So many of the emails I receive asking for skin advice start with 'Can you help me with my spots...?' - and there are so many different types I figured it was cheat sheet time.
So without further ado:
- What kind of spot is it?
Don't start poking about at your face if you don't know what you're dealing with. You'll end up scarred, bleeding and all manner of annoyed.
- Blackheads - not typically a spot, but No.1 on your emails for 'what can I do??'
Blackheads do not mean you are dirty or unclean and they are not caused by germs - so no antibiotic is going to help (I hate antiobiotics for skin 'care' - more of which later). Blackheads are the result of your DNA. Blame your parents. I'm nice like that.
I'm not a fan of trying to remove blackheads on your own. I've seen more scarring from people trying to remove blackheads than from poking at huge red spots. Obviously there are exceptions, but the best thing you can do for blackheads is to have a brilliantly, amazing cleansed skin - every day, use the right products, which do help somewhat (below) and go for a targeted facial to get them removed gently and professionally. Not all facialists are good at extraction by the way - some of them frankly, are horrendous - ask specifically when you make your appointment - 'I need extractions - who is brilliant at them?' If they umm and ahh, go somewhere else.
- Whiteheads - the easiest spot to deal with. Typically appear ovenight, fully formed - and have a very noticeable 'white head'. If you don't usually get them it could be the result of a too-heavy night cream, sweating while you sleep, or a big night out that involved greasy food/booze etc Or all of the above..
Feel around the spot - whiteheads are usually not sore. If it's not sore, and you can see a large amount of sebum (the white gunk), cleanse your face as normal - sometimes - if you're doing it PROPERLY - the flannel will take care of it. If not, finish your cleanse and hold the warm flannel over the spot for a minute. Now take clean hands, split two bits of loo roll and wrap them around your forefingers and gently squeeze in from the outside. It should come away easily. If it does, great - make sure the area is clean, tone, moisturise and go on your way. If it doesn't come away, it's not ready and it's a .....
- Pimple (pastule) - a pimple is deciding what it wants to do - its small, red and has no head. Leave it alone. Cleanse, tone, moisturise (yes, moisturise the pimple too), conceal and be on your way. It may go away on its own, if not - and it decides it's going to grow, it's a.....
- Large pimple (pustule) - this one is angry and wants you to know it. Sore, red, inflamed and infuriatingly nearly always without a head. So it doesn't want you to pick.
Do not pick.
Step away from the spot.
If you suffer from acne or acne rosacea this is your common irritant. Keep it clean, keep it moisturised, keep an eye on it. It will go away. It just wants to do it on its own timetable. Sometimes you can see a teeny weeny whitehead forming at the top. Normal cleansing (BM style) will remove what your skin wants you to remove. If your skin is not offering up that sebum to you - back off. Your skin will win. And you'll get a bleeding, angry spot that is ten times the size as when you started. Or maybe even a scar. Back off. For it may be a.....
- Cyst - deep, painful, really painful. Doesn't always look like a spot - just an angry red lump. These you do not want to play with. These are caused by all manner of things but usually hormones. No amount of picking, playing, poking will do anything to this spot. It will laugh at you. And you WILL scar if you start attempting to do anything with it. You need to take a look at your diet, your lifestyle and you need a...
- Dermatologist - I'm going to make a sweeping generalisation here but GP's are generally CRAP at skin issues. They'll look at you knowingly and prescribe antibiotics. Months and months of antibiotics. Antibiotics prescribed for the skin make you sun sensitive like you would not believe and completely mess with your stomach. I highly, strongly, urge you to come off them (in a controlled manner) if you are on them. Antibiotics - one of the most brilliant life-saving inventions - ever - over prescribed and given out like sweets by GP's - when there are other ways.....Ditto the Pill. Yes, you can have success treating your skin by taking the pill. Although if it works? You probably have high testosterone levels in your body - the pill has balanced you out by increasing your oestrogen. Stop taking the pill, stop eating dairy (see below).
If you have a problem with your vajayjay you'll be told to visit a gynaecologist. If it's your throat - it's an ENT specialist. If you have a problem with your skin - go to a dermatologist. It's what they DO. Our American sisters get this. They have no reservations about going to a specialist, unfortunately our brilliant (and I do mean brilliant) NHS system means that we resent paying for professional medical services. And some of you ladies that ask me for advice? And don't want to spend money on a derm? I see that £200 handbag honey. Your life, your skin, your priorities.
But remember this: you only get ONE SKIN. You can always buy that handbag later.
- Keep your skin clean. Cleanse properly and use good skincare.
- You want products that contain acids. Nice acids, Salicylic, Lactic, Glycolic - all brilliant for helping your skin and they don't have to be ££££ to work.
- Take supplements. Lots of companies now do ranges for problem skin. As a minimum take omega oils - either in fish or flax form - and quercetin (cheat sheet about supplements coming I think).
- Eat well. Your outer is a reflection of your inner. Stay clear of white products - think flour, sugar, pasta etc. Eat a LOT of salad. Even if its just green leaves. That's a start. Don't cover them with a dressing though - they are loaded with sugar
- Eat too much sugar. And yes that includes chocolate. It's not an old wives tale....
- The type of chocolate that affected people usually prefer is milk chocolate. Milk contains androgen hormones - and they basically increase your testosterone levels. And thus make your skin oilier and more prone to problems. Lay off the dairy. All dairy (that doesn't include eggs - why does everyone think the chicken is dairy?!) these days contains androgen hormones.
- Use those strip things to rip out your blackheads. First of all they RIP your skin, NICE. Secondly - they're just nasty.
- Drink too much alcohol. Booze is loaded with sugar - see above - also raises your body temperature (hot flush anyone?) and thus raises inflammation. And massively dehydrates you. Which makes your skin look like you've just been dug up.
- Smoke. Need I say more?