skincare, sweets, and Oxford commas

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Thursday, September 15, 2016

Giving up dairy for better skin (and smoothie recipes to cope)

Jen eating milky desserts: key lime pie, espresso blondies, matcha soft serve ice cream

I'm convinced that dairy is an acne trigger for me, which sucks because I'm really into making buttery desserts, and I love dairy in general SO MUCH:
  • Triple cream brie from Cowgirl Creamery
  • Jasmine or earl grey tea-flavored ice cream from Mr and Mrs. Miscellaneous
  • Full-fat plain yogurt with granola – I could eat this every morning for the rest of my life. 
  • Sour cream in a taco. 
  • Melted cheese in any form – hello, raclette and fondue! 
  • Kouign-amann and passion fruit bostock from b.patisserie
  • Banana cake with cream cheese frosting from Icing on the Cake
  • Chocolate rum cake from The Prolific Oven
  • Vanilla celebration cake from Susiecakes
Whenever I eat any of these delicious things, I get a horrible breakout. Granted, I've never had an easy time digesting dairy. But beyond mere lactose intolerance, there seems to be something about milk itself (the hormones?) that upsets my skin.

I never would have considered cutting out dairy were it not for my dermatologist, who told me there's a scientifically proven (albeit weak) link between dairy consumption and acne. But because she mentioned it, I've cut dairy from my diet for the past month and a half, and much like Annie Tomlin, I've noticed a difference!

It's especially difficult when cheese-covered bar food and milky desserts call my name. When I was visiting fast-food-mecca LA earlier this month, I had to order burritos and burgers without cheese or sour cream. This also meant giving up on my conquest for the Blue Velvet Cake from The Milk Shop, which I'd been wanting to try for years. *stomp stomp whine whine*

Without my favorite dairy treats, I definitely have fewer endorphin-blasting moments. But the sustained level of endorphins in my system is higher on average because my skin's smoother and I don't have as many embarrassing digestive issues (the people around me are a lot happier too...)

Better yet, my foray into the dairy-free world has helped me discover products like So Delicious Yogurt, which has a thick, creamy texture and delightful (not overwhelming) coconutty taste.

I used this yogurt to make a dairy-free version of Blogilates' Rainbow Smoothie and the smoothie bowl of my dreams, inspired by Hello Miss May. See recipes below!

Dairy-free rainbow smoothies with spinach, pineapple, raspberries, strawberries, cherries, carrots, peaches, and pitaya Rainbow Smoothies
adapted from Blogilates
makes 2 generous servings

Mix each layer one at a time. I used my Cuisinart Smart Stick Blender for each layer, rinsing the blender blade in between each run.

Yellow layer:
- 4 frozen peach sections
- 1 cup frozen pineapple
- 2" banana
- 1/4 cup almond milk

Orange layer:
- 8 frozen peach sections
- 1 clementine
- 1/2 cup shredded carrots

Red layer:
- 1 cup frozen cherries, strawberries, and raspberries
- 3 tablespoons So Delicious Plain Yogurt
- 3 tablespoons almond milk

Purple layer:
- 1 cup frozen blueberries
- 2" banana
- 1/4 cup almond milk

Green layer:
- 1 cup frozen green grapes
- 1 cup spinach
- 3 tablespoons So Delicious Plain Yogurt
- 1/4 cup almond milk

Pink layer
- 1 pitaya smoothie pack (can be found in freezer section at Whole Foods)
- 2" banana
- 3 tablespoons almond milk

Spoon each layer into a tall clear glass and enjoy!

Green smoothie with granola, strawberries, blueberries, and almonds
Green Smoothie Bowls
adapted from Hello Miss May
makes 2 servings

Green smoothie ingredients:
- 1 cup frozen green grapes
- 1 cup spinach
- 3 tablespoons So Delicious Plain Yogurt
- 1/4 cup almond milk

- Trader Joe's Vanilla Almond Clusters cereal
- Blueberries
- Bananas, sliced
- Strawberries, sliced
- Almonds

  1. Blend all green smoothie ingredients together (you can use a traditional blender or a stick blender like the Cuisinart Smart Stick Blender).
  2. Get a shallow bowl.
  3. Place cereal on one side of the bowl.
  4. Place strawberry slices right next to the cereal.
  5. Layer blueberries next to the strawberries.
  6. Fill the other side of the bowl with the green smoothie.
  7. Place banana slices and almonds decoratively on top of the smoothie.
Friday, September 9, 2016

Accutane: The good, the bad, and the fabulous

Acne Studios is the name of a fashion-forward Swedish clothing brand, but it might has well have been my nickname throughout my acne-riddled adolescence and adulthood.
Acne Studios is the name of a fashion-forward Swedish clothing brand, but it might has well have been my nickname throughout my acne-riddled adolescence and adulthood.

