April 21, 2014
"I’m a huge fan of being as natural as possible – beauty-wise, I like things that are organic, and things that are sulphate-free and paraben-free. I don’t like wearing a lot of makeup and I’ve always wanted to be one of those girls who doesn’t have to do a lot. I swim a lot, I surf a lot, I’m often exercising – in bootcamps, in Pilates classes; I’m training to be a Pilates instructor – and it would be a bit weird to show up to one of those things fully made up, you know? (Laughs) But hasn’t always been easy – over the last year I’ve been on a mission to find solutions to my Indian girl skin problems, because I’ve had every one of them ever since I was a little girl. Dark circles, hyperpigmentation, dark, purplish lips, kerastosis pilaris and, over the last year, a really bad bout of cystic acne, which left deep scars.
In spite of the affinity for natural products, I’ve always been a product junkie. My medicine cabinet used to look like Boots – I had several levels of trays of products. When I broke out in cystic acne, everything I tried just made it worse. So I went to see a dermatologist and she said you know what, maybe you’re doing too much. Because I was cleansing, toning, moisturising, using a sunscreen, a scrub, and then on the weekend I’d put a mask or a peel on, then all the night creams and eye creams, a pore minimizer – it was crazy. It was the scariest thing anyone has ever said to me about my skin, because she said, “Just wash it with water.” And I was like “Um, no.” (Laughs) I mean, what am I supposed to do with all of this stuff? Obviously they must work, right?
But she gave me these zinc tablets which were supposed to help with my acne, asked me to wash my face with water, and said, ‘You’re gonna use water on your face, wear no makeup, take the zinc tablets and come here every week, and we’ll see what happens.”
I don’t know, I think it’s possible that your skin can develop some kind of resistance with age. In my early 20s I could sleep with makeup on, I could try anything– I could probably sleep with face paint on and nothing would happen. And now if I even think that I’m going to break out, I do. I had the cystic acne this time last year, and it was terrible. Each one was the size of my fingernail, and they were very deep, large lumps. I had three or four at any given time – I used to cover my face with my hair, I was scared to go out, it was awful.
After a week of washing my face with water and using the zinc tablets, my face started to clear. I realized that she was right, I probably was using too many things. When you work in advertising or marketing, it’s easy to get tempted by stuff. I’m a sucker for marketing, so if you say a product is going to deal with my dark circles or my hyperpigmentation, I’ll buy it, and end up with 15 things for the same problem area, none of which work, and are all stupidly expensive. Meanwhile, here I am literally putting water on my face and my acne vanishes. (Laughs)
Before, I was blinded by my cystic acne. I’d look in the mirror and that’s all I saw. But once it started clearing up, which took about two months, I could start addressing the other skin issues – the dark circles, kerastosis pilaris and the hyperpigmentation, which came from never wearing sunblock, ever. I’ve got freckles as a result of it – they don’t bother me that much, I actually kind of like them. But my dermatologist was all stern, like “You have sun damage. Very bad sun damage!” (Laughs) And here I was thinking they’re cute. According to her there’s not much you can do for sun damage after it’s done – the only thing you can do is prevent further damage. But she did do an in-office glycolic acid peel, which really helped with the freckles and with my under eye circles a bit too.
Now, I never leave the house with my SPF – I wear an SPF 50 everyday and I found the most amazing one after reading reviews and trying a lot of things. It’s the Kiehl’s Superfluid UV Defense Sunscreen. It’s really light which is great because I have greasy skin, like a frying pan.
For my lips, which used to be purplish before, I did TCA peels. They worked really well, but they’re so, so expensive that I actually ended up going online and ordering them to do at home. I do those every few weeks. They’ve now gone from a dark purple to a brownish pink, which I’m happy with.
My dark circles used to be so bad that I decided that I wasn’t going to be averse to using chemicals. I tried using Restalyne fillers, which they inject into the tear troughs, but it didn’t help the dark circles. I did, however, look younger! So that was nice, but it didn’t fix the real problem – what did fix it was carboxy therapy.
It’s basically small syringes which are connected to a tube of carbon dioxide. They put it just under the skin, one above and one below each eyelid, and pass the carbon dioxide through. It sounds nasty, the idea of putting needles under your eyes, but it’s just under the surface, and it doesn’t hurt – I’d say threading your eyebrows is about 10 times more painful. I had four sessions, instead of the requisite eight, because work got really busy, but they’ve made such a huge difference.
My kerastosis pilaris used to be really bad before. I used to have it on my legs - let’s say I was sitting next to you at dinner, wearing a short skirt, you’d be able to see it. It was so bad that people would ask me what was wrong with my skin, or whether I was cold, because my skin was so bumpy, almost like alligator skin. Apparently 50% of women get it – once I read that I started looking around and I noticed that a lot of women do have it. But with my skin being darker, it used to show up as brown spots on my legs – it’s almost like every pore on your skin has a mark.
To get rid of it, first I had to understand what it was because if you don’t get why it’s happening, your first tendency is to go, “Scrub it!” (Laughs) So I found every scrub possible – loofahs, brushes, sugar scrubs, salt scrubs, Moroccan baths – until I did some research and realized that kerastosis pilaris is basically trapped keratin, or protein, in your hair follicles. It’s your body’s inability to process protein properly, so it traps it instead of releasing it into your skin and forms little clogged bumps. So what you have to do is break down the protein – which is why scrubbing doesn’t help, since this is a part of your skin. That was a learning! (Laughs) I wasted thousands and thousands srcubbing and ‘Moroccan bath’-ing for nothing!
The only thing that does break down the trapped protein is acid – salicylic, glycolic, lactic acid. There’s no cure for KP since it’s genetic – it’s not like you can laser it away and then you’re done. So if you’ve got it there’s a way to deal with it, but it’s a whole routine.
First of all though, I have to say that the biggest part of my routine, the thing that changed everything, is African black soap. It helped me with my acne scars – one month after using it, they were 50% less visible. Now you can’t see them anymore. It’s the only thing I use on my hair, my skin, my face and body. It’s insane, I don’t use anything else. I put my whole office onto it! A whole office of fashion and beauty editors who all use the same product – nobody uses their fancy body washes anymore. You get it on Amazon, which is where we all buy it.
So I wash with the black soap every morning. Then when I get out of the shower I wipe the areas of kerastosis pilaris down with salicylic acid pads. I’ve tried loads but the one that really works is the Bliss Ingrown Eliminating Pads. After that I use a glycolic acid cream by a pharmaceutical brand called Neostrata, but any glycolic acid body cream or pads will work, as long as it’s in a high concentration. That breaks down all the bumps. It can make your skin quite sensitive, so you have to start using it once a day, and then after about a week bump it up to twice a day. Dr. Hauschka’s Lemon Lemongrass Body Oil is also incredibly effective for KP, although I’m not sure why. It just works!
I don’t have before and after pictures, but I do have before and after behaviours. Before, I couldn’t leave the house without a thick layer of concealer; I used to have two or three in every bag because I couldn’t bear to be without – now, I don’t even know where it is. I haven’t worn any in months. And I hardly wear any makeup, which is something I’ve always wanted to be able to do.
I wouldn’t have dreamed of trying all the things I’ve tried – it’s been a lot of experimenting, but I’ve found what works for me. I imagine it would work for other women with the same issues too, because all of this stuff, other than the African black soap – the Bliss pads, the glycolic lotion, the carboxy therapy and the TCA peels – they’re all quite intense. But they work!
As told to Komal Basith.
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