My Favorite Ingredients for Treating Tough Blackheads

“I don’t believe in pores,” my friend proclaims. She is sitting on the sofa, limbs folded easily under her, the picture of unaffected grace. Her significant other, with a dazzling array of skincare products tucked under her arm, pauses on her way to the bathroom. I pause in my listless train of thought on the opposite sofa. From the kitchen, my significant other quips, “What?”

“Pores,” she reiterates. “I don’t think they’re a thing.”

We all sink silently in our various mires of disbelief.

“Well, whether you believe in them or not,” I say, “I’m pretty sure they’re there. Right?”

But to be honest, something cosmic shifted in us that day. I do not claim to be any sort of beauty expert, I just have skin like most other people. The effects of the great white north combined with chronic stress and anxiety have made my skin a battlefield in which I fight for dominance over the most often-surveyed part of my being. I know my fair share of weapons. But the details, the nitty-gritties, the twenty-minute YouTube episodes about flushing and exfoliating the micro-holes in the face, these are above my pay grade.

To be clear: my friend does still believe in pores. She just doesn’t buy into the whole opening-closing clarifying-exfoliating wining-dining gig, which I respect and understand. That’s for sciencey people to debate, and in our case, a discussion for another post!

I have long fought the battle with blackheads and visible pores. My chin and my nose are the most well-worn fields upon which I do battle, and they have been this way since middle school. It’s like I never left. Earning my diplomas in high school and university have earned me a reprieve from whitehead pimples and cystic acne, but blackheads are there to remind me that somewhere, somehow, I’m still the little pipsqueak who listens to My Chemical Romance.

To be fair, though? Their music still slaps.

Here is what I have used that has worked. These are not magic pills or cure-alls, but with regular use and a little experimentation, I’ve seen real results.

For each of these ingredients, there are store-bought options as well as DIY recipes, and I will happily point you to both. In my experience, there is merit to both sides of that particular debate– so long as you do what you can to support ethical businesses and prioritize what feels best for you, don’t sweat it too much. I’ll discuss the good, the bad, and the ugly of store-bought vs DIY products in another post, but for now, just go with your gut (and your wallet!).

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Green tea

Photo by NipananLifestyle.com

Green tea has been my constant companion since middle school. This miracle drink has a number of health benefits aside from clearing skin, and if you haven’t already, try to get a couple of cups in during the week. You’ll feel good all over!

The sciencey secret is that green tea is full of antioxidants, which does good stuff, in, on, and all around you. Application to the skin helps reduce inflammation and oils that collect on your face from your normal daily activities. Introducing antioxidants to your skin’s system helps keep everything in tip-top shape, so you won’t see more damage on top of what you are already treating.

The storebought standby is St. Ives Blackhead Clearing Face Scrub. The green tea ingredient really does a number on blackheads. Beware, however, this product does contain Salicylic Acid, which will dry you out even if used in moderation. Therefore, I would recommend this product if you have more serious acne trouble in addition to blackheads, otherwise, you risk making a bad situation worse.

You can straight up apply green tea to affected areas and it works great as a spot treatment. Just brew some green tea, pop it in the refrigerator, and then use a cotton ball or pad to apply the chilled liquid to the trouble spots. You’ll want to leave this on for 10-15 minutes before rinsing it off, just be sure to put some moisturizer on afterward so your skin stays soft and happy. Green tea is also a great ingredient for homemade face masks, cleansers, and toners. I used to use a green tea toner religiously until I switched to what I currently use!

clay

If you’re like me, masks seem like the miracle cure for all of your skin woes. One evening of crap on your face, and then boom! You’re a whole new person. Running the risk of revealing my tendencies to put everything off and then do a big purge when I get a free minute (I will not be posting about my laundry habits, thank-you) I will say that masks are a great solution, especially for busy people. All you need is 15 minutes and a shower, and the results are immediate.

That being said, you do have to be selective about your masks if you want more than one day of soft skin. I’ve tried practically every mask under the sun, and when it comes to treating blackheads, clay masks are seriously the way to go. You want one that has as many natural ingredients as possible in this case, because masks with more stuff packed into them can dry  you out like nobody’s business. I like L’Oreal’s Pure-Clay masks, personally, because they feel great while they’re on and for the whole day after, without drying me out even in the worst winter months. I know people swear by charcoal, but it just doesn’t do it for me. I’ve seen great results with their red algae mask, but I’m sure that if charcoal is your bag, their charcoal variety would work for you as well.

You can always make your own clay masks with even fewer ingredients right at home! Bentonite clay is your best friend.

Glycerin/gelatin (pull-off masks)

I will freely admit that I have yet to try a storebought sheet mask, but I do intend to for another post! What I see in ads all the time are those peel masks, featuring an already-flawless lady smiling next to a used sheet studded with defeated blackheads. It looks cathartic, seriously. The pimple-popper in me sheds a single tear.

