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My Pre-Wedding Skincare Regimen (Surprise: It’s not “All Natural” or “Paleo”!)

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Planning a wedding is stressful enough without being worried about the way your skin looks as the big day approaches.

And sometimes eating well, sleeping plenty, and exercising regularly isn’t enough to support healthy skin.

I’ve been experiencing a serious acne and keratosis pilaris flare up over the past few months, which I attribute to stress and hormonal changes. My diet is pretty stable and it doesn’t seem to significantly affect my skin unless I’m eating a lot of wheat, dairy, or sugar (which I generally don’t.)

Here’s a photo of my skin at its worst.

(This is about as bad as it’s ever been.)

Seriously NOT OKAY.

why Stress was at the root

The reason I’m fairly confident that stress has contributed to my skin woes is because my skin was essentially in perfect condition prior to meeting my fiancé last April. I hadn’t worried about acne or keratosis (beyond the occasional bump) for years.

Then I met Josh and my stress levels skyrocketed. This isn’t because our relationship itself is stressful (it’s wonderful!) but because of the circumstances around our relationship.

We’ve been long distance since day one, and didn’t even meet in person until 6 weeks after we’d been dating via phone. And ever since then, we’ve been spending most of our time apart with somewhat frequent trips back and forth between NC and OH.

Traveling 6+ hours each way to see him stresses me out, especially when my flights get delayed or canceled. And every time a trip ends and we’re separated again, my mood nosedives.

I’ve been trying to learn how to combat those feelings of anxiety and depression (thank God for my faith and church community!) but adding wedding planning and preparing for my life to take a 180 degree turn in June has compounded that stress.

Dealing with skin issues that won’t go away has been adding insult to injury.

Every woman wants to look her best on her wedding day and as mine crept closer, I was feeling more and more worried about the state of my skin.

I really, REALLY wanted to get a handle on it well before my wedding in June!

“Natural” didn’t work for me

I had tried a variety of natural, “Paleo” type skin treatments that seemed to work for a lot of my blogger friends. Most of these involved some type of oil cleansing with coconut oil or another type of oil, and moisturizing with one of these natural fats as well, such as beef tallow. Apple cider vinegar was the recommended toner. I thought maybe this would help my skin the way it had helped others.

NOPE. My skin got ten times WORSE from those “Paleo” skincare regimens. (So aggravating!)

Desperate to find a soution, I remembered seeing a lot of Paleo bloggers post about a skincare company called Beautycounter that they were using to help their skin look great without exposing themselves to tons of toxins. I had even been approached by a few consultants in the past wanting me to get involved in selling the products.

Truth be told, I was initially totally turned off by the MLM structure of the company. I’ve seen so many crappy and even dangerous products sold through MLM companies (mostly shakes and other nutritional products).

I’ve even watched a documentary describing how many of these companies take advantage of their consultants and force them to buy lots of product that never gets sold. So you can understand why I was disinterested in trying the stuff!

However, I was feeling a little desperate after the failure of the more natural regimen, so I decided to give up that approach and try something new.

Medication Was Necessary

First, I saw a dermatologist who prescribed a topical retinol (tretinoin 0.1) to help clear the acne super fast and get rid of the scarring that had occurred as well. The first week or two of using that stuff my face peeled like a molting snake, and it was super red and irritated.

A lot of the keratosis plugs in my cheeks started purging like crazy. I was somewhat embarrassed leaving the house but I knew that this was a temporary reaction that was extremely common for retinol users.

I learned how to use the retinol in a way that minimized the irritation. For example, I had to remind myself not to use too much, avoid my lip and eye area, and allow my face to dry fully after washing before applying. This helped bring some of the irritation down.

But I was still experiencing dryness, peeling, and redness around the bumps that were being purged. Things weren’t looking too hot.

Enter Beautycounter

Knowing I had a local friend who sold Beautycounter products, I decided to contact her and try out some of the stuff. She lent me some products to test out, and even after just a few days of using them my skin was softer, less irritated, and more “glowing” than it had been in months!

I was shocked at how well the products worked, and that was when I decided to finally jump on the consultant train that I had been avoiding for over a year now.

So much better now!

Long story short, my skin has been improving at a rapid pace and I’m SO glad I gave up the “all natural” and “Paleo” approach to dealing with my skin issues. I’m sure there are a lot of people out there who love that type of skincare routine, but for me it just made things worse.

