The harsh sound of an alarm every day at exactly 7:30 a.m has become regular background noise to sophomore Sydney Pang. As the sun rises, Pang rolls out of bed to begin her daily skin care routine. Step one: Acne face wash. Step two: Witch hazel toner. Step three: An antibiotic face wipe. Step four: A dermatologist-prescribed pimple cream. Step five: Moisturizer. Finally, 100 milligrams of Doxycycline, an oral antibiotic commonly used to treat acne. Then, at night, Pang repeats the same routine all over again.
Complex skin care routines are common for Paly students, especially because adolescence can cause fluctuating hormones that affect the skin. Skin care routines contain a lot of variability, making the skin care industry diverse and profitable. Lucintel, a market research report company, estimates that the skin care product industry will reach $135 billion in sales by 2021. The excessive volume of skin care products designed to eliminate or lessen acne drives consumers to purchase and experiment with different ingredients and brands. In addition, some students turn to prescribed medication to treat acne, such as antibiotics like Doxycycline, or more serious prescription drugs like isotretinoin (Accutane). However, Pang said she chose to take a less severe drug than Accutane because of the potential negative side effects, both physical and mental, of that drug. The more serious side effects of Accutane include liver damage, seizures, depression or mood changes, while the less extreme side effects include dry skin and nausea.
“My doctor gave me two options: to take antibiotics or to take Accutane,” Pang said. “But my parents and I decided that Accutane was just not the good route to take because I don’t want to risk my mental health. I’m not saying that antibiotics don’t have risks. I feel like it’s just safer, even though it may take more time to get to the result I want. I probably have to take antibiotics until my hormones stop, so maybe until my 20s.”
According to dermatologist and former Stanford University instructor Marie Jhin, antibiotics are used to target acne-causing bacteria, and more serious prescription medications like Accutane target the oil glands.
While Pang chose to commit to a less severe medication and lengthy skin care journey, sophomore Joey Edmonds has tried everything from creams to pills to birth control to try and cure her acne, and eventually ended up using Accutane.
“Accutane worked out really well for me personally,” Edmonds said. “But it has different effects on different people, so I’d recommend talking to a dermatologist. I did have occasional anxiety and depression, and that’s normal with birth control and Accutane, so I was expecting it. I definitely think it was worth it because it helped me a lot. It cleared up some of my scarring, and I’ve had basically no extra acne since then.”
Although Edmonds started using skin care products as part of a daily routine since the age of 10, she says that her tedious five-year journey to clear skin has been worth it. Junior Olivia Luz agrees, saying despite the daily side effects she had to endure while on Accutane, the results were worth it. Throughout the five month period of taking Accutane, Luz also had to receive monthly blood tests to check for liver damage.
“I went to a dermatologist and said, ‘Look, I’ve tried everything and nothing is working,’” Luz said. “So the doctor said ‘okay,’ and put me on Accutane… I still get some pimples, but it’s nothing compared to my skin before Accutane. It was so worth it because my skin is so clear now, and I’m so glad I did it.”
Although skin care is seen as more of a task and necessity to Luz, sophomore Naomi Boneh said she has transformed the daily routine of taking care of her skin into somewhat of a hobby.
“Sometimes when I’m really tired, I’ll still wash my face and do my routine, and it’ll be like a chore, but most of the time it’s kind of fun,” Boneh said. “My favorite part is seeing results and seeing better skin, and also it is just kind of calming.”
While Boneh’s skin care routine involves a combination of American brands, including prescribed topical ointments, as well as Korean brands, she said she prefers to use Korean skin care products.
“(Korean beauty) is more natural, and I feel like with Korean beauty there’s a lot of products that are popular and a lot of people get the staple products, so it’s easy to know what to buy. Whereas in American beauty there’s just a ton of stuff.”
Over the past few years, the popularity of Korean skin care has been steadily increasing and the South Korean beauty market is projected to reach $7.2 billion in retail sales by 2020, according to research by Mintel, a market intelligence agency. Facial skin care accounts for more than half (51%) of the total market share, with a large amount of publicity surrounding the famous 10-step Korean skin care routine.
Sophomore Tiffany Lee said Korean products are better suited for her skin in comparison to many American products.
“I got really bad acne last year, so I kind of got obsessed with fixing it,” Lee said. “Then I got facials and stuff, but nothing worked, so I just took it into my own hands and was like, ‘I’m going to try new stuff.’ So I started getting into Asian skin care, because I don’t trust drugstores or American skin care anymore… American skin care is really drying, and it’s really strong, and I think things that are more gentle will be better for your skin.”
Although Lee says she thinks American skin care is more aggressive than Asian skin care, Jhin disagrees. Jhin says both the Asian and American skin care markets have a wide and diverse range of products, which could either be very natural or very harsh.
“The Korean 10-step process is not necessarily more gentle,” Jhin said. “What it does is it makes people become a lot more compliant and take care of their skin better … Say someone who barely washes their face and someone who’s going to do a 10-step system: the person who’s doing the 10-step system is going to have better skin because they’re being more diligent, compliant and they are using more products.”
Pang, Edmonds, Boneh and Lee all say regardless of which method a person uses, one of the downsides of using quality skin care products is the cost. Boneh said she cannot purchase as many products as she wants because of the high cost of luxury brands, and Pang said she estimates the cost of her medication and products to be around $150 per month.
“Nowadays, there’s a lot of issues with prescription pricing and costs, and it’s made some of the medication really unaffordable. Some of the medications that I would want to give my patients, the best, sometimes I can’t give it to them because their insurance doesn’t cover it. It really is a big issue, and it’s something that as a physician, as well as patients, you really have to advocate for prescription pricing to come down.”
Through the many pros and cons of skin care, Jhin said skin care should be a crucial part of everyone’s daily life.
“The most important thing to tell teenagers about having good healthy skin is that it takes effort,” Jhin said. “There is no quick solution, but their acne is very very curable. The skin is out there. It’s the first thing that will be exposed to weather or to pollution or sun or smoke, and then it’s the largest organ. So if you’re not eating well and you’re not healthy and you’re stressed, it all shows up in your skin.”