I’m here to tell you that in my experience and the experience of everyone I know who has used them, those things just don’t work that way. I think that somewhere, deep on our souls, we all knew that, but in these dark times we are human beings who could use a little hope. My friend bought a charcoal peel mask off of Facebook and we tried them together, and that remains to this day the only time she has seen me cry.

What has worked for me is a homemade peel mask containing glycerin, which doesn’t have the satisfying effect of pulling out blackheads, but does appear to reduce the visibility of pores and clears nasty stuff off of the surface of the skin. There are a number of natural peel-off mask recipes containing such things as honey, milk, egg whites, and lemon juice, which I intend to try and report back on in the future, and most store-bought cucumber peel-off masks aren’t bad.

lemon

Lemon juice is a natural astringent that kills acne-causing bacteria without screwing up your skin. In fact, you can use pure lemon juice as a spot treatment all on its own! Citrus juices are common ingredients in “morning” themed cleansers and toners because they naturally brighten your skin (and your attitude, if you truly believe, or you just like lemon). In the summer, I like to use Clean & Clear Morning Burst Skin Brightening Facial Cleanser. I switch to hydration-focused cleansers in the wintertime because, well, winter.

Use lemon juice as a spot treatment for blackhead-heavy areas, dabbing it on with a cotton ball or pad. Leave it for no more than 30 seconds before washing it off, and moisturize directly after. All of these spot treatments should take place before your moisturizing/setting step, because keeping your skin properly moist is critical to preventing further blackhead damage!

Lemon juice is also a great ingredient to add to cleansers and creams where the other ingredients tone down its intensity. I use lemon juice in the night cream I make for my partner because it isn’t too intense and doesn’t dry out the skin. I leave it out for day creams, however, as lemon can cause slight light sensitivity, and we get enough glare from the snow for that to be a problem.

coffee

Photo by Janko Ferlic.

While you’re writing green tea into your schedule, make sure you have once-a-day coffee. Seriously. Just do it.

That’s just a public service announcement.

Coffee in measured doses, applied properly, can seriously help with blackheads. Too much coffee can be a serious problem! Remember the Buddha: all things in moderation. Ground coffee beans is an excellent exfoliating ingredient for masks and scrubs alike. As far as I know, exfoliating is real skin science, wherein large pieces clear out dead skin and other bits of nasty that can clog your pores and contribute to blackheads. Grounds tend to be softer than most exfoliators, so they do the heavy lifting of clearing dirt without leaving the skin dry or irritated. Coffee is also another “skin-brightening” ingredient, much like lemon, that wakes up your skin in the same way it wakes up the rest of you! Even if you aren’t a big coffee drinker, using grounds on your face smells absolutely magnificent.

I’m an addict of Lush’s Cup o’Coffee mask, which I found in a post about sensitive skin treatment many moons ago. You can make your own dupe of that recipe, but I can never quite get it as good as Lush. Coffee is a great ingredient for any DIY recipes.

What are your solutions for blackheads? Drop me a line!

5 Positive Picks for your Spring Reading List

The end of March means a couple of things for me:

a) No more shoveling until the inevitable “Act of God” blizzard in April.
b) Any last-ditch birthday celebrations from the week before, because when you really think about it, a birthday kind of lasts a whole year. So taking a week to celebrate is actually very reasonable.
c) The long-anticipated arrival of spring break!

Trust me, I will not do what I did with winter break and expect everything to turn straight around. One week of rest and relaxation does not imply a complete rework of attitude, revamp of mindset, and renewal of motivation. A week without hurtling terminally toward the end of a marking period, however, does do wonders for mind and body. Yesterday, a lady at a health fair I attended eyed me closely as I browsed her baskets of loose-leaf teas. “I’m sorry, I just can’t stop staring,” she admitted. “I’ve never seen someone with your complexion before. There’s just… nothing there.”

They say that about my brain, too, I thought, but because I am an adult with two college degrees, self-control, and a therapist that reminds me to say kind things to myself more often, I said, “There’s something there!”

We’re getting it. Slowly.

For our last professional development day before break, the assistant principal reminded me that spring is a wonderful time for recovery from the heyday that is school, because the month of March is rarely the relaxing stroll into sunshine and wildflowers that we’d like it to be.

She presented our staff with a metaphor: consider the glass, half filled with water. Some will say it is half empty, and others will say it is half full. Either way, consider the weight of it. Your glass is so, so heavy.

Now set it down.

For a moment, set down your glass and consider what it is filled with. Reflect on how you hold your glass. Perhaps think of how you consider it: is it filled with great and weighty things, or one thousand tiny grievances that prick you like so many pins?

