I was enjoying some obligatory poolside chillin’ one weekend last summer, soaking up all the UV rays my skin could take, when my girlfriend, post-cheeseburger binge, decided to fill me in on the details of her last visit to the spa. After going on for nearly half an hour about the amaaazing scalp massage she got, she told me something her facialist said that she found troubling. “We’ve only got one last year to look cute,” she told me. “Kayra [that’s her facialist] says that once you’re 25, it’s over. Your hormones get all messed up, and your skin starts aging and looking like shit.” As a firm believer in ‘black don’t crack,’ I didn’t put much weight on what she said. Of course, all skin ages at some point, but my mother’s in her 60s and has not a single wrinkle, so I always assumed my skin would follow suit. It wasn’t until early spring of this year that I began to understand what Kayra might have been talking about.
I have your run-of-the-mill combination skin. As a teenager, I got my share of pimples, but as I grew out of puberty, things seemed progress quite nicely. I wasn’t getting as many breakouts, and my skin looked pretty even. But then, one day in early April of this year, completely out of left field, I broke out into a million pimples all over my forehead, the side of my face, and most peculiarly, my cheeks—where I never got any major pimples before. It was weird. It was gross. I felt like my 14-year-old self.
I thought I could get rid of all the zits with my usual Neutrogena face cleanser, but that made it worse: the blemishes on my cheeks went away, only to make room for a nice splotchy, flaky rash. At first, I thought I had some sort of illness, and immediately diagnosed myself via WebMD with kidney disease. I called my father to say my goodbyes. I could almost hear him rolling his eyes through the phone when he told me to calm down. “Maybe look into what sort of facial cleansing products you’re using, silly,” he said. “You could be allergic to an ingredient in there.” Maybe it was the Neutrogena stuff throwing me off? I switched back to a good old-fashioned St. Ives Apricot scrub, but the same thing happened. Rash city. I tried to soothe my skin by piling on heaps of frankincense and myrrh-infused lotion to no avail. In fact, it just made my situation itchy and scaly. Needless to say, I was a total mess.
I couldn’t understand what was going on. Anti-acne facial cleanser was supposed to make my zit-ridden skin look better. Why wasn’t it working now? I thought back to what my friend told me last summer, and wondered if maybe Kayra the facialist was right. Had my skin turned against me for good? According to dermatologist Sarika Ramachandran of NYU’s Langone Miller Practice, Kayra’s not too far off on her theory. “The skin can be affected by hormonal changes at any age and certainly these can occur during the twenties,” she told us. “Some people who have oily skin during their teens might find that their skin normalizes a bit in the twenties. However, some women may find that they develop new onset acne in their twenties, thirties and sometimes even into their forties. This may occur in response to intrinsic hormonal fluctuations.” And as for my rash, it was likely the result of a new sensitivity to salicylic acid and scented lotions—my face only broke out when I used products containing those particular ingredients/fragrances. Although I’d been using all sorts of acid-ridden cleansers and fragrant lotions for years without any problems, it didn’t mean that I would be forever immune to their negative effects. According to Dr. Ramachandran, “you can even develop a contact allergy to products you have been using for quite a while.”
I realized that if I wanted good skin, I had to play by the changing rules my epidermis put in place. I ditched my anti-acne products for gentler cleansers, and stopped smearing those delicious smelling jams and jellies on my face. Nothing but fragrance-free for me!
I’m not going to lie— I haven’t been following my new regimen perfectly. My rash came back twice this summer when I lazily applied scented sunscreen to my face on two separate occasions (you think I’d have learned by now…!) But aside from those missteps, I’ve enjoyed clear, glowing skin that allows me to freely wear no makeup in the streets without feeling self-conscious about it. Sweet Liberty!
Click through for a rundown of my new beauty routine.