(Subtitle – A very long essay on extreme acne treatments.)

I don’t have very good skin. I’ve discussed it before on the blog– I have eczema, allergies and sensitive skin. It’s been like this my whole life. When I reached my late teens, my body decided all this wasn’t enough – I started to suffer from acne. It got worse in university, I suppose as my hormones got worse, my stress increased, and my diet worsened. I felt really self-conscious going to interviews for jobs looking like a spotty teenager, and I feel even more self-conscious going to work with it. My skin was flushed, with red marks and red, inflamed, lumps (spots sitting under the skin) and little scabs from where ok, I picked, and the subsequent scars. I had clogged pores and blackheads. My skin felt lumpy and uneven.

Armed with a salary, I decided I wanted to do something about my skin. I wanted my acne gone. It would be an investment in my professional image, I told myself.

Unfortunately after visiting a skin clinic for a consultation I was told that they could only treat me after a doctor had officially diagnosed me with acne. I really didn’t want to go to a doctor for this, after terrible experiences with going to them for my eczema. It was for that reason I had gone straight to a privately run skin business as my first port of call. But I swallowed my fear and went to the GP to get my diagnosis. The doctor was nice enough, she agreed it was acne, prescribed me something, and I went home knowing I wasn’t going to use it. I do not trust doctors with my skin and nothing will change that. I went back to the skin clinic and ended up dropping a large sum of money on eight sessions of laser treatment. I had never spent so much money on something so…so…intangible in my life. And it was only on the chance it could work. Honestly, I spent nearly half a grand on hope.

But that was one of the reasons I decided I really liked the clinic; the esthetician was honest with me that it could improve things to any degree or not at all. That and their little forms detailing exactly what side effects could be experienced, advice on how to handle your skin when undergoing treatment etc. I felt that I had been briefed so well on this treatment and given all the right expectations for it. So I went for it.

Laser treatment started out painful and my skin never really got used to it, although I got used to enduring the pain. I would lie there on the world’s comfiest bed, the esthetician would clean my face, put on the special gel, cover my eyes, then place the laser around my face. It was like a sharp burst of stabbing pain, followed by another, and another. It hurt like hell. Especially on the sensitive skin around the nose and mouth. My eyes would water. I cried once. It was not a nice treatment. It was sharp and painful, afterwards my skin felt sensitive. I’d be smothered in sunscreen and sent on my way, and my skin would be bright red from the laser and slimy from the amount of sunscreen needed to protect it. (Bet I looked really sexy on the bus ride home.) I paid a further £100+ for some products recommended to use alongside the laser – a super strong sunscreen, a gentle every day exfoliant, a tougher weekly exfoliant and a clay based mask. My skin became dry, irritated. I stopped the tough exfoliant and started to moisturise more. Had more treatments. My skin…

Was clearing up.

I had a lot of painful spots that sat under the skin, red and inflamed. I had clogged pores. I had blemishes and blackheads. Scabs and scars.

I was left with flushed skin and blemishes. My skin felt smoother, looked less angry and red, and was less clogged up.

It was kind of amazing that it had done something, but still my heart sunk a little that it hadn’t been a miracle. It still wasn’t completely gone. My blackheads remained. I still had blemishes and scars. Was still too red. Even though I knew better than to have expectations for a miracle, I still wanted it so badly. You have no idea how much I long for beautiful, healthy skin. I want my face to have that translucent glow that the Korean celebrities have.

Following the laser, I took a little break, still using the products I’d been given, and then I started on a course of chemical peels.

This was a war and I was going all out. I’d already dropped over half a grand to go from spotty to blemish-y, I was willing to keep shelling out to see the next transformation. Please let there be another transformation, I thought.

I lay on the same bed, had my face cleaned, was handed a fan, then had a substance that smelled and felt exactly like nail polish remover dragged over my face. I didn’t understand why I needed the fan – the esthetician said it would get hot. How could that be?

I soon got it. The stuff sinks in and I could feel my face growing hot, then it began to get hotter, then it began to burn. The laser was a sharp, severe pain concentrated in a small area. This was an intense all over sensation of heat. It felt like my entire face was on fire. I fanned away at myself and waited for it to be over. After the first peel I had to go to work the next day and it was not pretty- my skin was peeling off in great big chunks, it was completely raw. What have I done?! I freaked out and went to boots and spent a stupid amount on an extra hydrating moisturiser, smothered myself in if, and after a few days, my skin emerged, smooth and trying to glow. Still blemishes, still scars, still so dry.

I had two more peels. One two weeks after the first and the last a month after that. My skin never peeled as intensely as the first time and I’m not sure why or if I should be disappointed by that.

