How A Reddit Forum Helped Me Get The Best Skin Of My Life

Photographed by Kate Anglestein.
For a long time, I was one of the lucky ones, the rare breed of American teenager that, despite a steady diet of greasy Burger King drive-through and a penchant for eating chocolate late at night, somehow managed to escape the clutches of pubescent acne. I knew that I was lucky, and other people, even strangers, would remind me of it, too — older women stopping me in public restrooms to tell me what beautiful skin I had, friends with pimple-ridden faces asking me what I did to keep it that way. Nothing, really, I'd say, smugly. I guess I'm just lucky.
Here's the thing about luck: Sometimes, it runs out. One night, shortly after my 20th birthday, I went to bed with clear skin and woke up in the morning to two cysts on my chin, side-by-side, so red, painful, and hot to the touch that I thought I'd been bitten by a spider while I slept. But a visit to the dermatologist, who then referred me to a gynecologist, confirmed that there were no spiders, just a hormonal-disorder diagnosis, a prescription for Epiduo, and the recommendation that I do my best to follow a simple skin-care routine to help keep it clear.
What was once an afterthought quickly became an obsession — a years-long process of trial and error, of trying to find products and ingredients and tricks that might lead me to skin salvation. And yes, this is my story, but it's also the story of everyone else who's ever found themselves completely blindsided by adult acne. Saying that someone "suffers" from acne might sound like a hyperbole, but the psychological effects of acne are very real, and well-documented. (Hell, even Salma Hayek said her severe breakouts made her depressed.) It becomes a part of your life, a part of you, all you see when you look in the mirror.
But while there may not be a single magic pill for curing acne, there is a place where sufferers can go to talk (or rather, type) it out: Reddit's SkincareAddiction forum. With over 375,000 subscribers, it caters not just to the perpetually problem-skinned, but to all skin-care enthusiasts, and anyone who wants to know what that rash might be. It's a community and a resource, both personal and educational, the place to go when you feel like screaming into a void about how bad your skin is and also when you just want to know how your vitamin C serum might interact with your sunscreen.
Until recently, I was what one might call a long-time lurker of /r/SkincareAddiction (or ScA for short) — an outsider who read the information in its threads and indexes, learned the acronyms and knew the difference between blackheads and sebaceous filaments, but didn't actively participate in the conversation. Even as someone who makes a living trying out the latest and greatest in beauty, I discovered new products, picked up on growing trends, and silently applauded the before-and-afters of people who, after years of battling with their skin, finally found a Holy Grail routine that worked.
And then, on a Sunday afternoon when I'd been feeling particularly doom and gloom about my face, I decided to sign up for an account and jump right in. I abandoned the lineup of prestige products I was using — which clearly weren't doing the job — and asked for Routine Help, writing a characteristically long-winded post that detailed my skin type (sensitive, reactive, blemish-prone, oily but dehydrated), my current concerns (redness, inflammation, hormonal breakouts), and what I actually wanted my skin to look like (bright, glowing, virtually poreless "glass skin"), even though technically no one asked me. It was one of the best things I ever did.
Ahead, some of the products I picked up on my SkincareAddiction vision quest — and what they taught me about how I should really be treating my skin.
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Snail-laced skin care had a trending moment a few years back, but the K-beauty staple is still alive and well in the ScA community, where it's treated not as a gross-out novelty but rather a kind of "hero product" for brightening, moisturizing, and everything in between. This essence in particular, which was recommended to me by three separate users (and is the subject of many a rave review), is lightweight, totally scent-free, and only a little bit sticky, in the way you would imagine anything made of snail slime to be sticky. It wasn't a game-changer for me personally, but it seemed to help "lock in" hydration despite possibly leaving an actual snail somewhere feeling very dry. (For the record, I don't know how this is made, nor am I interested in knowing.)
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Using a gentle, straightforward cleanser was a new and boring experience for me — where's the spa-like fragrance? The luxurious lather? The gel formula that gets all milky when you add water? It was also a necessary evil, because replacing my regular routine with all this unexciting stuff was what eventually led me to the realization that, hey, my skin hates essential oils. This cleanser is really good at taking off makeup without having to rub at your eyes, and also has the surprisingly fun benefit of foaming like one of those bubble masks as you massage it in. I like it a lot, though I do occasionally swap it out for La Roche-Posay's creamy Toleriane Hydrating Gentle Cleanser now that it's colder out.
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This popular drugstore toner is also a SkincareAddiction go-to, and it's easy to see why: It's got the brightening, exfoliating power of glycolic acid plus aloe and witch hazel to keep skin soothed and clarified. Unfortunately for me, it also contains fragrance — a teeny-tiny amount of it, but just enough to make my highly reactive skin feel like it was under siege the second I swiped on the cotton ball. I was sad that I couldn't give this one a fair trial, because everyone else loves it, but at least I'll be able to make some Glow Tonic addict very happy this Christmas with a generous donation of the five bottles under my desk.
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This is really more of an /r/AsianBeauty pick, but it's too good not to include. I can't pinpoint the exact thing that it does, but I do know that it leaves my skin bizarrely soft, smooth, and plump, like a baby with subtle, well-placed facial fillers. It smells of nothing, feels amazing when you splash it on after cleansing, and comes in a delightfully large bottle that I am going through at an alarming rate.
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If there is one skin-care line that ScA loves the most, it's probably The Ordinary. The internet-famous brand is doing what no brand has done before, bringing potent active ingredients to the people with no-frills formulas and low, low prices. The products are pretty amazing, and I am fully on board, which is why I have amassed a collection of them. This rose hip seed oil is my favorite because it's incredibly hydrating and luxe and all the things you want a facial oil to be, without being heavy — or expensive. I also love the Azelaic Acid Suspension 10%, the Niacinamide 10% + Zinc 1%, and the AHA 30% + BHA 2% Peeling Solution, an exfoliating mask that looks like blood.
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Differin, Differin, Differin — everyone loves it, everyone talks about it all the time. But for real, I stopped using my prescription retinoid and started using this one after reading testimonials on ScA about how people have gotten the same results with less irritation just by switching to Differin from their doctor-prescribed formulas. It's a little bit gentler, and probably a little less potent, but it does a great job of keeping major breakouts at bay without drying me out.
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While the people of ScA delight in finding brands and products that provide high-quality skin care at budget prices (see: The Ordinary), you'll find Drunk Elephant front and center in many a shelfie. That's because, despite their prestige price point, the products fit perfectly in line with the M.O. of seriously effective formulas that, by leaving out a long list of common irritants, can be safely used by almost anyone. This hydrating gel, for example, is beyond versatile (I like to mix it with an oil), which makes it worth splurging on.

But always keep in mind the first, most important rule of SkincareAddiction: YMMV. Your Mileage May Vary — or, "just because a product works for someone else (or a million people) doesn't mean it will work for you." Words to live by — or at least test skin care by.
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appearance by Ashley Laylock; hosted by Mi-Anne Chan.
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