Monday 23 April 2012

When spots attack: products to fight back!

There are many causes of facial spots and I can only talk in this post from my experiences of the little (or sometimes MASSIVE) blighters that have taunted me over the years. This is not a post aimed at those with more severe acne, but at those who encounter pimples regularly and want to know what they could try in order to avoid them hanging around and also reoccurring as often. One thing is universally true about skin break-outs: they usually occur exactly at the moment when you have an occasion where you want to look good- school photos, dates and weddings are favourites for those bastard blemishes to make an appearance. I am of the thinking that if there are things you can try to fight back, you should do it (within reason, of course). I am fortunate enough not to have major acne problems and I can only sympathise with those that have, but I do often experience flare ups which range from minor 2-3 day to fortnight-long battles. Rarely am I blemish-free for long before another rears its ugly head.

Firstly: prevention.

It makes sense that if you can create a happy environment for your skin, it will behave itself more than if you deprive it of what it needs. I won't be a hypocrite and say I am the healthiest eater- far from it, but it makes sense that if you're not feeding yourself with the necessary elements of a balanced diet, your body will rebel, inside and out. If you do one thing for your skin, eat fruit and vegetables as part of your daily diet. If you have to, take vitamin tablets, but ideally you should try to incorporate the foods you need into your eating plan. If you are not eating any fruit or veg, an eating plan or eating re-think may be your path to less volatile skin.

Drinking water is another common sense piece of advice. If you are not keeping yourself hydrated your skin will reflect this fact. I need to constantly remind myself to drink more water and, to be honest, I'm not always successful. Many days I am so busy at work that I drink nowhere near enough fluids. Bringing a bottle of water with you in your bag wherever you go is a good step to take if you know you are not drinking enough throughout the day.

The product line up: yeah spots, you better hide...
Other than what you put into your body, exfoliation is a fantastic measure you can take to keep your skin clearer. Different skin types will tolerate varying degrees of exfoliation, but one reason that spots may occur is when pores become blocked by dirt, oil and dead skin cells. There are various methods of exfoliation and you should never subject your face to frequent torturous scrubbing sessions which will only leave you red and angry. Here are some methods that you may consider:

Face scrubs: 

Boots Skin Clear Deep Pre Facial Treatment Scrub: £4.07 
Exfoliating your face every day with a facial scrub is not a good idea. What this may achieve is ridding your skin of the oils it needs to stay healthly. The following product may be of interest to those who like to manually exfoliate, although if you have particularly sensitive skin you may wish to avoid any product with harsh grains or chemicals.
The Skin clear scrub contains Salicylic acid along with grains which slough away dead skin. It has a pleasant cooling feel on the skin and helped to clear smaller pimples after a few uses. The formula is creamy and rinses off nicely.

Hot cloth cleansers:

The most famous hot cloth cleanser (at least to my knowledge) is Liz Earle's Cleanse & Polish which is a cream cleanser containing Rosemary, Chamomile, Cocoa Butter and Eucalyptus Essential Oil. It is applied to dry skin and them removed with a muslin cloth soaked in warm water. The smell is minty/ herbal and it feels good on the skin. I tried the product some time ago, loved it, then tried other products (including the Superdrug version which I will mention in a minute). It is recommended for all skin types which makes it the best option for more sensitive and oily skins.

Superdrug Cleanser blurb

The test of a good cult product is when you find yourself craving it when you run out, or, like a long-lost lover you find yourself drawn to it even after so many other things come along. This, to me, sums up Cleanse & Polish.

Left: Superdrug Vitamin E Hot Cloth Cleanser; right: Liz Earle 
 At £14.25 a pop (100ml starter kit, including 1x muslin cloth) the Liz Earle does not suit everyone's wallet. Luckily, I managed to snare a free 30ml size in a magazine recently, but will soon be without my beloved again. The good news for those of us who don't necessarily wish to shell out for a good hot cloth cleanser is that there are others on the market which can be ours for considerably less than Earle's wonderproduct.

The gem I have found is Superdrug's Vitamin E Hot Cloth Cleanser which will set you back £5.99 for 200ml (including the cloth)! The key differences are that it does not have the herbal scent, rather a gentle slightly-almond fragrance which is inoffensive and clean-smelling. Secondly, it is targeted at normal to dry skin and  therefore can leave a slight trace of film if not fully buffed and rinsed off properly. It claims to be high in antioxidants and leaves my skin feeling just as nice as the Cleanse & Polish. Even if you have combination or slightly oily skin, this product would be worth trying; using a toner for your skin type afterwards would help to remove any residue, leaving your skin gently exfoliated and fresh-looking.

