While acne may not be a new skin-care concern, the way we’re treating it has undeniably evolved.
Celebrity facialist Joanna Vargas charges upwards of $350 for a facial ,has an eponymous skin-care line and is pretty much on speed-dial for any actor or actress on the awards circuit come spring.
She also has become the unofficial “acne whisperer” for clients who walk into her New York or Los Angeles location, respectively, this past year—a circumstance she credits to mask-wearing and what she describes as some unofficial “word-of-mouth stress” (i.e. her clients are telling her that the main difference in their routines is that they are feeling more stressed).
“Across the board, I’ve been treating more acne than ever before,” Vargas says. “I used to only see acne with younger clients coming in for appointments. Now, there is a huge number of people in their mid-to-late 30s and 40s with full-blown acne, all in the masked areas of the face and along the jawline.”
Statistically speaking, the numbers sync up: According to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD), acne affects up to 50 million people in the U.S., and the percentage of facial acne occurring in adults is increasing—affecting up to 15 percent of women (who tend to get adult acne more often than men). Likewise, clinical studies conducted this past year support the fact that, not surprisingly, skin conditions like acne, dermatitis and rosacea increased in severity for patients who wore masks, i.e. “maskne,” for prolonged periods of time.
It’s a whole new world, and I think we are better for it.
As Vargas recalls, it used to be the standard for clients to come in for a high-end facial and have the option of a “fashionable glycolic peel as an add-on” to any facial service. “Now, we know so much more about the benefits of LED light, treating oil with oil, gut health as it relates to skin inflammation, and our connection to mind and body as a way of managing life to be more balanced. It’s a whole new world, and I think we are better for it—at least skin-wise.”
Alicia Yoon, aesthetician and founder of Peach & Lily, also saw the need for a new acne solution—one that wasn’t harsh, or as she describes it, “non-nurturing” for the acne community.
While she admits it took years to develop her Acne Skincare System by Peach Slices that launched over the summer, she says it was something she knew she needed to speed up during COVID, and on a more personal note, when she found out she was pregnant.“
When skin is dehydrated, it can trigger inflammation and constant breakouts.
So many acne systems cause secondary issues like aggravating the skin or not delivering visible results. During our skin-care consultations with clients struggling with these issues, we often saw that they were missing hydrating or soothing ingredients, or using ingredients that would disrupt the skin barrier.”
According to Yoon, when these “other” nurturing ingredients are not included in a routine, both the skin and breakouts can get worse. “For example, when skin is dehydrated, it can trigger inflammation, more sebum production and constant breakouts. It’s key to use acne-fighting ingredients, but also use ingredients that nurture the skin. We wanted to create an acne routine that would make it easy to both treat and prevent the acne, while also providing that gentle and nurturing support. I have dry, sensitive skin with eczema, and I normally don’t struggle with breakouts. However, I did during my pregnancy, and this System was already developed by then—the perks of having formulas prior to launch!—and it was a skin savior, mainly because it targeted my acne effectively, while being super gentle on my skin.”
Yoon says she wanted to be conservative during her pregnancy regarding what she applied to her skin, and Montclair, NJ dermatologist Jeanine Downie, MD says that’s smart. “No retinols or retinoids at all for pregnant women. Not now, not ever,” she stresses, adding that this is one skin-care recommendation that’s gotten a bit relaxed recently.
But, she says, there have been some pluses over the past year: “With the advent of the ‘Zoom Boom,’ it has become easier for dermatologists to treat eczema, acne and psoriasis patients virtually. That being said, insurance companies do not want to pay for many of these virtual visits, so that has to be figured out in advance. As long as you have good connectivity and can upload photos to a secure website, it works really well. Personally, I still prefer in-person visits, but it’s a great option for acne patients.”
The Rx Pause
“Why do we have no problem paying $100 for a serum we don’t know much about, but balk at a $150 prescription that we know is going to work?” New York dermatologist Joshua Zeichner, MD asked me a few months back on a virtual consult.
A solid statement, as he went on to tell me he’d recommend I get back into a better retinoid routine and try Altreno (tretinoin) Lotion, 0.05%, which he likes prescribing to help with breakout-prone, sensitive skin.
“This is like a ‘pipe cleaner’ for your skin,” Dr. Zeichner shares. “And you’re really going to like the formulation—it’s very hydrating.
”Saddle Brook, NJ dermatologist Dr. Fredric Haberman also likes the lotion for treating acne, clearing the pores and promoting cell turnover, and tags it as one of the best “acne innovations of the past decade.”
On his long list of benefits: “It reduces the tendency of cells and keratin debris to clump together and clog up pores, making it especially helpful for people with oily and acne-prone skin. Plus, it increases collagen and elastin production.It also helps brighten skin, diminish and prevent fine lines and wrinkles, improve discoloration, minimize photodamage and hyperpigmentation, and refine skin texture and tone.”
A couple of months of use later, and I am equally in love with the Rx. It’s one of the only prescription retinoid products my reactive skin has been able to handle, and it comes with that always-appreciated benefit of prompting the “what are you doing differently?” question.
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