21-Day Experiment: When your skin looks like hell from the stress of your divorce.

Each year, February is the time when my skin looks its worst.  Dry, wrinkles that look like they belong to someone 20 years older, plus red and splotchy skin.

This made me think:  What about my divorcees?  If your situation is anything like mine during my divorce years, my stress only started with my husband's extracurricular activities.  My decision to divorce was swiftly followed one tragedy after another.  (You can read the whole saga here.)

At first, friends and family may tell us how great we look as we experience the first flush of freedom, but when some of the harsh realities start to sink in, and other parts of our lives start to fall apart, our faces can't help but show the evidence.

I've never written on this topic, so three days ago, on a whim, I queried my facebook communities about skin-care advice for stressed-out divorcees -- and thought that maybe I'd pick up a tip or two myself.  

More than 60 responses later, I was faced with how to make sense of an enormous range of product recommendations.  

Since my own skin currently looks . . . well . . . ugh! . . . as it usually does in the middle of February, I decided to start with the one product that more women recommended than any other.  Coconut oil.

Follow along with me as I spend 21 days on a regimen for which I already have all of the ingredients:  coconut oil, shea butter, baking soda, essential oils (frankincense, lavender, lemon, and tea tree), Roc retinol (day and night), Cetaphil Intensive Moisturizing Cream (for the body, but used on the face), and a cheap derma roller knock off that I've already been using for about a week to try to coax my products deeper into the skin.

It's been sunny here in Chicago, and direct sunlight was relentless yesterday, as I looked at the condition of my skin.  Best to start right away, I thought, so today is day 2 of 21.  I'm using the lowest-cost options of those I received, and will be reporting on results, from time to time, on The Dynamic Divorcee facebook page, so if you want to follow along, that's the place to be.

The products I'll be using:

(Links to purchase all the products are above.  The links below give background information on the products used from independent  bloggers.)

Derma Roller knockoff (I paid $14 for this little gadget on Amazon).  Mine is the "starter" version with needles of just .25mm.  A little table with information on needle lengths and their uses is here.  I want to emphasize that I'm not suggesting any of you try this; just documenting what I'm doing.

Coconut oil (on its own, or with baking soda) as an oil-cleanser.  Most of the women who commented said that they didn't have problems with clogged pores while using coconut oil, and many use coconut oil not only as a oil-cleanser, but as a moisturizer.*  A couple of commenters mentioned the importance of extra attention to exfoliation during times of stress; hence, the baking soda.  Experiment to find the ratio of coconut oil to baking soda that feels right to you.  I started with a 2:1 ratio, but that felt a little too gritty to me.

*Several women also mentioned almond oil (as a cleanser and also as a moisturizer) and rose-hip oil (as a moisturizer/serum).  

Shea butter. One of my friends gave me a homemade Christmas gift of coconut oil mixed with shea butter as a moisturizer. Although I started this experiment using only coconut oil with baking soda, pretty soon, I switched to using my friend’s homemade moisturizer, combined with baking soda, as my go-to winter cleanser. See my follow-up post for details.

Frankincense.  I have been using frankincense essential oil for years, and have saved hundreds (if not thousands) of dollars in dermatologist visits.  By applying it directly to the skin as a spot treatment, several times a day, I've removed skin tags, keratoses, moles, and age spots -- all of which used to require doctor's appointments at a cost of at least $200 per visit.  So, I was happy to see that many of my facebook friends recommended it for use in their moisturizers, and also in the serum recipe below.

My new essential oil serum, recommended in a comment on my facebook post: "1 drop frankincense, 1 drop lavender, and 1 drop lemon essential oils. It's like magic for wrinkles. Rub on morning and night around eyes."  If you plan to try this (I'm patting it all over my face morning and night), do a patch test first to be sure that you don't have a reaction.  Some women may need to dilute this combination with a carrier oil.  If your skin reacts to citrus oils in sunlight, you may want to save this for night application only.

