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Help! We Need Your Advice About Skin Care!


Yesterday I received a comment and email from Stephanie. She has been following what we write about here, is participating in the Green Your Insides Challenge, and is simplifying her lifestyle in many other ways. Did I mention she’s 19 and in college?!

College is a perfect time to make changes, but it’s also a stressful time to make changes. I think many of us can identify with that!

So please take a look at her plea below and see if you can help. (The original comment is here and is reproduced with permission.)

So, I stopped using my chemical-laden acne wash and products that bleach every fabric my face touches (pillowcases, towels) in order to try a less-drying BAR SOAP… though admittedly one said to be for made for acne, and not a homemade one either.

And while it worked for the first few days in the transition, where my face was nice and soft and NOT DRY for once… currently I want to run screaming back to the aesthetician for more of the CHEMICALS. My face hurts. The pimples and redness have been spreading like a rash, and it is driving me absolutely crazy–to the point that I can hardly concentrate on my work for an hour and a half because my face hurts and I just want it all to stop.

The sad thing is I wasn’t this worried about it when I went to the aesthetician to rid my acne. I guess I got used to having a clear-of-acne forehead over the last year and a half.

Maybe my skin is sensitive, period? There *is* aluminum laurel sulfate in my shampoo, so if I stopped using that, I wonder if it would help my face? Should I just switch to a Dr. Bronner’s soap or another homemade plain soap? Or a plain oatmeal soap like what you tried first? (Rhetorical questions!) And yet I hate the idea of dropping these things; I have half a bottle left of my shampoo still. It feels too wasteful to just drop everything because my face no longer looks clear of acne, and I can live with it if I have to… and yet it’s painful and I’m used to not having it and I don’t feel CLEAN with a face like this. And spreading like a rash.

I’m sorry — I just really needed to vent all this. I know there’s no “quick fix” to anything but… I’m new to all these green changes and I’m new to paying attention to my body’s reaction to what I do to it and it’s frightening how much self-hatred I’m going through all of a sudden. And I don’t know what to DO! I wish there were a way to search a bunch of blogs AND ONLY THESE BLOGS on Google so I could find what people are saying about different soaps and ways to wash hair and etc.

If you have experience with this – or just moral support – I’m sure Stephanie could use it!!

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28 comments to Help! We Need Your Advice About Skin Care!

  • Hi Stephanie,

    All I can give is moral support as I have never had a problem with acne but I have had more general skin issues.

    Personally if it was me I would be cutting the chemical content of everything you consume as low as you can go. The health of your skin very much reflects a combination of what you are putting on it, what you are feeding your body, your general stress level and your overall health.

    That means that its not all uncommon for dietary intolerances to be reflected in the health of your skin, . It might be useful if a more natural cleaning regime doesn’t seem to resolve it for you to think about testing, for a month, to see if reasonably common intolerances such as wheat or dairy are causing you issues. I will say right now that most doctors probably wouldn’t agree with this being a cause but I have seen some very significant results that tend to back up my thoughts on this.

    Your old shampoo doesn’t need to be wasted… you can simply get a less chemically intense product and keep your current bottle. If it doesn’t seem to make any difference for you then you can make a decision if you want to keep going or go back to your old product.. If you have improvement or you just decide that you don’t want to use the chemical stuff I am sure you will be able to find a grateful recipient.

    Kind Regards

  • Stephanie,

    Me again.. just realised that I missed some stuff that I think is important.

    I hope you can work out what is making you feel so down about yourself.. I know that for many people their outward image is very important to their self esteem but sometimes we just need to remember who we are inside really is more important in the long run.

    A reasonably inexpensive low cost cleansing product that you can try is a teaspoon of bicarb soda dissolved in about 1 cup of water thoroughly massaged into the scalp. Generally the conditioner suggested to go with this is a small amount of apple cider vinegar, which I would probably water down to at least half strength. I will say now this doesn’t work well for every type of hair… but for the cost its certainly worth a try.

