My New Skincare Routine


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For the last several years I have struggled with adult acne. It may not look like it in my pictures because I try hard to conceal the spots with makeup. There are the odd days that I have pretty clear skin, but it's rare. I never had to deal with a lot of acne when I was a teenager (didn't even see a spot until I was 17 and even then they were tiny and rare). When I finally did have a spot or two, I treated it with benzoyl peroxide. Got on hormonal birth control in my late twenties, started taking zinc and that seemed to take care of the few that I did get. Birth control didn't keep me from breaking out, but it didn't make it worse either. Fast forward, a few years after starting the birth control pill, I decided to go off of it (for other reasons, but mainly it didn't agree with me at all). My skin was clear until the three month mark and I had the worst breakout of my life. They say after you go off of hormonal birth control, expect to break out at around 2-3 months. Cystic acne is the worst! I had no idea! Most people say eventually the acne will clear up, but mine never did.

I tried using benzoyl peroxide again and that proved to be a disaster. Although it worked for me once before, this time around it made my eyes swell up. I didn't even realize the benzoyl peroxide was doing this for quite awhile! Yuck! Well, I certainly wasn't willing to have swollen eyes for the sake of clear skin. There has got to be a better way! I have tried practically everything. I changed my diet. Quit drinking cow's milk (still mostly avoid it, although I honestly don't know why anymore). I went gluten free, went Paleo for nearly a year (don't get me started on Paleo...)! I cut out nuts, and that didn't help. I even track my hormonal cycle religiously every morning (everything is normal and on schedule). I tried taking supplements. I took fish oil (broke me out). I tried fermented cod liver oil (this is probably the dumbest thing I have done yet, messed my cycle up, broke me out worse...I do NOT recommend this horrible stuff)! I took a high quality multi-vitamin (also broke me out and now I don't believe in taking multi-vitamins unless you are pregnant or your doctor prescribes them). I take probiotics (still do, although it doesn't really help a lot with acne). I took Vitex, Estroblock (don't do it!), red raspberry leaf, I drank spearmint tea religiously one month (it made me skip my period and I do NOT recommend this either). Oh man, what else have I done to myself? You name it, I have tried it (with a few exceptions).

I am sick of spending so much money and trying so much stuff to "fix" my body. I know herbalists and naturopaths will always tell you that the problem is on the "inside" and you just have to fix whatever is going on in there. But after all that, I can't help but be a little bit skeptical at this viewpoint. I'm perfectly healthy and I have unnecessarily cut out all of these foods only to find it didn't help (or only slightly helped - like cutting dairy) or in many cases made things worse. I have decided to try something new and stop buying into this idea that you must take a million supplements and eat nothing delicious to have clear skin.

Enter Caroline Hirons... Oh how I love this woman! I have been watching her Youtube videos for awhile now and have read her blog off and on over the last year. However, I never really followed her skincare guide until now. I figured I could get the same results just by using oils and I thought that would be enough. It wasn't. The other day I went back to her website and pored through her "cheat sheets" to figure out the perfect routine for me. She talks a lot about "acids" and how wonderful they are for the skin, especially as we age. And who am I kidding? I am not 20 anymore. I've never had great skin, it has always been dry and now I get cystic acne at the drop of a hat. Maybe I need more of these treatments to deal with my troubled skin. Perhaps all my skin needs is a little acid help?? But I don't want to do this halfway. I'm going to follow her skincare regimen as close as I can.

I'm still testing out products and may change the routine a bit as I learn more, but right now this is what my skincare routine looks like...


  1. Cleanse: With a fresh washcloth (Caroline calls them "flannels"), cleanse with a gentle cleanser. I am using Paula's Choice Skin Recovery Cream Cleanser.
  2. Toner: This is not what a lot of people think of as a toner, this is something that helps balance the skin after you wash your face (if I understand it correctly). It's not harsh or drying at all. I use Paula's Choice Resist Weightless Advanced Repairing Toner.
  3. Acid: There are AHA's BHA's etc. I am no expert, but I think this is a pretty important step in your routine. I am using a BHA (2% salicylic acid), from Paula's Choice. I got the sample size, so I may or may not change it when I run out. I am also using a sample of her 9% BHA to spot treat some of my cystic acne and it's pretty great! On the pricey side, though!
  4. Serum: I didn't "get" serums for the longest time. I'm still not quite sure how to describe them, but they are wonderful at helping your skin retain moisture. They always go before moisturizer and after acids. I think the main ingredient in a good serums is "hyaluronic acid." I was using a sample from Paula's Choice, but recently ordered Now Solutions Hyaluronic Acid Serum and plan to start using it instead (I'll update how it goes).
  5. Moisturizer: You want to make sure you are using a good moisturizer as well, and for me it's a must because of how dry my skin is! Right now I'm using a sample from Paula's Choice, but again have ordered something different to try. I got Weleda Skin Food, and I'm excited to try it after reading all the rave reviews. Again, I will update you on how it works for me.
  6. SPF: Sunscreen is always a good idea, especially if you are going to start using acids or retinols. I am not so great at this part during the winter, but I tend to wear makeup with SPF in it anyway and whenever I am outside for more than 15 minutes I wear a good SPF. I just ordered Hada Labo UV Creamy Gel and will keep you updated on how it performs!


