Wednesday, 8 June 2016

Quick (and slow!) skincare fixes: Part 1 - squaring dark circles and my acne 'hack'

Source: Wikimedia Commons
Topic(al) advisory - readers with perfect skin may wish to skip this post - something more conventionally scented will be along presently...;)

Now they do say that the eyes are the window of the soul. Well, that's as maybe, but chronic skin issues as well as sudden onset dermatological disasters (and I am no stranger to both!) can trigger a dark night of the soul in even the most mentally resilient person.

Squaring dark circles

I have been lucky up till now to have dodged problems such as bags or dark shadows under my eyes. It has all been kicking off lately in the upper eyelid area, mind you(!), but I will save that particular 'rag bag' of bother and doom for Part 2.

Then just recently I noticed dark circles appearing under my eyes for the first time. Having googled them - as you do! - I was pleased to learn that none of the myriad probable causes were fatal, as is of course the way of even the most minor of ailments on the morbidly inclined Interwebs.

But pretty much all of the reasons I found could have applied to me, barring eczema and being a 'person of colour', people of colour apparently being a little more prone to 'periorbital hyperpigmentation'. Yes, I could take my pick really from allergies (like hay fever, which I now have!), fatigue, rubbing or scratching my eyes - me and Truffle both - sun exposure (where do I start?), contact dermatitis (see Part 2!), and loss of fat and collagen due to age (which is rampant pretty much everywhere except my skull, knuckles, and Achilles tendons).

NB Only turn upside down for brief photo opportunities!

The problem was, though, that I noticed the dark shadows right before the gig in Preston documented here. That was one of the 'dermatological disasters' to which I obliquely allude in that post. And even though gigs are by definition held at night, I am sufficiently vain to not even want to run the risk of someone spotting my dark circles in the near pitch darkness of the beer garden. So instead of having a pre-gig lie down, as is my wont, I legged it to Debenhams in the pouring rain. Well, after a quick two minutes spent googling 'Sali Hughes best thing dark shadows' and seeing what that fetched up.

The answer is a ringing endorsement of Clarins Instant Concealer. I went for shade No 2, which is actually quite pale compared to the 110 Honey foundation of theirs that I also use, but seemingly that is the whole thing with concealer ie that you need it to be lighter in order to conceal the offending darkness. (I am a bit slow on the uptake, I know. ;) ) Then  in order to qualify for four free items of skincare and cosmetics worth about £50 in total, I was persuaded to spring for another product from the Clarins range, which had to be skincare. I went with a make up remover which will feature in my upper eyelid tale of woe, so I shan't do a spoiler on that here...

The lady at the Clarins counter applied a tiny blob of the concealer either side of my nose in small, patting movements, gradually building up coverage. You really don't need much, so caution is advised when squeezing the tube, especially in hot weather, as it seems to be bursting to come out of the nozzle! (I am in fact planning a separate post on tube-related issues.)

This way up at all times!

For anyone who would like a budget alternative to the Clarins concealer, Laura Davis of The Independent singles out Bourjois Healthy Mix concealer in this article as her top pick for the under-eye area. And would you believe, I had a similar pre-gig dark shadow incident some weeks later, and of course I had forgotten to bring my newly acquired Clarins remedy (makes a change from my usual hair gunk crisis!), so instead had recourse to a couple of testers in a big branch of Boots. I would have gladly bought a tube as back up, but they had run out of my shades except in tester form. There were at least two (one pale, one medium) that did a very decent job at only £7.99 a pop compared with £21 for the Clarins.

My acne 'hack'

Full disclosure - I have suffered from acne continuously for 43 years. A GP once described me, with perhaps a little more candour than was indicated, as, technically speaking - from a hormonal perspective - 60% man. Another breezily remarked that in my case, puberty might well segue seamlessly into the menopause and beyond. And blow me, but he was right too. I don't know what percentage of the population experience uninterrupted skin eruptions well into middle age, but I know that acne in adults, especially women, is more common than you might think. Spots tend to be confined to the jawline and chin in adulthood at least - when I was 18 I had them all over my face - topping out at 64 in total during the 'acme' of my acne, as it were. It is hard for non-sufferers to imagine the extent of pain and discomfort involved, not to mention the blow to one's self-confidence - even now, it isn't easy to socialise when I get major breakouts, as for one thing having acne seems downright incongruous at this time of life.