Having tried both products over the last six months or so, the Superdrug cleanser is great if you can get your hands on it, but Liz Earle's superior ingredients and the zingy-feeling you get after using it make it my winner.

Alpha and Beta Hydroxy Acid products:

These products are a way to exfoliate and renew your skin without scrubbing at it whilst you're in the bath. One option is Paula's Choice range of exfoliants which pamper the skin as well as leaving you with a smoother complexion over time. For me, the 1% beta hydroxy acid lotion for all skin types is mild, yet keeps my skin reasonably clear when I use it over a few weeks.

For more information on the benefits and differences between alpha and beta hydroxy acids, an excellent source is the Paula's Choice website where you can also investigate her product line. She also sells samples so you can try things out before you invest in them. 

Even though it is more aimed at smoothing wrinkles in older skin, I also thought that Alpha H's Liquid Gold. May be of interest to those who wish to even out and revitalize their complexion. It contains Glycolic acid which exfoliates and clears the skin. It is quite a strong product and is worth researching to check whether it would do anything for you. I have found it to give good results when used once or twice a week. For details, visit QVC who stock the brand.

Now onto spot-fighting treatments...

Origins' Spot Remover is a fantastic weapon in my arsenal of products! When I see (or feel) a red enemy rearing its evil head, I take action and hit it with some of this powerful gel. Since I purchased the product it has now been improved and re-named as Super Spot Remover which makes me strangely excited- if this tiny 10ml bottle can make me feel as if I am armed and ready for spots to attack, just imagine what a bluer, better bottle can do! Having used it for well over a year, I can say that you should give this one a go if you tend to break out without warning and want a handy, on-the-go product.

Left: Tea Tree Oil; right: Origins Spot Remover
Tea Tree Oil is a common way to treat spots as it is a natural antiseptic. You can buy blended oil cheaply from most larger chemists and it can shrink blemishes in size considerably over a few days. As with the Spot Remover you apply it with a cotton wool bud onto the affected area and leave to dry.

Nose Strips:

If you have blackheads/ blocked pores, nose strips are also widely available and usually inexpensive.
Tea Tree range from Superdrug- 
just in case you're nosey (hahahaha)


Now if you want to pull out the big guns, get yourself a mask to really blitz those zits! (Is that a pun too far?) I have recently tried Lush's Mask of Magnaminty after a kind, but persistent assistant gave me a sample a week ago. As she handed me a sealed, neon paper bag with the name and description on it, I wasn't sure whether it'd be suitable for my dry skin, but I've been pleasantly suprised. Also, it isn't everyday that I explain to a Lush Worker that I don't want their help and they return two minutes later with a gift, instead of a second attempt at sales patter.

I'll say it now as you're probably  thinking it: the image does not do it justice! This is a new tub and the urine-like substance featured is nothing but some of the Peppermint oils making a cheeky appearance. Do not let that deter you: this is a really good product. The 125g tub (the smaller of the two sizes available) cost less than a fiver and, judging by the uses I got from the minuscule sample tub, this will be worth the money.

It feels cool and minty on the skin as you slather it over your face. Another plus are the exfoliating grains in it which aren't the hardcore, scratchy kind, but do the job and leave you with soft, clean, refreshed skin. I noticed a difference in spot size after one use and this is why I knew it was something I needed in my life. Unlike some of Lush's other masks, this one does not live in the fridge- another plus for me as I always forget they're there. The shelf life is four months.


Finally, if all else fails- disguise your spots and just get on with your day. My cover up of choice is Mac's Studio Finish.
Until I found this, spots won every battle. Nothing I tried to cover them was opaque enough and often it just made them look worse. Now I apply this wonderful product to imperfections and, once properly blended, most flat spots are gone until I wash my make-up off. With more aggressive spots you can at least tone down the redness and make them less noticeable.

NC20 Mac Studio Finish Concealer
Break-outs, spots, pimples: they're part of life, but we can fight back and keep their visits to a minimal.

However, if you experience persistent and unresponsive acne it is always wise to see your doctor as you may be able to be prescribed medicines to control your outbreaks.

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