Finally using the Beautycounter products allowed me to continue to avoid toxic ingredients while actually getting good results with my skincare regimen. It’s nice to know that there’s a balance between efficacy and safety when it comes to skincare!

But what about Retinol?

For those of you who are thinking “but what about retinol, isn’t that toxic?” – there’s actually no evidence that topical retinol (all-trans retinoic acid) causes harm when used appropriately.

The only vitamin A product that has shown any risk of danger is retinyl palmitate, which is often found in sunscreens and applied over the entire body prior to sun exposure. And the issue with retinyl palmitate is that it increases the photo-carcinogenic effect of the sun when you’re applying it right before sun exposure.

Based on this, it seems prudent to not use body products that contain retinyl palmitate and to avoid UV radiation post-retinol application.

The fact that tretinoin is only supposed to be used at night in small amounts should make that pretty easy.

Plus with the extra sensitivity that comes from the tretinoin, I don’t want to be getting a ton of sun exposure on my face while I’m using it anyway!

Further, when the EWG shares concern about vitamin A in general, I believe the fear over possible vitamin A toxicity, especially from small amounts of topical products, is totally overblown. (Read this to learn why vitamin A is so important for health.)

If used correctly, a pea-sized portion of tretinoin on a daily (or less frequent) basis should not lead to vitamin A toxicity.

Ultimately my feeling is that for me, the topical tretinoin is working when taking higher doses of vitamin A supplements wasn’t enough on its own. Plus, I don’t see enough evidence in the 40+ years of tretinoin research that I should be worried about using it in small amounts without exposing it to UV radiation.

I know that Beautycounter has retinol on their “Never” list but I believe the company is a little more cautious than I am individually. This isn’t a bad thing, but it doesn’t mean you have to adhere to their strict guidelines.

My Current Routine

Alright, enough information about how I wound up on my current routine. Here’s all the details about what I’m doing on a daily and weekly basis:

In the morning

Wash with Nourishing Cream Cleanser – use about a dime size or less

Swipe a Rejuvenating Toner Pad over my face after washing – some people like to cut these in half but I prefer to use the whole pad to get plenty of coverage since it’s so effective at clearing keratin plugs

3/16/17 UPDATE: I’ve been using the No. 3 Balancing Mist after the toner pad to soak up extra oil and impurities. The mister is super luxe and it puts out a fine, clarifying mist over my face. It’s not astringent either, which is great!

Apply Nourishing Day Cream – 1 pump over entire face

Finish with Calendula Lip Conditioner on my lips

Before bed

Wash with Nourishing Cream Cleanser (or Cleansing Balm if my skin is dry)

Wait ~20-30 minutes then apply prescription retinol (generic tretinoin 0.1 in my case) – Waiting before applying helps reduce irritation and peeling the next day

Wait ~20-30 minutes then apply a Beautycounter face oil – I like using the No. 3 Balancing Oil around acne zones and the No. 2 Plumping Oil for general dryness (also the No. 2 oil smells amaaaazing.)

Apply Nourishing Night Cream – 1 pump over whole face

Apply Nourishing Eye Cream – Pea size around eye area

Finish with Calendula Lip Conditioner on my lips

A few times a week

Exfoliating wash like Nourishing Cream Exfoliator instead of regular cleanser – good for removing extra flaky skin from tretinoin treatment

3/16/17 UPDATE: I’ve started using the Baby Balm when I get extra dry or red patches from the retinol treatment. I think I have some scar tissue coming to the surface that is flaking off, and the Baby Balm helps keep it from overly drying out.

Scar treatment gel on acne scars to reduce redness and bumpiness. I like the Super Shield Scar Gel by Body Merry. I put this just around the areas that have scarring. – Actually I switched to the Baby Balm for this which seems to work better!

Once a week

No. 3 Balancing Charcoal Mask – I’ve tried using this more often and it dries my skin out so once a week seems to be plenty. You can also use it as a spot treatment for active zits.

3/16/17 UPDATE: Now I’ve added the No. 1 Brightening Mask 1-2 times a week – This stuff is amazing for reducing redness and dark spots where I have some acne scarring. And it makes the rest of my face glow! Such a treat.

It’s not that complicated…

I know this looks a little complicated but it’s not that challenging once you get in the rhythm. Figuring out the right way to apply tretinoin took a little longer for me but I seem to have struck a nice balance there.

I have also been very careful not to pick too much at the bumps that are “purging” from the tretinoin right now. I’m really bad about this, so I’ve literally put a post-it note on my mirror to remind me to leave my skin alone! But it’s worth it to just let your skin heal on its own as much as possible.

