Epiduo Forte

This stuff is so powerful that it is causing me to have to temporarily forfeit like, 70% of my regular skincare regimen. On that note, I may be taking a temporary hiatus until my skin gets back on track after having used this.

This is my second go-around with Epiduo Forte. I was prescribed this in conjunction with spironolactone when I first saw a dermatologist about my cystic acne. Yep, prescription only, depending on where you live — and I think there are different variants on the name of Epiduo, depending on the strength.

The first time around was a true clear out of my extremely broken out skin. I was excited to start using this white-gel-cream product, with 2.5% benzoyl peroxide for bacteria killing and .3% adapalene for cell exfoliation. The general Internet consensus is that this stuff really does work, but I quickly realized that applying Epiduo at night isn’t exactly the same pleasant experience as slapping on a sheet mask. For the first month or two? This stuff is gonna burn like mad.

You know that phrase “if it burns, it’s working”? Ok, first of all, that phrase is terrible advice to live by, because it’s NOT true for most skincare products, except maybe this one. Even then, you will question if it really is working for the first few weeks, because it actually makes your skin WORSE. Like, a lot worse.

The first time around, my cystic acne multiplied. By a lot. It was terrible, painful, and just all around hard to deal with. Even now in my second go-around, my skin is probably the worst it’s been in about two years. Epiduo forces your skin cells to turn over more rapidly, thus bringing the bacteria to the surface and causing a break out. It doesn’t matter how diligent you are keeping your face clean — you’re still going to break out, a LOT. And in areas you don’t normally break out in, too!

I waited it out for about six weeks, the first time. My skin finally started to improve! I mean, it doesn’t PREVENT your break outs from happening, but it makes your pores quite a bit clearer, and overall the texture and condition of your skin will be brighter.

So what’s my deal with Epiduo today, 3 weeks into my second go-around? Heck, why am I even here, on a second go-around? Shouldn’t my acne be mostly cured-ish after using it the first time? Not exactly. You need to keep using it. And that’s what I stopped doing. Sure, I would use it like… every two weeks… to spot treat, but that was it.

About nine months after I stopped using it consistently, my face started to get a little more… blotchy. Not so much cystic acne as it had been before, since the spironolactone keeps a lot of that at bay. But the texture overall just wasn’t great. My dermatologist told me in no uncertain terms that I “can’t just stop using Epiduo”.

So here I am, week three. I apply Epiduo every night. The first two weeks, my skin burned like CRAZY — that’s getting a little better now, though. Peeling skin though? Non-stop. Exfoliants are risky to use, since the Epiduo is already exfoliating for me and my skin is pretty raw. I can’t use most of my moisturizers or sunscreens, since they’ll pill, even if my face is 100% clean. And my skin is still… not great. New spots are turning up every day!

I’ve gone through Epiduo before and know it works, so I’ll have to just hold out for another month or so. In the meantime, my skin care routine is minimal: Clinique’s Dramatically Different in the morning, a TINY dot of Its Skin 2pm, and CosRX Honey Ceramide Cream at night (and The Ordinary’s Lactic Acid 5% if I’m feeling brave).

Hopefully my next post will contain some positive news. Hey, if the Epiduo works for me a second time around, then that will mean the product REALLY works! Unfortunately it’s a pricey venture at $375, and many insurers won’t cover the cost — although, manufacturer’s coupons will occasionally help to knock the price down if they’re available. Ah, the price we pay for clear skin… ~A

Perceived efficacy: 4/5

Longevity: 3/5 (you have use it regularly)

How much I actually like this product: 3.5/5 (the burning! the purging!)

Recommended for sensitive skin: It will MAKE your skin sensitive, even if it wasn’t in the first place. Prepare for two months of total annihilation!

My Current Routine

For the sake of documenting a moment in time, and perhaps to reflect in five years to ask myself “why on Earth did I use that?”, I wanted to list some of my current skincare favorites. I recently went on a short trip, which is always great for forcing yourself to decide on which products are truly must-haves (and also useful in those moments where you think to yourself, “why did I forget to pack that?!).

