You Asked It

Oh! You Pretty Things

How to trim bangs, wear black lipstick, clear up your face, and handle flyaways.

I’ve started to get some SERIOUS pimples recently. I have a pretty nonexistent skin care routine—where should I start? —Amelia, 14, Sydney

Oh, Millie. (Can I call you Millie? I just met an Amelia who goes by Millie, and isn’t that so good?) Welcome to mid-teenagehood: It’s all zits, and metaphorical zits, from here on out. But you can be the boss of those zits (literal and otherwise)!

The first thing you should do is see a dermatologist. They’ll be able to tell you what kind of acne you’re getting. The most common kind of pimples are called comedones, aka black- and whiteheads. These are caused mostly by the sebum, or “oil,” that our skin naturally produces. Other kinds of acne are triggered by hormones. Progesterone, which spikes a bit in the middle of your menstrual cycle, can cause a temporary increase in sebum production and lead to zits appearing right before you have your period. Then you’ve got your cystic acne, which can be any of the above, plus some added bacteria that turns a regular old zit into a pus-filled cyst.

When I was your age, I had it BAD. My pimples were not only typical white- or blackheads, but also deep undergrounders, as I like to call them: They lurked beneath my skin, never actually rising to the surface. Instead, they looked like bruises, were sore, and irritated me for weeks on end. After years of trial-and-error with antibiotics, creams, wipes, solutions, and pills, my doctor finally prescribed me a strong acne medication that did the trick. Hopefully, you won’t need this level of treatment and will instead receive a diagnosis of “typical teen skin,” some advice about how to treat it, and maybe a prescription for a topical antibiotic.

I also want to encourage you to test out these Universal Truths of caring for a pimple-prone face! Let’s call them the Two (Zit) Commandments:

I. Thou Shalt Neither Pick nor Pop. Don’t do it! I know, it feels impossible, but if you make it a goal to NEVER, EVER pick at your skin, you will at the very least pick a little less. Pawing at your acne spreads the bacteria that is causing inflammation in the first place, making it easier for new neighbor zits to appear nearby. It also usually leaves the original zit even more angry-looking, inflamed, and sometimes bloody, and it can lead to scarring. It’s not worth it! If you have blackheads, try using Biore Deep Cleansing Pore Strips to gently remove them. These are like stickers that gently pull the blackheads out of your pores! If you are brave, ask YouTube about them:

If not picking is driving you up the wall, replace that habit with a healthier one: Drink lots of water! No, water doesn’t cure acne, but it’s generally good for your skin (and all the rest of you!) and is a worthy distraction when you want to put your hands all up on your face. Get a reusable water bottle and fill that thang up on the regular. A cornadocious mantra to help you in these trying times: “When you feel the urge to pick, stop and take a sip.”

II. Thou Shalt Wash Thy Face for One Whole Minute. It takes time to get your skin as clean as possible, and hardly any of us invest enough of it when we’re washing our faces. Before bed, set a timer for one minute of face-washing time, plus 10 seconds to ready your cleanser. Rushed face-washing = your enemy! And remember to wash your jawline and neck, especially if you wear makeup. But don’t spend over two minutes washing your face unless you’re wearing super-stubborn stage makeup, or something, as too much washing can dry out your skin.

I’m devoted to Clean & Clear Essentials Foaming Facial Cleanser, but you can find your own favorite—look for something oil free, and if you have easily irritated skin, try out a gentle “sensitive skin” formulation.

Try following those commandments for two weeks, then write me back with your thoughts, OK? Also, try to accept the fact of pimples. For many of us, they never really go away, and that is just LIFE. —Jane Marie

I’m into crazy lipstick colors, especially black. But are there ways to wear black lipstick that won’t make me look goth, since that’s not really the look I’m going for? —O., 15, Santa Clara, CA

Sure there are! First, decide that “goth,” like every other name people use to taxonomize themselves and others, is only a real concept if you want it to be. YO. I THINK I JUST BORED MYSELF WITH THAT 5K PREACH-A-THON, but I mean it, my dude. I’m not trying to turn this response to a question about makeup into the closing scene from The Breakfast Club (even though we know that movie is rife with incredible lipstick tips), and you already know the aforementioned, anyway. I just always think it’s worth reiterating that wearing dark makeup (or anything else) doesn’t transform you into a certain “type” of person besides your same exact self, still, but with DEVASTATINGLY tight lipstick on.

