I see you standing there at the aisle reading every ingredient on the list for your sensitive skin.
The skincare aisle at every drugstore was a second home for me. I’d stand there for hours, going through every single ingredient and finding out what each ingredient was for.
How my skincare journey began
Having struggled with painful skin conditions like acne and eczema my whole life, I felt I needed to educate myself so I could manage my conditions, especially to reduce eczema and skin sensitivity occurrences.
It wasn’t until I was older and had some health issues (severe gut and kidney issues)
that my skin got a lot worse and I got really bad cystic acne all over my face.
Here’s a preview of what my skin looked like and what it is now:
Nothing I tried over the counter worked,
after trying countless ‘anti-acne’ products, steroid creams, harsh peels and visits to doctors and dermatologists who recommended products that never really worked in the long term.
The whole process only made my break outs worse and dried out my skin. Eventually my skin turned flaky and patchy.
It was a vicious cycle of break out —→ dry out —→ peel out (breaking my skin’s barrier and microbiome)
Which made me more self-conscious. In fact, as time went on, my skin got more sensitive and redness was a perpetual issue I had I deal with.
Nature that heals
It was many years later that I found something that worked! Pure aloe vera gel from my garden, but of course the texture wasn’t exactly ideal – it was sticky and messy but it worked! It was then that I started to venture into plant-based ingredients and botanical cosmeceuticals.
Here are some general skincare tips for inflammation:
- Washing face too often: You might think washing your face more will get rid of your acne, but it really dries out the skin leading to acceleration of oil production, causing breakouts. Cleanse your face at night, and splash your face with cold water in the mornings. Opt for a cleanser with mild surfactants to prevent over-stripping your skin (amino based surfactants are best). Find something that is pH 5-5.5.
- Picking & popping pimples: I know it’s hard to resist popping pimples and extracting blackheads, but it can lead to scarring and often times makes my pimples worse or spreads to other parts of my face giving me more acne. Remember to put on a zit sticker once the breakout has popped itself, to prevent reinfection and accelerate healing.
- Washing with HOT water and over exfoliating your skin: overdoing either of these can really strip the skin of its natural oils and breaks the skin barrier, which leads to breakouts and inflammation
- Avoid over-the-counter acne medications (salicylic acid, benzoyl peroxide and sulfur): if it’s working for you and not making your skin as dry as the Sahara desert then stick with the routine. However, in my experiencing these medications just dried my skin out which led to more acne, dryness (pealing) and redness.
- Use a facial serum based on your skin type: After cleansing, apply a serum with ingredients like hyaluronic acid, centella asiatica, aloe vera etc. (ingredients that helps with hydration & soothes). Keep your skin hydrated so it doesn’t produce more oil, causing more acne.
- Use moisturizer: this might seem wrong, especially if you are acne prone with an oily skin type, but remember that your skin needs something to keep the moisture in. Find something with ceramides, squalane, allantoin, niacinamide, panthenol etc. (skin barrier building ingredients)
Use sunscreen: Do not skip this step, to prevent scarring. It will take some time to find one that suits your skin, but power through! Physical sunscreens are best for sensitive skin, but are more prone to leave you with a white cast. But with the new Korean sunscreen technologies, you should be able to find something that has a tint closer to your complexion.
If you see Zinc Oxide and Titanium Dioxide as leading ingredients, then it is a physical sunscreen. If avobenzone, oxybenzone, octinoxate, tinosorb, etc mentioned, they are chemical sunscreens.
Switch to non-toxic skincare and makeup products: I ditched all of my skincare (including body products) and makeup products that contained harmful ingredients and replaced them with products that have clean ingredients. Everything you put on your skin absorbs into your body and into your bloodstream. According to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), the average woman uses 12 products day, containing 168 unique ingredients. EWG also says that one in 13 women are exposed to ingredients that are known or probable carcinogens in their personal care products every day. Use the EWG’s Skin Deep database or Think Dirty App to see how your products rate.
- Most importantly: KEEP IT SIMPLE, when your skin is inflamed you don’t want to be using harsh chemicals or any complex skincare regime as your skin needs the time and space to heal. So keep it simple until your skin heals, then you can incorporate ingredients like azelaic acid, vitamin C, AHA/BHAs into your regimen slowly.
The name of the game here to build your skin barrier and keep your skin hydrated so it gains resilience (less sensitive) and heals faster, preventing scarring.
Healing From Within With Food
Whatever issues you have within, more often than not manifests externally.
Here are the ways I improved my diet:
Probiotics and bone broth: By building good bacteria and eliminating bad bacteria in my gut, my body was able to go back to equilibrium and regulate itself.
