, and help your lymphatic system become more efficient. The lymphatic system lies just below the surface of your skin and will circulate toxins, wastes, and unwanted materials out of your body. When backed up, it starts to show up in your skin.
Properly cleanse, tone, and moisturize your skin, morning and night — By the time you go to bed at night, your face is full of any pollutants you may have come into contact with throughout the day. Washing your face every night, no matter, how tired you are, is one of the best things you can do for your skin! Check out my step-by-step guide for your skin care routine!
Esthetician’s Note: For a skin care line specific to acne and breakouts, I primarily used Aveda’s Outer Peace Acne System on my clients in the spa and saw incredible results!
What to Do if You Break Out:
Little tips and “lifehacks” online, such as a dab of toothpaste, are not as safe for your skin as you may think. Toothpaste has baking soda, alcohol, and other ingredients that will dry out your zit, but is overly drying and causes damage to the skin. And I know that you are tempted to take your two fingers and pinch those pimples, but doing so will cause them to worsen in appearance, delay healing time, and can cause terrible scarring!
Instead, try my tried-and-true professional esthetician routine!
As an esthetician, I know that the best thing to do is let nature take its course and let the pimple heal on its own. But I also know NO ONE wants to do that, so I’m going to tell you how to best treat your pimples to get rid of them quickly and safely.
Protocol for Getting Rid of a Pimple:
At Night Time, begin by cleansing your face and then choose a spot treatment for your pimple.
I will treat a pimple by using one of these three options. They are all natural and effective zit eliminators!
- My favorite go-to is Tea Tree Oil. (This is the brand of Tea Tree Essential Oil I use; note that it comes in a carrier oil that is safe for the skin. If you are going to use any essential oil on the skin, always make sure it is diluted in a carrier oil so you do not suffer any chemical burns.) Just put a few drops onto your pimple before going to bed, that’s it! It will disinfect bacteria and dry up your blemish overnight.
- Plain Yogurt is another great option for bringing down redness and inflammation. It also helps clear up bacteria.
- Apple Cider Vinegar is very healing to your skin because of its alkalinity. It is another great pimple buster!
In the Morning:
If you did a spot treatment overnight, take a shower (not too hot!) and wash your face in the warm water. After your shower, look in the mirror and observe the blemish. Did the remedy clear things up? If so, great! Even if it’s still just a red bump, don’t mess with it, let your skin heal on its own.
If you shower and observe in the mirror that a big white head came up to surface, even still, you must not squeeze it!
Get a needle, sanitize the tip by running it through a flame a few times. (Make sure it cools down!) Holding it parallel to your skin, ever so gently just graze a TINY spot over the white head. Do not insert the needle into the blemish. The idea is to take a few of those microscopic skin cells off over the white head to allow a release. You can gently (gently!!) rub your fingers around it to see if it will help coax the white head out, but do not squeeze or pinch it. If all of the white parts, including the white core (seed) came out, it is done. No need to treat it anymore after this. Wipe with tea tree oil to sanitize the skin, then leave it alone. (Remember, the tea tree is important because you don’t want to leave those newly-opened pores exposed to more bacteria!
If you can still see the white core but it’s not coming out on its own, repeat this process tomorrow. Please do not over manipulate it, or you will make it so much worse and cause it to spread beneath the surface, prolonging the healing process.
Thus ends the treatment for an inflamed pimple.
Once a Week Prevention:
In addition to the weekly skin care regimen I recommend, I would add in some homemade blackhead removal strips. Read through the directions carefully because you do have to be quick, so the gelatin doesn’t have time to solidify before you put it on your skin. I have found it is a great exfoliator overall and will leave your skin feeling super smooth. Because it has milk (lactic acid), it will also bring about hydration for your skin!
Do this only over blackheads, avoiding any inflamed acne spots. I hate to be redundant, but I repeat, don’t do this ON top of acne.
Recipe for Homemade Biore Strips (Blackhead Remover)
Once a week, try this great masque over your t-zone to remove blackheads. After cleansing and steaming your skin, make the following masque.
About .5 Tbsp flavorless gelatin
1 Tbsp – 1.5 Tbsp milk
1 disposable plastic cup
1 Popsicle stick or Craft Stick
In a disposable plastic cup, add gelatin. In a microwave safe cup, heat milk just 15 seconds or until hot. Pour milk into plastic cup and using the popsicle stick, hurry to stir the two ingredients together until gelatin has dissolved. Don’t take too long to do this step, because it will start to harden. Once mixed, and a thickish texture, use the popsicle stick to apply it to your face in the areas where you tend to break out, or all over, avoiding the eyes/eyebrow area and hairline. Allow it to dry completely before peeling off. It may take some practice getting the right amount of thickness onto your face. You don’t want it too thick or too thin. If you have small pieces still sticking to your skin, simply wipe off with a damp cloth. Follow up with toner and moisturizer.
How to Manually Extract Blackheads
The one last thing I will teach you as your friendly esthetician is how we extract your blackheads during your facial. You may have noticed that it hurts quite a lot to have extractions done during your supposedly relaxing facial, right?
That is because we are using a tool called an extractor to gently remove your blackheads. (I promise you it hurts more when someone else is doing it to you!)
It looks like this:
This tool is much safer than using two fingers, because the tool applies pressure all the way around the pore, and not just from two directions. Proceed with caution, because you can still cause red markings, some permanent, if you just go berserk with this tool! Before doing extractions on your own skin, make sure you cleanse and steam your skin (shower or over very carefully over a pot of boiling water), so your pores are open and the blackheads are drawn to the surface from the heat. As you place the extractor over a blackhead, gently press and wiggle it from side to side, not pressing too hard! Gentle is key!
After extractions, ALWAYS follow up with a swipe of Tea Tree Essential Oil, or you just may break out thanks to the bacteria now laying right over those newly-opened pores!
Image of girl courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at FreeDigitalPhotos.net