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Mar 08 2017
by Natasha Beauchesne

A College Student's Basic Guide to Skin Care

By Natasha Beauchesne - Mar 08 2017

Nobody likes waking up to a huge zit in the middle of their forehead, especially in college. Acne is uncomfortable not just because of societal expectations to have clear skin, but also zits and pimples can hurt. Unfortunately, it doesn’t just stop when you grow older. About 50 percent of women in their twenties and 40 percent of men in their twenties experience acne. So, the big question that everyone wants to know is — how do I stop it? But before we can answer this, we have to understand why we get acne in the first place.

How It Happens

Acne consists of different bumps, such as whiteheads, blackheads, cysts and pimples. You probably have a vague notion that acne is caused by hormones, and that’s usually true for most people around the time they hit puberty. But for college students, we have to understand why the skin acts the way it does.

The “pores” in your skin is just another name for hair follicles. These pores have sebaceous glands, which make sebum. Sebum is an oil that lubricates your skin and hair, and most of the time it works pretty well. Acne starts when your pores become clogged with too much sebum or too many dead skin cells. Bacteria then gets trapped in your pores and can multiply.

Different Skin Types

Before we can start putting together a skin care routine, it’s important to recognize that everyone has a very different skin type. Hence, what works for one person may not work for another. The key is figuring out what type of skin you have, and trying to build up your knowledge from there.

1. Normal Skin Type

 If you have this skin type, you’re probably not even reading this article. People with this skin type are unlikely to have any major imperfections in their skin and have skin that is not too oily or too dry. Their pores aren’t visible and their skin isn’t too sensitive. If you have this skin type, you’re pretty lucky.

2. Combination Skin Type

This is a more common type. Combination skin is dry in some areas, but oily in others. For instance, many people have dry cheeks but an oily T-zone (forehead, nose and chin). Blackheads, shiny skin and pores that are larger and more open are hallmarks of this skin type.

3. Dry Skin Type 

This skin is exactly what it sounds like. Characterized by red patches, dull complexion, more visible lines in your face and almost invisible pores, if you’ve got dry skin, you most likely know it. Many things can contribute to dry skin, such as long, hot showers, indoor heating, and your genes.

4. Oily Skin Type

Again, this skin type is fairly self-explanatory. Oily skin will show up as shiny or “thick” in complexion, due to enlarged pores and blemishes are common.

5. Sensitive Skin Type 

This can be one of the trickiest skin types to work with because it is so finicky. This skin type will react negatively to certain products, and redness, itchiness and a burning sensation can occur because of it. If you have sensitive skin, you must be very careful in choosing what products you use.

Now that you’ve determined what your skin type is, it’s time to cover the very basics of what a skin care routine should consist of.


1. Cleansing

Anyone who suffers from severe acne has probably heard this advice time and time again. It’s not necessarily this step that will clear your skin up magically, but this in combination with other tips will help you to achieve healthier skin. So, what does washing your face consist of? And what does it actually do?

Washing your face is just a very basic step in order to prevent any makeup, dirt, sweat or bacteria from building up on your skin and contributing to clogging your pores. It’s most recommended to wash your face twice a day — once in the morning and once at night. If you don’t have any major skin issues, then it is only necessary to cleanse at night, before bed.

Cleansing can take many different forms, but in general it should be very gentle. You shouldn’t have a tight feeling to your skin afterwards; that indicates that you probably “over-cleansed” and scrubbed a little bit too hard. As always, find a product that works best for you for your daily cleanser, and can fit within your budget.

If you’re struggling with acne, two ingredients to look for in your cleansers are salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide. Salicylic acid doesn’t help at all with sebum production and doesn’t kill bacteria associated with acne, but it does help unclog pores. Benzoyl peroxide, however, helps to kill bacteria that may cause acne. The only drawbacks to these two compounds is that you must keep using them in order to reap their benefits; they do not solve the underlying acne problem once and for all.

2. Moisturize

Please, please, please moisturize. Even if you have oily skin or think it’ll only make your acne worse, it won’t. Moisturizing is essential after you cleanse because not only have you eliminated the bacteria from your skin, but you’ve also wiped away the natural oil that your pores have produced. In order to replace that, you must moisturize. Not moisturizing could lead to dry, itchy skin, wrinkles, more acne and itchiness. If you have oily skin, try to find a cream that is oil-free.

3. Sunscreen

Basically, being sunburnt won’t help with your skin texture at all. And even though getting a nice tan might make your acne less pronounced, it doesn’t really fix the problem. Using a sunscreen specifically made for your face will help prevent aged skin, sunburns and skin cancer. Some moisturizers for your face even come with sun-protecting elements in it, so that could be an easy way to roll two steps into one. Just make sure that you use a different moisturizer at night, since you won't be needing the one with sunscreen in it. 

Optional Steps

Those three basic steps are all that you really need, but it may help you to understand other steps that you can always incorporate into your routine as well. 

1. Exfoliator

If you find that you have a lot of build-up of dead skin cells on your face, gentle exfoliation may help to get rid of those, and hence help prevent acne. Most face masks that you can pick up at the drug store or even DIY masks tend to be exfoliating. There are two types: chemical exfoliators and physical exfoliators. In chemical exfoliation, chemicals are used to dissolve the top layer of skin. In physical exfoliators, things such as granules of sugar are used to help scrub away the dead skin. It's best to steer clear of products that use exfoliants with jagged edges, such as ground-up apricot shells. These exfoliants will get the job done, but at the cost of causing micro tears in your skin that can make your acne even worse in the long run. Since exfoliation is basically a deeper cleanse, make sure to moisturize afterwards to prevent dryness. Also, don't fall into the trap of exfoliating every day. Most people's skin can't handle that level of harshness, so breakouts can occur. Exfoliate once or twice a week if you feel you need to.

2. Toner

Toner is typically water-based and is especially helpful if you have a lot of acne. By either spraying it directly onto your face, or dabbing some onto a cotton pad first and then swiping upward in circular motions, toner can act as another layer of protection against bacteria, and also help to moisturize your face. Apply toner directly after cleansing, let it dry onto your face instead of wiping it off, and then apply your moisturizer. It can be used daily.

Extra Tips

1. Make your skin care routine unique to you and your skin care type. Those YouTube videos in which people talk about their facial care routines are great for getting a general idea of skin care, but don't necessarily follow everything word for word. Everyone's skin is different, so feel free to experiment. 

2. When trying new products, always introduce them one at a time into your routine. If your skin breaks out or reddens, then you'll know it was due to that product. If you don't do this and instead try new products all at the same time, you won't know which one your skin was reacting negatively to. 

3. Along the same lines, always try a small area of your skin to spot test a product on. You don't want to slather that new moisturizer all over your face only to wake up the next day with bright red skin. It's better to try just a patch of skin to test that product on, to keep the possible negative reaction to a minimum. 

A lot of acne can be hormonal, genetic or dietary based. If you find that no amount of at-home skin care is helping reduce your acne at all, it might be time to see a doctor. Estheticians at your local beauty parlor or spa may be able to give you specific advice on how to care for your skin or recommend products to you. This guide only serves to bring you a better understanding of why certain products work and how to use them. Find what works for you and go from there. 

Lead Image Credit: Alexandru Zdrobau at Unsplash

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Natasha Beauchesne -

Natasha Beauchesne is a sophomore at Le Moyne College majoring in English with a concentration in creative writing. She enjoys reading, running, yoga, and cuddling with her cats. If you have any leftovers, she will most certainly eat them all for you. Follow her on Twitter @tashabeau

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