One unexpected upside of my problem skin was the fact that it turned out to be my passport to a year spent as a teaching 'assistante' in a school on the Riviera. At an interview to decide whereabouts in France I was to be deployed, I had a chance to defend my top choice of the Cote d'Azur. I think my reason surprised the judging panel, for instead of mentioning the usual suspects of a chance to 'swan about on yachts' or 'go celeb spotting at the Cannes Film Festival', I piped up: 'The sun will be good for my acne', and that was that.

As you can see, I did manage some yacht-swanning after all!

Now in my 40+ zit busting years, I wouldn't say I have tested every single remedy out there - I shied away from Roaccutane, for instance, the heavy artillery of acne treatment, though it was offered - and I also didn't try the specialist range of skincare by Proactiv, with which some people reportedly get good results. Over that time, however, I did try umpteen formulations of the contraceptive pill, of which Dianette was the (relative!) gold standard for the condition, as well as umpteen kinds of antibiotic, Dalacin T (a salicylic acid preparation in roll-on form), benzoyl chloride in various strengths, witch hazel, tea tree oil, all manner of toners and cleansers and astringent gels from Guerlain to Clearasil and everything in between - plus a weird calamine lotion that dried like white plaster on my face, such that I had to stay home for three days.  Luckily I was revising for my A-Levels at the time. Oh, and following an overnight explosion of some 30 pustules(!) the day the Pope died in 2005, I managed to secure an emergency appointment with a German pharmacist, who - using only an enormous encyclopaedia and a winning smile - knocked up a wonder blend of two antibiotics in cream form, that had the rash subdued within a week or so. Meanwhile, I kept my back to the window in meetings at all times, and cupped my erupting chin pensively in my hand.

Then lately I would say I have had a few breakthroughs - and fewer breakouts - and my current regime is working pretty well. I still get spots - why, only yesterday I found a whitehead in the middle of my cheek, which was most irregular! - but they do feel more under control. I cannot say that anything that works for me will necessarily do the biz for you, as everyone is different, but I can certainly recommend giving some of these things a go. And no, I am not happy about being on antibiotics, but they still really seem to work, as I discovered to my cost when I went cold turkey for two months a few years ago.

My acne armoury:

Oxytetracycline - 250mg x 2 once daily (have got down to half the daily dose at least!)

Nature's Best Acidophilus Extra 4 or 10 Billion - (just take a lot of the beggars, basically, and it does pay to go for a decent brand,  I have no idea if probiotics are any good for acne in themselves, but I feel it is important to offset the damage being wreaked to my 'microbiome' by the antibiotics!)

Nature's Best High Strength Fish Oil - 1 capsule of 1100mg a day, though you can take up to 3. It is specifically since starting on the fish oil - I found a bit of science on it here - that I have been able to knock back the antibiotics. The fish oil supposedly has anti-inflammatory properties, which I can well believe.

La Roche-Posay Effaclar Astringent Lotion Micro-Exfoliant - it contains salicylic acid which is good for tackling spots, albeit its alcohol-based formula isn't ideal. For though it may seem counter-intuitive, drying the skin out too much with alcohol-containing lotions stimulates it to produce more sebum, whereupon you get locked into a sort of vicious cycle of oily secretions. ;)

La Roche-Posay Effaclar Duo - the best spot zapping gel I know, and goodness knows I've tried a few!

La Roche-Posay Serozinc - an aerosol spray containing zinc, which is good for calming angry complexions. Thanks to Louise Woollam of Get Lippie for the tip off.

