Breaking Skin Picking Habits
From products we use, hormones fluctuations, stress levels, lifestyles and more, acne can manifest for different reasons. I personally tend to work on an intuitive level with my acne-prone clients by asking lots and lots of questions. I believe the process of elimination works best when healing acne and helps to discover triggers that may be causing flare-ups to begin with. People breakout for different reasons and what works for your friend, is the latest trend or is endorsed by some celebrity (just don't) may very well not work for you. Treating, healing and preventing acne is about understanding your own skin and your own triggers, so don't worry about what everyone else is doing.
There is a universal scale of Acne levels that I will lightly touch on today, as well as one of the most common concerns I see when dealing with acne and breakouts that turns into a larger issue when not addressed, skin picking. Today I am sharing what to do when these pesky breakouts do arrive, (why always at the worst times?!) ways to prevent more from showing up and tips on what not to do when they do show up, all in reference to extracting and picking.
The 4 Grades of Acne |
Grade 1. Mild acne, blackheads, whiteheads, no inflammation present, mostly found on nose & forehead. Prevalent in adolescent skin.
Grade 2. Larger & more moderate amounts of blackheads & whiteheads, along with some larger pustules & slight inflammation becoming more obvious. Areas of concern found on nose & forehead, as well as chin, cheeks & jaw.
Grade 3. Considered more severe & can stem from grade 2 being left untreated. Made worse by picking, squeezing & spreading bacteria. Inflammation is higher, skin is more red & there are a greater amount of blackheads, whiteheads, pustules & papules. Risk of scarring becomes greater.
Grade 4. Most serious level and stems from grade 3 left untreated. This grade includes cystic breakouts, stemming from deep under the skin, along with highest amounts of blackheads, whites, papules & pustules. Can be severely painful due to the depth of the cysts being deep within the skin close to nerves and skin tissues.
When working with clients, this grading system really never comes to mind, as I do work more intuitively but it is important to understand due to the way it shows how acne can build and spread. Do I see clients that have cysts pop-up here and there? Absolutely and I certainly do myself if I stray from my own healthy skin habits. Does that mean we all have Grade 4 acne? Definitely not but we do all have our own triggers and every cyst or pimple, induced by whatever internal or external trigger, is caused by a blockage and clogged pore of sebum and dead skin. Regardless of the trigger, the congestion has now shown up and how we treat it on the surface as a whole will lessen or worsen the problem area.
When congestion is ready to extract out the skin, it shows. A whitehead with visible pus at the surface, a blackhead that is especially raised and most importantly, there will be no extreme picking required. A couple of gentle squeezes in different directions yes, can this be uncomfortable, yes, but it is also quick. 1-3 gentle squeezes on cleansed, heat softened, exfoliated skin and our unwanted friend should leave. Extracting and picking are 2 different things. A ready extraction is quick, picking is continuing to bother a breakout whether it is not ready to come out or not. This only increases inflammation, redness and can spread bacteria under the skin leading to more breakouts, tissue damage and scarring. This is also how the Grades of Acne can move from subtle to severe.
Cystic breakouts under the skin can be extremely irritating and painful and may not always come to a head. Cysts are deep in the surface of the skin. Trying to dig and pop out these types of cysts causes an extreme amount of inflammation and in no way helps to alleviate the existing cyst or prevent more. Cysts can unfortunately leave scars, whether picked or not but picking will increase the likely hood of scarring. These are infections in the dermis of the skin. They are created and heal in the dermis. Adding the unnecessary pressure and irritation from picking at the skin will further rupture the follicle, increase tissue damage and spread bacteria under the skin. More inflammation causes more destruction of tissue and the chance of textured scarring is increased.
Post Inflammatory Hyperpigmentation (PIH) is another form of scarring that is increased by picking the skin. Part of the skins response to healing inflammation is to release melanosomes/melanin, which gives skin its color. Melanin is released in response to healing a blemish where inflammation exists and the more inflammation, the more melanin is released. By picking and increasing inflammation, you are also increasing the likely hood of darker scarring, as more PIH is left over.
How to Care for Acne |
I highly recommend reading my previous blog posts on Skin Types, The Art of Cleansing and Hormones and Skin. These will help answer questions of finding an effective skin routine for yourself and how to discover your own skin triggers. Once you have a deeper understanding of your own skin, have refined your routine for your individual needs and can treat an extraction gently, follow my tips below.
(For all home extractions, I recommend no more that 3 gentle squeezes. Anymore pressure and length of time, you are increasing the likely hood of more breakouts, damaged skin and scarring.)
1. For Whiteheads | Start treating the blemished area a few days before extraction. Use a warm compress on freshly cleansed skin for a couple nights after a steam shower. I apply a dab of lavender for its anti-microbial and inflammatory properties and a dab of a clean source of clay. This will help to draw the infection to the surface of the skin. Be sure the whitehead has surfaced equal to or above the surface of the skin before extraction. Use fingers wrapped in a cotton compress soaked with an anti-bacterial toner and give no more than 3 gentle squeezes. Drain and add a soothing, non-pore clogging topical agent. A clean Vitamin C will work quickly to heal skin and lessen appearance of scarring. .
2. For Cysts | Follow the same treatment of a warm compress on freshly cleansed skin for a couple nights after a steam shower. Apply a gentle hydroxy toner or dab of lavender, rosewater and clean source of clay each night. Again, the clay is drawing so if there is a chance of gently drawing some of the infection, this will help. Continue nightly until area has calmed or any substance has been drawn to the surface to remove. Work cautiously and extra kindly with cysts. If nothing comes to the surface, don't freak out and most importantly, don't freak out on your skin.
3. Lymphatic drainage is an important tool when treating acne. I find the Jade Roller tool (shop here) is a gentle way to calm inflamed skin and is excellent to use after an extraction. The Jade Roller can also be used in the cases of cysts that are deeper in the skin and cannot be extracted. The roller calms skin, detoxifies and moves stagnant toxins. The habit of touching the skin during breakouts can be just that, a habit, so instead of using your hands, which tend to cause damage, use your jade roller on the skin instead.
4. Treat your inflammation from the inside out. When I feel my skin getting out of balance, I knows it is time to refine. I'm probably eating dairy, too much caffeine, not enough water or maybe it's time to add in some extra turmeric and a good, sweat inducing workout. Discover your triggers and you will know what is best for you.
If you are interested in working with me to learn more about your skin, you can you can visit me for an in-studio treatment located in Miami or Tampa, Florida or work long-distance over skype with me. Contact here for all inquires. I look forward to connecting with you.