I do know what you mean, though. I can assure you that as a frequent, ardent wearer of black lipstick, there are MANY ways to coordinate a face/outfit that won’t look like you’re wearing a Halloween costume (though I also support and frequently employ looks in that vein—ask me about how I started shopping at Party City for casual daywear a few weeks back). Here’s a question to guide you: You love black lipstick—who do you feel like when you have it on? I wear it because it makes me feel severe and put-together and bizarre and beautiful. I either try to match the rest of my clothes and makeup to that feeling, or use them to subvert it. I recommend this strategy wild highly.

In terms of making it “wearable,” the easiest way to “balance” black lipstick is to keep the rest of you relatively pared down. On your face: Skip dramatic eyeliner and heavy shadow in favor of a lighter color on your lids, or no color at all, then add mascara and an “Oh, am I wearing blush? I didn’t even realize!” level of subtle pink cheek color if you want. On the non-face parts of you: Wear a T-shirt (maybe not a Bauhaus one, for our purposes here) and straight-up regular jeans or a simple skirt. Here’s the top half of me observing these two conceits sometime last year:

blacklips

If you want to adorn yourself in something a bit more fashion-forward than literally the easiest, most basic outfit since the dawn of time, try wearing something that seems totally incongruous with whatever you think black lipstick connotes: a pastel sundress, or cute overalls (oh my god, I just figured out my style direction for tonight, thank you), or a patterned romper (any non–spider/bat motif will do the trick).

Finally, if you’re all, “That’s all well and good, ‘labelzzz’ don’t exist and T-shirts do, Party City is a great place to shop for casual basics, GOT IT, but how do I apply black lipstick in the first place?” peruse the Face-ics I made to that end some time back:

Please note that in this video, I am wearing my hair in a nightmare-bun and a cut-up YOUTH POLICE FORCE shirt my dad inexplicably gave me for Valentine’s Day 2005, but I still look pretty happy, huh? BLACK MOUTH = BEST MOUTH. Go show the world this unassailable truth, ya little O.-nyx minx. —Amy Rose

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13 Comments

  • GlitterKitty August 20th, 2014 12:09 AM

    For the one about those crazy fly away hairs shine serum works so well! I use some cheap drug store one to slick my hair back for ballet and it works really well. It doesn’t weigh your hair down too much and it makes the short fly away hairs stick with the rest if your hair (but without being all hard and gross like gel is). Or just don’t wash your hair for a couple days… It has a similar effect.

  • nola August 20th, 2014 12:18 AM

    so, what kind of great clothes can be found at Party City, anyway? I’m consumed by curiosity.

  • DarcyEmma August 20th, 2014 5:07 AM

    This is so great (and so are biore strips – a product that actually CAN be bought in Australia).

    I have shocking acne – I ended up having to go to a doctor, but before I did that, this http://www.thebodyshop.com.au/skincare/cleansers/tea-tree-skin-clearing-facial-wash.aspx#.U_Rk9vmSySo cleanser from the Body Shop was the only thing that improved my skin.

    http://girlisgreenhorn.wordpress.com/

  • Aurora August 20th, 2014 6:11 PM

    HAIR FLYAWAYS!

    Step one: buy a cheap toothbrush.
    Step two: spray that thang with hairspray.
    Step three: use hairspray-soaked toothbrush to brush flyaways down.
    Step four: look awesome.

  • herdinthehalls August 20th, 2014 6:49 PM

    Whenever I saw old Victorian (or even turn of the century) style hair I always wondered about the processes people did to style it that way. Is the Gibson Girl style hair really secure? I have to find more simple updo styles. I’m kind of stick of always doing a pony or a bun because my hair is thick and hard to style. Back when Rookie did the beehive video, I tried for days to get the same look, but gave up because it used too many (like, 20) bobby pins and STILL didn’t work.
    This looks cool though, so maybe I’ll try it for Halloween.

    rockpapermisc.blogspot.com

  • reignthegirl August 20th, 2014 8:53 PM

    i used to suffer from acne. and when pms arrives, occasionally do now .
    from what i found organic and natural skin care lines worked better for me than any other skin care range such as neutrogena or keihls and clinique.
    i think its important to know how to treat the skin in a holistic way. from simple and organics skin care products definitely changed my skin for the better!
    another product i found that works wonders is the mario badescu drying lotion. i put it right on (what i call) a hormonal spot or white head overnight and wash it off in the morning. it brings the redness down and the zits go away pretty fast. it helps me from picking at my face.
    oh! and the drink lots of water thing is totally true!