  1. Cleanse: You can use any gentle cleanser or micellar water if you are wearing a lot of makeup. I will sometimes use an oil (like pumpkin seed oil or rosehip seed oil) to remove my makeup. I also have a separate cleanser to remove my waterproof mascara.
  2. Double Cleanse: The idea is that after you have removed your makeup, you must also cleanse your skin. Caroline is really into "double cleansing." I use a cream cleanser, same one as my morning routine.
  3. Toner: Same as morning routine.
  4. Eyes: Apply moisturizer or serum before your treatments.
  5. Acid/Treatments: This is when I will use my retinol cream. I have only been using it twice a week (just on the second week now). I plan to use it every other day, but trying to go slowly to see how my skin reacts. So far so good, but this stuff is potent and I know a lot of people will start peeling really badly if they go too fast. I'm trying not to make that mistake! My skin hasn't shown signs of peeling, so I'm going to start applying it every two days instead of every three. I use Paula's Choice 1% Retinol Treatment (trial size), and only a "pea" size for my entire face. There is a whole host of information about this stuff, but you can get a prescription for tretinoin (Retin-A), that may be a better option depending on your insurance and if it will cover the cost (it can get pretty expensive). I think using this might be where I'll see most of the progress in my skin. Time will tell, though. I have read you shouldn't expect to see great results for at least 6-12 weeks of continued use. I know it's amazing for fine lines, so if it agrees with me I might keep this up for a long time!
  6. Serum: Again, the same as my morning routine.
  7. Moisturizer: Same as morning routine.
I know that looks like a lot of steps, but I promise it doesn't take me that much more time than my previous routine. I still think the food you eat can contribute to your skin, but for many of us, cutting out foods or entire food groups won't make a big difference and in many cases can make things worse. I'm going to stick to this routine and see if I make any progress. So far, one week in, I'm already clearing up! I don't want to jinx myself or anything, but thought I would go ahead and share my routine now just in case someone else finds it useful. I'll definitely update how I'm doing and if anything gets worse/better! Wish me luck!  

P.S. I know I'm using lots of Paula's Choice products here, but you don't have to use her brand. There are other great products out there, I just find her products the most accessible. I also like that you can try samples of each product, which is ultimately what led me to purchase.

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  1. I don't know if this is going to help at all with what you are dealing with, but I had the same sort of situation in my late twenties. Rarely had a zit in my life and then suddenly I had breakouts I could never get rid of. What worked for me was actually taking an antibiotic for awhile. My doctor told me that I basically had an infection under the skin and the cycle had to break for the acne to go away. I also have to be really careful about what products I use because my skin is so sensitive. For me, washing with cetaphil antibacterial bar soap helped a ton, and using an oil instead of a lotion as a moisturizer. And never use any sort of "scrub", only an enzymatic cleanser if I want to exfoliate (I still swear by plain yogurt!). I now rarely have a breakout, usually hormone related and I try to do a yogurt mask if I notice one coming on. I also eat a lot of leafy greens and I can always tell a big difference if I keep up with that, and staying hydrated. I also use dove sensitive bars now instead of cetaphil, and a micellar watercleanser to remove any makeup. It was a long haul to get it under control, but it does eventually go away! Like I said, I don't know if any of that will help you, but know that it shouldn't last forever and it will eventually get better.

