22 Jan 2020 15 comments

My Go-To Skincare For Problem Skin.

A guide to better skin!

Let me start this post by saying that I have always had issues with my skin. Actually, that’s not quite true – it was mostly fine in my teens but really kicked off when I was around 18, and I haven’t really had a break from spots since!

I have tried it all; every new product aimed at acne skin, a solid routine, antibiotics, supplements and even Roaccutane. It’s been a journey.
After a stressful year last year, my acne came back with a vengeance. It was the worst it’s ever been – angry, painful cystic acne on the left side of my face that didn’t budge no matter what I tried.
It started really breaking out when I went back to New Zealand and then got gradually worse from then on. I was desperately trying to find a routine that I could stick with!

I’ve always thought my acne was hormonal, but I’ve come to realise that probably it’s more to do with my skincare routine. In the last month since I’ve found a good routine, I haven’t had any breakouts – even around my period.
This means I have to be so careful with the products that I use and I haven’t really been straying from a routine of about 7 products that I know work for me.

This year my skin has been all over the place while I’ve been trying to find a good routine, but now I think I’m finally through the worst of it. I wanted to write up a bit about my journey for you guys, and a sort of guide that I can come back to when I need it too!

Stressing Less & Stripping Back My Routine

It’s silly to say “stress less” when the cause of my stress is pretty much unavoidable, but when I say this I mean I try to remain as calm as can be and hold off on panic-buying half of Boots.
As soon as my skin breaks out now, I revert back to what I like to call “boring skincare”; an inoffensive cleanser, a facial spritz and an SPF I can trust. I’ve even started just washing my face with water in the mornings and then applying my facial mist, which has really helped!
Now my skin has cleared up I’ve been able to slowly add treatments back in and assess my skin to see what’s been breaking me out.

For me, this means a simple oil cleanser to remove makeup (I love the Disciple Night Shift*), and then something lighter to cleanse – a few nights a week I use the Murad AHA/BHA Exfoliating Cleanser which always sorts my skin out, and I also love The Ordinary Squalene Cleanser because it removes impurities without stripping my skin.

Then I’ll spritz on my favourite face mist (more on that below) and sometimes apply a bit of The Ordinary Hyaluronic Acid. Easy peasy!

Skipping Moisturiser

Since going on Roaccutane a few years ago (see more here), my skin has become quite dehydrated. I counter-acted this by layering up thick moisturisers, but then I started to get these crazy breakouts along my jawline. It took me an embarrassingly long time to realise that it was my moituriser breaking me out!
I spoke to Caroline about this and she said the moisturisers I was using meant I was moisturising with oil, not with water – but every time I would try to drop down to a gel moisturiser, my skin wouldn’t feel quenched at all.
Then I discovered using a facial spritz and Hyaluronic Acid, which has changed my skin! By using the HA with a facial spritz, the HA is able to better hydrate your skin by acting like a moisture magnet.

Caroline suggested I use the La Roche-Posay Toleriane Ultra 8 Face Mist and it’s all my skin needs to feel hydrated, quenched and happy. I use it morning and night in place of my moisturiser and it’s the perfect addition to my routine.

More Facials

My problem a lot of the time is that I’m quite a proactive person, if something isn’t going right I’ll try and change it however I can. For me this always meant panicking and layering up all sorts of products on my skin whenever it was breaking out. Any time my skin was breaking out, I’d apply masks, serums and treatments in a bid to calm my complexion, but all this did was make it harder to find the cause of my unruly skin.
Something that has really helped me look after my skin is getting regular facials instead of investing in even more skincare! I go to Caroline McLean every couple of months – she assesses my skin and tells me what I need, it’s really made such a big difference!

Prescription Skincare

At my most desperate, I joined Dermatica and got myself a prescription for my acne-prone skin. I’d heard of similar sites (like Curology in the States) and I was intrigued by a dermatology team looking at my skin.
I logged in, answered some questions and submitted photos of my face sans makeup. Actually looking at those photos has made me realise how much my skin has changed, at the time I had a lot of texture, blackheads and closed comedones all over – my skin is definitely a lot better now but it was a journey to get here!