Artnaturals Jojoba Oil - I use this at night to counteract any over-drying from the astringent lotion above. It felt very strange putting oil on my oily skin, but I genuinely think it is helping my overall skin condition, and since epiphany(!) I truly haven't looked back. ;)

PS I have historically squeezed and picked my spots - hey, it is one of the few pleasures associated with the whole wretched business! - but luckily my bad behaviour has not led to significant scarring - well, aside from a permanently discoloured area on my chin, maybe. I do, however, have quite a few brown spots on my cheeks that are doubtless due to the combination of antibiotics and/or Dianette AND sun exposure down the years. But for longest time - rightly or wrongly - I thought the drying effects of the sun would be good for my skin, and even now I am a big believer in the morale-boosting benefits of sunshine, enjoyed in moderation, with appropriate sunscreen applied!

PPS I have never tried excluding dairy from my diet, but if anyone thinks this might really help, I'd consider giving it a go.

Do you suffer from either dark circles under your eyes or acne (anywhere?!) 

If so, I would be most interested in learning any good fixes you have come up with - whether instant or longer term...


  1. I've had good results with Nars concealer buffed out with a small duo-fibre brush. Going to try out the Bourjois, as word is that it's similar to the Nars and easily half the price. --AnnieA

    1. Hi AnnieA,

      Ooh, I hadn't thought of buffing, but I can see why concealer is a prime candidate for that. 'Duo-fibre' presumably means it has two different kinds of fibre?

      I think I will pick up the Bourjois when I see it again as I would be curious to compare the two properly.

  2. I've had dark circles under my eyes since age 8, due to thin skin, hence have tried too many concealers to count. My favorite so far is the Giorgio Armani Maestro eraser. The pigment is ground very fine, and it does not collect into creases and lines if any, and it does a very creditable job of concealing and holding on. Pricey but one that's worth it, for a change.

    1. Hi Lucy,

      Sorry you have been troubled by dark circles, though I would certainly never have known if you are the Lucy I think you are. ;) Which may be testament to the Giorgio Armani product you mention. I don't own any cosmetics etc by either Tom Ford or Armani but I know people swear by them, especially for certain things. Looks like this is another such 'hero product'. Non-creasing is so key - when I do get round to writing up the problems I have been having above the eye, creasing is very much going to feature!

  3. I only suffer from the hormonal once-a-month spot luckily, but I'm glad I read your whole post or I would have missed out the marvellous line - the 'acme' of my acne.

    It really does sound like you have good regime sorted out now though.

    I do however suffer routinely from dark circles. Maybe partly because I am "a woman of colour" but mostly as a result of inadequate sleep. Most days I use the Clinique Airbrush concealer because it's quick. But for a night out I use the Bobbi Brown Intensive Skin Serum Corrector with the Intensive Skin Serum Concealer over the top. The first neutralises the dark colour (it's pinky or peachy) while the second provides coverage and matches up to your foundation.

    I can't believe that Doctor told you that hormonally you are 60% man - you couldn't make it up!

    1. Hi Tara,

      Haha - I guess it should really be the 'nadir' of acne, but that would be no fun at all. ;)

      I had no idea you suffered from dark circles - it must be because all my friends who do are pros at figuring out a solution! The Bobbi Brown system sounds like serious gear that must make for a very natural look. Given that inadequate sleep is a reason for dark circles, I really should have them more often than I do - as in all the time!

      Re the doctor - he was also amazed at how hairy my arms were, though age has thinned the hair down to almost nothing, as is the way of these things. ;)

  4. I have baggy under eyes--getting worse with age--that look dark because of the shadows, and, from lack of sleep, panda-smudges as a bonus. Can't do anything at all about the former (Mmmm, genetics. thanks, Pa!) But I'm a convert to the Nars Creamy Concealer which brightens up the shadows a bit without going creasy in the creases. Vanilla in the summer, Chantilly in the winter. Does double duty to cover the sun damage on my cheekbones too. Expensive, but lasts for ages, as you only need the tiniest dab.