Now, of course, I don’t use all of these every single day, but everything listed is in heavy rotation. All of these products have been in my routines for a minimum of five months — some have been in my routine for over six years. I can say that all of these have maintained or improved my sensitive, acne-prone skin. Everyone’s reactions are different, but if I had to recommend products to someone with skin issues, these would all be included in that list.

AM Routine

  • COSRX Low pH Good Morning Gel Cleanser
  • Mario Badescu Rosewater Spray
  • Melano CC Gel (although I’m not 100% sold on this one yet…)
  • Clinique Dramatically Different Moisturizing Gel
  • Rohto Skin Aqua Super Moisture Milk SPF50

PM Routine

  • COSRX Low pH Good Morning Gel Cleanser (I obviously love this)
  • Mario Badescu Rosewater Spray (same with this, I would spritz this every hour on the hour if I could)
  • Thayer’s Witch Hazel Toner

PM Exfoliant Options:

  • Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA
  • The Ordinary 5% Lactic Acid
  • Epiduo
  • Derma-E Anti Wrinkle Eye Cream

PM Moisturizer Options

  • Clinique Dramatically Different Moisturizing Gel
  • Cerave PM

PM Heavy Moisturizers — “Last Step”:

  • Bio-Oil
  • CosRX Honey Ceramide Cream
  • HadaLabo Gokujun Hyaluronic Solution

Makeup

  • IT Cosmetics Your Skin But Better CC+ Illumination – Medium
  • Maybelline Stick Corrector Concealer (under eyes, and on/around eyelids with careful blending)
  • NYX Tinted Brow Mascara in Brown
  • L’oreal Lash Paradise
  • Physicians Formula Eye Booster Pencil Eyeliner
  • Physicians Formula Mineral Glow Pearls in Bronze (used as bronzer)
  • Maybelline Master Chrome Metallic Highlighter in Molten Rose Gold

Aquaphor

There’s a lot of talk in the skincare community about “slug life” — wherein a skincare aficionado ends their routine with the most occlusive product possible, and ceases any social activity for the remainder of the day (since drowning your face in Vaseline/oil/Aquaphor has the tendency to make you look a tad bit, well, slimy). Of course, by doing all of this, you run the risk of blocking your pores and causing more breakouts if you wind up picking the wrong product.

The ingredient listing in Aquaphor is relatively simple — mineral oil, lanolin alcohol, paraffin, panethenol and glycerin. But mineral oil is a tricky thing. It’s not inherantly evil — it’s in a ton of makeup products, and probably a lot of skincare products that don’t tout themselves as oil-free. Unfortunately, it absolutely has a tendency to clog pores.

I rotated between Cerave in a Tub, Aquaphor, and Vaseline when I first started using Epiduo — since Epiduo’s primary function is to turn over skin cells, my face was burning like crazy. The three aforementioned heavy-layers were intended to decrease the burning. Of the three, Vaseline was the best for this, and Cerave was the worst. Aquaphor landed squarely in the middle. However, of the three, Aquaphor lead to the highest tendency of me waking up in the morning and saying, “Ah, look, new break outs!” (Vaseline did this as well, but not to the same extent)

What I did find Aquaphor was best for was lips! I use the Aquaphor Healing Ointment in the smaller tube as my go-to chapstick. Most chapsticks have more drying components in their ingredient listing (like peppermint) that cancel out anything you’re trying to accomplish, which is generally to retain moisture in your lips. The paraffin and mineral oil, and otherwise short ingredient listing in Aquaphor will help to keep them hydrated.

If you’re not sensitive to mineral oil and you’re looking for a good “last step” in your routine — particularly if you have very dry, irritated skin (in fact, I think this is a holy grail for a lot of eczema sufferers) — I’d say give this a shot. It goes on easily and the gel is clear — you should start feeling some relief moments after you apply it. No, no one is going to win any beauty contents by slathering petroleum all over their face, but that’s the price you pay for being a believer in slug life! ~A

Perceived efficacy: 4/5

Longevity: 5/5

How much I actually like this product: 4/5 as chapstick; 2/5 for face

Recommended for sensitive skin: If sensitive to mineral oil, no.

