My dad used to tell me he'd had a pimple... once.
This is, of course, a filthy lie. But I seemed to take after him as far as complexions go, never experiencing serious acne as a teenager — only the occasional spot, usually on my chin, which I could safely blame on hormones (it's a woman's prerogative).
This year, though, something has gone awry.
I mean on my face.
Is it a mid-30s Puberty 2.0? Is it COVID lockdown? Stress? Have I been drinking too much milk? Not enough water? Should I change my pillowcases more often? IS IT TRUMP?
I blame Trump.
Dubious about spending a fortune on bullshit products that may or may not work and thus make me cross, I've hunted down a small arsenal of relatively affordable lotions and potions that seem to be keeping Pimplegate 2020 down to a dull roar. Some work better than others depending on what's going on, but it's a relief to have some tried-and-true options to combat those WTF breakouts.
(I'm not linking directly to any sites/retailers below because I'm not a salesperson, just a spotty friend from outer space. If you don't get that reference, you're not as old as me. But also: Google.)
One. Mario Badescu Drying Lotion
This ointment is pink and definitely reeks of something medicinal, but it's great for spot-treating angry blemishes that have — what's the best way to put this? — come to the surface. It contains salicylic acid and calamine, as well as sulphur and something zinc-y, to draw out the gross stuff and calm inflammation. You apply it by poking a cotton bud down beyond the oil layer into the pink stuff then dabbing it directly onto your spots. It should dry down fast, and you can leave it on for a couple of hours or even overnight. Caveat: you might scare your cohabitants.
Two. Go-To Exfoliating Swipeys
These exfoliating swipeys are one of only a couple of products from Zoe Foster-Blake's Go-To line that I actually like (though some of my friends swear by the sheet masks?). The little pre-soaked pads smell zingy — like orange zest — and contain alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs) to gently chomp through dead skin cells. I use one of these a couple of times a week at bedtime (or whenever it dawns on me that my face feels oddly like sandpaper).
Three. The Ordinary Niacinamide 10% serum
Niacinamide is supposed to be good for everything. What an overachiever. Apparently, it can help manage sebum production, reduce breakouts, and fade hyperpigmentation. I don't heal very well and I struggle with melasma because of some medication I use. This serum seems to speed along the healing process and subdue angry redness.
Four. Benzac acne gel
OK, this one is the 'big gun'. I pull this out of my skincare drawer when I've got a breakout that seems to be getting bigger or worse. LOOK WHAT YOU MADE ME DO. Benzoyl peroxide kills common bacteria that cause or exacerbate acne. It can help when other gentler options have failed. You can buy various BP formulas over the counter at most pharmacies. Be warned, however: this ingredient is pretty drying, and it will bleach your towels and pillowcases. Make sure you start with a low strength. I usually get the Benzac 2.5% version.
Five. The Body Shop Drops of Youth peel
Years ago, I was bamboozled into buying a $100 peeling mask by a very persuasive sales assistant at Carindale shopping centre (my partner calls them human pop-up ads). Maybe I looked haggard, but $100 was much too much for a full-time student to spend on a single skincare product. It was a bargain, the shop assistant insisted! He was giving me a 50% discount! (Once they've got eye contact, I'm a goner tbh.) The thing is I actually loved that peel. It had a cool gel texture and a fruity aroma, and when I massaged a little onto my face each weekend, I could immediately feel the old garbage skin cells balling up and sloughing away. Imagine my dismay/delight when I found that The Body Shop makes a very convincing dupe for only $37. It even smells just like the Overpriced Carindale Version™, but it's green and not pink. INTERESTING. Anyway, it's great for occasional use — if your skin looks dull or feels congested.
Six. The Ordinary Salicylic Acid Masque
Another Deciem product, this mask — sorry, MASQUE — is a lifesaver. It's another one to use only occasionally (it can irritate or dehydrate your skin if you leave it on too long or use it more than twice a week), but the charcoal formula cleared me up in only a couple of days when my skin threw a recent tantrum (all the worse because I was staying at my mum's, and her bathroom mirror is, frankly, revolting). Retailing for only about $20, it's good bang for your buck; however, the tube feels disconcertingly light and squishy, as if it start at half full.
Seven. Pimple patches (MECCA brand/Spot Medic)
There are nights when I go to bed with half a dozen of these stuck to my face. Unfortunately, hydrocolloid pimple patches are probably terrible for the environment, but they're amazing for hanger-on spots that just won't go away and are a bit wound-like and vulnerable to germy air and fingers. The Spot Medic patches are better value for money, but they've been totally sold out at Priceline (in Brisbane CBD) the last little while, so the MECCA version is handy in a pinch. I wouldn't be surprised if other supermarket skincare brands started selling something similar for less. (I started out using Corsyx patches I'd ordered online before I realised there were other alternatives available in stores.)