After an unexpected breakout that persisted for weeks, Hannah Banks-Walker finally found solace in a brand new beauty product.
It’s astonishing how something as incongruous as a small, red mark can obliterate your self esteem, leading the best of us to regress to a state of adolescent insecurity. Even those who claim to be untouched by vanity find their moods are at the whims of their skin. Or I do, anyway.
As the body’s largest organ, skin is impossible to ignore – particularly given that adults, on average, carry around eight pounds and 22 square feet of it. That’s a lot of skin to maintain and, when it doesn’t do what you want it to, it’s a lot of skin to worry over and fret about.
I’ve always been lucky in that I haven’t suffered from any major skin problems. While I don’t have the poreless, matte face of the Nineties supermodels I grew up looking at (nobody does, of course), I haven’t had to contend with serious acne, rosacea or any number of other conditions that leave so many feeling miserable. Recently, however, I have been battling with spots that just won’t go away.
While all of us will have spots from time to time, mine seemed to arrive on my face, set up camp and then refused to leave for weeks on end.
At first, assuming hormones were exerting their delightful trickery on my body, I only expected the spots to last for a few days. When they were still there over two weeks later, I started to feel anxious. Had my skin changed? What was I doing wrong? The tendency is always to blame oneself, particularly when skin is concerned.
What causes spots?
We’re constantly fed so much misinformation about the causes of spots, largely around diet, that it induces a sort of shame around the subject. But, as Dr. Anjali Mahto, dermatologist and author of The Skincare Bible says, diet is normally the last thing to consider: “For the vast majority of people, diet is not a cause of acne. For most people, it is largely down to their individual hormones and genetics as an underlying cause. For a small, select group of people, dairy and excess sugar intake may have a role to play but it is not advisable to try and manage acne through diet alone and cutting out of large food groups.”
The rational part of me became frustrated – what sort of person would let a few spots dictate their daily moods? But to dismiss the impact a thing like this can have on your state of mind, I discovered, was futile. Skin can actually have a very direct impact on our mental health; there have been a number of studies which suggest there is a risk of depression among people suffering with acne, for example. Often, what is happening on our skin can also be a physical manifestation of emotional or mental stress or instability, as Dr. Mahto explains.
“Many variables are responsible for changes in skin. Genetic tendencies have a large part to play. Hormonal changes during puberty, pregnancy and the menopause as well as monthly cyclical changes can add to this. Other factors such as stress, lifestyle, seasonal changes, skincare product choices, and pollution may also be linked.”
Spots vs. skincare?
With that in mind, I analysed my skincare routine. I wasn’t doing anything differently – I hadn’t introduced any new products into my already rather minimal regime. I often find that the more products I use, the worse my skin looks and feels, so I was purposefully only using a micellar water to remove make-up, a cleansing balm and a moisturiser. I began frantically researching new products that could help; balms, lotions, creams and oils all promised to rid my of spots, and yet of the many I tried, none did.
My bathroom was beginning to look like a disorganised apothecary, and I was not seeing any positive results. By this point, I was waking up every morning with a sinking feeling, avoiding the mirror as I made my way to the bathroom with the knowledge that my skin had made no improvements overnight. A friend recommended a new serum to me, one that is part of Murad’s Blemish Control range. I had tried a few Murad products before this and always liked them, but I have to admit I’m somewhat of a skeptic. When a product promises to make a marked change to skin, I find myself rolling my eyes. But I was willing to try anything.
The hero product
The product in question is the Outsmart Blemish Clarifying Treatment, £35 which is a lightweight serum that doesn’t feel sticky. I cleansed my face as usual before applying it to the affected areas on my face and finished with my normal moisturiser. Unlike many spot treatments I tried, it didn’t sting in any way and didn’t cause extra redness, as many products had on my sensitive skin. It actually felt lovely and smelt good, too – it has a natural citrus fragrance so doesn’t smell at all chemically.
To my complete surprise, I noticed a difference in just a few days. I was applying it morning and evening to maximise the results but it really did start to work. While my spots didn’t disappear completely, they certainly reduced in both size and number, and my skin didn’t look as angry as it had. I knew through some previous research I had done that salicylic acid is effective when dealing with acne, but I think what makes this serum so good is the combination of acids from which it is composed.
How does it work?
There are five acids altogether that make up the serum, all of which play a different part in managing blemishes on the skin. The salicylic acid reduces the acne itself, helping skin to heal and preventing new acne from forming. There’s also hydroxydecanoic acid and sebacic acid, which are fatty acids that help to purify; lysophosphatidic acid helps to reduce the appearance of pores, glycolic acid, which is derived from sugar cane and helps skin to renew.
Normally, all this talk of acids I didn’t quite understand would inspire an aforementioned eye roll, and yet I had really seen results that improved my skin immeasurably. Interestingly, when I spoke to Dr. Mahto about the serum, she said she also really liked it. While she doesn’t like to give specific product recommendations on a general basis, she does suggest which ingredients to look for if you’re suffering with spots: “It can be useful to look for skincare which contains: salicylic acid, benzoyl peroxide, niacinamide, zinc, tea tree oil, glycolic acid or retinols. If skincare alone fails to bring the spots under control after some weeks, consider seeking medical help for prescription creams and tablets.”
Two months later…
I’ve been using the serum on and off now for about two months. My skin has certainly improved, but that’s not to say I don’t experience flare-ups now and then. When I do, I reintroduce the serum into my daily routine and I have to say, it still seems to be as effective as it was at first.
Beauty may be more than skin-deep, but sometimes, whatever’s occurring on the outside can have a profound effect on our state of mind. Rather than feeling like I’ve failed, as I don’t seem to live-up to a standard set for me by external forces, I’m now trying to rid myself of the sense of shame that seems to surround imperfect skin.
Instead of gravitating towards feelings of self-pity and inadequacy, I’ll be reaching for the serum.
Murad Outsmart Blemish Clarifying Treatment £35
Main image: Hannah Banks-Walker