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 • Opinion  • Our Beauty Diaries  • Can the World’s Greatest Derms Finally Help Me Get Rid of My Acne? I Find Out

Can the World’s Greatest Derms Finally Help Me Get Rid of My Acne? I Find Out

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Main image – Shannan getting breakfast with Dr Ginni Mansberg. Courtesy of writer

Remember that scene in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince when Ron tells Harry that Hermione has ‘nice skin’ and the audience in the cinema lolled like there’s no tomorrow? To me, that is the *ultimate* compliment. 

I have mild adult acne – my skin is blotchy, blemish-prone, and dull. It fits into the category of ‘not good but not terrible’ and it’s been that way for as long as I can remember.   

But Shan, you’re a beauty journo. You say. Surely, you have access to the world’s greatest skincare? That I do, and I’ve tried many a product, but I’ve had so many flare ups that I have stuck to gentle moisturisers (ceramides and niacinamides) to keep it hydrated without, well, making it worse.  

 

Shannan’s skin, with foundation on, back in 2016. Image – @shannansterne/Instagram

 

I’ve tried switching up my foods and drinks (no alcohol or dairy) and no luck.

I went to see a doctor, who told me that it might be due to my progesterone-only pill but as my skin wasn’t ‘that bad’ and, as I had no other side effects, maybe I should just stick with my current pill (very grateful for the NHS however it was very disheartening to hear this from a professional). I did come off contraception and my skin still sucked. I felt exhausted, disappointed and bored, and the inevitable happened.  

I gave up. 

Earlier this year I had a wild, wild thought: should I give my skin one last shot? I decided to seek out the best derms in the world and ask them if there is a fleeting chance of hope. 

I reached out to two hopefuls: Australian TV presenter and author Dr Ginni Mansberg and Dr Emma Craythorne, known for presenting Bad Skin Clinic and the founder of prescription skincare service Klira. They empathised with my situation (hurrah) and agreed to meet me, listen to me, and help me come up with a solution. 

Please come with me on my skincare journey – I’ve spent the past three months fully immersed in the science behind skincare, testing the best of the best on my blotchy complexion and have documented the process. There was one thing I had to find out first…

 


What exactly is ‘wrong’ with my skin? 

Shannan’s ‘skinsize’ according to Klira’s Dr Ellie Rashid. Image – Courtesy of writer

 

I decided to try prescription brand Klira to find out exactly what was wrong with my skin. I created a profile, uploaded several pics of my face and filled in a (very) detailed quiz. I then met Dr Emma Craythorne and Klira’s medical director, consultant dermatologist Dr Ellie Rashid, IRL and they gave me this nifty chart (pictured). For the first time ever, I had a detailed skin analysis (literally) in my hands.  

My diagnosis: skin sensitivity, redness, acne, hormonal skin changes and irritation. On the bright side, my skin is in good condition and has strong collagen production. Dr Rashid explained that the blemishes are linked to my hormones in relation to my cycle. I suspected my pesky period had a role to play, so I met for breakfast with Dr Mansberg to ask why this is and if there’s anything I can do.

She explained that, during your cycle, there’s a period where “oestrogen levels fall, and testosterone goes up, and that’s why you get that premenstrual flare of acne. It’s because testosterone gets a free ride – there’s no oestrogen trying to battle it away.”

Nature, eh? I ask her if there’s anything I can do. 

“There is a theory that going on certain pills will help. The theory is that there are some women who find that taking a little bit of oestrogen on the back of the pill is enough to combat their testosterone.” I was on various contraceptive pills for years and no dice, so I have accepted monthly craters for life.  

BUT, I can improve my overall complexion… 

 

Shannan chatting with Dr Emma Craythorne. Image – Courtesy of writer

 


Behold, the ‘two-step’ approach 

Dr Mansberg told me that I needed to build my skin barrier up first (this is the outermost later of your skin, it keeps the good stuff in and the bad stuff out). She also said it’s important to maintain a healthy acidity balance.   

“Your skin surface stays at around 4.8, but often you’ll get a PH drift that goes that little bit higher. My first job is to fix your skin barrier and often it’s telling you to stop using everything.” That’s always what I thought, and why I avoid scrubs like the plague (remember that St Ives Fresh Skin Apricot Scrub in Boots? *shudders*)

Dr Mansberg said to “cleanse once a day with a creamy cleanser with a maximum PH of 5.5 to stop that disruption of the skin barrier, then add lightweight, reparative ingredients. Once your barrier is repaired, focus on enhancing your skin cell turnover using anti-inflammatory ingredients.” 