    Kind Regards

  • Meg

    Hi, Stephanie. I’ve never had a really bad problem with acne–just typical breakouts once in a while, I suppose–but since I started using Dr. Bronner’s soap on my skin and baking soda/vinegar on my hair, I’ve had practically no skin problems at all. I forget the brand at the moment, but the lotion I use is something pretty minimalist as well, with no chemicals. For random pimples that show up from time to time, I’ll use tea tree oil if they seem to be sticking around for more than a day or two.

    I made the switch to all this stuff about two years ago, and I remember it being only a couple of months, maybe, before I really started noticing consistent changes. I think my skin is much better now, though I wouldn’t have said it was bad before!

    Good luck!

  • Adrienne

    Two things… first of all, what’s in the bar of soap you’ve been using? If it’s “for acne”, it’s probably pretty harsh.
    Second, how long since you switched? Anytime you switch anything, your skin goes, “HUH??” and freaks out a little bit. Or a lot. Either way, if you’ve been scrubbing all the oil off your skin, and now you’re not, it needs time to realize that it doesn’t need to try to make so much oil anymore b/c you’re not taking it all off with harsh chemicals. Hang in there. It *will* get better.

  • If your acne is bad enough that it’s actually hurting, you might want to see a dermatologist, preferably one who’s open to low-tech treatment options. (I have no idea how easy it will be to find such a person, but it might be an option to consider.)

    One thing I find works well for my intermittent acne is not washing my face with soap so often. Counterintuitive, I know, but your skin really needs those oils, so if you just give it a good scrub with a wet washcloth, that removes most of the dirt and excess gunk while still leaving much of the natural moisturizers. Maybe try just using soap every other day and see how that goes. In terms of what soap to use, I’m loving the goat’s milk bar I switched to a couple weeks ago, but Dr. Bronner’s also works well for me.

    And as Adrienne mentioned, don’t go trying all of these options at once; your skin will just get very, very confused and angry.

  • try tea tree oil. it’s got natural antiseptic and antifungal properties to it. I’ve had good luck with desert essence products (no affiliation yadda, yadda).

  • Di

    I have to second the desert essence product recommendation. I switched to their face wash (with tea tree oil) and it’s great! I usually break out during my period but with this I am blemish free all the time aside from stressful times which always make me break out.
    Find what is making you down on yourself. Destress! Stress is the biggest cause of acne.

  • Elizabeth

    Hi Stephanie,

    My sister and daughter also suffer from skin troubles of various types including acne and I have learned much from them. Both of them are red/almost red haired with very fair complexions. The best ‘cure’ they have discovered is the keep up a high fiber diet and drink lots of water. The idea being that by helping their body expel ‘waste’ materials in the most efficient manner, less ‘waste’ needs to be expelled through skin and in other less desireable manners and then cause skin eruptions. They try to keep chemically clean as possible to have the best skin.

  • Have you tried OCM (oil cleansing method)? I use it and it works really well. Basically, you just use castor oil and olive oil to cleanse your face. It sounds odd to use oil to try and get rid of oil (!) but castor oil cleanses deeply and olive oil smooths and softens your skin. Many people with bad acne swear by it! Just google OCM or “oil cleansing method” and you’ll find all kinds of information. It’s also a LOT cheaper than most store-bought products.

    Good luck!

  • I used to have acne as well. I still get hormone-induced pimples, but they are cyclical and I have noticed that my skin has cleared up in the past couple of years dramatically. I can’t pinpoint one single thing, because we have made many, many changes in the past couple of years. Our diet has improved immensely. Almost no processed foods and homecooked, whole, local and/or organic foods. Also, I learned to make soap myself and now I only use my handmade soap on my skin (face and body) and baking soda and vinegar in my hair. I use mineral makeup on very rare occasions, but don’t wear it daily. When I first stopped wearing makeup it was very uncomfortable, because if you have had acne, wearing makeup feels like a way to mask your blemishes, going without it was hard at first, but I think that had a lot to do with clearing it up as well. I also don’t use any hair care products like hairspray or gel. I decided to stop using chemicals on my body, period. All these changes have amounted to a much healthier skin and hair!