This made me stop and take a breath, and it’s been pretty tough to get me to stop with how this month has been. We often set our goals for the coming weeks, months, and years when we are at our most refreshed and optimistic. These times are not the hard ones: we should be planning for when our glasses are heaviest, reflect on why they are so heavy, and consider just what we can do about it.

So, for my spring break, I’ve set about to do some spring cleaning. What better way to do that than with reading?

I’d like to share with you my spring reading list, my tiny effort to reflect and set myself up for a more positive transition through the end of the school year into summertime. This is by no means an exhaustive list, just a few titles I have picked up and always meant to read, but just haven’t, because I’ve been too busy balancing my glass in both hands.

Jennie @ “The Modern Persephone” is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon. I do this to make it easier for you to get your hands on the books and resources you need– and it helps my site out, too!

Here is my spring reading list. I’m part of the way through a couple of these, and others are completely new. We will be going through this journey of growth together!

1. Mindset by Carol S. Dweck, PhD ☆ Buy it!

A recommendation by the fabulous administrator mentioned above. My fellow teachers and I have been book-clubbing this one since October. Our purpose is to analyze how we could encourage a growth mindset in our classrooms, but as a first-year teacher, this book did wonders for me as a young professional as well.

The premise is that a large part of your success is owed to your “mindset”, which is either “growth” or “fixed”. “Growth mindset” folks see challenges as opportunities to learn and recognize that their intelligence and abilities aren’t limited to where they are at the present moment. “Fixed mindset” folks, then, tend to see mistakes as failures, and look for the easy wins rather than what will genuinely help them improve.

A recommendation: don’t take this book as gospel. Some of Dweck’s examples are honestly unsettling, such as the second-grader who gleefully asks for more challenges to improve himself. Nuh-uh. Freaky. I also had to put the book down during the relationships section wherein she recommended that we forgive all exes and recognize what we can learn from them. As an abuse survivor, I had to have a sit-down with myself and parse that one out. The core of the book is good, however, and having such tools as “growth” and “fixed” has done wonders for my recovery journaling. I recognized in myself the destructive need to “prove” myself as a newcomer to my profession and my community, and how I tacked each and every mistake to my identity as a failure. Overall, Mindset is not to be taken as gospel, but it’s a great foundation for any positivity spring-cleaning.

2. Daring Greatly by Brene Brown ☆ Buy it!

Recommended by a dear friend of mine and one of my favorite podcasts, My Favorite Murder, Brown has made an incredible impact on the self-help landscape, especially for women. Brown’s social work background led her to study vulnerability: how we conceptualize it, how society teaches us to internalize it, and in particular, how it impacts our self-concept. We strive to be as invulnerable as possible and cover our perceived weaknesses with something like shame. As a utility-obsessed person who has only recently began tackling her problems instead of hiding from them, this idea really spoke to me.

I’m about halfway through this one, and I’ve also recently started Rising Strong, which focuses on vulnerability in the context of recovery. So far, I would recommend Daring as a foundation and Rising if recovery is a topic of relevance for you.

3. The Secret by Rhonda Byrne ☆ Buy it!

Before you say it: I know. It’s gonna be fine.

I have the most fabulous hair stylist with roots in New York, California, and my tiny little northern town, and an aesthetic sense better than just about anyone I know. Each appointment is a sick haircut with free life-empowering conversation, and coffee on the side. It’s really, really magical. Besides these books, my wellness tip for the day: get a stylist you’re really into!

During my last visit, we were discussing life, the universe, and everything as per usual, and she recommended a killer combination for finding your place in this great, cold void: The Secret, and Stephen Hawking.

We were all up in the “mindset” lingo when she told me that last year, her reading list was The Secret and The Grand Design, which essentially say the same thing. Successful people visualize their success even before it happens. They go through life with an expectation of a positive outcome, and rationalize negative outcomes as steps toward the next great thing. There is no waiting for something good to happen: smart sciencey people tell us that all the universe needs is the right pieces put together to create something spectacular.

Like Mindset, take examples in The Secret with a grain of salt, and don’t expect it to make you rich quick. But do expect implementing these small changes to make positive differences in your life!

Pair it with some Hawking… see what happens!

4. The Year of Yes by Shonda Rhimes ☆ Buy it!

Another MFM pick, recommended by one of my favorite content creators and personal heroes, Karen Kilgariff. This book is a brilliant read and perhaps the best-written of all on this list. There is a reason why we love Rhimes and all of the stories she creates! She shares an intimate view into her creative life, and how she dealt with stress by just saying yes to everything.

Disclaimer for this one: Shonda Rhimes has more money than you do. Definitely more than I do. But she knows that, and does a decent job of acknowledging this privilege when she discusses some of the things she gets to say yes to.

Year is a brilliant application those same research-supported concepts presented in Daring. It’s premise and practice of those “What would you do if you knew you could not fail?” motivational posters. Again, all things in moderation: apply to your life as you deem appropriate.