Tea tree oil.  This has been my go-to antibacterial oil for many years, and it works great on congested skin and blackheads.  So, I'm going to keep using tea tree as I always do.  I use it undiluted, but please do a patch test first, to be sure your skin likes it.

ROC retinol day (with SPF30) and night -- containing a combination of vitamin C, glycolic acid, and retinol.  It's #10 in this round-up of best retinol creams for 2017, but as these raters say, "you really can't find one as good as this for the price."  While researching this post, I ran into a wrinkle-cream round-up for 2016 that has Neutrogena Rapid Wrinkle Repair Serum -- combination of retinol and hyaluronic acid -- as their top drug store pick, having a higher percentage of retinol at a similar price.

Cetaphil.  My correspondent says, "It seems to be the only thing that never fails me. Not the lotion, has to be the cream. It comes in big jars at CVS or Walgreens. The generic brands seem to be fine as well." I agree.  This is the best moisturizer ever for my dry, lifeless February face.  A 16oz tub of the cream is less than $12.  As far as I know, this is not meant to be a facial cream, but it does say "non-comedogenic" on the label.  Right now, I already happen to have a tube of the lotion (which is a lighter consistency than the cream), so that's what I'm using.

Honey.  Or, as one of my facebook friends specifies, "raw, organic, unfiltered honey as a face mask". I'd forgotten all about using honey as a mask.  When I've used it in the past, it seems to draw out all sorts of impurities and leaves my skin looking radiant (and I've never even sprung for organic honey).  Here are some of the many amazing beautifying uses for honey.

And a homemade sheet mask from one my correspondents:  "Coconut water soaked in paper towel, poke holes for eyes, nose, mouth . . . apply to face 5 minutes and rinse. Voila, rejuvenation -- celebration!"  If you've ever purchased Korean or Japanese sheet masks, you know that they're expensive!  I thought my friend's idea was so cool, that I poked around on the internet for a bit, and found lots more DIY suggestions.  Check these out.  However, I'll be sticking with the simplicity of coconut water.  My challenge is to see a big, beautiful change in my skin by using as few consumer products as possible.

Just to recap:  The main things that are new to me during these 21 days are coconut oil, baking soda, the frankincense/lavender/lemon oil blend, and the occasional honey or coconut water mask.  I've dropped my standby, Strivectin, for the duration, and am no longer using any sort of soap-based facial cleanser or exfoliating scrub (it's now just coconut oil/baking soda and a wash cloth for three weeks).

So, now, for my disclaimers:

  • I am not a beauty blogger. I will not be doing before and after photos, but simply reporting my subjective results and reactions on my facebook page during the 21 days, and in a results post afterwards.

  • Try any of these ideas at your own risk. If there's one thing we all know from reading beauty blogs and online product reviews, skincare is a very individual matter -- one product does not work for everyone (or even for most).

  • I'll be careful not to make any life changes during my 21-day experiment except for the skincare above. (That is, I won't up my water intake, do additional exercise or yoga, or make any dietary changes. I'll try to keep everything the same as it has been over the past few months.)

In case you want to consider your diet instead of (or along with) your skincare:

I found this facebook comment very interesting: "I am 49, and while I think I was genetically fortunate, my biggest anti aging secrets are sleep, 64oz of water everyday, minimum of 70 grams of protein everyday, and 2,000mg of lysine everyday. If I do those things, it doesn't seem to matter which moisturizer I use. I buy the cheapest retinol containing product that I can find -- usually from Marshall's."

Yes!  During times of stress, one of the first things that starts to go is healthy eating habits.  Healthy diet disappears to be replaced with lots of coffee, sugary drinks, or alcohol, along with junk food and sweets.  For the purpose of this experiment, I won't be changing my diet, but I can't wait to up my protein and water intake as soon as I finish my natural skincare testing.

If you're curious about my results and recommendations after the 21-day experiment, here's my follow up post, where I dish about my findings (which were pretty amazing!). You’ll also find out about two gadgets that I love (in addition to the derma roller).