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:
After trying countless ‘anti-acne’ products, steroid creams, harsh peels and visits to doctors and dermatologists, nothing really helped to treat the root cause.
While it is extremely useful to go to a dermatologist to get an accurate diagnosis to know what you are dealing with, it is ultimately up to you to learn to listen to your skin and body to figure out what it needs.
I was using too many actives and doing extensive procedures during my flare ups, which only made my break outs worse and broke my skin barrier. Eventually my skin turned flaky, patchy, extremely sensitive and RED!
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.
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. While also discovering the importance of having a healthy skin barrier.
Here are some general skincare tips for inflammation:
- Overwashing your skin: While it's tempting to believe that frequent face washing will banish acne, it can actually backfire by drying out your skin and triggering increased oil production, which can lead to more breakouts. It's best to cleanse your face at night and in the morning, simply splash it with cold water if you have dry skin. Look for a gentle cleanser with mild surfactants, ideally amino-based ones, to avoid over-stripping your skin. Aim for a product with a pH of 5-5.5.
- Picking & popping pimples: I understand the temptation to pop pimples and remove blackheads, but it can result in scarring and often worsens the condition or leads to the spread of acne to other areas of your face. Instead, consider using a pimple patch once the breakout has naturally opened to prevent reinfection and speed up the healing process."
- Washing with HOT water and over exfoliating your skin: Overusing either of these can excessively strip the skin of its natural oils and damage the skin barrier, resulting in breakouts and inflammation."
- Avoid over-the-counter acne medications until your skin barrier is healed (salicylic acid, benzoyl peroxide and sulfur): While acids and active ingredients can be beneficial, if you notice redness and peeling, it's important to ease up on using these products. A healthy skin barrier serves as a strong foundation, allowing you to gradually introduce more actives into your skincare routine and fully enjoy their benefits!
- Use a facial serum based on your skin type: f Select a facial serum tailored to your specific skin type. Following your cleansing routine, apply a serum containing ingredients such as hyaluronic acid, centella asiatica, or aloe vera, which are known for their hydrating and soothing properties. Hydration plays a pivotal role in preserving your skin's health and facilitating its recovery, especially after using active ingredients that may lead to peeling.
- 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, it's best to avoid harsh chemicals and complex skincare routines. Your skin requires time and space to recover. So, keep your skincare routine simple until your skin has healed. Afterward, you can gradually introduce ingredients like azelaic acid, vitamin C, AHA/BHAs, and retinols into your regimen.".
- Finally, be patient! Acne and acne scars will gradually fade over time. It's natural to feel the urge to jump into action when a flare-up occurs, but it's important to stay consistent with your skincare routine, and use one active at a time especially if you have sensitive skin. Your skin will heal as long as you maintain that consistency
The key focus here is to fortify your skin barrier and maintain optimal hydration, which in turn enhances your skin's resilience, making it less sensitive. This is the foundation for reaping the rewards of other active skincare ingredients!
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 fostering a healthy balance of beneficial and harmful gut bacteria, my body regained equilibrium and self-regulation.
Additionally, the added collagen from bone broth contributes to maintaining skin firmness and elasticity, ultimately enhancing the skin's healing capacity.
On a personal note, I continue to incorporate a 3-4 day cleanse periodically. This cleanse primarily involves a diet of bone broth and vegetables. The goal is to consume bone broth and vegetables whenever hunger strikes, without depriving oneself. It's essential to clarify that this cleanse is not intended for weight loss but rather as a gut reset. Consistency in taking daily probiotics during this dietary regimen is key."
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 a crucial step. If you want to promote internal healing, it's essential to temporarily eliminate candies, cookies, and cakes from your diet. This can significantly reduce inflammation in your body and has a profound impact on minimizing breakouts and eczema flare-ups.
If you find yourself craving sweetness, consider natural alternatives like honey, maple syrup, or dates, but in moderation. You can still enjoy low-sugar fruits such as blueberries, blackberries, strawberries, or raspberries.
Don't fret! Once your skin has healed, you can occasionally indulge. However, during flare-ups, it's good to be mindful of your sugar intake.
Lastly, avoid "sugar-free" foods and drinks at all costs. These products often contain ingredients that can lead to severe inflammation and aren't beneficial for your overall gut health."
- Reduce/ Eliminate gluten: This includes bread, grains, wheat, and related products. Gluten is among the top allergenic foods that can exacerbate skin problems. It's associated with skin conditions such as eczema, psoriasis, and vitiligo. Similar to sugar, I removed gluten from my diet until I achieved complete healing and now consume it occasionally. Balance is the secret! Gluten can lead to gut inflammation, which in turn may trigger acne. It's worth noting that sourdough bread tends to be an exception and can often be more tolerable than plain white bread.
- Consume Healthy Oils: Omega 3’s Fish Oil is known to decrease inflammation, which is associated with acne.
- Avoid processed foods: Stay clear of fast food, frozen meals, chips, cereals, microwave dinners, bread, meal bars, sugary snacks, and similar items. I recommend focusing on natural and whole foods that originate from animals or nature.
- Drink more water: Keep yourself well-hydrated by consuming filtered water regularly. You can also enjoy herbal teas like green tea or matcha, which provide an extra dose of antioxidants. Additionally, L-Theanine is known to positively influence mood.
- Avoid fried and spicy foods: These foods are known to cause inflammation in the body
Mental Health & Exercise
Stress played a significant role in triggering my acne. I made an effort to manage stress through therapy, regular exercise, and relaxation techniques. I observed that as I felt better emotionally, my skin's condition improved. There was this inner 'glow,' even though I still had acne.
Full Circle Journey
Through these experiences, I've come to a profound realization. It's perfectly okay to not be perfect. I've finally embraced the idea that 'wherever you are, is where you are meant to be.' In fact, it was these challenges that gave birth to Fleur.
In my earlier years, I felt an intense need for control, thinking that self-love required me to meet certain 'should-be' standards. This only led to an endless cycle of feeling 'never good enough.'
It took me a considerable amount of time to grasp that genuine self love involves -
understanding my strengths and limitations, recognizing my needs to create a fulfilling life, and accepting my boundaries. I had to be patient and kind to myself, even when faced with my limitations.
I learnt to have compassion for both my past and present self as I built upon what I had. I cultivated the confidence that things would improve as I continue to heal and construct a life I genuinely enjoyed.
My journey has been a story of acceptance, compassion, patience and understanding amid the ups and downs. I've come to terms with the fact that I'm not perfect, and I've reminded myself that I don't need to be to be valuable. I've reclaimed the power to prioritize my health and well-being.
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