This is the blog post I needed to read 5 years ago, when I was first traveling with acne and struggling to deal with it. In this post I am sharing a little about my own journey with problematic skin, how I cleared up my skin, my current skincare routine, plus the tips I have learned along the way about dealing and traveling with acne.
And in case you are wondering… heck yes, it terrifies me putting this on the internet! I had severe cystic acne. Not just a few bumps here and there. I have deep scars to prove it, some that I have had for years and many that will likely never go away. But I know that sharing my experience will help others. Even if it’s just one person, that makes it absolutely worth it.
I initially shared my struggle with acne on Instagram during the summer of 2017. I spoke about the pain, frustration, and overall lack of hope I was feeling during that time in my life. That post resonated for so many of you. And ever since I have been inundated with messages and questions on the topic. Sadly it was still too raw for me at the time and I wasn’t ready to share more on my experience.
Traveling with Acne
Dealing with Airplanes, Hiking and Camping
Fast forward 18 months and it makes me so happy to report that I’ve had clear skin for almost a year now. My scars are fading and I am slowly feeling more and more confident with my skin. I now feel ready to share my tips with you all. Not just about how I cleared my skin, but advice for dealing with acne when traveling, and also during outdoor activities like camping, hiking, and swimming.
So here I am showing up and sharing my acne journey (including photos!) on the internet… eeeeeeeek.
My Journey With Acne
I began dealing with cystic acne when I was about 23 years old. It was awful to see my previously clear and scar-free skin turn into a landmine of inflammation and marks. I was so embarrassed and also very frustrated. Because I felt like I wasn’t doing anything to warrant such skin issues.
You are probably thinking that I got acne because I had an unhealthy lifestyle, eating junk and not taking care of myself – a common presumption. Nope, I was extremely healthy. I had an impeccable diet (including no meat or dairy), was super fit, not too stressed, used mostly toxic free makeup, and took very good care of my skin. Like many women (and men) I was going through a time of hormonal imbalances and fluctuations which made my skin go CRAZY!
Over the next few years it felt like I tried everything to clear my skin… and spent way too much money in the process!
I saw dermatologists, tried expensive skin care, had acupuncture, was treated by a naturopath, and more. Some things helped a little but nothing fully fixed the problem.
I continued to go through life dealing with horrible breakouts. And it certainly taught me some things along the way. I’ll share more of that further on in this post… because I am guessing you are wondering how I eventually cleared my skin?!
In 2016/2017 I lived on the road for 18 months, partly in a van as my husband and I traveled to all the National Parks, partly in our car, and partly overseas. My skin hated me and it was a constant battle to maintain confidence to show my face to the world.
In late 2017 I had been spending a bunch of time with my beautiful friend Erin Sullivan (from Erin Outdoors). I confessed to her that I was considering trying Accutane, even though I didn’t want to. Because I felt like it was my only option left. After 5ish years with severe acne I was reaching my breaking point. Erin had recently had clear-skin success using Curology and she suggested I give it a try. She sent me her referral code, giving me a free month’s trial… and that’s when everything changed.
In December of 2017 I signed up for Curology, was assigned a dermatologist, and began the journey to clear skin. It wasn’t an overnight fix, it was at least 3-4 months before I wasn’t really getting breakouts anymore. And another 2-3 months for most of my red marks to fade. But it was working! I was (and still am) so so happy with the results.
This is what I have been dreading… showing before and after photos.
It makes me so sad to see how awful my skin was, how defeated I looked, and if only I had of known about Curology before it got that bad. So here they are – some photos from before I started my clear skin journey and some I took recently, all without makeup (see below).
I still have some scaring and do get the occasional small breakout, but overall it is dramatically improved. By the way, I am fully aware that I have dark under eye circles haha. I always have, always will, it’s genetic.
My Current Skincare Routine
One thing I love about Curology is that they don’t try and make you buy a million products, and it’s actually super affordable. At the beginning of my journey I was using a gentle cleanser, basic moisturizer, my customized Curology treatment, and sunscreen. I wasn’t told to use a ton of different products and it didn’t feel like a scam to steal all my money.
So for many months I used this very simple skincare routine until I wasn’t getting any breakouts. I’ll list the products below because I know some of you will be interested:
Take off makeup with the Garnier Micellar Cleansing Water, cleanse face with Glow Recipe Blueberry Bounce Gentle Cleanser, apply Curology treatment, and sometimes follow up with a light moisturizer such as the Tula Aqua Infusion Oil-Free Gel Cream.
