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As a teenager, I had acne, but it was never anything so terrible that a warm washcloth and a thick layer of benzoyl peroxide couldn't clear it up within a day or two. I would have to wait until my thirties to experience the most horrible acne of my life and none of the skin-care tricks I used in my adolescence worked at all. I soon discovered I was experiencing hormonal cystic acne, and it's an entirely different beast.
First, cystic acne hurts. These pimples never come to a head; instead they're deeply embedded and painful, often before the swollen lump is even visible on the surface. For most women, cystic acne has a tendency to form in the same areas one would grow a beard — on the chin, around the mouth, and along the jawline, although they can appear elsewhere as well. Did I mention the breakouts can last for weeks at a time?
And so it's only natural that when faced with such a worthy adversary, I would throw everything at it — no mercy. I've tried all kinds of gadgets, topical creams, and home remedies over the past few years, and I think I may have finally gotten a handle on things. Although my hormones, and thus my complexion, still tend to fluctuate with my menstrual cycle, things are not nearly as bad as they were. Now, the techniques I use seem to nip things in the bud. Here are my best tips for keeping your skin as clear as possible as an adult.
As soon as you feel one coming on, ice it. I know you're used to warm, wet compresses for pimples, but in the case of cystic acne, cold is the way to go. I personally hate the feeling of melting, dripping ice on my skin (plus it makes a mess), so I recommend buying a few gel-filled cold packs to keep in the freezer. There's a brand called "Boo Boo Buddy" which are designed for little kids, and those are my favorite.
One day I had a particularly horrible cyst so I headed to a local Latino market, desperate for something new to try as nothing else was helping. The store owner handed me a little circular tin of something labeled "ungüento KURADOR," a healing ointment made in Ecuador. When I read that zinc oxide was the main active ingredient I went in search for more information. Zinc oxide for pimples? I had never heard of that. I soon discovered that it's a little-known secret that some people swear by. One of the most affordable and strongest concentrations of zinc oxide can be found in maximum strength Desitin diaper rash paste, which is 40% zinc oxide. I put a light layer of zinc oxide on my known trouble areas before bed each night.
It's 2015. We all know the million benefits of drinking enough water each day, and one of those benefits is clearer skin. Drink your water — it's as simple as that.
When I asked my suegra to bring back an acne cure from El Salvador, "Jabón de azufre" (sulphur soap) is what she brought me in her suitcase. Used since the times of ancient Romans, sulphur is well-known for it's antibacterial and keratolytic properties but sometimes overlooked because of its somewhat offensive smell. I recently bought a brand by the name of GRISI, which is made in Mexico. Once or twice daily I moisten a clean, soft washcloth with warm water before rubbing the sulphur soap on it, and then gently wash my face with it.
Sulphur soap on a washcloth has replaced my use of apricot scrub, which I previously used religiously. Most dermatologists do not recommend apricot scrub due to its excessive abrasiveness which is damaging to the skin. If you use apricot scrub, it turns out you're probably doing more harm than good.
While some, like me, see great results with sulphur soap, there are others who don't react well to sulphur-based products, particularly those with dry skin, so even though it's available without a prescription, take that into consideration or talk to your doctor before giving it a try.
Clean pillow case
Every night, no exceptions, you should have a clean pillow case on your pillow. If you don't want to spend the money on enough pillowcases to make it through the week to laundry day, then repurpose clean, cotton t-shirts you no longer use and keep them in a drawer near your bed for easy access on nights when you're especially tired. It's tempting to just crawl into bed and go to sleep but taking one minute to change that pillow case could mean the difference between clear skin or a breakout.
Watch what you eat
This is a case of "do as I say and not as I do" because I still haven't completely tackled this one. What you eat affects your hormones — and whether those hormones are balanced or not. Hormonal imbalances play a huge role in cystic acne. While I've never managed to completely cut processed food from my diet for more than a day or two, I've noticed that the more fresh fruits and vegetables I eat, the better my skin behaves. Some doctors say dairy is the culprit, and still others blame refined sugar. If you're serious about finding your own food sensitivities and how they affect your complexion you may want to experiment with an elimination diet.