    If you find something else that works for you, you don’t have to waste your bottle of shampoo. You can always give it away to someone you know will use it or freecycle it.

  • Keep in mind that your original cleanser was drying, so your skin was overproducing oil to compensate. Then you switched, the oils weren’t being stripped out anymore, but your skin is still producing excess oil, and now everything is going haywire.

    The whole rash-like bit, though, makes me lean towards the idea that maybe you are having a reaction to something specific. I would go with just washing your face frequently with warm, not hot, water, and a washcloth. And DON’T TOUCH YOUR FACE! My breakouts are always along the side of my face and on my chin, where I hold my head while I’m reading.

    I was always boomeranging between dry flaky skin, and oily, broken out skin, until I just stopped using anything on my face because nothing was working anyway. And poof, it got a lot better.

  • Lauren

    I have tried many things over the last 14 years to deal with my acne, and tons more in the last 2 since I’ve begun striving for a greener me.
    In my experience, nothing *natural* helped particularly well with whatever type of acne I personally have. Stress/hormones/cystic/other, who knows? Not me. Only doctor prescribed Clindamycin has helped (my only unnatural facial product).
    I have tried the Oil Cleansing Method, and while it is wonderfully relaxing, when you have time for that, I found it to take too long for my personal preference. I had grand ideas of whipping up my own mixtures, soaps, etc to fit into my high ideals, but I’m too lazy afterall. has some wonderful products, a smallish co. owned by a woman who created it because her sister’s illness was thought to be brought on by all of the nasty things in commercial products. A great woman who supports great causes and makes beautiful products. It is on the pricey side, but oh my you’ll love it.
    Doctor Bronner’s was great on my face too as far as simple soaps go. Didn’t dry my face out (or my hair) and you can add your own other scents to it.
    Above all else, give each new regimen on your face at least 4-6 weeks to do it’s magic. Typically it takes one round of sloughing your dead cells to see how it will affect you. It’s first reaction will usually be a break-out due to the shock of change which should clear up in a few weeks as soon as you shed those angry skin cells (from what I’ve read).

    I hope at least a tiny bit was helpful and good luck. I know how hard the natural transition is even without specialty concerns mixed in.

  • Lauren

    Oh! And I can’t believe I forgot.
    You can always donate your beauty products to Women’s Rescue Shelters. So many women have to leave an unhealthy location (often with kids in tow) to find help and cannot pack up things like toothbrushes, shampoo, or feminine hygiene products. My local YWCA is always happy to receive a care package of travel-size or so portions to distribute.

  • Anything red, bumpy, and painful sounds like a reaction to me, rather than acne. And remember – if the pimples break and get infected, they have to heal the same as any other wound, so some kind of antibiotic from a dermatologist might be needed.

    My skin “works” best when I don’t do anything with it – warm washcloth (gently) in the shower in the morning, no makeup, no soap, no moisturizer. If you’re over-producing oil just now, try blotting it off gently with a tissue a couple times a day. Don’t scrub and don’t over-wash. Occasional zits get a dab of tea tree oil.

  • Stephanie,
    I had years of skin problems and my daughters have had the same. When I started studying herbs things changed for us. Now I wash my face with warm water only. About once a week for me and three times a week for my daughters we use oatmeal. Take about 1 T and mix a little warm water in to make a paste. Gently run on your skin, then rinse with warm water. This helps remove dry skin, dirt and excess oil. Oats nurture your skin and help create a natural ph balance. Sometimes I add a little calendula, which helps healthy skin growth and is a mild antibacterial. Our skin is soft and smooth. We also pay attention to what we eat, and drink lots of water. Our skin is a major elimination system. It sounds like you may have more than normal acne. So check out allergies and other heath issues.
    Blessings, Debbie

  • Thanks for all the advice, everyone! It’s comforting to know more options. And Lauren, thanks especially for the concrete time frame of “how long to try something”. “A while” just never makes enough sense for me. I will keep doing what I have been with my face for at least another week and see what happens there, because it hasn’t been quite 4 weeks, so maybe my skin IS just figuring out how to adjust.

