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Smoking & Skincare & Acne & Yuck

By Amalah

Dear Amy,
I’m writing to you out of desperation and admiration. Whilst I’ve never had amazing skin (my mother assures me that people with oily skin age better) as I’ve moved out of adolescence my skin has cleared up…until now. Over the last couple of months my skin has developed a texture best described as sand papery. I’ve always had black heads across my cheeks and on my chin but recently it seems like they have collectively decided to poke their heads up and have a look around. They aren’t swelling up and going away, just kind of poking up, giving my skin a delightfully bristly quality. As if this wasn’t bad enough I’ve developed weird bumps, almost blind pimples in front of my ears and across my shoulders.
I’ve been using Simple products for about the last two years and I love, love, love them. They are cheap, unscented and not too harsh. I’m tossing up between changing product lines or maybe using something stronger or using something not as astringent. I’ve tried exfoliating my face more regularly but I’m hesitating to scrub my skin too much, I’ve tried using various masks but that also seems counter-intuitive because I’m just putting more stuff on my face. I don’t put hot water directly onto my face (advice from my terrifyingly thin deportment and grooming teacher at high school), I don’t drink coffee but I do have to cop to smoking.
I’m begging you to help me, I’m starting to eye my nail brush cause giving my face a serious scrub seems like the best solution, vinegar or paint stripper are both starting to look pretty tempting.
Thank you!

It’s the smoking, dude.
If you haven’t been thoroughly barraged with enough reasons to quit already, allow me to pile on: smoking is TERRIBLE for your skin. It prematurely ages! It causes wrinkles, discoloration, and a leathery-type texture! While the link between smoking and acne has long been debated, a study in Rome found that smokers are FOUR TIMES more likely to suffer from adult acne than non-smokers, and it’s usually exactly the kind of breakout you’re describing: non-inflammatory acne, which causes blackheads and whiteheads as opposed to red raised zits. “Smoker’s acne,” since it’s blackheads with the added joy of a rough, sand-papery complexion.
So. You know. Maybe reach for the nicotine gum before the paint stripper.
I’m not sure exactly which Simple products you’re using, but it sounds like your skin is pretty damn irritated with you right now. So if I had to guess, I’d say you’re possibly using a scrub or other face wash intended for “oily skin”? If so, put them down. Now. Step away! Get a very gentle (non-scrubby, non-exfoliating, non-oil-stripping) cleanser. Something labeled “for all skin types” preferably. Wash your face very gently with warm water. No scrubbing — blackheads are full of dead skin cells that build up from below the surface of your skin. Washing your face “harder” or more often doesn’t help; you’re just trying to clear away surface dirt and oils, and it doesn’t take much to do that effectively. (And it doesn’t take much to overdo it and cause your skin to get irritated and overcompensate with MORE oil.)
After you wash away the surface gunk, THEN it’s time to fight the acne. For severely troubled skin, go with a straight acne medication. 2% salicylic acid or 2.5% benzoyl peroxide. Then MOISTURIZE. Do this twice a day. You will experience some dryness at first, most likely, but don’t give up and start mucking around with your products too quickly. Give it two weeks to a month. (Think about how long it’s taken your skin to get to this point. It’s a healing PROCESS.) Once things get more under control, you can dial back the zit cream to once a day. (If salicylic acid works for you, I still highly recommend Philosophy’s Hope in a Bottle moisturizer, which combines the second and third steps. If you go with benzoyl peroxide, DO NOT use any moisturizer labeled for oily skin, and be sure to wear sunscreen.)
As for the blind pimples you mentioned: UGH. Hate blind pimples. They’re actually little cysts, deep in your skin. A whole other kind of acne going on. I used to get one almost every month on my chin when I was PMS-ing, but don’t anymore, for whatever reason. It may have been my birth control, or it may have simply been a symptom of my irritated skin, back before I figured out how counter-intuitive all the scrubs and oil-fighting products were. (My chin has ALWAYS been my most blackhead-prone spot.) Either way, I never really found any sure-fire way to get rid of them, other than patience and using a warm washcloth to draw them closer to the surface where I could get at them with some zit cream. Don’t poke or press or squeeze them. (A little impromptu Googling right now reveals some people swearing by ointments designed for drawing out boils, of all things, but I’ve never tried that.) Try treating your shoulders with the same regimen as your face and see if that helps.
Along with quitting the smoking. For serious.

Related Article:
Secondhand Smoke Residue on Clothing…and Your Newborn


About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch


Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to [email protected].

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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