  • Monroe August 20th, 2014 10:55 PM

    I don’t know if this will work for anyone else, but I used to have bad acne. Then I got a sunburn, so I started applying aloe vera to my face all the time. (the colorless, 100% kind) Once my sunburn had faded enough so that I could actually tell what my skin looked like, I realized my acne was gone. Completely gone. My skin was blemishless and almost glowing! Its not uite as perfect now, but my bad acne never really resurfaced. I’m pretty sure it was the aloe vera that did it.

  • Natalie August 21st, 2014 1:04 PM

    Nooooo. Ok Jane I love you and worship all of your advice but no no no to the Biore pore strips. They can really really put you at risk of broken capillaries and damaged pores.

    Also! They don’t work. Most people look at their nose and think they see blackheads when they are actually looking at sebacious filaments (and often they are just as dark as blackheads which makes things confusing). That gunk you see on the pore strip? Typically from sebacious filaments.

    The problem with sebacious filaments is that they are permanent, they are more visible on people with oily skin and/or large pores (although everyone has them) and they never go away. That’s why a lot of the time when you use a strip like that or extract them they are back in just a few days. So when they are being extracted over and over what typically happens is you just stretch out and/or damage the pore, making them even more visible!

    The best thing you can do to reduce visibility is use an alcohol free bha exfoliant (salycilic acid) with a ph of around 3. Paulas Choice has some good producs, stridex in the red box is also a good cheap one as well (warning, stridex has menthol which can be harsh on sensitive skin). These products work on blackheads too (although you can also gently extract those after steaming your face, if you want).

    • Natalie August 21st, 2014 1:06 PM

      Also with the cleanser, it helps to remember that even if you wash for a minute it’s not on your skin long enough (should be about 15 minutes typically) to do anything so avoid stuff with active ingredients or harsh products. Cleansers should be as gentle and basic as possible, all they need to do is clean away dirt and grime from the outside world, without causing extra acne. Anything else is best as a topical product that can stay on your skin for at least 15 minutes (so, salycilic acid for clogged pores and acne, benzoyl peroxide for active acne, ahas for exfoliating, etc).

      Sorry to pile so much info here but I had terrible acne and skin for years and years and years before finally clearing it and I wanted to share what I’ve learned.

  • Cosmo Beatrix August 21st, 2014 3:54 PM

    I have really bad under the skin acne, across my forehead/temples and on my cheeks, whilst mostly black heads on my nose, t-zone and and chin….

    It’s so time consuming (not to mention money consuming!) worrying about it and focusing on it every time i look in the mirror….I have yet to find a solution :( even after visits to different dermos/ trying the less is more method, the more is more method, pills – everything!! my mum continues to say it’s a phase and that it’ll pass but its been soooo long – like 5 years, its so irritating! i feel everyones pain with this prob xxxxoo

    • Blou August 29th, 2014 11:26 PM

      My skin often looks exactly like you are describing, and has for years – lots and lots of little skin colored bumps all over my forehead. You mentioned that you’ve seen dermatologists, but if you’ve never tried it I really recommend a chemical peel. I’ve had a couple done over the years and they work wonders on fixing up my skin. Only warning – I look a bit red and peel a bunch the few days after I get one. Different places charge very different amounts, and in my experience a spa is about $90 and at the dermatologist is about $50-75.

      Also, think about maybe changing the food you eat? I find cutting out or minimizing diary products usually helps, as can eating wheat free. :) I hope you find something that works I totally understand how annoying it all is.

  • Erin. August 23rd, 2014 5:39 PM

    I’ve pretty much accepted the fact that I will always have acne. I started getting pimples when I was ten (blackheads at age nine). Over a decade later, the mega-pimples don’t occur as often, but the whiteheads have stepped up their game, and the blackheads are holding their ground strongly, haha. Whatever. I’ve tried different stuff over the years, even actual prescription stuff, but nothing has ever seemed to make a difference. Like DarcyEmma, I currently use the tea tree stuff from the Body Shop, because it’s just about the only thing that doesn’t make my skin feel sticky and gross. Also it smells good, not all chemically like most of the stuff out there.

    But weirdly, I find that my face actually clears up a bit when I’m on my period, but it could be that my hormones are slightly odd (I have a theory that my estrogen levels are lower than average; is that even a thing?).

  • meikristen August 29th, 2014 10:25 PM

    Thanks Amy Rose for the black lips tutorial/post! I’ve been DYINGGG to try black lips, but could never figure out where to get black lipstick and also the courage hahaha. I’m a senior in high school, and although anyone can take chances whenever they want, I decided that it’s high time to ~follow my dreams~, try to let go of what others think, etc. Suffice to say, I just bought a matte black lipstick online and I cannot WAIT to douse my kisser in it