By Charli Ferrand*
I first started breaking out in my early twenties.
I’d consistently get most breakouts around my chin, which I discovered is a common area for hormonal acne. However, I tracked my menstrual cycle and there wouldn’t be a day in the month when I wouldn’t have some form of breakout on my chin, forehead or back.
Adult acne really did affect my confidence. I’m not naturally a huge fan of makeup or spending hours getting ready. I’d long to have clear skin and be able to go makeup-free, but I was so conscious of how the breakouts looked to people I was talking to, I would try hard to cover them up.
I worked in a senior role in a marketing agency and often had to stand up in front of clients and present. In that situation I needed to show gravitas, confidence and maturity – especially if it was just me in front of a whole room of senior executives. If I’d had a particularly nasty break out, I felt I looked like a spotty teenager. I’d catch someone glancing at the area of my breakout and it would distract me from what I was saying, because I’d worry about what they were thinking about me.
I tried it all…
Harsh acne washes and cleansers, face masks, exfoliants, facials, changes in diet, swimming in the sea every day, going without makeup, dotting on toothpaste to try and dry up pimples, extreme detoxes – which sometimes worked, until I stopped detoxing – detoxes just aren’t sustainable or healthy, long-term.
The least effective thing I’ve done to try and fix my acne was to go on the contraceptive pill. But it didn’t work and it also triggered another issue: melasma – a skin pigmentation disorder, which is often caused by changes in hormone levels in the skin combined with sun exposure. It manifested as dark pigmentation on my forehead, cheeks and above my upper lip. I came off the pill and now use a high-factor sunscreen every day, which has reduced the melasma a fair amount. I still have pigmentation on my temples, which I’ve learned to accept and love as part of me, especially now my acne has improved so much.
Switching to toxin-free skincare
I started understanding more about the sheer amount of ‘toxins’ (unstable, poisonous and often synthetic substances that evoke an immune response from the body) in mainstream cosmetics and skin care products. Even when products are marketed as ‘organic’ or ‘natural’, when you read the list of ingredients, you’ll find they still contain these harmful synthetic chemicals (this is known as ‘greenwashing’).
I discovered the products I was using to try and control my acne, were most likely making it worse. These chemical-laden products could have been disrupting the communication pathways and feedback loops of my hormones – that is, how my body regulates my hormone levels. Rather than fixing the source of the problem, they could have been adding to my hormonal imbalance, as many commercial products contain xeno-oestrogens, which mimic oestrogen in the body, are toxic and create stress to the body – yikes!
As we know, the skin is the largest organ of the body and has the ability to both absorb and excrete various compounds. Every product that we apply on the skin will be absorbed into our lymphatic system where it then circulates throughout the body. Many ingredients found in commercial skin care are known to be “endocrine disruptors” – that is they have the ability to either impair, increase, mimic or block the activity of our own hormones, as well as contributing to the load that needs to be metabolised by the liver. For many women (and men!) hormones are a key driver of acne, so removing products that could be promoting imbalances is key.
Furthermore, if the liver and the bowel are struggling to excrete the metabolised toxins (some of which will come from conventional skin care and cosmetics), not only can this lead to further hormone imbalances, but these waste products may be pushed out through the skin which can exacerbate inflammation and therefore acne.
Natural skincare on the other hand should not contain these same chemicals, and often will deliver nutrients or other therapeutic ingredients that can promote tissue healing, reduce inflammation and rebalance sebum production.
Kate Johnston, Naturopath and Nutritionist, Kore Wellbeing
The journey to toxin-free
I started introducing toxin-free products to my daily routine in 2018, but it wasn’t until January this year that I really committed to going toxin-free.
There was a period of transition of about 1-2 weeks, where my skin and hair took a little time to adjust to getting rid of the toxins I’d been using for decades. (Most people don’t realise there is a vicious cycle with mainstream, symptom-specific products that contain these nasty toxins, which actually end up creating the problem you are using them to fix! Which is why it can take a while for these to be cleared from your system.) But within a couple of weeks of making the switch, the difference was clear – and so was my skin! I think this period of adjustment sometimes puts people off making the switch, but it’s really just a short-term minor inconvenience for long-term happier, healthier skin, body and planet.
My toxin-free skincare routine
- I wake up and brush my hair before I get in the shower with my Eco Max Natural Beechwood Timber Hair Brush.
- I shower, washing my face and body with Beach Rd Naturals Organic Coconut Oil & Kaffir Lime Body Bar ($14.00).
- I wash my hair every second or third day with Shampoo with a Purpose Combined Shampoo & Conditioner Bar 125g, Original ($15.00). I always wash and rinse twice.
- I lather myself in pure coconut oil while I’m still wet after getting out of the shower. This can be purchased from most grocers or supermarkets. It’s the same coconut oil you would use to cook with! I always choose a jar version, so the glass can be reused or recycled, such as Niulife Certified Organic Extra Virgin Coconut Oil ($12.00)
- In the morning, I might pat a squirt of Lux Aestiva Gypsy Oil ($52.00) under my eyes to hydrate any bags or smile lines, then I’ll apply Little Urchin Natural Tinted Sunscreen Spf30 ($29.95), which I use every day in place of a foundation and moisturiser. It’s a high factor SPF, so it helps keep my melasma at bay. (I always get people commenting on how tanned I look when I wear this!)
- If I have a meeting or an occasion that requires a bit of makeup in the day, I’ll brush on some powder and apply some mascara from Ere Perez Cosmetics.
- I’ve also switched to natural deodorant, my favourite is Noosa Basics Deodorant Cream ($16.95).
- I wash my face again with Beach Rd Naturals Organic Coconut Oil & Kaffir Lime Body Bar ($14.00) with a flannel or reusable cloth to help remove any traces of makeup.
- I then rub a couple of squirts of Lux Aestiva Gypsy Oil ($52.00) into my palms and all over my face. This helps remove the last remnants of eye makeup also (great, as I use Ere Perez Avocado Waterproof Mascara – $34.00).
- I do still sometimes get the occasional spot, especially around my period, so if that happens, I dab on some Tea Tree Essential Oil to help dry it up overnight (approx. $32.00).
- And that’s it!
The empowerment that comes with self-care
Something that’s not usually mentioned when it comes to beauty, is the feeling of empowerment you gain when you take ownership over your overall self-care. I believe self-care isn’t just about having a candlelit bath or taking time out to read a book every now and then. It’s about truly taking ownership over your health and wellbeing. And that includes knowing what’s in the products we use on and around our bodies every day.
I’m also not claiming my skin is now 100% blemish-free, I am only human and humans are perfectly flawed beings and I’m more than ok with that. But switching to natural has absolutely stopped the painful, nasty breakouts of huge, red, sore, uncontrollable pimples on my face and back that I suffered with for years. Perhaps even more important is the positive change in how I feel and how my skin feels, which has been palpable since switching to toxin-free products.
I’d recommend anyone thinking of making the change to toxin-free to absolutely do it! But also do your research and prep first; read the labels – don’t just assume something is organic just because it says it is on the front of the bottle. The Clean Collective is a great resource not only for truly toxin-free products (it has the strictest Ingredients and Materials Policy in ANZ), but also for the information about living a more toxin-free lifestyle. Also, trial different products to find one that works for you – especially with natural deodorant and shampoo/conditioner bars. Don’t give up if it doesn’t happen straight away, test and learn, because once you’ve found what works for you, it will be so worth it and you’ll use it for the rest of your life.