I was prescribed a gel formed of 1% Clindamycin and 0.025% Tretinoin, a prescription strength retinoid. I started using this at the start of November and my skin broke out like crazy! I go on the Skincare Addition subreddit a lot, so I know the skin purges and breaks out when you start to use Tret – it gets worse before it gets better.
I found using this every night as directed was just too much for my skin, the breakouts were painful, angry under the skin blemishes like I’d never experienced before.
I still use the gel occasionally but very sparingly – I’m not sure if it has helped my skin, but it seems to work well used once or twice a week. I’m still on the fence about it though!

A month in photos…

My skin definitely got worse before it got better – the first photo is taken on Christmas Eve, I was using the Tretinoin a lot which really did a number on my complexion.
Overall though, now my skin is through the purge part of the process, my complexion is a lot clearer on the whole. I remember last summer it was really bumpy all over, I think because I was using a lot of thick treatments which were clogging my pores.

Now I’m working to slowly fade the pigmentation that has been left behind, and I’m hoping to try microneedling at some point too.

A Proper Routine

As a blogger, I’m lucky enough to get sent a lot of new, amazing skincare products, and the temptation to apply 15 products to my face every night is VERY REAL!
One thing I’ve had to be very strict about is my routine, I really only double cleanse and spritz on my face mist now but I try to listen to my skin and add in extra treatments when I feel like I need it.

For example, once a week or every ten days I’ll use The Ordinary Peeling Solution to exfoliate and give my skin a bit of a boost. Every second weekend I love to use the Origins Retexturising Rose Clay Mask, which is one of my favourite skincare products ever.

I’ve also started adding in the Omorovicza Silver Skin Tonic* a few times a week which I’ve seen great results from. It contains colloidal silver and salicylic acid to calm and clear blemish-prone skin.
I also really like the Allies Of Skin Mandelic Pigmentation Corrector Serum*, which is light enough that it doesn’t break me out. This exfoliates and hydrates skin while you snooze, which means it’s been a wonder worker for the scarring I have after the mass breakout I had last month!

I also use the Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant, which I’ve had for a while now and always see good results with. One thing I will say is that this makes my skin feel very parched if I haven’t been using hyaluronic acid often – I really think you need quite hydrated skin to get away with using the salicylic acid!

Another product I’ve added in to my routine lately is the Inkey List C50 Serum, which is a cocktail of blemish-busting ingredients to help acne skin. Apparently this is the only product on the market like this, and so far it seems to be making a difference to my complexion, but I’m taking it slow and introducing it gradually while keeping an eye on my skin!

Introducing Vitamin C

Now I have no active breakouts, it’s time to clear up the scarring that has been left behind! I have a lot of pigmentation that can be covered with makeup, but I’m hoping over time it fades.
I thought Vitamin C was the cause of some of my breakouts, so I’ve been hesitant to add it in to my routine. I slowly introduced the Paula’s Choice C15 Super Booster*, a light treatment that can be used alone or added to your moisturiser once a day.
I like to use this alone as part of my morning routine, after washing my face with water but before my facial spritz. So far it seems to be helping to fade the pigmentation without breaking me out!

A few more pointers…

I think it’s really important to listen to your skin – it’s so tempting to apply a few treatments a night in the hopes that you’ll transform your skin while you sleep, but in reality it’s best to go slow and learn about your complexion.
I found the ‘less is more’ approach works really well, then you can add in one or two treatments a night (one to exfoliate and one to hydrate) as you go – this way you can see what is working and what may be breaking you out.

I know I recommended a lot of products here but my advice is to hold off on purchasing anything else – strip your routine back so you’re using two cleansers, a spritz/moisturiser and an SPF. Use this boring skincare for a month or so and then reassess. You can use the odd mask at the weekends, or an exfoliating treatment here and there, but take some time to understand what’s breaking you out (for me it was rich moisturisers, oils and probably over-exfoliating), and I would also recommend documenting your progress too – taking photos really helped me!

