My spots, and the scars that came with them, stubbornly persisted into adulthood but I’ve finally got a handle on them, says Stylist contributor Elena Chabo.
My mother said she always knew I was going to be spotty because, even as a baby, I had really big pores.
I was a late bloomer. When all my friends began getting pimples I teased them mercilessly for doing things like walking backwards past large vans and buses in an attempt to keep pollution away from their T-zone (which, looking back, was quite ridiculous).
But I didn’t dodge the bullet. When I was about 13 years old, I remember Aaron Watts staring at me in a year nine German class and saying, “I never knew you were so spotty,” like it happened yesterday.
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That comment has stuck with me ever since, along with the memory of finding out that my friends had given the whole class food-inspired nicknames. Mine was ‘kidney bean’ because of the purpley brown colour of my spots and scars.
The following years were filled with aggressive scrubs, harsh face washes that stripped my skin and dried it out, prescription-strength Duac cream (which also stained the lilac wall beside my bed), toothpaste dotted all over my face and MAC’s paste concealer worn as foundation.
It wasn’t until I stopped focusing on my spots and instead started taking care of my skin in general that things began to change. That meant using grown-up, department store skincare and investing in products that would cleanse, tone and moisturise it.
From then on, I’d get about half a dozen spots at a time but I was alright with that. Throughout sixth form and university I went through good and bad stages, but it’s generally all a bit of a blur (which I’m taking as a minor victory).
My biggest issue, though, was the scars. Being mixed race means I’m prone to scarring, so even if I only had two or three spots, my bare skin still looked like I suffered from acne.
The older I got the harder it became. It wasn’t fair, I reasoned, because I was supposed to be a grown-up, and grown-ups weren’t meant to have spots. But what felt more unfair was the year-long lifespan of the spots. My breakouts were never a two-week battle like they are for most people. Instead, I had to look in the mirror knowing each blemish would leave a lasting mark on my skin.
But how could I expect anything to change if my routine wasn’t changing? I had to give up on ‘growing out of’ my spots, so that’s what I did. The last two years I’ve been a total product junkie. I’ve taken the time to learn about my skin, I’ve paid attention to ingredients lists on the products I used, and now strangers stop me in the street to ask about my skincare routine. OK, so maybe it was only one girl but after 12 years of acne it was a glorious moment.
So, in a bid to help other people, here is everything I’ve learnt over the years along with my holy grail products – plus the steps I took that helped give me the skin I’d almost given up dreaming of.
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The ultimate blemish-busting products
I still get one or two blemishes, but they go away in a couple of days. I stopped using it in July and my skin went rapidly downhill, but a couple of weeks after re-introducing it, it’s cleared up again. Minimal spots means the scars are fading without being replaced and honestly, it’s incredible.
Another game-changing product is Pixi’s Rose Cream Cleanser, £18. At first, I didn’t realise it was playing a vital role until I stopped using it. It’s a nice, gentle cream that really sinks into my skin, but it rinses off completely with no residue, so you still get that “clean” feeling.
Keeping a picture gallery
I have no idea what my skin really looked like in the 13 years that I suffered with spots. I know there were good and bad stages, and I know how spotty I felt at different times, but I don’t remember what I looked at in the mirror and saw. And, naturally, any photo evidence that I did have was destroyed immediately.
However, I began taking photos 18 months ago and I don’t recognise my skin in half the photos. I wish I’d started 10 years ago. It made things so much clearer, it made me realise what products were working and which ones weren’t, I learnt how clear my skin could be, I learnt how bad it could be, and importantly, also how much progress I was making. It became a journey that I enjoyed reflecting on.
The introduction of daily SPF
Scar tissue is less resistant to UV rays so it becomes more susceptible to burning. Sun exposure can also permanently darken scars. In the past, I’d avoided facial SPFs as they can make me breakout. Besides, it was in my foundation and I’m not pale anyway, right? Wrong. The SPF in foundation is nowhere near enough for proper protection, and when I discovered that CeraVe Facial Moisturising Lotion SPF25, £12.99, didn’t make me break out, met my light moisturising needs and made my skin feel smooth and firm, I knew I’d found my ideal match.
I’ve tried so many scar-fading products but preventing them from worsening and giving them time to fade on their own has done so much more.
CeraVe Facial Moisturising Lotion SPF25, £12.99
The discovery of glycolic acid and vitamin C
Rather than mystery products and potions that work ‘just because’, these days we have some idea of what’s doing the work. Sunday Riley’s Good Genes Glycolic Acid Treatment Serum, £85, was glorious to use and I think it played a big part in overhauling my post-acne skin. But it’s also really expensive. It did the heavy lifting to start with, and now I’ve gone back to the more affordable cult Pixi Glow Tonic Glycolic Toner, £18, to maintain those results.
I also started using Vitamin C. I apply The Ordinary Vitamin C Suspension 23% + HA, £4.90, before bed every night and I use it for its brightening properties. I’ve tried more expensive Vitamin C products but, in my opinion, this is both the best and the cheapest. A rare but marvellous combination.
CBD serums can work wonders
Designed to calm, soothe and re-balance blemish prone skin, I don’t know how much this does for my spots or my scars - All I know is that when I apply a couple of drops of this on either side of my face, I glow like sunshine.
Kiehl's Cannabis Sativa Seed Oil Herbal Concentrate, £40
Images: Elena Chabo / courtesy of brands