During this time I started using retinol and it scares me a bit but it is working on that redness, the blemishes and the scars.

Whilst drying my skin out.

Even more. It was getting so dry. I was trying to moisturise but everything I used never seemed to be hydrating enough, whilst at the same time clogging my pores back up. (The money I spent on that supposedly super hydrating moisturiser from boots was a complete waste, I could have stuck with the creams I already had and been in the same position. They were all useless.)

Another break.

Then I went back for a facial. This was a startling experience. The same room, same bed, but candles and low lighting, and no pain. Afterwards my skin felt soft and soothed. My esthetician recommended me a moisturiser to buy to counteract the retinol without clogging my pores and I did – another stupid amount of money – and finally my skin felt calm.

It’s not red. It’s not spotty. It’s soft and not as dry. But I’ve got a couple of clogged pores (not as bad as before though, this moisturiser is quite good), a scattering of blemishes remain, and those scars, those stupid scars are still there. It’s better, but not completely gone and I’m almost a grand poorer and I want more.

What do I do next, I wonder? More laser? More peels? More facials? I think I want more facials, but I feel reluctant to ever go through laser or a chemical peel again.

I am thinking of focusing on skincare. Facials every few months paired with a strong skincare routine. Actually I’ve had a rigid morning and evening skincare routine for years now – but I still don’t think I’ve found what really works for me. I have a few products I love and a whole bunch sitting in my drawers, gathering dust because I can’t return them and don’t want to use them.

I first tried Korean and Japanese products, then I played around with more western products, then I tried more organic and less synthesised products. After it all I think my skin looked the best when I used Korean skincare, and and I enjoyed that the most. So I’m going back to that now. Well, I never really left it…but I was drifting away. I thought for a time that I was using too many products, because Korean skincare routines tend to involve many steps, which was causing my bad skin and so I tried to simplify. But that didn’t work. I tried to go even simpler, with products that were less synthesised the so called “natural beauty” but that really didn’t work. So I’m going back to the Korean layering approach. So more serums, more essences, more masks and treatments. I’m going to smother my skin with care and hope it responds.

As for other things? I’ve tried diet and drinking water…drinking green tea… and that does nothing. Stopping eating dairy has done me some good, except I still eat chocolate. I go a few months with no chocolate, then can’t handle it anymore and start eating it again, then go without and rinse, repeat. I would like to get a handle of that to see if full and proper no dairy for the longterm will really help. I do get flare ups around the time of month, which was an interesting discovery (I was so spotty before I couldn’t notice when it got worse cos it was always so bad. Now it’s milder it’s easier to tell when things are getting bad) but that one I can’t do much about that. (I tried the pill at one point, and I’m never doing that again. It didn’t do anything for my skin and it just made me feel angry and depressed 24/7. No thanks).

I will win this battle, somehow. And I fear I’ve stopped caring about the price. I really hope that in the long term things are going to work out for me and my skin, and I’m not just ultimately making it worse.

P.S Changed the no poo category to beauty and lifestyle! :o

“I dream on, in the border between reason and reality. I fly to you, in this reality that’s like a lie.”

I used a tea rinse on my hair tonight and it was messy but worth it. My hair has a beautiful shine to it. According to my mother my hair doesn’t look dirty, but it looks dull. I feel rather self-conscious about that now that I’m working, as I do every aspect of my appearance. I wouldn’t give up no shampoo though. I wouldn’t use shampoo again.

As I’ve talked about before, no shampoo has been a journey to new territory and it has really made me question my lifestyle and well, my relationship with the supermarket. Just how many of the things that are pushed on us are actually necessary? When I gave up shampoo I found myself skipping at least half an aisle in the supermarket, filled with must haves and should be usings. It makes one think.

I started to use reusable sanitary towels and liners and that was also game changing. I always wondered how mere cloth could absorb everything but as it turns out, a good cloth pad is better than any disposable. The good is the key part- a bad pad will be uncomfortable, not absorb as much and not come as clean. Once I found good brands I could rely on though? And got comfortable with the care of them? No going back. From there I started to notice what a big chunk of waste I was not producing, and I started to question just how much I was throwing into my black bin (I.e the one for the rubbish heap) I started sewing up reusable facial cotton rounds, and there was another chunk of stuff I wasn’t throwing away. I read some eco lifestyle blogs and felt excited at the possibilities but also aware that a lifestyle like that wasn’t what I wanted. I didn’t want to start agonising over every little thing. I just wanted to do what I could and what I felt comfortable with.