    However, after reading about SLS here yesterday (the day before?), I think that part of yesterday’s reaction was from not rinsing off my hair of my shampoo enough, which has ALS in it. Today I’ve kept my hair away from my face and my face feels a bit better, though my scalp stings a bit. So I’m going to try at least washing my hair with plain soap for a while too.

    I hope it works. I didn’t care about my acne a few years ago, but after being somewhat clear for two years or so, well, I’m more aware of it now. (And I’ve become more vain for some reason…)

  • Tea Tree oil is perfect. It’s what I use… and it doesnt get rid of it completely for me but it’s great. It dries my skin out a bit so you may need to use a moisturizer.

    So, if you do need to switch… def. consider that.

  • I use Dr. Bronners on my face (any kind, including their shave lotions works for me!) + follow up with Aveeno Daily Mousturizing Lotion (for the body, yes I know…it’s only a 2 on the Skin Safe Database, and works well for me). I hardly ever wear makeup either. My skin is shiny and looks dewy, and I let it be that way because I think this is the way it is supposed to be, and I shouldn’t scrub it all away!

    My skin has cleared up in the last two years as I’ve used less products on it, but it also might be a factor of finally growing out of bad skin (in my mid-late 20s!).

    I know how frustrated you are! I think seeing an enlightened dermatologist could certainly help too.

  • KM

    Here’s what worked for me to get rid of my acne when I was in my early 20s and wanted to stop using harsh remedies:
    - stopped washing my face with soap (or any cleanser)- just used water
    - used a moisturizer 2x a day (morning and night)
    - put tea tree oil on blemishes (to prevent infection)
    - eat a healthy diet and drink more water

    I think my face was breaking out from bad diet (high in sugar, refined flours, not enough veggies) and because it was not oily as I supposed, but actually too *dry* and over producing oil to compensate. So I stopped stripping the natural oils with soap and cleansers and added moisture back- use something without additives though (I used Burt’s Bees Carrot Creme at the time, I have since also used olive oil with good results).

    It does take a little time for things to re-balance- maybe a couple weeks? I know it was less than a month for me.

    HTH- good luck finding what works for you!

  • the other Emily

    I echo what so many have said here, especially starting from the inside out, and looking honestly (and with love for yourself!) at the complex personal balance of nutrition, stress, hormones, emotions, external forces and how that plays out in the skin.

    Some of my major breakthroughs over the years were:

    1. Resolving to get enough sleep.

    2. Cutting back on drinking. Anything that overtaxes your liver overtaxes your skin. In my case, beer was a trigger.

    3. Figuring out the types of foods my body thrives on, and the ones it doesn’t. It’s different for everybody.

    4. Product breakthroughs: 1st phase, Jurlique was the first line of organic products that I found to be effective and really, really helped to clear up my skin. 2nd phase, Mineral makeup. Sunblock and helps with acne, too. 3rd phase, which I’m working on now: getting more pure (turns out Jurlique has some no-no ingredients) and local with products, as well as trying to “lighten up” and use fewer products in general. I think the oil option is very interesting…However I am trying out Suki and a brand called Sea Flora which is very local for me. Eventually I’ll make my own- it’s a process of learning and understanding your own body.

    5. Getting to the bottom of allergies. If you think of your skin as your body’s last line of defense, and something is irritating it, of course it’s going to get thrown out.

    6. Viewing the problem holistically. Giving it time. For so long I wanted my skin to be clear, but now what I aim for is perfect health and balance. A flare-up is an early warning system that something else might need to be tidied up.

    Thanks for all those other cool tips, everybody.

  • I use baking soda as a facial scrub when my face is acting up, but it can also be very drying, so maybe something to try once this gets better.

    Eating yogurt with live cultures can help too.

  • I don’t know about anyone else, but I totally loved reading all of your responses! When I was trying to find solutions for my own skin, I felt like I was insane for thinking that everything affects my skin. People thought I was nuts for eliminating all the toxic chemicals in my life, for trying new ways of doing things, for using only the simplest ingredients.

