By Daley Quinn
Photo courtesy of Daley Quinn

I’ve been at war with my skin for a long time. 13 years, to be exact. It’s been 13 years since my mom bought me my first 3-step AcneFree Clearing System in 8th grade, and I’ve probably spent thousands of dollars on acne products since. Had I known back then that dairy was the biggest contributor in flaring up my acne, I’d probably be rich by now.

I think the worst part of having acne is dealing with the way others treat you, maliciously or not. I’ve watched people touch their chin when they look at my pimply one, perhaps making sure that their own is still smooth and spot-free. I’ve listened to women with crystal-clear skin complain about a tiny whitehead that just formed on their cheek, meanwhile, my cystic, hormonal acne is physically hurting my face as it hides under my cakey makeup. In college, I cowered in shame when guys laughed at my “pizza face,” and I grew up with a little brother that loved to point out every one of my pimples, his skin always unblemished.

My brother is now 24 and just recently went to his first dermatologist appointment. I, on the other hand, have seen countless derms throughout the years and have been through the acne-clearing ringer. I’ve tried all the prescription creams available, been on three powerful antibiotics, and was on spironolactone for a few years. While some of those methods did clear up my skin, they were only temporary fixes. I was looking to get rid of my acne for good.

In April of 2016, I discovered skinSALVATION, an acne clinic based in San Francisco. Focused on promoting acne-safe products and educating clients on positive lifestyle changes, skinSALVATION is a no prescriptions-needed clinic, and is one that has changed my life.

After working with skinSALVATION for over a year, my skin has significantly cleared up, and I’d consider myself an acne expert at this point. Here’s how I transformed my skin from “pizza face” to pimple-free:

1. Cut out dairy

This was the biggest factor in causing my hormonal acne to flare up. skinSALVATION believes that the hormones in cow’s milk are one of a handful of acne-causing factors, and that they might be messing with your own hormones. Kimberly Tan, founder of skinSALVATION, explains that after eating dairy and soy, the first symptom is the inflammation that occurs just a few days later. Then, the second symptom includes the actual seed/impaction, which shows up 4+ weeks later as a cyst. Hence the major hormonal acne that would emerge on my chin after I downed a latte and yogurt every morning.

Related: Adult Acne: 6 Common Concerns Answered

2. No more coffee

This lifestyle change was a difficult one, but I’m so glad that I made it. While coffee doesn’t cause acne, Tan says that the organic acids in the coffee beans raise cortisol levels, which increases systemic inflammation for around two days. “It’s not a caffeine thing, it’s the acids that spike cortisol, which spikes inflammation, which causes redness,” says Tan. I switched from coffee to black tea every morning, and not only has the redness in my acne decreased, but I’m a lot less lethargic in the mornings.

3. Ice every night

Icing your face can fight inflammation and helps your products penetrate deeper into your skin. I use a silicone popsicle mold filled with ice and rub it against my skin in circular motions every night. Be sure to put a towel down across your chest beforehand—this step gets messy, as water tends to drip down.

4. Take anti-inflammatories

skinSALVATION recommends taking 1-4 Zyflamend herbal supplements everyday (with food) to decrease inflammation in your skin. I think ingesting plain turmeric supplements would probably have a similar effect. Recently, I’ve been trying the ZSS Skincare Clear Skin Supplements to fight inflammation. They’re a little on the pricier side, but they are definitely doing something.

5. Take a probiotic

Gut health has been a major focus in beauty over the last couple of years, and for good reason. Taking a probiotic everyday can help with digestion. Irregular digestion can may mean that your body is eliminating waste in a different way—through your skin! Make sure your probiotic is dairy-free, like Garden of Life or HUM Nutrition.

Related: How to Use Probiotics to Improve Your Health

6. Use the comedogenic ingredient search tool

skinSALVATION’s search tool has been invaluable to me, especially as a beauty editor. I get hundreds of products sent to me each year, and I never know which one could break me out. Enter the comedogenic ingredient search tool. Before testing any product, I always copy the ingredients list, and paste it into this search tool. It shows users, on a scale of 0-5, which ingredients in that product are acne-safe, and which are highly comedogenic.

Patience is key when it comes to clearing your acne—I didn’t begin to see results until about 3-4 months into following the above regimen. Practice consistency and you will be rewarded!