Of course not all aspects of this journey have been successful and there is one aspect I have been struggling with: skincare. I really wanted to try using simpler, less synthesised products, preferably from UK based sellers. I have had great success with no shampoo, milk/oil based soaps, using plain oils as body care, sugar scrubs for exfoliating my legs before shaving. So I thought this would go well. And it hasn’t. I have found so many of the products I have tried- and there have been many- greasy in texture and yet my skin feels dry. Oil cleansers that won’t wash off, moisturisers that sit on the skin in a fatty layer, but never sink in. The only success I have had is in using rose water as a toner, and I have found a night cream I can tolerate. I feel like I’m using up too much money and messing around with my skin too much by this point, but I also feel unwilling to give up. Isn’t this supposed to be the better choice? I feel frustrated by it; I want it to work, to become another amazing, revealing step in my journey. Instead I find myself leaning towards the uncomfortable conclusion that maybe heavily synthesised products with lengthy, confusing ingredients may be better for me.

(I also hope I am using this right wording here. I refuse to say chemical free, because that’s nonsense, but even natural sounds wrong- there’s nothing unnatural about that in the drugstore, I can’t say that, so I’m going for the words simple to describe the skincare others may feel comfortable saying natural, and synthesised for the products you get in the chemists. Ok?)

Meanwhile, where to next? I am playing with crystal deodorant. I’ve been dying to give up my supermarket brand, but I thought the only other choice was that coconut oil/bicarb mix and I didn’t want bicarb anywhere near me. A bit silly – crystals seem a popular method that’s been around years. I bought a tiny travel sized one and am tentatively using it on the weekends.

I started to venture away from beauty and personal care. I tried to change up things in the kitchen and am now happily using reusable/washable dishwashing sponges and microfibre clothes for minor cleaning, but I find myself unable to bring myself to use clothes for heavy cleaning. I am using up my dish washing liquid and multi surface cleaner bought in the supermarket, and plan to replace them with a more eco friendly product from a small British company. I refuse to change anything in the bathroom- I will keep my bleach and won’t use reusable clothes to clean there. I still use the supermarket, even though I also buy things from the organic store.

In the end, I think it’s best to be doing something, no matter how small, than nothing. It’s about making the choices and changes you can afford and are comfortable with. It’s about awareness and a willingness to try (outside of the bathroom. I will be hypocritical in that way) and I guess, through my failure in that one aspect, because I think I’m giving up now, it’s about accepting your limitations and being able to say this isn’t working and give up or compromise (I’ll keep my night cream and rose water, but switch my day cream and makeup remover) I think. To be honest, on this journey, I am constantly changing my mind, becoming uncertain, questioning exactly what is it do I want? To focus on beauty and personal care, purely to see if it’s better for me, or also for environmental reasons? And do I want to take it further, to venture outside those subjects? Is this something I’m really interested in, or am I just letting myself getting dragged in because it feels I ought to – if I’m already giving up shampoo and using reusable pads surely it’s not right just to do so just for me, should I not be thinking of the greater consequences and issues surrounding these things? It’s all quite overwhelming really.

If there is just one certainty though- it’s that it doesn’t stop being interesting to question.

Unexpected no-poo success: powdered seaweed

I’d never heard of using seaweed for the skin before, but my sister and I were at a food fair when we stumbled upon a small store selling powdered seaweed. I asked about using it for a dry scalp/eczema and the woman gave us an amazing sales talk, and let us try some on our hands. My sister and I were quite surprised with how nice it felt and how smooth it left our hands. Still, usually I would not be so easily led to purchase, what with no prior research and one sales talk, but as anyone who has eczema knows, desperation for a cure/for relief makes you an easy sell. I purchased the smallest tub, and then set it aside for a while, before eventually deciding to try it out. I was a bit nervous about using it, as I’m always nervous for trying new things – I don’t want to make my eczema worse, or mess up my no-poo routine after all!

I mixed it up with a little warm water to make a soft, spreadable paste and smothered my scalp in it, before shoving my hair in a disposable shower cap (collected from hotels by me and my sister for this purpose!) Then I had some left over, so I put it on my face down to my décolletage. Then I left it be for a bit. It stank. It was messy (both to apply and when rinsing.) It was ugly – if you live with anyone, prior warning would be needed before turning yourself into a green skinned monster. It didn’t feel that amazing on my skin. However, once I had rinsed it away I was amazed by the results.

