How Bad Skin Care Gave Me Acne and Inspired Me to Start My Own Skin Care Company

The skin care industry is ironic. If I were an alien from outer space who understood English language, but knew nothing of humankind, its behavior, or its customs, I would assume that the term "skin care" would imply taking care of skin. You know, making it healthier. You could imagine my surprise if I learned that skin care usually makes skin worse, and is the root cause for many skin ailments. My alien brain would hurt from confusion, and I would decide to go to a different planet. There is no intelligent life here. Metaphors aside, the irony is that the skin care industry markets itself one way, and often does the exact opposite. Poorly formulated skin care causes many of the skin ailments we see today. And most skin care on the market is poorly formulated.

Acne is considered a teenage ailment, yet I experienced it for the first time at the age of 25. Getting acne as an adult after living a pimple-free adolescence is confusing and counterintuitive. To make sense of matters, I approached the situation pragmatically, gathered everything I thought I knew about acne, and made a checklist of potential acne culprits:

Suspect #1: Hormone Fluctuation

The primary cause for adolescent acne is hormonal, and despite being beyond the years of teenage hormones, checking my hormone levels was my first move. My hormone levels were tested once a month for three months and everything was normal. I crossed hormone fluctuations off my list.

Suspect #2: Diet

Dairy is a common acne trigger due to the hormones, and I assumed meat would be a trigger for the same reasons. I cut both out of my diet completely (even though I rarely ate meat or dairy), and the acne persisted. I crossed "diet" off my list.

Suspect #3: Bacteria

I knew the stereotype that acne only happens to people who don't wash their face was false. If the cure for acne was as simple as washing your face, everyone would have caught onto it by now. There is also no shortage of facial cleansers out there, so the notion is total bunk. If anything, people with acne wash their face too much. So if acne-causing bacteria is not from a failure to wash one's face, where is it coming from?

I read one person's account of their 10-year battle with acne disappearing in a week after sleeping on a clean pillowcase every night. At this point I knew my acne had to be bacterial (since it wasn't my hormones or my diet), so I gave the pillow case method a try. Every day for two weeks I slept on a clean surface. It didn't work. Feeling frustrated I went to the doctor and she prescribed an antibiotic for my acne. I was skeptical because sleeping on a clean pillowcase didn't work, which convinced me that my acne wasn't bacterial. My acne cleared up in a week. The joy of a clear face was soon overcast by the realization that this was not a permanent fix. Its neither healthy nor wise to take antibiotics long-term, and lo and behold, my acne returned as soon as I stopped taking the medication.

Antibiotics cleared my face, so I knew at this point my acne was bacterial, but why am I getting bacterial acne now, at 25? I never washed my face as a teenager, and the only "skin care" I used was sunscreen. What was different? What was the cause of my bacterial acne?

Suspect #4: Skin Care Products

I never used a moisturizer, serum, or cleanser until my 20s. I didn't have dryness, signs of aging, or pimples, so what did I need skin care products for? As a pale girl, sunscreen was my one and only skin care friend. That changed when I had a sleepover with some girlfriends. I walked into my bathroom and found that my countertop went from a blank slate to the Neiman Marcus cosmetic counter. Cleansers, scrubs, serums, moisturizers, masques, concealers, foundations, you name it. I hate clutter, both in my bathroom and on my face, so I hated how the beauty aisle went from the department store to my home without asking me first. My girlfriends didn’t believe me when I said that I didn't wash my face, yet had no acne as a result. "If I didn't wash my face my acne would be worse for sure" lamented one of my friends who had mild acne and blemishes. This got me thinking that maybe I have been pressing my luck all of these years. So I took the plunge and started buying skin care.

The first purchase was a cleanser and a moisturizer from a company who I will only disclose as that they refer to themselves as a particular type of body of water in another language.

I then bought a famous scrub that smelled like a particular type of dried fruit because I was told exfoliating is key to youthful skin. After cleansing, exfoliating, and moisturizing, my skin felt and looked pretty good. Over time I added a few more products here and there, changed out a moisturizer, added a serum, switched out a cleanser, added a toner. It was fun to play around with products, and to have something else to shop for. However, after a month, my skin lost the glow that it initially had when I started this skin care venture. And there it was, for the first time, a pimple. Then that pimple gave birth to another pimple. First around my chin, then my forehead. Before long my face was red, blemished, and pimpled. I had acne.

I bought all the acne products, the spot treatments, the cleansers, benzoyl peroxide, sulfur. You name it, I tried it. And you know what? My acne got worse. I went to estheticians who did peels, nothing. extractions, nothing. Masques. Nothing. Nothing seemed to work.

After one month of my new skin care regimen plus 3 months of acne, I had now accumulated a mini drug store in my bathroom. I remember looking at the countertop in my bathroom 4 months prior and it had one item on it. Now it was the Neiman Marcus cosmetic counter, except instead my friend’s products cluttering my countertop, they were my products.

The search for the one "holy grail" product that would clear my acne became almost an obsession. It was like playing the slot machines in Vegas. Sometimes you pull the lever and you win, most of the time you lose, and the fantasy of hitting it big keeps you coming back for more. Sometimes a product would make the acne slightly clear up, but most of the time it did nothing or made things worse. The gamble and the search and the skin care game became an addiction, but unlike playing the slots where your wallet it the main victim, with skin care, my wallet and my face were the ones who suffered.