    I count myself extraordinarily lucky never to have had full blown acne--I get the odd nasty spot, and do think it's rotten to have both zits AND crow's feet. the LRP serozinc helps calm things down when I do erupt (and escentual often has it super-discounted to a two-fer.)

    1. Hi crikey,

      The lack of sleep seems to be an emerging sub-theme here in the battle against dark circles, though you mention that yours are also genetic. Maybe I am about to reach a tipping point and get them all the time, as I deserve. I do get panda smudges a lot too, hehe. That's another vote for the Nars then, and I can see that it makes sense to have summer and winter shades.

      It is rotten to have zits and crow's feet. And the other stuff going on around my eyes which I am saving for another post! But there it is. Pleased you are getting good results with the Serozinc when the odd spot strikes!

  5. Your post reminds me that I desperately need to make an appointment with a dermatologist (though, of course, now I'm thinking that maybe I should be trying some of your remedies first? ;) )

    1. Hi Undina,

      Haha, well if a dermatologist appointment costs money over there it might not be a bad idea to try some of my remedies? Mind you, you do say it's urgent, and they may point you towards some better, quicker fixes, depending on what the problem is.

    2. PS Not that I can imagine you having any problems, mind you. Your skin looked flawless when we met!

  6. Good grief. I am speechless.
    I am currently using Ellis Faas conceal, which seems just fab, the ProLongwear Mac is good too, as is the Armani one in a tube with a little brush. I am now living in a house knee-deep in make up which is fun. I recently got a sample of Valmont eye black circle reducing gel gunk which I nearly there away because I di dn´t like the box it was in. However LJG told me it was an excellent Swiss range and I must say it is amazing stuff. I am sure it is an amazing price too, I need to check. It´s Swiss. Say no more.
    I have never had skin problems, and believe in large amounts of caffeine. I wonder if the two are related? ;) Lots of love. CQ

    1. Hi Val,

      I love the idea of you being knee-deep in make up - that must be like being a kid in a sweet shop! That is thanks to your daughter I imagine, plus your own connections in the beauty world.

      Sounds like you have a lot of high end products on the concealer case already, plus caffeine, which they do say is good for skin tone, don't they, as it is an ingredient in some creams and things? And that's not just on your bottom, presumably. I mean anyone's bottom, obvs.

  7. Hey V, I didn't know you suffered from acne. The bane of my teen-age years and yeah, I still get zits now and then, esp along my hairline. I'm going to try some of your solutions

    "hey, it is one of the few pleasures associated with the whole wretched business!" hahahaaa, exactly!!! No real scarring here either, but unfortunately my pores are large and getting larger.


    1. Hi Carol,

      Sorry you get spots still - not had them around my hairline for a while. Used to have them on my back too, but only when I was younger. Glad you have managed to escape scarring despite us both indulging in the old squeezing routine.

      My pores are getting larger too. ;( Especially around my nose. A few thread veins are appearing there as!

  8. Yes, you should exclude dairy from your diet!!!!!!
    And maybe gluten, too (at least white flour). And sugar.
    Soya (except soya sauce) is forbidden! (hormons)
    Try not to eat any products containing corn at least 6-7 hours before going to sleep. Do not drink while eating (wait at least half an hour).

    Try azelaic acid, nigella oil and marula oil - against acne, not dark circles:) Good luck!

    1. Hi Anonymous,

      Thanks for dropping in, but goodness me, that's a lot of things to exclude, especially as I thought that hormones were the main reason for my kind of acne. To be perfectly honest, I think doing all of those recommended steps at once would make me even more miserable than the spots. ;)

      That said, I did use a Paula's Choice product with azelaic acid, and have also used argan as well as jojoba oil. So I could now investigate the nigella and marula oils you mention.

  9. Vanessa,
    I was a youth troubled by ghastly acne on body and face. Not just pustules but black heads and ingrown hairs. One day after trying a million things my Mum marched me down to the beautician who proceeded to dermabrade (Spelling?) my face to a raw red mess. I had to go home and not leave the house for five days while applying some foul green gunk from Thalgo. Anyway, it scared the holy bejesus out of my acne and though I've had minor spots it never came back.
    You know how poorly I eat and exercise so its not that.
    Portia xx

    1. Hey Portia,

      Sorry to hear you were a fellow sufferer, and in a big way by the sound of things. Sounds like the radical treatment you had as a youth did the business!

