Photos by Tin Sartorio
You know how they say it takes 21 days to form a habit? Yeah, that’s not really the case for everyone, especially when it comes to skincare.
I was in my early 20s when I first started dealing with real skin issues, and by that, I mean more than just the occasional zit. I’m talking about angry cystic acne that didn’t seem to be going anywhere despite drinking eight glasses of water, sleeping eight hours a day, hitting the gym twice a week, using top-rated skincare products, the works. Much like everyone else, I realized I needed to see some kind of effect in order to commit (read: force myself) to making these adjustments long enough to know if they’re actually working or not.
But after a couple of late nights on Reddit forums and the blackhole that is WebMD, it really got me thinking about why nothing was working for me. Was it puberty or Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS)? It took four doctors, three years, a couple of tests and a lot of emotional breakdowns before I officially got diagnosed with the latter. TL;DR: multiple cysts in my ovaries are throwing off the chemical balance of my body, requiring more than just sheer will and determination for me to have control over my skin, weight, sleeping patterns, monthly cycles, etc.
Different treatments work for different people diagnosed with PCOS. The pill is one of them.
Living with PCOS teaches you a lot about science, your body and patience with yourself. The doctors will tell you that treatment is different for each person and that it requires constantly checking in with your body to know what it needs. I found that quite humbling and a necessary reminder to myself, tbh. Which is why when I got the clearance from my ob-gyn to seek help in treating my healing acne scars, I only trusted products that are backed up by science.
It’s worth mentioning that Kiehl’s helped me get started by setting up a session with one of their in-store consultants last September. Through a quick and painless patch test, Ms. Bebsie of Kiehl’s Greenbelt told me I had normal to oily skin (I used to be oily all the way!) and gifted me with some of her recommended Kiehl’s products. It’s also important to note that I am taking birth control pills as a treatment for normalizing my monthly cycles, which generally affects my hormones and therefore my acne. I’m definitely no expert on this, but what I can share — from one person with PCOS to another — are honest observations and a mini review of skincare products that help me get by.
Top shelf only: Recommended skincare products for cystic normal to oily skin.
I currently follow a seven-step routine — adding or removing products based on how my skin feels in the moment. A non-negotiable step, though, is double cleansing, in which I use a combo of Biore’s Cleansing Oil and Cosrx’s Low ph Good Morning Cleanser. PSA: using oil cleansers won’t make oily skin worse. It removes excess sebum, actually helping the skin be less oily in the long run if used properly. Here’s another important myth to debunk: using a second cleanser shouldn’t dry out your skin if it’s a water-based one that has a good pH balance. I’m also a big fan of Human Nature’s Balancing Facial Toner because of the magic of Manila Elemi, a low-key natural ingredient for healing (for acne scars!) and anti-aging benefits (youth!) that can be found mainly in the Philippines. My skin drinks up this product for maximum freshness throughout the day.
To treat active acne, I started using Kiehl’s Breakout Control Blemish Treatment Facial Lotion and Blue Herbal Spot Treatment. The facial lotion was such a revelation because I’d never had to apply an acne treatment product all over my face before. The thought was quite alarming (shout-out to everyone who’s had traumatizing acne product experiences before!) but it doesn’t take much to fall in love with this lotion. It’s actually more preventive than it is healing, working wonders by keeping the redness and inflammation at bay thanks to the 1.5 percent salicylic acid. It doesn’t do much for the bigger bumps, though; but that’s what the spot treatment is for. The main ingredient is salicylic acid instead of benzoyl peroxide, ensuring the skin is safe from stinging and drying out too much. This also means that there will be none of that nasty post-acne scarring. I also like that it’s gel-based so it stays put in the spot that needs the most help. It’s easily absorbed by my skin and doesn’t leave a cast so I can even treat my acne during daytime without the whole world knowing.
Kiehl’s offers in-store consultations where you can find out your skin type and the products and ingredients that work best for your concerns.
To seal all of that goodness in, I use Kiehl’s Ultra Facial Oil-Free Gel Cream. I’ve never had a pleasant experience with any moisturizer in the past so I was also skeptical trying this out. But I accidentally found out that it’s best applied as a semi-cool product for maximum effect. Either I apply it with cold hands (after washing with cold water) or leave it in the refrigerator five minutes before application to chill. I throw in a gentle face massage and my skin is prepared for minimal makeup or for a good night’s sleep. I also put Human Nature’s Luxe Sunflower Oil on my lips and nails for added moisture and on some days, I do a quick mask using Innisfree’s Jeju Volcanic Pore Clay Mask or Indian Healing Clay, too.
Kiehl’s Ultra Facial Oil-Free Gel Cream seals all the goodness in.
I’ve been on this skincare routine for about 30 days now, and with the full intention of seeing it through until the end of another month. My cystic acne still comes and goes but knowing the science behind the products really makes it easier to commit to the routine even if I don’t see immediate results. That, and investing in learning more about my condition. I also know that the pill and the other lifestyle changes I’m making are all having an impact on my journey to achieving my skin goals. I learned that it’s never really about doing one thing right and expecting it to fix all your problems. Forming a habit really starts with knowing your why, and doing smart changes accordingly. It might take me, idk, another year to sort out my cystic acne but I’m happy to be doing it just the way I’m doing it right now.
Schedule a complimentary skin consultation at the Kiehl’s branch nearest you.