So I’ll get it out the way, this is yet another product that I bought for the intention of healing my eczema which did not do that and yet did other great things which means I still like it. phew. I’ve taken to using it every couple of months now. I use it the same way- smothering my scalp in it, shoving my hair in a cap, using the leftovers on my face, neck and back. Leaving it for 10+ minutes to do its thing. It rinses out really easily, although clumps of it do somehow end up everywhere so you have to give the shower a good rinse as well after. It leaves my hair glossy and with a lot more body to it. It’s noticeably nice, for lack of better terms. My sister even complimented my hair after using it, saying that it was looking good. (My sister does not approve of my no-poo routine, so this is unusual.) It does not really have any cleaning properties, but it does not make my hair any greasier. It does not soothe the scalp really, but it does help cleanse flakes. As for my skin, it leaves my face feeling smooth and clarified. It’s really great for when skin is a little bit red and unhappy, a little sensitive, usually because of stress in my case. It calms the skin. It also makes my body skin soft. It doesn’t cause any irritations anywhere.

I think I’m even getting used to the smell now. Because it’s worth it. I’m really loving this stuff and am quite pleasantly surprised by the results. I use the Aalgo brand, and I’ve got tonnes left (this stuff lasts forever) but if I was running out I would repurchase.

*This is not sponsored. Purchased it myself with my own money, and all opinions are my own.

No Shampoo, four years on

nopoo5years2It’s been four years since I’ve given up shampoo. And last year I did not post a picture, so I thought this year I would. My hair isn’t looking fantastic – but that’s not really to do with nopoo. Rather, I have a habit of pulling at it/playing with it when stressed which is always lately and so I’ve got a bit of a problem with thinness and split ends. Still, I’ve nearly hit my goal of having classic length hair – having just barely scraped past waist length recently. I often get annoyed with how long my hair is, but I am learning various braids which makes it fun and worth it. I can almost do a proper crown braid – my hair is so long it just wraps all the way around. :D My hair is still coping well with no poo. I still have a water filter and I actually remembered to change the filter recently so although it’s a just a cheap one and I’ve long realised it isn’t that effective, it’s better than hard water. My hair just about copes/looks OK washing it twice a week with water only, and silicone free conditioner on the ends. Actually, looking back on my previous post that means I’ve been using the same routine for about two years now! No poo is actually very low maintenance and kinda boring to talk about once you get past the crazy experimental stage where you are like, putting eggs on your hair. At first, during the crazy phase, I wondered if it really was so cheap and easy, but after my hair got out of transition and I found what works it became more so, and lately I’ve not been moving around too much, so right now it really, really is.

I’m not even doing herbal rinses lately. The craziest thing I did was an overnight seaweed mask, which was great but so messy and smelly I’ve not done it again. That’s the thing: I’m feeling lazy right now so I cannot be bothered with any rinses or masks or anything. I occasionally oil the ends of my hair with camellia oil as its winter, but that’s all the special attention my hair is getting right now.

Since giving up shampoo I’m still questioning my beauty routine and my “choices”. I nearly became soap free as I mentioned last time – except for after hiking and the time of the month and shaving – but then I received some fabulous homemade goats milk and essential oil soap for Christmas, so that’s on hold. I’ve not been using natural oils much for my skin, as it’s not that convenient, although I’ve been liking the Salcura Bioskin nourishing spray as a quick and fairly natural way of moisturising – the spray function means half ends up in the air, but it’s very quick and sinks in much easier and quicker than the oils do. (Sadly though, it joins the long list of products that aren’t suitable for use on my scalp nor particularly helpful for the eczema I have there.) I do still love my natural sugar scrubs for exfoliating my body. The most major change I’ve made since the last update is beginning to transition to using cloth sanitary protection, and I’m hoping to soon change to replacing my disposable facial cotton with reusable wipes too. That and giving up juice for herbal tea (mostly). I can just about manage to convince myself that moringa and mango tea tastes the same as mango juice, and I do notice my skin loves it when I cut back on the sugary drinks and get those herbs in. So I guess I’ve gone from putting tea on my hair for my skin and hair health, to ingesting it for the same reasons. Either way works, right? (Well, I prefer ingesting them to be honest.)

