Cheat Sheet – Sudden breakouts – what to do and what to do it with

Last week happened to be half term and coincided with me falling off the ‘face’ wagon. You know what I mean, you drink things you know you shouldn’t (coke), eat things you know you shouldn’t (Kettle chips I’m looking at YOU) – and unbeknownst to me, I was also pre-menstrual.
You’d think after having periods for 30+ years I’d see the thing coming. But NO.
I couldn’t figure out why I was so tired and craving all the bad things – I even took an energy supplement to see me through – with catastrophic results* – more of which later.

I digress.

Consequently I woke up on Sunday morning with my period and a random attack of zits that would make the most hormonally-challenged teen proud (cry).

I had 3 particularly attractive (what I call) ‘throbbing cysts’ that perched happily right in the middle of my face – just in time for a week full of appointments with clients. You know, the appointments where I advise people how to have great skin? Yes, those.

I immediately went into my usual plan of action – and as I’ve been talking about it a lot with clients on appointments I thought it may help some of you who suffer from those extremely irritating red spots/welts/cysts/whiteheads/swellings – anything really that comes on in a hurry and tries to teach you who is Boss. Rude. If the cause is unrelated to food/changes in diet or routine or you simply don’t know why your skin is reacting…try this anyway.

First things first – food:

  • Pop an antihistamine (assuming you have no medical contraindications). Antihistamines job is to calm the redness and ‘put out the fire’. Chlorphenamine maleate is better for the skin problems than cetirizine. This translates as Piriton over Zyrtec/Clariton – but ask your chemist/read the boxes. Technically of course, antihistamines do the same thing, I just found a slightly better result with the Piriton. To each their own.
  • Be honest about any dietary changes you’ve had and make adjustments. For me this means no coke or crisps – for a lot of the people I’ve seen in the office it means the 3 C’s. Coffee (the extravagant kind that involves shots/cream/syrup), Coke and Cadbury’s. Sadly you need to get rid.
  • Drink water likes it going out of fashion. Still. No fizzy. (Although fizzy is obviously my favourite. It would be.)
  • Ingest fish oil and salmon like you haven’t eaten in weeks. My default ‘fix my face’ eating plan is pretty much anything Dr Perricone mentions in his 3 Day Diet. I tend to go overboard but in all honesty, nothing works as quickly for me as this eating regime. Dr P really is the King of the anti-inflammatory diet. He pioneered it when everyone thought he was crazy and has stuck to his guns to be proven correct. Read all his books. You won’t regret it.
  • If you are vegetarian and fish isn’t an option you need flax/Udo’s oil and should binge on seeds and nuts high in omegas. Flax, walnuts and soy are your friends.
  • No sugar.
  • Minimal dairy – and dairy should always always be organic full fat.


  • Evening cleanse is key. Balm/oil cleanse the skin. Make sure you’ve rinsed properly.
  • Acid tone. Make sure you go over the spots/cysts really well. If they are bleeding, go over them until the acid quells the bleeding, which it should. Don’t be traumatised by a little blood, work your skin normally.
  • Apply something topically to the area – my go-to is Aesop’s Control gel. It contains vit c, niacinamide and salicylic acid but its in an aloe base so it calms, gets rid of the redness and hydrates – as opposed to harsher products designed to ‘dry-out’ spots. They don’t need drying out, they need nourishment.
  • Apply a facial oil. One designed for a combi/oily skin is ideal but in all honesty, most oils will do the trick (assuming you personally are not allergic/intolerant to them). My go-to here is Clarins Lotus oil. Put 3-4 drops into your palm, swipe across the other palm, apply to the areas affected first, then elsewhere. Don’t saturate your skin. Less is more. Layer. Don’t suffocate.

Now you need to monitor the situation. Keep the Control gel to hand, and reapply after you’ve used the oil. Leave it half an hour or so, check your skin, reapply the oil if its absorbed. I had to reapply 3 times last night over the space of a couple of hours. My skin was drinking it. Alternate: Control gel (your spot treatment)/Oil/Control gel/Oil.

Before you go to bed check your skin. Apply a last hit of Control gel, followed by your oil. I chose to seal the deal with some Kate Somerville moisturiser, in the way you would add an extra blanket to the bed. It was cold, I was just going the extra mile. This routine works best with little or no silicone. Layer upon layer of silicone gives you ‘rolling’ and gets in the way of absorption of the gel/oil.

In the morning:

  • Light cleanse
  • Acid tone
  • Hydrate tone – Darphin Intral is a bit of a gem for this – brilliant for redness
  • Control gel
  • Couple of drops of facial oil
  • Moisturiser

You should find the redness has subsided a little and the spots have either come to a head or started to go down.

Keep an eye on your diet, check your skin regularly throughout the day – the Control gel is clear and can be used over makeup etc if you want to – and repeat the process the next evening until you start to see results.

This may not work for everyone – but when you’re at the end of your tether it’s worth trying!

*The energy drink I had was purely vitamin B6. B6 triggers my skin something shocking. B12 I’m absolutely fine with – but the other B’s? – NO. I should have read the label. Never again. This is one of the many reasons I don’t advise taking multi-vitamins. Target your supplement needs to your body. Don’t just take a one-shot-hits-all pill and think it’s doing the job. I promise you it isn’t.

Need to soften a sudden breakout? Find out how on the Skin Rocks Column.