    1. That's really interesting, Martha! I have heard of people taking antibiotics, but didn't know how well it worked or if it was long or short term. I don't like the idea of taking an antibiotic long term. So far doing this routine has helped a great deal. But if it doesn't continue to help, I might just have to go see a dermatologist. Thank you for your tips! They are always appreciated! :)

  2. Woah! So sorry to hear about facial skin problems; as soon as I turned 18 any acne I had magically disappeared and I haven't ever dealt with adult acne (fingers crossed), but I imagine it must be incredibly frustrating. Raised in traditional eastern medicine, I was taught that the skin is indeed reflection of inner body because the skin is part of the waste/toxins releasing (immune system). That being said, you're trying all kinds of things and they aren't working. Some of what you've tried definitely sounds intriguing (fermented cod oil??? lol oh noooo). Good luck figuring it out! Whatever works, works. And I hope it doesn't cost you an arm and a leg. My friend moved from her home state of Michigan to Bay Area California, where the air is significantly more polluted. She never had ANY acne until she moved here. She truly thinks it's due to the poor air quality and I can't say I disagree. She, too, is trying absolutely everything. For example, when we went to the mountains on a camping trip, her skin completely cleared up! I'm sorry this all isn't much help, but I do wish you luck on your journey!!

  3. I HEAR you on the adult acne. I've always had massive breakouts (not numbers, size) and didn't know where to start getting rid of them. I had a bike accident a few years ago and ended up with stitches on my chin and afterwards started moisturizing religiously to help the scar heal as well as possible. And lo and behold, moisturizing also cleared up my acne! I still get the odd breakout, but they go away much faster, don't turn into whiteheads, and are MUCH less frequent. When I feel one coming on, I use a little Clean & Clear OTC spot treatment, and it's usually mostly gone in a couple of days.

    I know it seems obvious, but dang, I wish someone had told me to start moisturizing (all the time - not just when my skin feels dry) at 13!!!

  4. Sounds like you've been through quite the skin care ordeal! I've been on antibiotics for my adult cystic acne for 4 years now combined with Retin A. Every time I try to wean off of them it comes back with a vengeance. Really wish I didn't need to be on them but it's the only thing that's worked in 10+ years. I thought by 30 I wouldn't have to deal with acne anymore. I hope your routine keeps working for you in the long term!

  5. Yay! So glad you made this post. I've suffered acne since my teenage years (am now 28, going on 29) and have been in and out of dermatologists offices since then. By far the best and most effective treatment I've found are retinoid creams that I apply at night. I also used to get chemical peel treatments which are amazing for scars and rough patches. The "lunchtime" peel which is not very invasive, done in 15 mins, and you can walk out of the office and continue with your day as normal. It's just a bit pricey at about $100+ per peel.

  6. And, I totally agree about moisturizing! I have oily skin and sometimes tempted to skip this step but having dry skin seems to break me out even worse!

  7. Moisturizing! I do three times a day, rarely break out now!!

  8. I had great skin, until I hit 40, and got rosacea. Only in the winter months, and really not that bad. I have to second the Paula's Choice BHA - believe it or not, it really helps calm my skin down and eliminate any bumps from a flare up. I originally bought the 2% body lotion for the backs of my arms (which completely cleared up), and decided to try it on my face after I read about the anti inflammatory effects. Keep us updated on how the other products work for you!

  9. When I turned 30 I got acne, braces, and bifocals! It was an interesting time! I eventually had to go on a very strong medication for my acne (Accutane) and have never had a reoccurrence to that degree. However, in my mid 50s acne returned in occasional flare ups. A friend recommended honey. Washing my face with raw, unrefined honey. WHAT? For the past 10-12 years I have used honey to wash my face. When I want some kind of a scrub, I use oatmeal (pulverized in food processor). It's too simple to explain.

  10. weleda skin food is incredible, but it is generally meant to be used as a hand cream. some people love it for the face, but if you end up not liking it, i highly recommend their facial moisturizers, my favorite is the weleda rose day cream, for dry skin. their iris is lovely for combo, and almond is nice for sensative. look forward to seeing an update on your new routine!

  11. You poor thing! I can relate to your struggle with cystic acne. I suffered with it right into my forties, on my back and face. I tried all the creams - well so it felt like. I gave up on topical creams, lotions and potions. I discovered, after way too long!, that my digestion caused most of my more serious issues. I now make sure I eat enough fruit and greens so that (sorry I can't put this more politely) I poop at least twice a day. The difference has been phenomenonal. I have now switched to a vegan diet. I also avoid sodium lauryl sulphate in shampoo and use regular bar soaps for my body. I also use it in a tiny amount on a konjac sponge for my face if I have make up and just the sponge if I have none. My moisturizer is coconut oil - I liked Weleda almond oil even better but the bottle was forever leaking.
    I can't believe I don't need my concealer any more :) I hope this is some help - it is so rotten to have sore cystic acne.