I am personally critical of over-the-counter drugstore acne treatment products. From my teenage years up until my mid-30s I fought acne with varying degrees of success using products which promised to fight acne. I now have scarring on my whole right cheek, a deep trough on my forehead where acne kept forming on the same spot for a long time, and scarring on the left side of my chin. In recent years I have gotten some scars treated with hyaluronic acid filler, which has helped the appearance slightly.
I Tried Everything
As a teenager I went to the doctor, who prescribed a cream, but I never saw any significant improvement, and it seemed to even make it worse. Over the years it feels like I have used every possible special face wash, face mask, serum, and moisturising cream designed to fight acne. For a while I went regularly to facials, where every time the beautician suggested I book more time for her to squeeze out my impurities. This helped a little, but not enough, and it was very expensive. I even tried a few rounds of microneedling, also very expensive, which helped a little temporarily, but in the end my skin returned to its usual state.
In my early 30’s I developed an ‘ideal’ cleansing routine according to the online skincare community consisting of double-cleansing (oil-based and water-based), exfoliating every few days, toning, applying serums (especially niacinamide), moisturising, and finally applying SPF 30-50. In the evening I double-cleansed and used a 1% retinol product, which I continue to use to lessen the appearance of scarring and wrinkles over time. Even so, every month I would get new pimples, adding to all the old ones in various stages of healing. I used make-up to cover up my blemishes, which sometimes did not look so natural!
No More Acne
In 2020, during the pandemic, I started to get creative and make my own natural soap at home. I was on a mission to cut plastic out where possible, and started by using my own natural soaps in the shower. I then eventually also used them for my daily facial cleansing routine. The results were uneventful, but eventually I realised that I hadn’t had any new pimples in a while - only the old ones were in their various stages of healing.
After a few months my skin cleared up, and friends that hadn’t seen me due to lockdowns complimented me on my skin when we finally met up again. This had never happened to me before. And honestly, it feels amazing. I am finally freed of this ailment that I have been constantly trying to treat for my whole adult life. It feels so uneventful, because the regular appearance of my old pimple friend has just stopped. It has gone quiet. And I am so happy. I have continued to use natural soap on my face, as well as using SPF during the day, and retinol at night.
I would have saved myself a lot of money, frustration, and confidence issues if I had discovered natural soaps in my teenage years. I wonder then, how acne treatment products can be so confident about their effectiveness, but if they fail to work, then either the user did not apply enough, applied too much, should expect a purge before it gets better, or switched too soon to another product. The user is at fault. As long as users constantly switch between acne products after not being entirely satisfied, then the industry is kept alive.
Yes it is true that we should not switch products too soon before seeing the potential effects - skin layers rejuvenate every 30-60 days or so, depending on age, so if you only use a product for a few weeks, it is likely that you are not seeing the full effects of what the product is supposed to do. However, in my personal case, with two decades of acne experience, nothing has worked like natural soap - which makes me deeply distrust the wider commercial acne treatment industry.
Vitamin A Treatment
I have a friend who is currently going through a high-dose oral vitamin A treatment prescribed by her doctor, which has made her skin look amazing. It does however make her skin prone to being flaky, because vitamin A accelerates the skin rejuvenation cycle, and she is finding this hard to control even when using an exfoliator and moisturiser. Another issue is that it is potentially causing side-effects such as lethargy and joint stiffness for her - which are known side-effects of taking high-dose vitamin A. It is also unsure if her acne will return once she stops using the vitamin A treatment. This is the only other treatment that I have seen that has worked as well as mine.
A Complex Problem
Acne is admittedly a complex issue with many different contributing factors. Acne could be caused by internal factors such as hormones and stress, or external factors such as sensitivity to certain ingredients or bacteria. While I cannot say if natural soap will be the cure for everyone as it was for me, it will at least give your skin a high level of support.
I can only recommend anyone who has pimples or acne to see a doctor. You can always use natural soap to clean your face daily, but it is important to seek medical advice and do everything you can to avoid scarring.
The Right pH Value
Skin is acidic and has a pH around 5 or slightly below. The yeast and bacteria that create acne have evolved to this environment - this is where they feel most at home! So it is curious to see many acne products, and soaps in general, advertise that they are 'pH balanced' meaning that they have a slightly acidic pH near to where skin is naturally. These companies claim that they are afraid of upsetting the skin's pH, so they solved this issue with their 'pH balanced' product. This is a classic marketing technique of creating a problem and solving it with a product. However, a slightly acidic pH is the condition that facial yeast and bacteria feel most happy in!
Natural soap has a pH of around 8, so it is slightly basic (also called alkaline). Leaving a basic pH on your skin for a long period of time would not be great for your skin, but it is the dose that counts. If you shower or bathe with soap and wash it off afterwards, like humans have done since soap was discovered thousands of years ago, your skin will be perfectly fine. When you wash your body and face with a pH of 8, you are making the bacteria and yeast very uncomfortable. After washing the soap off, the amount of acne-causing bacteria and yeast is greatly reduced, and your skin returns to its normal pH shortly after.
At the same time, natural soap contains a lot of glycerin, which moisturises the skin from the inside, and the natural oils rebuild the skin barrier, which prevents the overproduction of sebum and protects against irritation. Now it finally makes sense why natural soap was the cure for my acne.
I would love to hear from readers about their experiences with acne, and what treatments worked best - let me know in the comments below!