I barely remember breaking out during my teens. When I did, it was a pimple every few months during my period that was never followed by a dark spot. The few times my breakouts consisted of more than that, my mom would make sure to send me to the dermatologist, who would put me on a topical treatment for a short period of time and recommend I’d wash my face with Cetaphil instead of Proactive. For all of my teens and most of my adult life, that seemed to always do the trick. That was until I hit 28 years of age and started switching up my birth control — for various reasons. That’s when acne and sensitive skin decided to become a thing for me. While I don’t struggle with serious acne at all — no cystic pimples here. I have learned to expect one or two new pimples on my jawline every month on the week of my period and while it didn’t use to bother me so much before, the dark spots it recently started leaving behind were becoming way too much for me to handle. That’s where Korean skincare became my saving grace.
Hormonal acne is a real thing y’all and unfortunately, it tends to kick around your late 20s, early 30s — even if you had perfect skin before that. A number of hormonal changes can trigger it. In my particular case, I truly believe it was switching up birth controls because that was becoming a problem for the past few years, which is around the same time I started noticing the hormonal breakouts happening. I did it all. Tried every fancy spancy cream or treatment you could think of along with prescription topical creams. But when topicals were causing more irritation than relief, I decided to finally to have my dermatologist prescribe me Spironolactone, a prescription pill that’s actually a high blood pressure medication that’s often subscribed for hormonal acne. It actually worked but because it’s a high blood pressure medication which is essentially a diuretic, it came with side effects which included urine frequency and urgency and I was not about to live that kind of life. I eventually stopped taking it.
It was at that point that I decided to resort to switching up my skincare routine. I’ve been using Korean skincare for years and it has kept my skin relatively clear and bright, even battling hormonal breakouts during my period. But the more I experimented with new or added more products to my regimen — Korean skincare is often known for having 10 steps or more — the more sensitivity my skin was experiencing. I decided to hit up a pro.
Charlotte Cho, is a Korean skincare expert and the founder of Soko Glam, a skincare start-up that sells some of the top Korean skincare products. I stumbled upon an article on how Cho — who has incredibly clear and bright skin by the way — also struggles with hormonal breakouts around her period — just like me — since she turned 30. In fact, hers tend to even be cystic and painful sometimes — something I, fortunately, haven’t really experienced often. So how in the world does she keep her skin looking so luminous half the time? For Cho, the trick is not using every single Korean skincare product on the market, but finding the ones that work well with her hormonal acne-prone, oily, and sensitive skin. She looks for products that gently clear out her skin without causing any dryness or irritation, which can lead to a never-ending cycle of breakouts. I sent Cho an email asking for her recommendations since our skin concerns seemed so similar. She offered me a list of suggestions along with the products that have worked for her and while I still have two pesky dark spots I’ve had for months now — they are significantly fading and I barely break out now — even during my pimple.
According to the American Academy of Dermatology, 50 percent of women ages 20 to 40 deal with adult acne, which is often caused by hormonal changes that lead to excess sebum. Keeping my skin clear has consisted of a few great Korean skincare products as well as lifestyle changes. Here are a few things that have helped keep my skin clear and bright!
I still double cleanse, but with the right cleansers.
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Double cleansing has always been effective for me — especially on the days I choose to wear makeup. But I was finding that certain oil cleansers were just too heavy for my oily/combination skin and certain foam cleansers were too drying and would automatically trigger my sensitivity. Cho recommended going for an oil cleanser that actually targets acne and reduces breakouts as well as blackheads. The Hanskin Pore Cleansing Oil has been a complete game changer. It gently removes all makeup, dirt, and access oil from my face while also calming my skin. It leaves my skin smooth, clear, and deeply hydrated. And for like $30 less than the oil cleanser I was using before. It’s no wonder it’s become a holy grail for so many acne sufferers.
Hanskin Pore Cleansing Oil [PHA], $25, sokoglam.com
I follow with a gentle foam cleanser that also targets acne.
The Dr.Oracle A-Thera Cleansing Foam seriously works wonders. It’s formulated with salicylic acid to clean out pores while also getting rid of access sebum that causes pesky acne. It foams into a rich lather that leaves my face squeaky clean without the dryness or irritation I normally experience from foam cleansers. My face loves this stuff!
Dr. Oracle A-Thera Cleansing Foam, $23, Sokoglam.com
I always use a toner.
There’s a lot of debate about whether or not it’s necessary to incorporate a toner into your skincare routine. If you have oily or acne-prone skin, the simple answer is YES! Toner helps to eliminate excess sebum and clear up skin faster but the trick is finding the right one. Harsh toners have left my face red and inflamed. This gentle toner is specifically formulated for sensitive skin. It works to clear skin, while also calming and hydrating it.