*Note, the packaging has changed on the Glow Recipe Cleanser and it’s now a clear purple bottle. I can’t notice a difference otherwise!
I also used the Tula Revitalizing Eye Cream and occasionally the Laneige Sleeping Mask for an extra boost in hydration.
Something that was absolutely game changing for me was being recommended to use hydrocolloid acne healing patches whenever I had a breakout (as recommended by my Curology dermatologist). A bunch of different brands sell these and they work to essentially cover up your pimple and allow it to heal quickly and effectively. I would always use these overnight and still reach for them if I get the rare breakout.
As my skin began clearing I started to add more products into my regime, which I consulted my dermatologist on first and we discussed what would be beneficial for my skin concerns. My current skincare routine is more focused on reducing scaring and keeping my skin hydrated over winter:
Wash face with the Glow Recipe Blueberry Bounce Gentle Cleanser, use The Ordinary Niacinamide 10% + Zinc 1% serum, moisturize with the Tula Aqua Infusion Oil-Free Gel Cream, and follow-up with the Elta MD Skincare UV Clear Broad-Spectrum SPF 46 face sunscreen when going outside.
Take off any makeup with the Fresh Seaberry Skin Nutrition Cleansing Oil, cleanse face with Glow Recipe Blueberry Bounce Gentle Cleanser, apply Mario Badescu Vitamin C Serum*, wait a few minutes and apply my Curology treatment, follow up with the Belief True Cream Moisturizing Bomb if extra hydration is needed, and the Tula Revitalizing Eye Cream.
* Note, I am about to run out of the Mario Badescu Vitamin C Serum and will be switching to the Ursa Major Brighten Up Vitamin C Serum. I will update this blog post after a month or so of using this to share my experience.
I also regularly use treatment masks such as:
- Sand and Sky Australian Pink Clay Mask for detoxifying and brightening
- Herbivore Blue Tansy Mask for resurfacing and exfoliating
- Summer Fridays Jet Lag Mask for hydration and softness
For makeup I try and steer clear of acne causing ingredients by using CosDNA to see what’s in a product before buying it (I also use this website to lookup ingredients in skincare too).
If you feel like Curology would be a good fit for you, here is my referral link. By the way, this blog post is not sponsored and I am not getting paid to endorse any of these products. I have included some affiliate links, which essentially means if you do make a purchase then my blog makes a small amount of money (which goes back into making free content for you guys!)
For those located outside of the US or in states that Curology doesn’t include, I would consider looking at buying similar products from brands such as The Ordinary. They sell Niacinamide and Azelaic Acid products, which are two of the ingredients found in my customized Curology formula. The other ingredient is Clindamycin (antibiotic and anti-inflammatory), which I haven’t yet come across in a separate product form but I have been told that this can potentially be prescribed by a doctor or dermatologist.
Traveling with Acne
Now that we have my journey out of the way, we can talk about making your life easier when living and traveling with acne. I always found it to be very challenging dealing with problematic skin when traveling, catching planes, hiking, camping, and swimming. I did learn some tips and tricks along the way that I would love to share with you all.
I know how hard it can be to have confidence when you feel like crawling into a hole and hiding forever! As cliche as it is, believing that there is light at the end of the tunnel is a must. You won’t have acne forever, this is just a phase in your life. Hopefully it won’t last 5+ years like it did for me… but regardless, it has an end.
Makeup was one way that I increased my self-confidence. Yes, it would have been better to let my skin breathe, but I had to go out in the world and at least it stopped people staring at my inflamed skin. Wearing makeup allowed me to feel more confident in my profession as a Speech Therapist (and later as a photographer), and helped me get through the day. I’m not AT ALL saying you need to wear makeup, I am just letting you know that is okay to rely on it when you are going through a really bad phase.
Another thing I began doing (and still sometimes do) was use a skin confidence affirmation. The affirmation I would write in my Five Minute Journal would be “I am radiant and glowing, with clear skin and a healthy mind and body”. I said this every day… and I don’t know if it made a difference but I like to think it did help.
Being Outdoors with Acne
I lived in a van for most of 2017 and spent a very large proportion of my days outdoors. Some tips and tricks I learned during that process were:
Make yourself a small bag filled with skincare essentials
Like hand sanitizer, face cleaning wipes (like these ones from Ursa Major), small tubs of your skin care regime (use GoTubbs or similar), and anything else you might want. I generally keep things very lightweight in the backcountry and skip on things like deodorant, hand cream, or anything too bulky, but I will often bring along a small tube of concealer and lip balm. This won’t weigh very much and it will allow you to take care of your skin wherever you find yourself.