5. Warrior of the Light by Paulo Coelho ☆ Buy it!

Finally, a personal recommendation: literally anything by Paulo Coelho. The Alchemist is his most famous work, but Warrior is my favorite.

Coelho tells his stories in the form of fables and aphorisms, masterfully intertwining ancient myth with modern relevance. Warrior is a quick read by the word count, but each page drops heavy as stone. It’s a “take a walk after finishing” sort of book.

While this book has been incredibly influential in my life– Coelho quotes adorn my desk at school– I also use certain pages as writing prompts for my students and for my own practice. This is a versatile number that will stay with you for years.

Perhaps give it a read at the end of spring, because you will have a lot of walking to do come summertime!

What are your spring reading picks? Let me know in the comments!

And then one day…

“I’ll keep all my emotions right here,” a wise man once said, “and then one day, I’ll die.”

I know John Mulaney was talking about being Irish, but as a woman of almost absurdly British ancestry, I’m familiar with the model. Oh, feelings? We bottle that stuff right up, yes sir, yes ma’am. We’re pushing that right on down as far as it can go, thank you very much, and then one day, hopefully before that bottle comes uncorked, we will be released from this rapidly-warming planet having never explored a single feeling felt in our entire miserable existence. Just like our fathers and grandfathers before us.

Nice!

You might see how the idea of starting a blog would be a foreign one to me. We’re talking about a woman who has gotten very, very far in life with calculations and a razor wit, to whom the idea of going to therapy to treat her crushing depression and anxiety only just occurred. Sharing my thoughts and feelings, my take on it all, leaves a bitter taste in my mouth. “How unseemly,” I can hear my grandfather saying.

I’ve already disappointed my ancestors and relatives plenty well by becoming a public schoolteacher, so what’s the harm in doing a little more outside the box?

But I’ve talked enough smack. My name is Jennie, and it is truly a pleasure to meet you.

The blogger and her little bubba.

I teach English and Social Studies in the far north of Michigan, the part that everyone thinks is Canada, but somehow, it’s not. I live with my brilliant partner and my beautiful and terrible daughter, Cheddar.

The Queen of the North, surveying her kingdom.

She is all corgi, but she also has a long tail built especially for wagging and knocking things over. She is a trickster god whose true purpose on earth is unknown.

To the next: who is purse phone, anyway?

Forgive the English teacher, she knows not what she does. Persephone is a character in the Greek pantheon I have always felt a strong connection with. I have always felt myself a compromise between two forces: the emotional and the pragmatic, the optimist and the realist, the bright and the dim. Honestly, what woman hasn’t felt that way, especially in this year of our lord 2019?

Enter Persephone, goddess of spring and flowers whose close encounter with some pomegranate seeds lands her in the Underworld as Hades’s wife. She makes the most of it and commutes, every six months, between flower-town and Hell. By virtue of her hubby’s title, she retains her goddess status while also becoming Queen of Hell.

Flower Princess and Queen of Hell? Honestly, that’s some energy we all need to channel.

So, here I am, casual flower princess and monarch of dead people, living the life I live and doing the things I do, collecting my myriad interests and spinning them into words, the way I’ve done for years privately, to myself. I write this blog as a person without any particular “ticket” into your life, without a single identity that represents my personality well, with only the hope that something I share can brighten your day a bit. I have battled serious mental illness since I was 14. I am queer and have been out since I was 15. I work a hard job that I started just this year. I will write about those things, too, because I wish someone had talked to me about them when I was those ages. But I’m also going to write about all the things that make me happy, like my dog, coffee, video games, makeup, DIY stuff, and plants. I’m all over the board, baby, but positivity and happiness are my claim to fame.

Here’s what I have learned in my so far brief and bombastic life: happiness can be found even in the darkest moments, even during the heavy months and the crushing years and the torment of an existence that seems in every way liable to swallow you whole. I’ve lived there, and sometimes even now, I’ve been known to visit.

Here is another thing I have learned: there is infinite value in being seen by someone else. I went through school never being seen by my teachers. I impressed them with my mind and my work ethic and when I disappeared for a month, no one minded because my homework was still turned in. It’s not that I didn’t matter to them: I was simply another number, another face to remember, in a sea of ebbing tragedies that washed over them each and every day. I always got As on my papers, so why follow up on a success story?

So, you know, maybe these tiny glimmers of brightness aren’t so worthless, if they can light another person’s way. Maybe the screens we all pour ourselves into can allow us to be seen when it truly matters– which is always. Maybe the stories I’ve always had so much faith in could put someone one small step closer to becoming a person they are truly proud of.

Look at me. Look me in the eyes. We’re going to keep this stuff bottled right up, just between you and I, and no one will have to be any the wiser. You got me? Our little secret.

So I’m going to keep writing, and then one day, I’ll die.

It’s rather beautiful, isn’t it?