Decoding The Insider Skin-Care Terms You'll Always See On Reddit

Photographed by Kate Anglestein.
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Even if you're a regular polyglot (looking at you, Natalie Portman), learning about skin care from people who already know a lot about skin care can sometimes feel like a study in foreign-language immersion. Factor in a lengthy list of acronyms and shortened forms like 'cones (that would be silicones) and Vit C (yes, for vitamin C), and it's basically the Tower of Babel up in Reddit's SkincareAddiction, where the routine advice is plentiful, the community is tight, and the ease of navigation is... not the best.
Ahead, we've decoded some of the forum's most commonly-used acronyms and phrases. Because once you know the right word for "dark spots" and how to determine whether it's PIH or PIE that's lingering post-breakout, you're that much more likely to find the right stuff to sort it out. Don't let a minor language barrier get in the way of your perfect skin goals.
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Illustrated by Louisa Cannell.
OCM: Oil Cleansing Method

There is life beyond harsh cleansers that leave skin feeling dry, tight, and squeaky clean in the worst way — it's called oil cleansing. The idea of using oil as a solvent to remove makeup and impurities without stripping skin of its natural moisture balance might sound like a Crisco marketing ploy to the uninitiated, but the "like dissolves like" theory is legit. Do it yourself with oils like jojoba, castor, and sweet almond, or buy one from the store. (See also: grits.)
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Illustrated by Louisa Cannell.
SF: Sebaceous Filaments

Not blackheads. Often seen in the T-zone area, sebaceous filaments are normal, healthy hair follicles that can develop a grayish appearance frequently mistaken for blackheads. You can lessen their appearance with exfoliation but, for the most part, they should be left alone — as in, not popped, picked, or squeezed.
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Illustrated by Louisa Cannell.
PIH: Post-Inflammatory Hyperpigmentation

The actual name for what we've come to colloquially refer to as "dark spots," PIH is the cause of the purplish spots that remain after a breakout has healed. Inflammation of the skin, like the kind that results from acne, can trigger melanin overproduction as it attempts to protect itself, leaving dark pigmentation behind.
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Illustrated by Louisa Cannell.
PIE: Post-Inflammatory Erythema

Similar to PIH, but not the same. While PIH tends to be darker, PIE is on the redder side — it's damage done to the blood vessels, or capillaries, closer to the surface of the skin due to inflammation, as opposed to melanin-related hyperpigmentation. PIE is usually caused by trauma, like picking, popping, and over-exfoliation.
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Illustrated by Louisa Cannell.
KP: Keratosis Pilaris

"Chicken skin" — or, the common, benign skin disorder that develops when the skin produces too much keratin, which causes blocked hair follicles. It presents as small bumps and sandpaper-y rough patches, usually on the cheeks, upper arms, legs, and butt.
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Illustrated by Louisa Cannell.
ACV: Apple Cider Vinegar

The salad-dressing stalwart that moonlights as a toner or cleanser. The alpha-hydroxy acids from the fermented fruit act as an all-natural astringent, which health junkies and celebrities alike swear by for helping to clear up their skin. You'll probably want to dilute it first.
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Illustrated by Louisa Cannell.
EO: Essential Oils

Beloved in aromatherapy, old wives' tales, and traditional medicine for thousands of years, best approached with caution in skin care. Some, like lavender, lemon, and orange peel, can be especially irritating, and should only be used when heavily diluted or in small concentrations.
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Illustrated by Louisa Cannell.
SA: Salicylic Acid

A widely available, highly effective beta-hydroxy acid that's one of the most popular ingredients for acne-fighting purposes. The gateway chemical exfoliant goes deep within the pores to help dissolve the pore-clogging debris and buildup that causes acne in the first place.
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Illustrated by Louisa Cannell.
BP: Benzoyl Peroxide

A potent anti-bacterial agent that you'll find in hundreds of over-the-counter acne products, benzoyl peroxide is the go-to for nixing red, angry, under-the-skin pimples. It has a high potential for irritation, so go easy on it — and keep it far, far away from your pillowcases.
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Illustrated by Louisa Cannell.
YMMV: Your Mileage May Vary

The golden rule of SkincareAddiction — and any adventure in the wide world of skin care, for that matter. Just because a product or routine works well for another person (or many people) does not necessarily mean it'll work for you, too.
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Illustrated by Louisa Cannell.
HA: Hyaluronic Acid

Found naturally in almost every skin cell in the body, hyaluronic acid acts like a cushion to keep moisture trapped within the skin. It's the stuff responsible for plump, youthful, hydrated skin — it can hold up to 1,000 times its weight in water — and it starts to break down with age. Luckily, you'll find it in lots of skin-care products, and in foods like leafy greens, root vegetables, and rooster combs.
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Illustrated by Louisa Cannell.
DS: Drugstore

Skin care, CVS style. (Or Walgreens, or Rite Aid, or Duane Reade, and so on...)
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Illustrated by Louisa Cannell.
HE: High End

It's self-explanatory — but remember, just because something is expensive doesn't mean it's good.
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Illustrated by Louisa Cannell.
HG: Holy Grail

The end-all, the be-all, the best of the best, the product, treatment, or routine that you don't know how you ever lived without. YMMV, and one size does not fit all — but with every HG, you're one step closer to the skin of your dreams.
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