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As a beauty writer, my bathroom (and, let’s be honest, home) is filled to the brim with skin-care products. And while such a repertoire of retinoids, antioxidant serums, and exfoliators galore might lead you to believe that I’m a pro at solving any and all skin, err, situations, that’s sadly not the case. Beauty writer or not, I’m human — not to mention, someone with super sensitive, incredibly reactive skin that requires I keep a tight ship when it comes to my skin-care routine. Meaning, I only swap in new products when absolutely necessary (or when a brand I know, love, and trust debuts something new).
So when sustainable skin-care brand HoliFrog launched Como Popp-E Renewal Scrubby Wash (Buy It, $40, dermstore.com, amazon.com) back in March 2020, there was no question: I had to try it. Why did I trust HoliFrog with my trigger-happy skin? The brand’s built on the idea of “Situational Skincare” — that your skin switches depending on, well, the situation (i.e. weather, age, stress), so you should tailor your routine accordingly. And, given my skin had never felt like it was living through more of a “situation” than at that moment — and throughout the pandemic — HoliFrog was just the skin-care savior I needed.
Anyway, back to March 2020: Life as we know it had just come crashing down (hi, COVID) and I was desperate for a little TLC, which, as I quickly learned, HoliFrog’s newest formula delivered. Reminiscent of a delicious marinara (yes, the sauce) thanks to its red hue and earthy smell, the gentle scrub gave my skin a fresh slate. And then every other or every third night (depending on how my skin felt) I’d use HoliFrog’s Kissimmee Vitamin F Therapy Balmy Wash (Buy It, $42, dermstore.com, amazon.com) to soothe my skin (and, TBH, mind) even more with its rich balm-like consistency. Together, these cleansers made my skin feel nourished, hydrated, and protected — something I craved and looked forward to during the unknown chaos of the pandemic.
Fast forward a few very long-feeling, mask-wearing months to June, and my skin started to call for more. That’s because, for the first time in my life, I learned what it was like to regularly break out. I’m not just talking about a pimple here or there — that I could handle, especially since I’ve been getting a single cyst on my chin right before my period every month since Aunt Flow’s first arrival at 12 years old. But a chin full of endless clusters of teeny tiny bumps with even smaller whiteheads that made my skin look perpetually angry and inflamed? I was in a whole new world.
And, sadly, I’m not the only occupant. Rather, this is the land of maskne, where any mask-wearer — especially those with oily or sensitive skin — is practically bound to break out more than ever before. Seriously. Maskne has become such a thing since the pandemic began that the New York Times deemed it “the new acne“, Yale Medicine published a five-step guide to (hopefully) put it to rest, and stars from Drew Barrymore to Chrissy Teigen have shared their own experiences with it on social media.
And yet, with all the information on this pandemic-induced type of acne and all the tips on how to banish its breakouts, nothing was working for me. I tried switching detergents, swapping reusable masks for single-use ones, going makeup-free, spritzing witch hazel facial sprays, using glycolic acid serums, the list goes on — and, still, my chin-based acne remained. Meanwhile, I continued to exfoliate with Scrubby Wash and follow up with Balmy Wash. And while the duo helped return my bright-red chin to its normal pinkish undertones and slightly cut back on the breakouts, months of unsuccessful remedies left me that much more determined to find a fix.
And so came even more treatment attempts, including a number of different serums and lightweight moisturizers formulated to address breakout-prone skin without weighing it down. I found a few products I liked here and there, but none adequately halted my mini maskne pimples, which had begun to transform into more of a whitehead-ridden rash the more I masked up. The only thing that did work? Avoiding anything that would require a mask, which meant staying indoors and isolated 24/7. This, quite evidently, was and is no way to live, so I continued to internally manifest an answer to my nagging pandemic-related complexion concerns.
Thankfully, in the fall, the kind folks at HoliFrog — who, BTW, donates a portion of all their proceeds to Land Trust Alliance — heard my prayers (or so I tell myself) and released their Galilee Antioxidant Dewy Drop (Buy It, $52, dermstore.com) — a hydrating and repairing serum designed to deliver bouncy, beautiful skin — followed closely by January 2021’s Halo AHA BHA Evening Serum (Buy It, $58, dermstore.com). While I’ve only been using these serums in unison during my p.m. skin-care routine for a few weeks, the results are already inspiring. My skin now looks far more radiant from forehead to chin, where even fewer breakouts reside. Sure, I still have some pesky pimples but long gone are the tiny, angry clusters of red spots and yuck-filled bumps that I came to know as maskne over the past year. And for that, I’m grateful.
Now, as much as I love a seemingly magical complexion transformation story, I love it even more when there’s a reason behind such results. Because of this, I chatted with cosmetic dermatologist Michele Green, M.D., to get a better idea as to why these four products have been nothing short of a blessing for my skin.
To kick things off, Dr. Green shared that the HoliFrog cleansers were (and are) likely working wonders for my complexion thanks to their antioxidant-, vitamin-, and fatty acid-rich composition. Scrubby Wash is loaded with vitamin E and rosehip oil, which helps promote cell turnover, strengthen the skin barrier, and protect skin against free radical damage, she explains. Balmy Wash contains linoleic acid, papaya oil, jojoba oil, and omegas 3 and 6, which Dr. Green says work together to promote cell turnover as well, reduce inflammation, help the skin retain moisture, and ultimately boost texture and tone as a whole.
When it comes to my beloved nighttime serums — which I use following my every-other-day HoliFrog cleansing — it’s all about a few essential ingredients, according to Dr. Green. Up first: azelaic acid, which helps the skin renew itself more quickly, leading to less pimple formation. There’s also squalene for hydration and gentle alpha and beta hydroxy acids for sloughing away dead skin cells and balancing oil production to make way for a clearer, brighter complexion.
As for exactly why my skin was freaking out in the first place? I wasn’t wrong: it’s because of all the mask-wearing, which can cause maskne or, in official medical terms, acne mechanica. “Due to COVID-19 everyone is wearing some form of a face mask or face covering and the friction from these various face masks are causing an increase in acne flares across the globe,” she explains. “If you already suffer from skin issues, the addition of wearing a face mask for several hours per day will certainly exacerbate your facial issues.” (Related: This Celeb-Approved Silk Face Mask Will Save Your Skin from Maskne)
And so, if you’ve been looking in the mirror stressing over what’s happening with your skin, I urge you to think beyond the mask (because wearing is non-negotiable) and consider embracing the sustainable skincare brand too — after all, HoliFrog’s formulas banished my maskne for good. Beauty writer’s honor.