No Shampoo, three years on

I’ve not used shampoo for over 3 years now. I could write how it doesn’t feel that long but it does, in fact it feels longer. It’s become a habit now. My hair has had its ups and downs, likely due to changing locations, and experimenting with my routine. When I lived in Malaysia last year I was able to get myself down to one wash a week- water only, a silicone free conditioner on the ends. My hair looked fine. Coming back to the UK I had to push it back to two washes a week, and then I moved to uni and even that wasn’t enough. My hair was sticky and clumping together – typical of transitioning hair, although thankfully not as bad as that can get. Nonetheless it did not look good. I live in a hard water area so I decided to try a water filter. I’ve had problems with water quality from the start, but I’ve never been able to try a filter – my living arrangements have never suited it, and they seemed expensive. I currently live on my own in a rental which gives me a bit more leeway now, and so I bought myself a super cheap filter for about £10. It’s like a brita filter and not particularly sophisticated – nor do I think it completely softens my water. But it does the job. I’m back on my one wash a week routine now- water only, conditioner on the ends. My hair looks nice, I think. Its certainly growing fast enough, bringing me ever closer to my goal of classic length hair, and its become fuller, thicker looking, and has obtained a nice soft wave to it since I’ve given up shampoo. I will also always be fascinated by the texture of natural hair – my hair is fine, but appears reasonably thick, and has a very particular feel – it has a kind of a woollen texture, although it doesn’t look dry or greasy or anything.

I’ve also discovered the world of etsy. The high shipping costs acts as a barrier for me buying all the products I want. But I have become a fan of this shop. They sell inexpensive samples of their products, which allowed me to try them out. The dry shampoo didn’t do much, it made my hair look greasier in fact, but the dark hair herbal rinse is stunning. I love how soft and glossy it makes my hair, and it is admittedly nice to have that vague floral scent about my hair, when usually it doesn’t smell like anything. I splurged on the full size now and I’m going to try and use it regularly – I’m thinking once every two weeks should do. As can be seen, my hair care routine is very simple, lazy even, and involves just two products- conditioner and a hair rinse. My conditioner lasts forever and I don’t know about the rinse yet, but still, I must be saving money. And I’m certainly spending a small amount of time, which suits me.

Initially I gave up shampoo due to problems with eczema on my scalp. No-poo has helped my eczema, but my scalp remains dry, slightly flaky and itchy. I think no-poo has done more for my hair than my scalp, although my eczema is definitely better and at no risk of becoming worse/the way it was. I wish I could find some kind of moisturising scalp treatment. The hairdresser last year used this lovely product on my scalp but I cannot remember what it was. I thought it was Shiseido and googled it to find that Shiseido do sell a scalp treatment and regardless of whether it is the right one it is about £30, which is way out of my budget. I looked on etsy but all I could find were scalp creams and oils – neither of which seem particularly suited to no-poo. I have in fact tried applying a herbal eczema cream to my scalp, as well as an emollient cream, and some natural oils but they are all too thick, and its really a pain to apply, and doesn’t even seem to help. The hairdressers product was a thin liquid that sank into the scalp wonderfully, with no residue. I wish I could find something like that.

Apart from that, since giving up shampoo I’ve been thinking about what other products I use. Since I was little I’ve had sensitive skin and so I’ve had to be careful about what I wore and what I used on my skin, and despite that I’ve struggled with my skin. I’ve always felt self conscious about this. Things like- I wanted to be able to pick something off the rack and try it on without looking at the label first to see what it was made of, I wanted to be able to travel without lugging around my own products – who actually travels with soap these days when most hotels give decent shower gels? I just wanted to wear and use whatever I liked. Giving up shampoo has made me realise how unneccesary it all is though. I now walk past a whole section of the supermarket filled with products marketed as essential, but I’ve found they are not. So I try and look at these other things and instead of thinking I can’t use them, I think I choose not to. Since giving up shampoo I’ve been thinking about what products I choose to use, and am keen to experiment to find what’s best for me. I’ve become very open to alternate things – I never thought I’d be using herbal rinses and natural oils but I’ve become very comfortable with this now.

Giving up shampoo has helped my eczema get better, but it has also opened up a door to a world of beauty that is accessible to me. I have, I think I mentioned it before, become a big fan of using oils as a body moisturiser and sugar or salt scrubs for exfoliating. I’ve never been able to find a moisturiser that made my skin feel so soft and comfortable (i.e. no allergies) since discovering oils, nor have I ever been able to exfoliate. Its pretty great. I also experimented a bit with my facial skincare – trying those cleansing balms made with oils, an organic moisturiser. However I didn’t like any of what I tried. I think I’ll stick with my chemicals for my face! My face is the one area of my body which isn’t so sensitive, so I like having the freedom to play around with commercial stuff in this instance. I’m currently thinking about soap. I’ve always used very just plain bar soaps and now I’m wondering if I need even that. My hair is fine with just water, why not my body? How wonderfully lazy would it be to just use water for everything? Plus it would make travelling a lot easier!

I’m hesitant to say I’ll never use shampoo ever again, but right now I like it. I like the way my hair looks and feels, and I like the fact that through no-poo I’ve been thinking about alternate skincare, questioning what we’ve been conditioned to believe we should be doing and becoming comfortable with making my own choices.