Dr. Oracle A-Thera Toner, $32, sokoglam.com
I spritz rose water on my face all day.
There’s always one in my purse so I can spritz my face every few hours, keeping it fresh and hydrated. It also helps to calm sensitive and irritated skin, especially if you’re experiencing breakouts. The one I use isn’t actually a Korean skincare brand but it’s a cult favorite for a reason — it actually works. You also can’t beat that amazing price!
Mario Badescu Facial Spray With Aloe, Herbs, and Rosewater, $12, mariobadescu.com
I use vitamin C serum religiously — no matter what.
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There’s a reason why there’s been so much hype around vitamin C serums these past few years and that’s because they are loaded with antioxidants that not only reduce signs of aging, like fine lines and wrinkles, but also work to fade dark spots, and hyperpigmentation, leaving skin bright and even. The thing is that not all vitamin C treatments are made equal and the ones with high percentages can actually be really harsh on sensitive skin like mine. Klair’s Freshly Juiced Vitamin C Serum features 5% vitamin C that’s gentle enough for sensitive skin types but also enough to effectively brighten skin and fade manchas. I’ve been using it since February and I’ve already noticed my dark spots have faded significantly and the overall appearance and texture of my skin has improved drastically. I apply it every morning before putting on my moisturizer and sunscreen and every night as my evening skincare treatment.
Klairs Freshly juiced Vitamin C Serum, $23, sokoglam.com
I use a vitamin E mask at night.
Most nights I just use the Klairs Freshly Juiced Vitamin C Serum but a few nights a week, I also layer on the Klairs Freshly Juiced Vitamin E Mask because vitamin E actually helps stabilize vitamin C, making it work better. This unique pudding-like formula is oil-free and very watery — perfect for us oily/sensitive skin types.
Klairs Freshly Juiced Vitamin E Mask, $27, sokoglam.com
I spot treat when I do get hormonal breakouts.
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On those days I do get an occasional pimple on my cheek or jawline, I apply a COSRX Acne Pimple Master Patch directly over the breakout. They work as a great overnight treatment, especially for whiteheads and blackheads. For zits, sometimes it might take a day or two but because these patchers are so thin and clear, I’ve even worn them during the day out in public and folks barely notice. It’s a great way to treat breakouts while still going about your life. They are also incredibly gentle — no irritation here. Did I mention that a pack of 24 patches only cost 5 bucks?
COSRX Acne Pimple Master Patch, $5, sokoglam.com
I do gentle peels for my dark spots.
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While my skin is relatively clear most days, I still have a few dark spots left over from breakouts. Since incorporating the Neon Bio-Peel Gauze Peeling Lemon, all the tiny dark spots I had on my chin are almost completely gone. The only thing I still have are the two dark spots I have had on my cheek for months. One was from a traumatic cystic pimple I got last summer and the other was from a traumatic facial extraction I had in November. The thing with dark spots is the darker they are and the more traumatic they are, the longer it takes for them to fade which is why those two have managed to stick around. But consistency is key as I’ve noticed them fade significantly especially since using these peels. FYI: This is the first at-home peel I’ve used that hasn’t irritated my skin — not even slightly.
Neogen Bio-Peel Gauze Peeling Lemon, $27, sokoglam.com
Instead of prescription pills, I take natural supplements.
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Take time to detox ✨ Think of #DAILYCLEANSE as your internal cleanser — getting rid of harmful free radicals in your body while hydrating + detoxifying your skin from within. Here's what our happy members are saying about it: x "I swear by the cleanse!!! I have been continually taking the cleanse for about 6 months and saw results right away and continue to be blown away with how much it has helped my skin! I 10/10 recommend the cleanse to anyone that has struggled with their skin or break out. I was almost to the point of see a dermatologist about acutane. Love DAILY CLEANSE thank you hum!" – Darby x "I do everything possible from eating healthy (no soy or dairy) to using great face products but I still needed something to really supplement gut health and my acne. This has done wonders for me. The DAILY CLEANSE has made my gut regular and other than the time of the month flare up I have no acne. It takes about two weeks to see results but it has overall helped my pores and oil. It has regulated my whole body and I always make sure I have a backup bottle now." – Euko #humnutrition #startwithin
After discontinuing my use of Spironolactone, I decided to take the natural route. Quite a few peeps had recommended the HUM Daily Cleanse supplements to me. They are 100 percent natural and are formulated with chlorella, a blue-green algae that helps to significantly clear skin while also removing toxins from the body. I’ve been using them for almost two months and I’ve noticed such a difference not just in my skin but in the way my body feels overall. I also just started their Skin Heroes Pre+Probiotics that help to nurture and balance the gut microbiome, which also helps support skin hydration while also clearing your complexion.
HUM Daily Cleanse, $25, humnutrition.com