Your 20s are supposed to be your skin’s glory days, right? At least that was the lie I was fed growing up, when I was led to believe that I would leave behind my oily, unpredictable skin in the past once I’d graduated from my teens, along with all those pubescent memories of mood swings, questionable lifestyle choices, and hormones frantically trying to balance themselves out.

I got a nice wake up call when I had my second baby at age 27. I found myself faced, once more, with the erratic hormonal breakouts of days past. Whiteheads, blackheads, oily patches, invisible pimples on the jawline—you name it, I had it. As someone who can’t help but pick at her blemishes, those once invisible spots wound up looking like Mount Rushmore, and satisfaction will came only via constant squeezing and picking-induced eruptions. Gross, but true. Pair this with someone whose knowledge of skincare is, er, lacking, and you’ve got yourself a pretty overwhelming situation.

I thought I could take matters into my own hands, and was thus swept up in the glamour of booking myself in for peels, microdermabrasions, and extraction facials on the regular. I traipsed from store to store, heeding the advice of anyone and everyone on how to fix this problem skin of mine. Truth be told, all this fuss and extra attention only made it worse. The worse it got, the more I was fixated on curing it, but I never once stumbled upon a “miracle product” that came good on its promise. After 2 years of frustration and stress (which undoubtedly contributed to the hot mess that was my skin), I yearned for someone who would understand my skin in a more simple, natural way. I was ready to accept that a quick fix was not going to help me, and that, in order to support my skin back to a healthy, confident state, I was going to have to look at alternative measures—which is how I found Fay Halkitis of Luna Beauty & Apothecary in Sydney’s Surry Hills.

During my first consultation with Fay, she shared with me her longstanding interest in and passion for natural skincare and herbs. With a background in naturopathy and having been a facial therapist at Aesop, I had good faith that she would be the one to fix my skin. Below is Fay’s comprehensive guide to combating teenage-esque skin with natural, gentle, and non-invasive measures at any age.

What’s your personal philosophy on skin? How do you view skin, and what it is trying to tell us?
The main message to take home is that the skin is a living, breathing organ and ecosystem of its own. My whole philosophy when treating skin is to support barrier function. It’s important to help alleviate congested problem areas without accelerating ageing by dehydrating and over-cleansing, exfoliating, or using laser. The overuse of cosmeceuticals can lead to irritation, dehydration, and inflammation. Stress, hormone imbalance, and food intolerances can often present as acne, eczema, or rosacea. This indicates just how important it is to address each of these conditions. Gentle and non-invasive, but still thorough, is key to my treatments.

What are the common understandings or interpretations of problem skin you hear communicated to you by your clients?
Most of the time a client will come to me with congested, blemish-prone skin, and mistakenly describe their skin as being dry, which means they are often selecting and using products designed for truly dry skin. This is where education is key. Dry skin is what we refer to as lipid dry. Dehydrated skin, on the other hand, is what we refer to as water dry. Most clients present with some degree of dehydration, but blemished or problem skin almost always happens because that person is using a cleanser that leaves the skin squeaky clean and is then relying on heavy moisturisers to compensate for that tight feeling.

What are some of your tips for someone with problem skin who is looking to try a new product or beauty treatment?
It’s always tempting to want to do more when your skin is having a flare-up, but this often just prolongs the problem. Keep your routine simple yet specific until it settles. It’s also important to remember that while topical applications can help keep things under control, you can’t ignore the internal processes that could be contributing. Speak to an herbalist, nutritionist, or naturopath if you have irregular periods, anxiety, or an upset digestive system.

How would you suggest looking after skin that is constantly changing (e.g. easily congested, pimple-prone, oily/dry)?
The most important step for troubled skin is the cleanse. I almost always recommend a gentle cream cleanser for troubled, congested, or imbalanced skin types. Yes, purifying ingredients are essential to help dissolve excess sebum, pollution, and makeup, but the skin should feel soft and comfortable afterwards—never dry or tight. The best way to achieve this is with a hot muslin cloth. Massage a cream cleanser (without any mineral oil!) on dry skin, soak a muslin cloth in hot water, wring it out, and use it as a compress on the face. Take a few deep breaths and gently wipe away. The weave in the cloth will have more friction than your fingertips or running water, which ensures all product is removed and dead skin is gently buffed away. It’s also vitally important to not hold your face directly under a running shower head, as the combination of the pressure and heat of the tap water causes rapid vasoconstriction and dilation. This weakens the vessel walls, and over time they burst, leaving the complexion red. Copious amounts of tap water on the face is also very dehydrating. Change your pillowcase weekly. If you have particularly sensitive, inflamed, or reactive skin, consider skipping the morning cleanse. As long as you always cleanse at night before bed and change your pillowcase weekly, you may find your skin is calmer with just a few sprays of a hydrosol followed by moisturiser in the morning. Stress management plays a big role in managing temperamental skin. Take a weekly bath to relax with Himalayan or Epsom salt—I recommend Therapie’s Himalayan Detox Salts. Soak in a hot bath for 15 minutes, pat yourself dry (so as not to remove beneficial essential oil residue), moisturise, wrap up warm, and go to bed. This is a great way to gently encourage detoxification, increase circulation, and promote restful sleep.

Are there any specific foods or lifestyle choices that might not be helpful for problem skin?
I don’t recommend a super restrictive diet. It’s better to focus on all the delicious and nutritious foods you can consume, rather than the ones you’re eliminating. A Mediterranean diet is best, with organic animal products and sustainable seafood, abundant fruit and vegetables, good quality eggs, and full-fat dairy products. Chicken and beef bone broth is also highly beneficial for skin, due to its amino acid profile and gelatin content. Quality ingredients are at the heart of a good diet, so try to avoid artificial colours, sweeteners, hydrogenated fats, and excess alcohol. Keep refined wheat and trans fats to an absolute minimum, as they are inflammatory and irritating to the gut lining.

Words, Georgie Lineham.