Experience is knowledge, and when you make a lot of mistakes, you gain a ton of it.
Knowing what I do now, there are many things I wish I had done differently when I was a fifteen-year-old dealing with her first bout of skin troubles. Unfortunately, I cannot turn back time, and while there is no use dwelling in regrets, wisdom from mistakes are always helpful for the future. Mistakes are learning experiences, but you certainly don’t have to make them yourself when you can avoid doing that. I hope some of the things here help you out as you begin your skincare journey!
1. Don’t bother with skincare sets
I wonder how much easier my life might have been if I didn’t grab the sets marketed for acne-prone skin when I was 15. Skincare sets are appealing when you’re starting out because they lay out the steps for you, but what they don’t tell you is that these sets are never really personalized to your skin.
Skincare sets are designed to the common skin types – oily, dry, acne, sensitive, and so on – and they can take things to the extreme. You’ll find that anti-acne sets, for example, will often have one active ingredient (e.g. salicylic acid, benzoyl peroxide) in two or even in every product in the set. This isn’t necessary, and could even aggravate the problem if you’re not careful.
Dear teenage self, skin types are not fixed as the be-all, end-all of your skin. Skin types are different from proclivities (what you are prone to) and conditions (temporary states of distress). Your skin is its own character with these various traits, and the best thing you can do is to keep it simple and stick to what your skin needs at the moment. So shy away from those skincare sets, no matter how appealing they are. Get yourself a gentle cleanser, a simple moisturizer, a sunscreen, and a tube of benzoyl peroxide from the drugstore. Your older self will thank you for it.
2. Track your period and visit the gynecologist
See, when I first had bouts of acne and dermatitis, I did visit the dermatologist. For the first five years, I went to at least four. Those numbers should tell you the gist of it: my bad skin conditions were persistent, and going to the dermatologist hadn’t helped.
Thing is, I never tracked my period in those years. Apps like that didn’t exist back then (and to be quite honest, I didn’t get a smartphone until I was 17-18). It was only when I installed one and started tracking my period that I noticed the irregularities. I let it pass when my period stayed within the 21-35 days that was considered normal, but when my period was late for a whopping 40 days, I booked a visit to the gynecologist immediately.
She let me take a couple of tests, and after a week I was diagnosed with polycystic ovary syndrome, also known as PCOS. PCOS is a condition that involves abnormally high levels of androgen and an irregular amount of insulin resistance — both of which, as you might’ve guessed by now, are recipes for acne.
My acne was the hormonal type. Topical treatments could have never eliminated it, and it kept coming back because the treatment had to be internal. And I could have known all this sooner had I tracked my period and visited a gynecologist.
Dear teenage self, even if you don’t find anything wrong with your period and feel perfectly fine, watch your health. Skincare isn’t just what you see in the mirror everyday. Track your period, take note of what you eat, visit your doctors regularly. It might sound tedious now but trust me, it will be even more tedious when you’re older and dealing with greater repercussions from today’s neglect.
3. Be careful with too much DIY, all-natural, organic skincare
At one point while battling acne as a teenager, an acquaintance of my mom’s recommended this homemade almond mask. It was made of crushed almonds, and I was instructed to apply water to it and spread it around my face as a mask after cleansing. They said it helped with all kinds of skin problems. Needless to say, I missed those red flags and spent months putting a homemade mask of finely crushed almonds on my face for ten minutes even though there was no study at all proving this helped acne-prone skin. It didn’t aggravate my skin, but it didn’t resolve the issues either.
“DIY”, “all-natural”, “organic”, and other similar descriptors are simply marketing terms, often referring to how their ingredients are derived. These terms are used to create the impression that these products are safe to use, but this can sometimes be false. They can still cause allergic reactions and irritate your skin. Many plant-based ingredients can be beneficial for the skin, but it does not mean they are the be-all, end-all solution to every skin problem out there.
Dear teenage self, do not be fooled by some of these claims. Do not fear ‘chemicals’ when they exist all around you, because the right ones can help your skin. Do your research and do it well—you are capable of learning and knowing more about what can help you.
4. Sunscreen is the best anti-aging skincare
If there is one thing I got right with my skincare routine during my teenage years, it was wearing sunscreen every single morning. My mother encouraged it because we’d often have PE sessions under the sun and she didn’t want my skin to burn. It’s a practice I carry even now. After all, it’s hard to stop when you learn that not only is it a good preventive measure for skin cancer and that it also prevents early signs of aging. Wearing sunscreen daily is a good practice.
Dear teenage self, keep wearing the sunscreen and use your umbrella regularly even if you look odd holding it up on a fair day. Your 24-year-old self is still battling the occasional acne, but early signs of aging such as lines and wrinkles are certainly not a problem. Give yourself a pat on the back for that and keep it up!
5. Skincare is self-care
What changed my approach to skincare was to stop seeing it as a remedy to my skin problems the way medicine fixed a cold. When I began to start seeing it as a form of self-care, it became easier to do a routine everyday, morning and night. It was only when I started accepting that my skin was never going to be in perfect condition all the time that, ironically, I started seeing good results. I suppose there is a huge difference made when you stop cursing your skin for all the issues it’s caused you and start thinking about what you can do for it to become healthy instead.
Dear teenage self, please take care of yourself—no matter what condition your skin is in, whether you are in a terrible condition or a fantastic condition. Love yourself at your worst and at your best. Skincare isn’t just a commitment to your skin — it’s a commitment to you.