Skincare Journey Part II: How I Destroyed My Skin’s Barrier


Gather ‘round as I tell you a cautionary tale of what can happen if you ignore dehydrated skin. Lisa’s already detailed for you why Protecting Your Skin’s Barrier is important; I thought I’d show you one potential result of not taking care of your barrier. Fair warning: this is a typical do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do skincare lesson.

This story begins with my previous post What’s in the Mirror? where I reminisce about the moment I realized I’d crossed into the Land of Aging Skin. I believe the skincare industry likes to refer to it as advanced or mature skin. Which is ironic because mature is not the word I’d use to describe my subsequent actions to this newfound realization that I was getting older. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

I’d just turned 36 and decided that a few facial flaws (forehead lines, wrinkles, sun spots and a few errant pimples) needed attention posthaste. If I was successful at convincing the husband, Botox was going to take care of my wrinkles, so I was going to clear up my “acne.” I use quotes around the word acne because I want you to see something.

If I could look at this picture objectively I’d see a middle-aged woman with severely dehydrated skin who has a few bumps on her chin and one between her eyebrows because (a) her barrier is compromised and it’s allowing bacteria to flourish and (b) she’s a middle-aged woman going through hormonal changes.

Hindsight tells me that this woman is going to rue the day she dismissed the warnings of well-meaning estheticians and redditors to address the dehydration first.

(Don’t be this woman.)

Let’s do a quick rewind.

Before I knew much about skincare, I used to get the occasional facial (not that there’s anything wrong with getting a facial, it’s just that I’ve become much more particular about who touches my face and with what products). I can’t remember a single appointment where the esthetician didn’t make at least one comment about how dry and dehydrated my skin was. It’s not like having dry skin was news to me – I have naturally dry skin, and not just on my face but all over my body.

This comment was always followed by a pitch to sell me several ridiculously overpriced products. The fact that they added (what I thought to be) a superfluous and fancier word for dry – dehydration – fueled my suspicion and I eventually learned to tune out these well-meaning skin enthusiasts. Plus, it’s not like having dry skin was really affecting me; I didn’t (yet) have any breakouts to contend with and I hadn’t (yet) felt the pangs of wanting lovely, glowing skin. Besides, was that glow even achievable? Weren’t all of the pictures of people with perfect skin photoshopped to oblivion? $80 moisturizing cream? No thanks, lady. But thanks for the relaxation!

Nonetheless, because I can’t seem to resist things that promise to make me feel pretty, and because my early 30s brought along their friend hormonal acne (though I didn’t know it was hormonal at the time), I eventually fell prey to the promises of a certain overpriced skincare multi-level marketing scam company. Thankfully, I didn’t get sucked in enough to lose all of my friends on facebook by spamming their newsfeeds trying to sell the stuff, but I totally bought (and rebought! several times!) TWO of their lines that promised to get rid of my acne as well as bring me youthful glow. Like a good little sheeple, I kept paying for (and using!!) two product lines that weren’t doing me any favors – and looking back, possibly making things worse.

Fast forward to the 36th-birthday-glance-in-the-mirror.

I learned that I don’t have to live with dry skin, nor do I need an $80 cream from a day spa to combat it and that eye creams are unnecessary. I learned about chemical exfoliants. I studied that sidebar like I was going to be tested on it, except for the part that I needed the most. I remember reading something about dehydrated skin and how it’s a condition that is fixable and how it likely applied to me, but I was more concerned with understanding all of these fancy new acronyms like AHA and BHA. So after a quick trip to CVS, I was armed with a few basics that were markedly less expensive than the other crap I’d been suffering through. And I politely told my friend to cancel my next auto-shipment of the empty promises skincare line. I’d seen the light.

I wish I could say that was all she wrote – actually, my bank account wishes that this story ended with me picking up a couple of products at the drugstore and calling it a day. But (a) I’m hardheaded and impatient (bad combo when it comes to skincare, just in case you’re wondering) and (b) I’m hardheaded and impatient.

Let’s have a knee-jerk reaction!

So I did what any idiotic woman in her late-30s would do: didn’t test patch, ditched products if there was even a hint of a breakout (ignoring the fact that these breakouts were perfectly timed with my cycle) and went after my acne and wrinkles with the full force of my wallet, spending God knows how much money on God knows how many products. And guess what happened?

I thought a few pimples on my chin (the first pic, not this one) were really bad acne and I attacked them with just about every hydroxy acid known to man, alpha and beta alike. This acid assault decimated my already compromised barrier, allowing our good friend p. acnes to set up camp on the lower half of my face. (See? Hardheaded).

Turns out, when you discover your skin is dehydrated, you really should listen to everyone who says to fix that first. But noooo, I wanted my wrinkles and occasional acne gone yesterday. Ain’t nobody got time to worry about a little dehydration – wrinkles and pimples were the problem. Nevermind that it was the dehydration that was the root cause of the pimples and contributing to the wrinkles!

And believe it or not, that’s the short version! In the time it took me to get from point A to point B, I’d armchair-diagnosed myself with rosacea (I know, right?), a sensitivity to fatty alcohols (ridiculous) and wondered if I was too old for Accutane. All because I’m impatient and hardheaded. What can I say? The old lady in the mirror frightened me (tho, not as much as the acne-ridden teenager who was now staring back at me did).

So now what?

When I reached the point where I was wondering how to get my old skin back (pun intended), I happened upon a post by Kerry at Skin and Tonics titled The Importance of Fatty Acids, pH & the Moisture Barrier: How I Eliminated my Acne & Decreased my Skin Sensitivity. When I read this part, I knew I was on to something big:

I’m actually a little frustrated with myself because it didn’t have to take so long. The solution was in front of me the whole time … I started really caring about my moisture barrier. It’s not that I didn’t care about my moisture barrier before. I just didn’t think about actively nurturing it.

It was the missing piece of the puzzle – and you know what? The solution had been there the entire time. I’d read through the dehydration post in the sidebar at internet a hundred times and for whatever reason, it never clicked until I read Kerry’s article.

From that day forward, I started to look at my routine with a fresh eye. I put every acne and wrinkle treatment aside, except my prescription retinoid, and really focused on actively nurturing my skin’s barrier. The results were amazing. The fine lines and wrinkles started subsiding and my acne (no quotes this time, I’d now graduated to the real deal) decreased enough for me to finally recognize that it was in a waltz with my monthly. This allowed me to finally combat it with some prescribed oral medications (Bactrim and Spironolactone). And just like Kerry, I’ve been able to better tolerate chemical exfoliants without irritation and I honestly think my skin’s currently in the best condition it’s been … ever.

A few of weeks ago we were at a party and I’ve been so busy with work and this blog and kids and life that we haven’t seen some of our friends in person in a few months. As I was catching up with one of my favorites (who is equally as busy as I am), she suddenly said, “I have to ask – what are you doing to your face? Did you have eye surgery? What’s different? Because you’re glowing.” It took everything I had not to run around pretending I had just simultaneously won the lottery and been crowned Miss America. Instead I just replied, “Remember that skincare blog I was telling you about a few weeks ago? I’ve really been taking care of my skin.”

In my next few articles, I’ll be sharing with you what really taking care of my skin means to me by posting my full skincare routine, including why I use the products I do, how I apply them, their price point and their replacement frequency. Stay tuned!


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