      I don't think what you eat is the key factor either, though there is a lot talked about diet. xx

  10. Gentle cleansing, oils and serozinc. The best. In my late twenties, acne was the bane of my life, I also went down the antibiotic/contraceptive pills/incredibly harsh skincare route.

    I'm very lucky now that I get, maybe, six spots a year but I largely put that down to my skincare routines (well, I *would*), as life is too short for elimination diets for the sake of my skin. My cardinal rule for skincare is this: Nothing that foams will ever touch my face. Foaming cleansers and alcoholic toners are the worst thing for acne (ironically), and it's such a shame that they're the most widely reached for/prescribed products for people with troubled skin.

    1. Hi Louise!

      Thanks for commenting, as you are another of my go-to skincare and makeup gurus - I bought that Gosh Forever taupe eyeshadow recently on your recommendation, for example.

      I had noted your own references to acne here and there on your blog, and am not surprised that your skincare routine is keeping things at bay. I reckon it is definitely helping in my case, though I don't think it is enough to completely control the acne based on what happened when I knocked off the antibiotics for a spell.

      I was aware of the 'no-foam' rule and I do abide by it now, though it is a relatively recent discovery. I can't yet forsake my Effaclar toner, which is alcohol-based but seems to help calm the spots down thanks to the salicylic acid. And I do alternate it with Bravura, that nice calendula-smelling acid toner with glycol.

  11. I love your writing, and your honesty. Adult acne can be debilitating-well, I think it is. And I never know when it's coming. It's awful to have gone the whole day and get home, and only then realize I have had some god awful pustule with red ring around it-I know it's not life or death but it's my face, and I find people judge on appearances. One thing that helps me a lot is to keep my hands away from my face (challenging, when all I want to do is hide). I also keep my phone clean, and my helmet, when I am cycling. Cleanliness is important to my facial happiness! On the weekends I try to go without foundation. For coverage, I like Laura Mercier's secret camouflage. This works for me for both acne, scar coverage, and my under eye circles-I know, I am a prize :)
    Best regards,

    1. Hi Carole,

      Thanks for your kind comment and I would agree with your use of 'debilitating', and the fact that people judge you on appearances. It is almost that if you don't have flawless skin, people assume you don't take good enough care of yourself.

      Cleanliness is important, and not rubbing or picking things if I can possibly help it. I used to be a shocking 'excoriator', as the dermatologist at the hospital once called me. I do try to distract myself when I catch myself going to my face again!

      That secret camouflage makeup sounds good - the name alone is most promising! (Oh, sorry you are also contending with under eye circles - that's a bummer.)

  12. Hello, dear. I tried the Bourjois Healthy Mix, but I didn't get along with it. It was too beigey-pink for me -- I need a yellowish tone -- and it felt chalky under my eye, giving an unpleasant crêpe-y effect. I have a prominent eye vein under my right eye (as do my mother and sister; a legacy, we are told, of our Sicilian grandfather), and without concealer it really does look as though I've sustained an injury. It is furthermore worsened by fatigue: an ex-boyfriend thoughtfully pointed out once that I looked like a 'cadaver'.

    1. Hi Scentimentalist.

      Ah, shame the Bourjois didn't work for you. I normally need a yellowish tone as well - that is what my foundations are - yet for some reason whatever the two shades were that I found testers of blended in pretty well. It is often the way that foundations and concealers don't come in enough shades to suit everyone, though.

      Sorry about your eye vein - that is an annoying little legacy!

  13. PS Meant to add that I get on well with Mac concealer. Benefit Boing Industrial Concealer is also okay, but I get plaster-of-Paris strength coverage with the Mac.

    1. Aha - well, am glad you have found a good solution in the Mac.