• Dr Dara Seebaran Suite

I Gave Up Make-Up For Lent: The results were AMAZING

Updated: Jan 6, 2019



This one is personal. I haven't written about acne before because I didn't want to be a hypocrite. Still fighting with that beast, I felt like I needed to conquer it before I gave any advice. The time has hopefully come.

Two years ago, I started wearing a light concealer just around my eyes when I went to work. It instantly brightened my face and I loved the effect. I also had the occasional period spot and was left with hyper-pigmentation at the site of the pimple. So I applied a little concealer there as well. Boom! I was ready with my face-the-world face.

And that was the problem. Slowly I started to apply a bit more concealer on my cheeks and chin. Gradually I got more pimples, more hyper-pigmentation and then I needed more concealer. On and on it went. I even started to get lots of little blackheads.




I went through the entire gauntlet of acne treatments. I used powerful medical-grade face washes and prescription topical creams, only to dry out my skin so badly that I had to go cold turkey for one month. I upped the ante and went onto antibiotics. I was even prescribed spironolactone, a heart failure medication that also has anti-androgen effects. Yet the pimples persisted, and I persisted using concealer.

Then a miracle happened- a painful one.

One night I made the mistake of taking my antibiotic just before I went to bed. Some antibiotics, particularly doxycycline, can be very acidic, and if they lodge in the oesophagus, they can dissolve the tissue and cause a painful ulcer. That happened to me.

I was in constant pain for over a week and swallowing anything but mush was out of the question. I couldn't take the antibiotics or the spironolactone. In addition, I was no longer using any topical products because my skin was so dry.

Fortunately I had decided to stop wearing any foundation or concealer just around the same time. Accidentally, I had all the circumstances for a great experiment.

One week later and I didn't have a single new pimple. Now a month on, the blackheads are going away and the hyper-pigmentation is fading. I haven't started taking any tablets, and I've only recently started to use some mild fruit acid skincare.


How Does Make-Up Cause Acne?

Acne is really a disease of the hair follicles. Pores are tiny openings at the top of them. When pores get plugged with oil ( sebum) and dead skin we either get black heads, white heads or pimples.

If the plug at the top of the pore doesn't become inflamed, it forms a white head or closed comedone. If the clogged pore remains open, the oxygen in the atmosphere darkens the top of the plug, and this becomes a black head or open comedone.

The mixture of oil and dead skin cells is a perfect meal for bacteria, and if bacteria invade the pore, it becomes inflamed. As the plug gets bigger, the pressure increases and it can cause the pore to rupture. The oil, dead skin cells and bacteria leak into the surrounding skin which becomes infected. This forms a red bump, or a pimple.

There are several different types of acne, but at the root of them all is a clogged hair follicle.


People experience acne for various reasons. Shedding a lot of dead skin cells per day increases the chance of pores clogging, especially as the dead skin cells stick together. In fact, acne sufferers can shed up to five layers of dead skin cells a day, while non-acne suffers usually only shed one.

Some people produce large amounts of sebum, the oil that bacteria feed on. This is usually driven by hormones, which kick sebaceous glands into overdrive. This is the source of puberty, menstrual and pregnancy acne.

Make-up can cause acne by blocking pores. Acne caused in this way is more common that you may think, with one study in Brazil showing a link to skin disease in 45% of women who use make up. In fact, this form of acne is so widespread it has its own name: acne cosmetica.

Acne cosmetica affects the oil prone ares of the face such as the cheeks, chin and nose. It has an insidious onset, often taking months to appear. At first a sufferer may only have small " grain-like" bumps under the skin, which are most noticeble when you stretch the skin. These can progress to full blown pustules.

The real danger with acne cosmetica is that it causes a person to use more make-up, the very thing that is causing the acne in the first place. A vicious cycle is formed and because it happens slowly people don't automatically make the connection between their favourite concealer and their latest pimple.

What can I to do

1. Follow Alicia Keys and go bare: This one worked for me, and it only took one week to see an improvement. It was a tough week though especially as I was still going to work and in social situations. It requires a bit of bravery. Keep reminding yourself why you are doing this.

2. Give yourself make-up free days: Going bare may just not be an option for everyone. In that case, try working in a few days each week when you don't wear any foundation or concealer.

3. Apply make-up as sparingly as you can: Every day is not an Instagram photoshoot. Avoid the thick, multilayered approach. Try light, minimal coverage. The idea is not to cover your blemishes entirely, just to make them less noticeable. The less layers of make up, the less likely your pores are to clog.

4. Chose water-based, non-comedogenic fragrance-free products. Fragrances are usually strong chemicals that can be irritating to sensitive skin. Alcohol is extremely drying and can lead to dehydration and weakens the skin's protective barrier. Parabens extend a product's shelf life, but they can interfere with our hormones and trigger hormonal exacerbations of acne. Silicones are commonly found in foundations as they make skin feel silky smooth. Unfortunately this smooth feeling goes hand in hand with clogged pores.


5. Apply make up using a very light touch.

6.Regularly clean all of your brushes and applicators: ideally make up brushes should be cleaned after each use and stored upside down to encourage fast drying. Storing brushes in make up bags can lead to contamination.

7. Throw out expired make-up. Chemicals well past their safe use by date are a no-no for sensitive skin. The efficacy of any active agents decreases with time, the chemicals break down into irritating compounds and they can harbour bacteria. Did you know that mascara should be replaced every three months? Foundations and powders should be thrown out after a year, and lipstick should be in the bin 18 months after you bought it.

8. Only use clean hands to apply make-up: quite simply, do you want all the bacteria found on the handrails of the tube escalators on your face?

9. Never go to bed with make-up. Never.

10. Look for medicated skin care that breaks up dead skin cells and reduces oil production. I suggest plant-based exfoliants such as salicylic and glycolic acid.

I gave up foundation and concealer and it happened to coincide with the 40 days of Lent. If you suffer with acne or even just sensitive skin, why not give your skin a make-up fast. I'd love to hear how it goes for you.

Modern life can do some serious damage to our skin. Check out this blog The Scariest Things We Do To Our Face or Is Your Cellphone Ruining Your Selfie, to find out how we can protect it.

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