    But here we all are, going about things in a remarkably similar way. It’s a process, and it has a lot to do with getting to know your own body and how it reacts to different things. Including products that come into contact with your skin, but also eating a balanced diet without processed food, drinking water, sleeping well, decreasing stress levels, exercise, and overall living a healthy lifestyle.

    I sent Stephanie a long email, and it was surprising how much of what I said is echoed in all your comments.

    I wash my face with cool water and an olive oil liquid soap about 3 times/week, without a washcloth. I moisturize with straight, filtered jojoba oil. I wash my hair with baking soda followed by apple cider vinegar. I don’t blow dry my hair unless I have an important meeting – and then I only do it on “cool” heat. I try to drink lots of water and eat a balanced vegetarian diet with only pure, unprocessed foods. I stay away from chocolate (which is said to aggravate acne). I exercise regularly and get an average of 8 hours of sleep/night. I also realized my skin breaks out when I wear wool, so I’ve eliminated wool clothing.

    And I have found that keeping my hair back at night makes a big difference. I have long hair, and during the day it collects pollen, oils, and other things, so when I pull it back I find it doesn’t irritate my skin as much.

    I like Emily’s idea of looking at the problem holistically. All of these things seem to help, together. Now my skin is soft, clear, and youthful.

    Thank you all for sharing and helping. What a wonderful group of people!!

  • Heidi

    Hi, I’m a lurker here at Melinda’s site. I love reading here daily! So inspiring!

    I’m another Oil Cleanser. It doesn’t take long for me–a bit of olive oil in my palm, sometimes with a little fine sea salt for exfoliation, and that’s my daily facial routine. My skin loves exfoliation, so I do this several times a week.

    I’ve lived with adult acne for a very long time–I’m almost 40, and have used (unsuccessfully) the mysterious bleaching wonder products in the past, too. And when I started using oil and forgoing all other soapy-type things on my face, my skin started to look good.

    Now, I’m more in tune with my habits, so I notice that if I eat combinations of sugar/fat (like too much homemade ice-cream!) without drinking enough water, my skin is prone to breakouts.

  • Heidi, Thanks for coming out of lurkdom!! Please continue to do so. ; )

    I may have to try this oil cleanser/exfoliation technique – very interesting! You make a very good point about becoming in tune with your habits and how your body reacts – I think that is a big step in having healthier skin, body, and overall being. Thanks again for writing!!

  • vincedel422

    After reading through this article, I feel that I really need more info. Can you suggest some more resources ?

  • Vincedel422, check out the articles listed under “Similar Posts” above – there are several links to get you started. The Green Your Insides posts (in the right sidebar) will also likely help.

  • Stephanie,

    As suggested above you can donate your shampoo and other “toxic” products to City Mission, Women’s Shelters, etc. I recently finished totally greening my home, cleaners, beauty products… So rather than tossing that big bag of stuff I gave it away.

    I found that any moisturizer or lotion that has mineral oil or petroleum products is NOT good for the skin. These products seal up the pores and the good stuff, like essential oils, cannot penetrate properly. I use a therapeutic grade Lemon Essential Oil for breakouts. Just a tiny dab on each pimple. Also I put a drop or two into my water bottle (not plastic, please) and drink a few bottles throughout the day to gently cleanse my insides.
    Lavender Essential Oil is another great alternative. It is gentle and smells wonderful. I put that on with my all natural, non-toxic facial cream and my skin glows.
    A gentle facial mask that soothes the skin is a mixture of 2 parts plain yogurt with one part honey. You can add one part ground oatmeal if you want a scrubbing effect. This mask leaves my face smooth and clean AND so soft.
    For information on essential oils please visit my website – ID#1001525. I love the products and the discounts as a wholesale customer.
    The next product I want to use is the 5-day cleanse, which I think will be useful now that I have removed all toxic items from my home.


  • Just an update about my comment about donating “toxic” products to City Mission or a Women’s Shelter. I was going to toss everything out but I realized that many people don’t care about “green” alternatives. So rather than throwing everything away I gave it away so that someone would use it if they wanted to.


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