Spironolactone

The drug spironolactone is actually one of the huge drivers in why I decided to start keeping this blog. It was a really long journey to get to the point of taking it — mostly, dealing with the neverending cycle of terrible skin and terrible, misleading skincare products. While spironolactone ended up being my acne’s endgame (for now), I realize that this isn’t necessarily possible for all people suffering the same issues I did.

My skin was NEVER great, and I’ve struggled with cystic acne off and on since I was 13. I had a friend throughout school who had crystal clear skin — I was jealous of her, and confused how she had gotten to that point. She told me she ONLY used some cleanser from Clean and Clear, so I tried it, too. It did nothing. If anything, I found more new spots.

In college, my acne cleared up a tiny bit. I’d still get the occasional cyst, but nothing damning, or nothing that makeup couldn’t fix. It went on like this until I hit 27. All the sudden, my face was disgusting. Painful, inflamed, HUGE spots, that were crazy deep into my skin. I was new to my current company at this time, and this condition was absolutely mortifying. No matter how good a foundation was, it would never fully cover the issue I was experiencing.

I subscribed to r/skincareaddiction on reddit. I read every skincare blog (especially Simple Skincare Science — while I don’t agree with 100% of the product reviews on his page, this is one of the greatest, most extensive info-dumps of all things skincare, and I still read it religiously). Still, NOTHING helped (except maybe Cerave PM… even though I had a ton of zits, the “good” skin was super glowy, woohoo!). After many nights of crying about my busted self-esteem, I realized that maybe it was time to go see a dermatologist.

So I did. I slapped down $200 for my first time appointment, at a dermatologist’s office (and that was after insurance! It’s not a cheap venture). Within five minutes of examining me, the dermatologist recommended Epiduo and Spironolactone. She told me she had seen a lot of success with Spironolactone — and, if that didn’t work, I would begin the dreaded Accutane.  I zipped over to another office to get my blood work done, and once it was decided that all was well, my pharmacy filled the order of Spironolactone. I was overjoyed to get started.

After four days, I looked in the mirror and was foolishly disappointed that nothing had changed (guess I was hoping for the whole “wake up and it’s fixed” effect). When I wasn’t looking in the mirror, I was hunched down over the toilet wondering if I was going to throw up — the first couple of weeks of Spironolactone bring a few gnarly side effects, one being nausea.

The second week was misleadingly good — I thought I was beginning to see progress! Then came the third and the fourth week, and my acne was worse than it ever had been before. I suspect this is what they call the purging period, and it may have been exacerbated by the Epiduo. I still wanted to puke during all hours of the day. I wanted badly to throw in the towel, but I decided I would give it more time.

Around month two, I could start seeing the spironolactone work. I still had a few cysts that were new, but I wasn’t seeing the same “volume” of new acne that I had been before. Unfortunately, month two brought about a new, less pleasant surprise: I was getting my period every 14-15 days, instead of my normal 24-25. My derm expressed some concern about this, and suggested I ought to go from 50mg to 25mg if this persisted. I decided to keep going with the 50mg/daily and see if anything changed.

Month three and month four were my biggest breakthrough of clear skin. The new spots were small, and certainly not cystic by any means. I had a ton of scarring to deal with, so it was difficult to tell that my skin had actually cleared up, but I wasn’t in pain like I had been before with the cysts. And my nausea was finally starting to diminish! (although the five lbs of weight loss was technically not the worst thing that’s ever happened to me).

So here I am now on month nine. Here’s how my life looks now:

  • My skin is virtually acne-free
  • …minus the “that-time-of-the-month” blemishes, but even those disappear on their own in under three days.
  • I still take my spironolactone religiously without missing a day, at 50 mg, and use Epiduo every other night, or as spot treatment.
  • I’ve made huge strides with scarring, but I have a ton of work to do. Some of the ice pick scarring will likely never go away, and everything else will take years to turn over, but I’m okay with that.
  • I try to stick to oil-free moisturizers and makeups, nothing “too heavy”. But, my skin can pretty much tolerate anything I throw at it now, unlike before where it would break out just on contact with a product.
  • My period cycles are still way shorter than they were before I started all of this, but are starting to creep back to 19, 20 days in between.
  • No more terrible nausea  🙂

Just the first line alone — the fact that I do not have pervasive, cystic acne, that is LIFE-CHANGING. I can go out into the world without makeup. I’m not in pain anymore. I don’t have to find ways to hide my face from people.