I had severe, relentless acne from the tender age of 12. For years, I tried every other topical and oral treatment known to man (benzoyl peroxide, tea tree oil, salicylic acid, laser treatments, antibiotics, birth control pills, Chinese herbal medicine) and saw little to no success.

Thanks to my stubborn acne, my teen and early adult years were overrun with memories like these:
  • Hauling an enormous bag of anti-acne products to summer camp
  • Scouring the web for acne solutions late at night in my college dorm room
  • Leaving a big foundation stain on a friend's white shirt after giving him a hug
  • Freaking out about my red, bumpy face before every job interview

Finally, my dermatologist prescribed Accutane (orally-ingested isotretinoin) when I was 24, and it changed my life. My skin was no longer an oily, inflamed mess, and I could step out of the house without a thick layer of foundation on my face.

On the left: Hiking in Palo Alto in 2009, wearing a TON of makeup. Despite layers of foundation, concealer, and powder, you can still see acne on my cheeks, forehead, and chin, plus my skin was extremely oily.
On the right: From my trip to LA last weekend, wearing just a touch of NARS Radiant Creamy Concealer in Ginger. Even though I ended my last course of Accutane in 2012, my skin is still relatively clear today. Also, I’ve aged.

I’m a huge advocate of Accutane for anyone who is frustrated with their acne. Essentially a large dose of vitamin A, Accutane shrinks sebaceous glands and slows the production of oils. With less oil, hair follicles and pores are less likely to clog, eliminating breeding grounds for acne-causing bacteria. The result? Clear, smooth skin.

Despite Accutane’s efficacy, people have a lot of qualms about it:
  1. There are claims that Accutane causes depression and suicide.
  2. Accutane was originally formulated as a skin cancer chemotherapy drug. It’s perceived as too extreme of a measure for a cosmetic condition like acne.
  3. One of the most common side effects of taking Accutane, dry skin, is assumed to be too painful to endure for a lifetime of better skin.

Here’s a qualm-by-qualm breakdown of why I still recommend Accutane:
  1. There’s no scientifically-proven causative link between Accutane and mental issues. Anecdotally, I felt more unhinged when I was on birth control pills (and I tried pretty much every brand on the market) than when I was on Accutane. Once my skin started clearing up, I felt more positive and emotionally free than ever.
  2. While it’s true that Accutane was originally formulated as a skin cancer drug, Accutane's had clinical clearance from the FDA as a safe anti-acne medication since 1982. Moreover, acne is not merely a ‘cosmetic’ condition: it is a very visible problem that can cause psychological and social scarring, so it makes sense to get advanced medical science involved. And under the guidance of a board-certified dermatologist that you trust, taking Accutane is perfectly safe.
  3. Accutane does cause dry skin, but it’s temporary and can be mitigated by using emollient lip balm, a deep facial moisturizer, and healing body ointment throughout your Accutane course.

Most importantly, most of Accutane's side effects can be mitigated by easing into it with small dosages that gradually get bumped up.

The efficacy of Accutane comes not from daily dosage amounts, but from the cumulative amount that you take over one continuous course. For example, if your dermatologist prescribes a 14,400 mg cumulative course (this amount will vary based on your height, weight, and severity of acne), you can take 60 mg daily doses for eight months, or you can take 120 mg daily doses for four months–so long as the cumulative dosage is the same between the two paths.

In order to mitigate the side effects mentioned above, I highly recommend the former path: I was on a mild 5 mg daily dosage for a month before eventually graduating up to 60 mg daily in my ninth month, and I experienced virtually no side effects (I was surprised because I am typically hyper-sensitive to most medications a la my experience with birth control pills).

Before you embark on your Accutane journey, please note these drawbacks:
  • Accutane causes birth defects when ingested by pregnant women. Any woman of child-bearing age who is prescribed Accutane must present two negative pregnancy tests before starting the medication and use two forms of birth control throughout the course. I recommend latex condoms and a non-hormonal IUD. Hormonal birth control can alter the skin-clearing effects of Accutane, and every time I’ve tried a hormonal birth control method, I’ve had horrible breakouts.
  • Accutane requires monthly monitoring of the liver due to its high vitamin A content. This requires visiting the doctor once a month to have your blood drawn and evaluated throughout the course of your Accutane treatment. The monthly trips to the doctor are manageable and absolutely worth it – remind yourself that you’ll only have to do them for a few months and then you’ll be DONE.
  • Accutane makes your skin more susceptible to sunburn. Daily sunscreen application is an absolute must (but this should be the case anyway even if you're not on Accutane). 
  • Accutane does not eradicate all acne forever. Even after completing an Accutane course, I still get a couple zits from time to time. But armed with topicals from the dermatologist's office, my favorite retail skincare products, and a rigorous skincare regimen, I have control over my acne (rather than it being the other way around).

Despite these drawbacks, the vast improvement in my skin (and my confidence) from Accutane was well worth it. My only regret with Accutane was that I didn’t try it sooner.