At this point I was fed up. I took all of the scrubs, spot treatments, cleansers, toners, serums and masques, and threw them away. Over a thousand dollars’ worth of products now in my trash, and for the first time in 4 months I went to bed without putting a single thing on my face.

The next day I decided to do some research to figure out what was going on with my face. I came across a few articles that discussed some common irritants in skin care. These irritants included fragrance, essential oils, and non-fatty alcohols. Irritants cause inflammation, and break down your skin’s natural protective barrier. That natural protective barrier does a lot of things, and one of its main functions is to prevent bacterial growth. I went digging through the trash and all of my skin care products had fragrance, essential oils, and/or alcohol. I dug further and found that physical exfoliants (products that refer to themselves as “scrubs” or "polishes") cause microlacerations on the face, which are microscopic tears in the skin which bacteria can embed themselves inside. Scrubs/polishes also remove healthy live skin cells, which leads to premature aging. I then found that my cleansers had a pH that was too high, which also causes skin’s protective barrier (specifically the acid mantle) to break down. I felt betrayed. It was my skin care that gave me acne. And worse, the skin care that marketed itself as anti-aging wreaked so much havoc on my skin that it did just the opposite. It was pro-aging.

Poorly formulated skin care can accelerate the aging process.

The silver lining of my skin care debacle was that it taught me that I should be taking care of my skin regardless if I had dryness, acne, or signs of aging. I should have been wearing something to keep my skin hydrated. I should have been using a serum to provide my skin with proper nutrition. I should be using a chemical exfoliant (not physical) to slough off dead skin, and to promote turnover of new skin cells. But at this point I didn’t trust the skin care industry because it ruined my face.

I didn’t trust the skin care industry because it misled me in a way that harmed my skin. I listened to all of the cosmetic counter ladies who told me a small amount of fragrance in skin care was harmless, so I applied products with fragrance and my skin became sensitive. So I went to the esthetician for my sensitive skin, and she gave me a harsh chemical peel followed by products with citrus and essential oils that made my skin irritated and inflamed. So I went back to the cosmetics counter and the ladies sold me cleansers and masques for sensitive, acne-prone skin, which dried my face out. And then I went to the drug store and bought moisturizer for my dried skin that had acne-causing oils which made the pimples more prominent. It was an endless, vicious cycle. The skin care industry tried to make me their customer for life and I wasn’t playing the abuse game anymore.

At the time, I was earning my Master’s in cellular biology, and taking a course in extracellular matrix biology. Everyone has heard of collagen and elastin, they are extracellular matrix proteins involved in keeping skin firm and elastic.

Chen, J., Zhuo, S., Jiang, X., Zhu, X., Zheng, L., Xie, S., Lin, B. and Zeng, H., 2011. Multiphoton microscopy study of the morphological and quantity changes of collagen and elastic fiber components in keloid disease. Journal of biomedical optics, 16(5), pp.051305-051305.

Youthful skin has an abundance of collagen and elastin, but as we age (especially after menopause for women, and mid 40s for men) the amount of collagen and elastin made by our cells declines. I had to do a research proposal for my class, and devise a detailed experiment relating to extracellular matrix biology. With my newfound interest in skin care, I decided to do my research proposal on collagen and elastin. Specifically, I wanted to create a research experiment to determine if any natural products could be applied topically to aged skin and promote collagen and elastin production. I knew that retinoic acid (Vitamin A) had been used for years to stimulate collagen production, and I wanted to go off the beaten path. I ended up writing a proposal about beta glucan, a linear polymer of glucose (sugar), and how it has been found to stimulate collagen and elastin in aged skin.

Shiitake mushrooms are a natural source of beta glucan

My course on extracellular matrix biology was the catalyst for starting my skin care line. After learning about beta glucan and its ability to stimulate collagen and elastin naturally, I purchased some of my own from a cosmetics supplier. I also bought oils that I found to be high in linoleic acid, because acne is caused by an impaired barrier function which throws off the balance of skin’s natural oil (sebum) production. Specifically, the sebum of those with acne has a fatty acid profile disproportionally high in oleic fatty acid. Research has also found that applying oils high in oleic acid promotes the formation of comedones (clogged pores) and induces abnormal follicular keratinization. To reach a balance the sebum needs more linoleic acid.

I researched extracts that were found to be protective against UV-induced melanoma, and found that broccoli sprout extract prevented UV-exposed hairless mice from getting melanoma. I had to make my own broccoli sprout extract since no supplier sold it. I then investigated research supporting the skin-benefitting use of oils and extracts high in nutrients, vitamins, and minerals. Those that were deeply moisturizing were also given preference. I bought, and tested and discarded, and researched, and repeated. Every ingredient that I used was only sought after thorough scientific research which backed its efficacy and safety. Finally, after two years of research, trial, and error, I had my first serum. Serum Bioluminelle.

That was two years ago, and my skin has never looked better or been healthier. I now have a complete line that is the result of tireless research, trial, error, and feedback. When creating my company, I promised that I would never trap someone into a vicious cycle where I created a problem with one product, and sold another product to remedy that problem. That’s what I call Beauty Racketeering. Beauty Racketeering is pervasive, unethical and wrong. Skin care should do just that, care for the skin. Not create an endless cycle of problems and false fixes to generate an endless stream of profits. Creating and maintaining healthy skin is the only goal of Oumere. It’s the motivation behind every product, and nothing will ever change that.


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