My Skincare Journey Part 2: Dealing with Adult Acne

Part 1 | Part 3

This post has many awful unglamarous photographs of myself so I could demonstrate how bad my skin was. And a lot of words. 

Earlier this year, something horrific happened to my skin.

I said in my last post that so long as I was using Kiehl’s products (damn you high maintenance skin), my skin was more or less fine, nothing a little powder couldn’t cure. Some time in February, I realised I was starting to get some spots on my chin. These were different from your standard acne though; they were bigger, they felt deeper, like they were embedded deep within the skin, and they took far longer to go away. They weren’t necessarily red but they were there. They never come to head (form white pustules of pus) so you can’t lance or pop them. They’re just sore lumps underneath your skin.

Hello, cystic acne. You are not welcome here.

Just so you know, standard topical treatments do not treat cystic acne. You need antibiotics, or retinoids, something that penetrates beyond the surface level of the skin. (I did not know this then, and really should have gone to a dermatologist sooner.)

And of course, other than cystic acne I got smatterings of acne on my cheeks, nose, forehead… basically all over my face. And beyond acne I also got little bumpy things everywhere, probably bits of hardened sebum stuck in my pores.

I had to go through a lot of old photos and blogposts for this post. It got a little painful at one point, to see just how bad my skin was. I’d put up every once in a while that my acne was clearing, and then I’d hit that week just before my period and they’d all be back with a vengeance.

And the cystic acne never went away, of course.

So around the start of February, I was complaining about having bad skin and not wanting to put too much concealer in case I aggravated it. And this is a pretty big jump, if you look at my posts from January my skin still looks pretty much fine.


The beginnings of the cystic acne on my chin, as seen in February

By mid-Feb, you could start seeing all sorts of little hard blemishes popping up on my face. (In retrospect, that’s probably dried sebum that’s clogging up all the pores. Trying out the oil cleansing method at this point might have actually worked for those.)


I was headed to Indonesia for ten days at this point, and just before I left Singapore, I was resolved to buy a Clarisonic Supersonic Cleaning Brush in order to treat my acne. The pollution in Jakarta didn’t help my skin one bit. It got redder and more aggravated there.


Bleaurgh. You can see all the little dots that I was talking about. And little bits of red acne.

I started going a little nuts while in Jakarta, sanitizing all my products. My go-to foundation, the Maybelline BB Watergel (which I had been using regularly for the last six months) had nowhere enough coverage to cover all my blemishes, and if anything, it seemed to be breaking me out more. The alcohol I had sprayed on my HG Painted Earth Coconut Oil Pressed Powder had dried out the powder so it wasn’t moisturizing, and just didn’t go on the skin as smoothly anymore. When I got out of Jakarta and went to Bandung though, where the air is somewhat cleaner, my skin cleared up a little. I thought it was over.

Nope, I returned to Singapore and it was back.


This was my skin at the end of February. 

Over the next few months, it just got progressively worse.

I bought the Clarisonic MIA 2, and was really careful with it.

2014-03-03 22.56.182014-03-03 22.54.49

It’s all bullshit by the way, about it being gentle enough to use everyday. No one should be exfoliating their skin every day, even with something as gentle as a chemical peel, let alone something as abrasive as a circulating brush. I didn’t want to go through that purging phase people kept talking about in makeupalley, and started using it two or three times a week, always on the lower setting, and tried swapping over to a milder cleanser from Cetaphil (I was still using all the Kiehl’s products I’d raved about in my previous post, that had saved my skin for years. It wasn’t working.)

But while my skin would feel fantastic immediately after using the Clarisonic, the blackheads would be back soon after, and my pores would feel clogged up all over again.

On 1 April, I threw out all my old foundations – my Maybelline BB Watergel, my Painted Earth Pressed Powder, my MAC Mineralize Loose Powder – and bought new ones. I got hold the Jane Iredale Dream Tint Tinted Moisturizer, and the Jane Iredale BB Cream – neither of which really did anything for my skin. In May, I got hold of the Happy Skin SS Crème Foundation, but as wonderful as that foundation is, hyaluronic acid is a fantastic moisturizer, but doesn’t do anything for your acne.


Even the blurring effect of my camera wasn’t able to able to hide all the acne. I just can’t. =( And such a pity because the makeup I had on was pretty nice

Around Juneish, my mom took me off Kiehl’s and made me use Avène instead. I used a facial wash, their Clearance Emulsion Lotion and the SOS imperfection Spot Treatment (and I can’t seem to find a link to this product). They were very mild, very gentle. They weren’t working.


My face in May. This is with a full face on foundation on, and it still isn’t doing anything. You can still see how bad it is. I mean, I know the camera exaggerates your flaws and all, but this is pretty bad. Pity because the makeup was good too


My face in June. This is with the soft effect of my camera on, and it still looks awful. 

Sometime in July, I borrowed a friend’s facial wash with salicylic acid, because I realised since I stopped using my Kiehl’s Acne Blemish Control Daily Skin-Clearing Treatment, salicylic acid had gone out of my skincare routine. It seemed to decrease the redness of my acne for a little bit, and I thought my acne was getting a little better at one point, but no, nope. Nada. It of course, couldn’t do anything about the cystic acne.

7 August I went to a dermatologist. She prescribed a number of things, some of which I have never touched, but it was life changing. So in order of life changingness, the products that I used (she prescribed many more, but I didn’t bother with those, especially if they were acne clearing solutions for the back were going to stain my clothes).