I suffered with acne for half a lifetime before I summoned both the financial means, decent enough insurance, and emotional courage to go to a dermatologist. So for all of you in that place right now — I completely understand and empathize with you. It’s really, really tough. That’s why I wrote this blog — so when you’re in that “in between space” of buying products and seeing a derm, hopefully one of these blog entries will resonate with you, to help steer you toward, or away, a drugstore product. We live in a world where people are monetized to go online and say good things about a company, even if that company’s product totally sucks. I myself fell for planted reviews, on several occasions. I would never wish that on anyone else, because it’s just an honest to goodness waste of time and money.

But when, or if, you can get to a dermatologist — it is absolutely worth the high upfront cost. It saved my face, my skin, and my self-esteem! ~A

Perceived efficacy: 5/5

Longevity: 5/5 (as long as I’m on it anyway… hopefully!)

How much I actually like this product: 5/5

About Me

Whenever I look for beauty product reviews, points of reference are always huge for me. When I first started really getting into makeup and skincare, I suffered from acne — initially, it was the standard run-of-the-mill acne, and then once I hit my mid-late 20s, BAM, it blew up into insane cystic acne. Devastating! You’re supposed to be done with that stuff after your early 20s, but apparently not for me (and thousands of other women and men). So, until I got it treated, this little issue of mine forced me to read between the lines of all the reviews. For example, just because someone on Reddit posted a ~*flawless*~ “after” photo when reviewing a product, I had to ascertain a) whether or not they had any pre-existing skin conditions, or b) if they photoshopped the life out of their face.

It is unlikely that I will ever post a picture of myself, but, for all of those who are wondering what kind of person I am, and if my personal situation is relevant to your life, here it is:

  • I am in my late 20s.
  • Dark brown hair and light-colored eyes
  • To reference the MAC scale of skin shades, I’m going to say NC20 as a generality. But I’ve also scooped up NW-20-like shades. My personal description would be “pale-ish, with yellow undertones, and super red cheeks.” That’s as scientific as I can get.
  • As I mentioned before, I had absolutely terrible, insane, crazy hormonal cystic acne that was ultimately cured by spironolactone and Epiduo (more on that later) so I ALWAYS take that into consideration for product reviews since it was ingrained into me to look for oil-free products at that time
  • Now that I’m “cured”, I still have a lot of pretty deep scars, and I still get small breakouts from time to time.

Now that we’ve got all that out of the way, I am going to do a little explanation of how I’m going to run things on this website (at least until I change my mind, which happens… a lot).

  • All products are bought with my own money, and I am not what you would call a rich person, so unfortunately swatching multiple products will be out of the question — I’ve likely only bought the one product for myself, so there wouldn’t be anything to compare it against.
  • I won’t be taking any pictures of myself with the product on, or during application. I’ll likely find the most recent stock photo of the product itself, or take a picture with my six-year-old Android phone of the product sitting on my bathroom sink. High quality, here we come!

Onto the rating system! Everything is rated out of five. There’s no scientific system in which things are rated, nor do the ratings for one category impact another (except maybe the last one), they’re just my own opinion.

Perceived efficacy: Do I think, or see the product actually working, based on the claims the outward label made?

Longevity: How long does it last?

How much I actually like this product: All things considered, how much did I like this? This includes things like physical characteristics of the products and the price point.

Now that I’ve set the stage, all I can hope for is that someone else who is searching for an honest and non-sponsored review will stumble across this page, and find the review that will make or break their purchasing decision. The beauty industry is really tough to navigate, and it’s hard to determine what’s best for you versus what’s being shilled to you strictly for a profit (I still struggle with figuring that out). Worst case scenario? I’ll keep this blog around to remind me the reasons of why I should not to go into Ulta and say “Oh, but the packaging is so pretty, I should give them another shot!”

~ A