I am definitely a Beautycounter convert and I’m excited to have signed up as a consultant now too (after avoiding it for a year or two…)

At the end of the day, I just want a skincare regimen that works.

I’m willing to spend a little extra or use a product that isn’t “all natural” to get my skin looking good before my wedding, and beyond.

It just HAS TO WORK.

I’ll update you guys on Instagram as my wedding draws closer, but for now I’m feeling really grateful that I’ve figured out how to get my skin back to the way it was before my life turned upside-down (in an amazing way) last year!

And if you are interested in becoming a Beautycounter consultant, click here to learn more!

What questions do you have for me about my skincare routine? Write them in the comments below!

Disclaimer: I became a consultant with BeautyCounter because I love their products and I believe in their mission to get safer beauty products into the hands of everyone. I may receive commission for any products purchased through my site, which helps support my blog and podcast. Thank you for your support!

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    1. Beautycounter sells nice makeup too. I’ve tested their concealer and foundation and it works pretty well. But I do need to use something more intense when I have acne or scarring/redness, normally that’s Dermablend.

  1. Hi Laura!

    Love this post and your honesty about your hesitation with BeautyCounter. Curious what your thoughts are on the Super Shield Scar Gel. I have residual scarring from acne (mostly around my chin) and was wondering if you’ve found success with that gel.


    1. It does seem to help! Definitely makes it less red. But you have to use it at night because it peels off and looks stupid during the day. 🙂

  2. There are moisturizers and topical sprays now that have probiotics in them. What do you think of them? Any science behind them?

    1. Not sure about the science but I’ve heard anecdotal reports that they’re helpful. I don’t think they’d work for my skin issues though, mine are more of an exfoliation problem.

  3. Great post! I feel the same struggles as I prepare for my wedding in June! I was recently prescribed keflex and still am so scared to take it as I worked SO hard to restore my gut. I also use a topical at night (Aczone). But I would love to know your thoughts about how this might affect my gut and if it’s worth it. #weddingstruggles

    1. I would try to avoid antibiotics if possible. The topical retinol is fairly safe if used correctly, and very effective. Just give yourself at least a month of purging and peeling!

  4. Great post! Love all of the info. I am wanting to try these products, but do not have the finances to spend hundreds of dollars on these items. Is there a bare minimum that you would recommend to help? Like a face cleanser, moisturizer, etc. Anything you would recommend you absolutely need to see results? I have very similar acne to you and have been trying to “paleo” approach and it is not working. Thanks for any recommendations!

  5. Hi Laura!

    I’m curious what your thoughts are on Vitamin A (retinyl palmitate) supplements taken orally. Thorne, Pure Encapsulations, NOW Foods, and Seeking Health brands all sell Vitamin A supplements in doses ranging from 5,000-25,000 IU per serving. According to reviews, these products have proven very effective for some individuals in treating their acne. I’m tempted to try them, but am nervous about Vitamin A toxicity. I also am unsure of which dose to start with (5,000 IU vs 25,000 IU is a big difference). Any input would be greatly appreciated! Thanks! 🙂

  6. How long did it take for you to notice a difference from the retinol? I just started using retin-a micro about a week ago (in combination with some beauty counter products, supplements, dietary changes that I had already been implementing), but am curious when I might expect to see some benefits from the retina-a.

  7. I am 40 and still have minor breakouts and redness of skin that is annoying. Do you recommend using the everyday products or the new acne counter control line?

    1. That’s a tough call. I would try either the acne line or the charcoal bar with the nourishing line for moisturizing. I can’t really say which one would be better, but they have a 60 day money back guarantee if you don’t like what you purchased!

  8. Hey girl,

    This post literally sums up the exact position I am in. My wedding is two months away and my skin is terrible… despite being paleo and doing all the things for over a year now. Last week, I gave up and went to a doctor who prescribed me the exact same thing. I’m also using the tretional in combination with my new Beautycounter products that I love. They feel so gentle and soft on my skin. Anyway, I was wondering how long it took for you to see results. I have read online that it takes 3 months… I’m upset I didn’t start earlier!! Did you have earlier success by any chance?

    1. Hey Marley! Congrats on the upcoming wedding! I would say 2 months is a good lead time, but consider dropping the retinol about a week before your wedding to avoid dry skin or breakouts. Good luck!

  9. I have been using the countercontrol collection. I have found this helps but also was just prescribed tretinoin. When/ in what order do you recommend using each of these products??