Got it – I fix the barrier then I can get to the good stuff. Using the advice and product recommendations from the experts, here’s what I did. 

 


First 4-weeks: building my barrier

AM:

Calming moisturiser
I used the ESK Light Weight Moisturising Cream – it has a SUPER gentle PH of 5–5.5 and doesn’t sting at all. 


Extra moisturise dose
I added an extra moisturiser to Dr Mansberg’s suggested routine as, after a couple of weeks, my skin still felt a little dry. I loaded up on the Bioeffect Hydrating Cream. It’s loaded with barley EGF (epidermal growth factor) to boost collagen, elastin and hyaluronic acid production. 

Gentle SPF
I know better, I’ve never stuck to SPF all year round. Until now, with Biossance’s strengthening Squalane + Zinc Sheer Mineral Sunscreen. 

 

Image – Courtesy of writer

 

PM:

Calming cleanser
ALWAYS check your cleanser’s PH levels. Just think, washing up liquid has a PH of around 8 – so you don’t want acidity anywhere near that level. In fact, a recent UK study revealed that its especially crucial to maintain acid levels if you suffer from eczema.  I used the ESK Calming Cleanser at night only (as it can take skin 24 hours to recover) and I have to say it’s my new ride-or-die. It’s creamy, it doesn’t sting, and it smells like coconut. 

Repairing night cream Klira’s expert derms recommended locking in the moisture with the CeraVe Moisturising Cream

 

Shannan says her skin looked less patchy and stopped stinging when she applied product after 4 weeks of her new skincare. Image – Courtesy of writer

 


4 weeks +: getting active

If your skin stops stinging when you apply product – this is your sign! I kept my AM routine the same, but in the evening, I sandwiched actives between my cleanser and reparative moisturiser.

 

During week 5, Shannan’s Aunt Irma visited, and she had a blemish flare up on her chin. Image – Courtesy of writer

 

PM

Exfoliating serum: 
The Gentle Glow PHA Serum isn’t your usual exfoliator. You don’t wash it off – you swipe the liquid-y texture over your skin and let it smooth. 

 

Vitamin A serum:
Vitamin A is the only ingredient scientifically proven to stimulate collagen but I’ve always steered clear as I’m scared of my skin kicking off. The ESK Ultimate A+ is o.1% retinal, 4% niacinamide and 2% glycolic acid, so it addresses acne, while niacinamide keeps skin calm. 

 


The takeaway 

Before:

 

Image – Courtesy of writer

 

After:

 

Image – Courtesy of writer

 

I do wish I smiled in these mugshots, but just look at the results. It’s only been six weeks, and you can see that my skin is clearer, brighter, and the blotchiness between my eyebrows in the ‘before’ pics has vanished. 

But let me tell you, my skin is soft as a baby’s bottom. I can’t remember the last time it was soft to the touch, and I’m putting that down to *finally* peppering active ingredients to my routine. 

The best thing? I feel heard. I don’t feel vain or silly, and I feel like there is hope for me to feel better in the skin I am in. 

There is one thing that I really want you to take away from this – know that your feelings towards your skin are just as valid as everyone else’s. Honestly, I don’t think I’m ever going to have ‘perfect’ skin like J-Lo, but it can feel much better. And that’s good enough for me. 

 

Meet the experts 

Dr Ginni Mansberg is co-founder of Australian brand ESK skin. She is also a general practitioner, author and TV presenter. She is best known for her role as co-host of Embarrassing Bodies Down Under and her appearances on Australian shows Sunrise and The Morning Show. 

 

Dr Emma Craythorne is co-founder of prescription skincare brand Klira. She is also a consultant dermatologist, trustee for the Cosmetic Practice Standards Authority and ex-president of the British Cosmetic Dermatology Group. She is well known for her TV series – the Bad Skin Clinic. 

 

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Freelance Beauty Writer

Shannan is a freelance beauty journalist with over seven years of experience working on beauty desks.  You’ll see her work published in the likes of Harrods' own magazine, Red, Women’s Wear Daily, Canvas8 and more. She regularly guest lectures on various courses at Condé Nast College of Fashion and Design about digital content. Shannan is obsessed with all-things beauty, and particularly loves writing about scent – she was a finalist for the 'Rising Star' category at The Jasmine Awards 2023, one of the most prestigious journalistic awards in the beauty industry.

Expertise: Makeup, skincare
Education: Falmouth University
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