And remember, what works for someone else may not work for you – when I was browsing the Skincare Addiction subreddit, I was making full shopping lists of products that worked for other people, but in reality this is a waste. You don’t need every The Ordinary product available, and if something (like Tretinoin for example) is breaking you out far beyond the purge stage, give up and try something else. Not every miracle product works for every skin type.
Take your time and figure out a routine that works for you, but I think also be open to trying new products over time too.

This is my journey so far, it’s always a long, difficult process when it comes to your skin but I think I’m on the right track for now. I’ve written this post so I can revert back to this failsafe routine in future too – here’s hoping it won’t come to that though!

Are you struggling with acne-prone skin at the moment? What have you found that helps you?

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  • Wow you can definitely see the difference in your skin, the journey is paying off! I have acne-prone skin and I always find that toners and cleansers really help with cleansing the dirt that a face wash will miss. I definitely want to try the Omorovicza Silver Skin tonic, that sounds so worth the buy.

    Anika | chaptersofmay.com

  • Hi Kate! Thank you for writing this post out. It’s inspired me to reset my skin by just using cleanser, mist and SPF as well. I’m running to the shops to get that La Roche Posay mist asap 🙂

  • Hey lovely,
    I totally agree about stripping back the routine. I did a no buy year last year which meant I couldn’t buy any of my normal skincare (or any of the temptation I saw other people have!)
    I’m definitely ready to start reintroducing some treats and spritz (some you mentioned are on my list!) But my skin did get better for a time.
    I’ve always suffered with breakouts for 20 years but I’m now listening to my skin as you said and realising a lot of it is actually related to food. I think Soya is a huge issue for me – which in turn is a huge issue due to being vegan! But I’m keen to get to the bottom of it soon and what’s making me break out!
    Thanks for all the tips and advice xxx

  • You’re doing amazing and can definitely see a huge difference in your skin since you’re looking after it so well. I’m glad you’ve found something that works and thanks for the tips, I need to sort out my skincare asap, have been neglecting it for too long.


  • Wow it’s amazing how much your skin has improved. I really want to try Paula’s Choice this year, I’ve heard some really positive things but I’m yet to try any of their products xo

    Makeup Muddle

  • My skin is going through a really rough phase right now so this post comes in really handy! Thank you for sharing your tips xx


  • Lisa Autumn

    Oh I love The Ordinary products!

    Lisa | lisaautumn.com

  • Rachel

    I can relate to this post sooo much!! Skin can be so fickle and as tempting as it is, I’ve also found that stripping back my skincare routine to bland products that I know work for me is the best thing! Random tidbit but if you have seasonal allergies (like to pollen or ragweed), it may also mean you’re sensitive to ingredients such as chamomile, sage, rosemary, etc. So if you do have any seasonal allergies, that’s something to look at! Thank you for sharing your journey and being so honest- it’s nice to know there are other gals out there at my age who also deal with skin woes, haha. You’re a lovely person inside and out Kate!

  • I found eating and sleeping well has had the most profound effect on my skin – much more than any product has. I really like The Ordinary though and their Peeling Solution, and their Hyaluronic Acid 🙂

    Sarah xo Oomph London

  • after reading your post I bought la Roche poiser mist, It is working wonders on me!
    Miki x


  • Natalie Redman

    Wow that skin improvement is amazing!


  • Woww your skin definitely improved so much! Thank you so much for sharing your routine and all of the products that worked for you! <3 🙂

    XO, Elizabeth T.

  • Alessia

    Thank you so much for writing this post, it’s so refreshing to hear from someone who deals with breakouts and understands that skincare doesn’t (and shouldn’t) be overly complicated or fancy. x

  • Oh I love vitamin C Serums!! I can’t live without them! Cosrx Pimple Patch is good for breakouts!

    Please check our website if you’re struggling with acne prone skin!

  • Katrin

    Thanks a lot! That is super helpfull! Could you share which SPF you are using?