As much as you can, try and stick with your skincare routine.
Sometimes this meant having my husband pour water into my hands so I could wash my face when we were camping. It meant going out of my way to clean my hands at the start and end of each day so I could apply my skincare products in a hygienic way. It meant taking an extra few minutes after brushing my teeth to make sure I took care of my skin.
It’s okay to wear makeup.
Like I said above, if makeup is what gets you out of your home and enjoying life, do it! I sometimes take a small tube of concealer with my when camping or I will decant some of my foundation into a small tub. Wearing a little bit of makeup in the outdoors does not make you less adventurous or “high maintenance”. I have had people (online) tell me that I am not an “authentic” hiker or outdoor woman because I am wearing a bit of concealer and mascara during a hiking trip, which is obviously a load of crap. Heck, I have a bunch of friends who have perfect skin and still choose to wear some makeup outdoors. Moral of the story – ignore the haters and you do YOU.
Try not to touch your face!
This applies to all scenarios, but especially when traveling. Bacteria and dirt will make your skin breakout even worse, so avoid touching your face unless your hands are clean. Also avoid picking or squeezing any breakouts, instead use hydrocolloid acne healing patches whenever possible.
Wash your face after swimming
Chlorine and dirty bodies of water can inflame your skin and lead to more breakouts, so I would recommend you wash your face after swimming.
Airplanes and Acne
Flying is tough on the skin, regardless of whether you struggle with acne. It’s an incredibly drying environment and also teeming with bacteria. Some of my tips for taking care of your skin when flying include:
- As shown in the photo above, take a little bag with your skincare essentials (hand sanitizer, face cleaning wipes, small tubs of skincare items) and other items like deodorant, lip balm, hand cream, etc. I will also pack my ear plugs and face mask in here too.
- Hydrate! Drink tons of water (I usually opt for the aisle seat so I can use the bathroom easily), and don’t forget to hydrate your skin. I always use a hydrating face mask when flying. My go-to’s for this are the Summer Fridays Jet Lag Mask and the Laneige Sleeping Mask. Sheet masks can be really easy to pack too, I would recommend the Farmacy Hydrating Coconut Gel Sheet Mask.
- Not acne related but… use a lip mask to prevent chapping and cracking. I swear by the Laneige Lip Sleeping Mask for when I am traveling and also when I am home. This stuff is AMAZING!
Take Care of Yourself
Our skin is a reflection of what is going on internally. Like I mentioned above, my skin issues were triggered by hormonal imbalances and then my skin just couldn’t balance itself even once things calmed down. In saying that, there is no doubt that taking care of your mind and body can play a part in the condition of our skin.
I have always noticed an increase in breakouts when flying (the dry conditions, lack of sleep, dehydration, stress etc.) or having long travel days, when anxious or stressed, when eating poorly or simply not getting enough fresh vegetables/fruit, and if I am not exercising.
So take care of your mind and body as much as you can. Aim for 8 hours sleep every night, eat healthy, take regular self-care time, do things that make you happy, address any anxiety or stress in your life, and be sure to get in some regular exercise.
If you made it to the end of this blog post, thank you for being here. Thank you to everyone who has sent me encouraging messages, kind comments, or said something nice to me in person. I appreciate every single one of you. The thought of being online without makeup terrified me this time last year. I’ve now posted numerous Instagram photos and stories bare faced and let me tell you… it feels amazing!
It is an incredible feeling finally coming out the other side of my 5+ year journey with acne. Some scaring remains but it’s also a constant reminder of what I have been through, just how strong I am, and how grateful I am everyday to have clear, healthy skin. If you’re currently struggling with acne, I feel you, I hear you, I know the pain. Stay strong and know that things WILL get better.
Lastly, please be kind when commenting below, this is a personal subject for me and many others. This blog is a place of positivity and encouragement and no trolling will be tolerated.
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Disclaimer: This post does contain some affiliate links, which means if you buy something my blog will receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. I was also sent some of the Tula and Ursa Major products to try out, but everything else mentioned was purchased with my own money. As always, all opinions and thoughts are completely my own. Lastly, I am not a dermatologist or doctor and I am just sharing my own experience. I am not qualified to prescribe products for your skin and you are responsible for your own health.