The extra collagen in the bone broth also helps keep your skin firm and tight, improving skin healing as well.
Personally, I still do a 3-4 day cleanse from time to time, which consists of bone broth and vegetable only diet. The idea is to have bone broth and vegetables whenever you feel hungry. Do not starve yourself, this diet is not meant for you to lose weight, but more of a gut cleanse. And be diligent in take your probiotics daily during your diet.
Here are some links for bone broth recipes:
- Beef Bone Broth: Rich Gelatinous Beef Bone Broth
- Chicken Bone Broth: Roast Chicken Bone Broth
- Fish Bone Broth: Iodine Rich for Good Thyroid Health
Vegan Bone Broth Recipe
(unfortunately, you cannot get the same health benefits of real bone broth using 100% plant based ingredients. Collagen, gelatin and amino acids all come from the cartilage and bones. You would need to supplement those with different foods/ supplements).
Eliminate processed sugar: this is really important. If you want to heal your body from the inside/out eliminate candy, cookies, cakes for a period of time. This significantly reduces inflammation in your body and dramatically helped me to reduce breakouts and eczema outbreaks.
If you really have to, opt for natural sugars like honey, maple syrup or dates in moderation. Feel free to still eat low sugar fruits like blueberries, black berries, strawberries, or raspberries.
Don’t worry! Once my skin healed, I still indulge from time to time, but whenever I have my fare ups, I know what I need to watch out for.
And avoid “sugar-free” food and drinks at all cost, these ingredients are known to cause severe inflammation and isn’t good for your general gut health.
- Reduce/ Eliminate gluten: breads, grains, wheat, etc. Gluten is one of the top allergenic foods that contribute to skin issues. It’s linked to skin conditions like eczema, psoriasis, and vitiligo. Like sugar, I eliminated gluten from my diet until I fully healed and eat them from time to time now. Moderation is key! Gluten causes inflammation in the gut which then can trigger acne.
- Consume Healthy Oils: Omega 3’s Fish Oil is known to decrease inflammation, which is associated with acne.
- Avoid processed foods: fast food, frozen meals, chips, cereal, microwave meals, breads, meal bars, sugary foods, etc. My tip is to avoid anything that doesn’t come from an animal or nature.
- Drink more water: stay hydrated throughout the day by drinking filtered water. I aim to drink 80 ounces – 1 gallon of water per day. You can also drink herbal teas like green tea or matcha tea for its extra antioxidant power! L-Theanine is also known to help with your mood.
- Avoid fried and spicy foods: These foods are known to cause inflammation in the body
- Overall: Eat whole, unprocessed, organic foods to get the highest quality, nutrient rich foods possible. Eat organic if possible to avoid pesticides, and buy grass-fed, or pasture raised quality meats. Aim to eat 4-6 servings of vegetables and include plenty of garlic and onions.
Mental Health & Exercise
Stress was also a major trigger for my acne. I tried to keep my stress levels down by seeing a therapist as well as working out and relaxing. I found that whenever I felt better, my skin looked better. It was like a “glow” from within, even though I still had acne all over. My skin just generally looked healthier.
Full Circle Journey
From all these experiences, I truly realized that. It’s okay to not be perfect. Finally embracing the notion that, “Wherever you are, is where you are meant to be”. In fact, it was through all these difficulties that Fleur was born.
When I was younger, the need for control in my life was strong. Thinking, if I love myself, I need to be as good as I “should” be, which ultimately ended in a never-ending cycle of never good enough-ness.
It took me a long time to understand that the true meaning of loving myself was actually -
me taking the time to understand my strengths and limitations. Getting to know my needs so I could build a life that allowed me to be as effective as possible. Knowing when and what I can and cannot do. Ultimately, discovering what I needed to be fulfilled.
I had to be patient and understanding enough to myself to see my limitations in the face and still feel okay about myself.
To have compassion for the current and old me while I build on what I currently have. Funnily enough, as you do this more often and start building, you find yourself feeling grateful for how far you have come.
Building the confidence that things would inevitably get better as you continue healing and building a life you enjoy.
Ultimately, my journey thus far has been a story of acceptance, compassion, patience and understanding through my many triumphs and failures. Knowing I’m not perfect and reminding myself that I don’t need to be to be worth it. And to remind myself to stay consistent with my daily practices. And taking my power back to take care of my health and wellbeing.
I hope by sharing of my story, I would be able to help you feel less alone and aid you in your journey of healing from within and without. - Love, Jia Yin