  1. Differin – this is a retinoid topical medicine. Basically retinoid creams encourages cell renewal in your skin. It’s used as an anti-aging product, as well as to treat acne. They do make your skin more sensitive to the sun though, because the delicate new skin coming up is more likely to be affected by UV rays, so they’re only applied at night. Read up about it more here. I think this was the product that really saved my skin though. It took almost two months, but my skin slowly became less inflamed looking. Side effects: Your skin will probably get really dry at one point of time. The skin around my eyes got really delicate at one point though. It’s three months since I started using it, and I’ll say my skin has gone from a combination-oily to dry (for one short period of time) and is now a normal skin. I never thought I would be able to kiss my oil slick of a face goodbye.
  2. A bar of anti-fungal soap – I’m not kidding. I was basically prescribed this for the acne on my chest and back area, which had gotten really bad as my face got bad.
  3. Neutrogena Oil-Free Acne Wash – this has 2% salicylic acid. It is also cheap and easily available. I haven’t stopped using it since.
  4. A tube of topical antibiotic – I’ve forgotten the name of the brand for this because I tossed it away. I had to throw it away about two months after opening, and store it in the fridge. It did a decent job at drying up pustules, but wasn’t amazing or anything.

Note: The antibiotic and Differin were both prescription products.

The improvements after were quite incredible. Here, in pictures.


My face in August, maybe a week after I started using Differin. This was with the blur filter on my camera, but you can see how the spots, especially on my forehead, are still there. 


My face in September. By this point, the inflammation on my cheeks had gone down significantly. There were bumps, but they were at least no longer sore or red. 


September still. Finally got a new haircut. I had some acne that was extremely persistent, you can see that particularly bad spot on my cheek. 

09:10:14 20:10:14

My skin in October. As you can see, it’s much better now. 


November. This is me with zero makeup, taken for my review of the Laneige BB Cushion. No soft filters, nothing. Apart from some minor bumps and redness, my skin’s pretty alright now, nothing a little powder can’t fix. Phew.


My skin with Laneige BB Cushion on. Sure, part of it is the absolute amazingness of this foundation, but seriously my skin looks so much better now. 

A few things I learnt from the entire incident.

  1. Yes, you get acne even after the ending of puberty. Adult acne is to be treated very differently from teenage acne. Please read more about it. The former is usually caused by overactive sebaceous glands causing an overproduction of sebum, which clogs up your pores. Adult acne is usually caused by hormonal changes and stress. Not only are the causes for your acne different, but remember that as you age, your skin is changes and needs to be treated differently. Products developed for teenage skin tend to be a lot harsher because your skin was both younger and more resilient, and a lot oiler. Once you reach 20, never reach for 10% benzoyl peroxide (frankly teenagers shouldn’t be using some thing that harsh anyway). Gentle exfoliators work great. Also I hate every adult who told me that acne was something only teenagers go through. Bleaurgh. Such false expectations.
  2. Once you have cystic acne, visit a dermatologist. It’s basically a cyst under your skin, and no topical acne medication you slap on top of it is going to have any effect. I was reading somewhere about how these cysts can last years. Please get professional intervention In Singapore, visits to the National Skin Centre aren’t too expensive, fortunately.
  3. Apparently there is no way to prevent cystic acne, except to prevent your pores from clogging up. I’ll do my best to but it’s really hard when your period. Some sites suggest using a sonic cleansing brush, and since I don’t go for facials I figure I might as well, you need some deep cleansing in your skincare routine. I’m not sure if the oil pulling method can be a substitutive for it, there are all sorts of mixed reviews on what kind of things oil pulling can do.
  4. Once you have a regular salicylic acid product in your regime, cut down on the exfoliation, whether by chemical peel or physical scrub. Salicylic acid gently removes the horny layer of your skin as it is, so if you added anymore you’ll just be overdrying and overstressing your skin. I try to exfoliate only once a week now (I used to do it about three times a week). 

Okay, this ended up a lot longer than I thought it would. I do hope it helps though!

I’ve had a few friends already asking me when Part 3 (the bit about my current routine, complete with Korean skincare products) will be out. I’m sorry to report, but it probably won’t be out for another month. I’ve only started using my Laneige products at the start of November, only just recently added the eye cream and sheet masks to it, and have only been using a serum for a couple of days. Skincare takes a lot longer than makeup to test, unfortunately. =(

I hope to keep writing other things though, such as a continuation of the Beginner Series. Next post up should be about foundations!

More literature on skincare if you’re interested:

What the Heck is Salicylic Acid, And Why Is It In Your Skincare?
What Are Retinols?

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8 Responses to My Skincare Journey Part 2: Dealing with Adult Acne

  1. Rae says:

    Aggh, I’ve seen the Laneige BB Cushion so much in the past few weeks that I want to get it!

  2. Juvy says:

    This is extremely helpful! I don’t want to wish adult cystic acne for me but I learned a lot esp. about not exfoliating the skin if using a cleanser with salicylic acid. I am glad that your skin is clearing up! I want to try the BB Cushion too! Will wait for Sale. Hihi. 🙂

  3. nez says:

    Thanks for sharing your skincare journey! Alas, Im still suffering from adult acne even though the Avene thermal water spray improved the situation a little. Did you get a referral from a poly clinic for an appointment with the national skin centre?

    • natziwang says:

      Hello! First off, thank you so much for reading.

      No, my mom just made an appointment with the dermatologist. My siblings have been going for years, because they’ve got bad eczema.

  4. brad says:

    hey there may I know if differin caused you to purge in the first month? And when did u start seeing results thanks! Im currently on my second week and it is so horrible that i dare not step out of home without makeup

    • natziwang says:

      Hi, yes it did! My skin started to look less inflamed after about six weeks I think, but there were still lots of small bumps after two months. Do note that you shouldn’t aggravate your skin with harsh products like the Clarisonic and other physical scrubs, or salicylic acid, or with Vitamin C serums that will make your skin more sensitive while you’re on Differin!

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