How natural ingredients saved my skin after a steroid prescription wreaked havoc on it
Welcome to Clean, Green, and In Between—HelloGiggles’ new beauty column about skin care lotions and potions that are natural, sustainable, or, as the title suggests, somewhere in between.
Ever since I made the switch to an all-natural beauty routine, I haven’t been able to shut up about it. Seriously. Ask my friends, my family, my husband—my obsession is too much for any one listener to handle. That’s why I became a beauty editor in the first place. And now, with a monthly soapbox to stand on for HelloGiggles, I feel like my passion finally has purpose: I can wax poetic about naturals, you can soak up some of my excess knowledge, and together we can bond over a shared love of this magical outer coating we call skin.
I wasn’t always a clean beauty groupie. For most of my life, my skin care routine consisted of standing in line at CVS to fill yet another dermatologist prescription. I tried them all in an effort to treat my “problem skin:” oral antibiotics, topical antibiotics, Accutane, ointments, you name it. And all of them worked.
…Not really. In actuality, none of them worked—or if they did, my skin cleared up for just a little while before the acne/dermatitis/insert-issue-here came back with a vengeance. Sound familiar?
As I neared the end of my dermatological rope, a “miracle cure” for my perioral and periorbital dermatitis (a fancy way to say dry, red patches of skin around the mouth and eyes) appeared: prescription steroid cream. And oh, did the steroids work. They worked so freakin’ well. Within hours of application, the dermatitis that dominated my face for the better part of two years was finally gone. All I had to do was apply a thin layer every night, and my complexion stayed smooth and clear.
Except gradually, I had to use more and more cream to keep the dermatitis at bay. I ran through my 45 gram tube pretty quickly, but that wasn’t a problem. My dermatologist(s) gave me a refill whenever I needed, no questions asked.
If my life was a movie, this would be the part where the picture freezes on my smiling, happy face and the familiar voiceover starts:
“Little did she know…the steroids were actually destroying her skin.”
As it turns out, while steroids are a standard treatment for dermatitis, they’re also one of the main causes of dermatitis. The more you use, the more the skin builds up a “resistance,” and the stronger the dermatitis becomes. Eventually, the condition stops responding to medication at all. (I’ve since learned from much smarter dermatologists than mine that the usual allowance for steroid treatment is two to three weeks. I was using them daily for over a year.)
Another consequence of overdosing on steroid cream? “Skin atrophy,” which is just as terrifying as it sounds. The area of application is thinned out, sometimes permanently, and I’m not being hyperbolic when I say it is skin care hell. Post-steroids, everything in my arsenal—even the gentlest CeraVe cleanser—made my tracing-paper-thin skin burn, tingle, or peel.
Since I couldn’t handle medication and I couldn’t cover up with makeup, I did what the desperate often do: I dove deep into the skinternet (the skin care internet, people) and lost myself in message boards. Most of the suggestions from my fellow sufferers revolved around pure, simple, natural ingredients. Naturals were never my thing, but I figured, What the heck? I gave a few of them a try.
And that’s how I discovered that my steroid-ravaged skin had a superpower: It was sensitive.
I know what you’re thinking. “Sensitive” is usually perceived as a bad thing in the beauty world; and sure, my skin was hypersensitive to harsh products. But it was also sensitive to the good stuff. Natural ingredients—you know, the ones that people say aren’t as effective as the man-made kind—worked actual, literal wonders. Quickly.
Within a week of spritzing my face with a homemade mist of watered-down tea tree oil, my dermatitis was nearly gone. A few minutes with a Manuka honey mask calmed flareups just like that. A simple routine of rose water to cleanse, diluted apple cider vinegar to tone, and jojoba oil to moisturize gave me better results than any prescription I’d ever taken…with none of the side effects. The power behind these plucked-from-the-earth ingredients showed me that natural does not have to mean ineffective.
Today, I’m more than okay with my thin skin (which is on the mend, by the way, thanks to the barrier-boosting Omega acids in hemp seed, rose hips, and sweet almond oils). It’s given me a strange kind of insight into how the skin works—how it responds to harsh chemicals, how it thrives on gentle naturals, and how it’s actually way more low-maintenance than we think it is—and sparked an insatiable interest in skin health. I’ve studied the biology of the skin, dug into dermatology texts, and built a career in the skin care space. I’m even in the midst of earning a certification in Organic Skin Care Formulation because I love natural skin care so damn much.
Everything I’ve learned thus far has opened my eyes—and my mind—to concepts I always considered weird or “woo-woo,” like You can eat your way to clearer skin! You can meditate your way to clearer skin! (Or at least, I have…and I feel like you might want to give it a shot, too?)
In the meantime, I’ll leave you with this: Try a 20-minute Manuka honey mask. You can thank me next month.