The secret of happiness is progress, not perfection. Perfection is a complete myth and having a goal of obtaining perfect skin is just going to make you miserable (which ironically will likely lead you to have imperfect skin).
The secret of being happy with your skin is to have a goal of constant progress. Seeing a trend of small positive results over time is a lot more obtainable, and a lot more satisfying, than a single end goal of perfection.
The reason why is simple psychology vs biology - perfection suggests a state of flawlessness, without any defects, but today's skin (even if its flawless) has a whole backlog of defects waiting to happen that you just don’t know about yet.
Lets dive into that backlog:
A week ago...
An inflamed pimple takes between 7 and 10 days to appear. The process of acne formation isn’t overnight. Acne forms from a chain of events we call the acne forming chain – each link in the chain is a domino, as one domino falls it sets off another domino and the result crashes out into an acne flare up (see more on this in our blog here). Chronic inflammation effects at more stages of the chain, but acute inflammation (the pimple) occurs at the very last step as a result of bacterial imbalance.
Despite how it feels, yesterdays pizza slice and glass of prosecco isn’t the sole reason for today’s outbreak – it may have contributed to it, but it’s not the sole reason.
Sunday mornings break out was waiting for its opportunity for days; it didn’t just get peeved at you and appear after a Saturday night of you enjoying yourself. It was the end result of everything you exposed your body to over the last week – food, drink, stress, pollution, that new skin product - and (and this is the kicker) the cumulative effect of just being human – acne is 80% genetic and only 20% environmental.
If you suffer from acne, then your immune system is more than likely always on full alert and it doesn’t take much to make your skin flare. Saturday nights antics of a sugar fueled late night bash may have created a temporary imbalance in your immune system which opened the door to blemish stardom but Sunday’s pimple had already decided to take the spot light days before.
The backlog of skin goes back even further than a week though…
Four weeks ago...
It takes at least 28 days for your body to produce new skin cells and for them to travel to the surface. The skin you see today is dead and has been for sometime. Actives, like benzoyl peroxide, chemical peels or retinoids in your skincare ingredients do not typically work on dead skin. Actives work on living skin and the effects they create aren’t noticeable until this skin reaches the surface – and that takes at least 28 days. Some ingredients do work on dead skin (hyaluronic acid for instance) but these only absorb water around the dead skin cells, they don’t actively affect the skin.
This is why if you start a new skin routine you should stick with it for at least four weeks to judge whether its working for you or not. Until then you won’t actually see the results you’re looking for. What you do today, you won’t see until this time next month.
It doesn’t stop there either.
Eight weeks ago...
The ‘pore clogging’ part of the acne forming chain takes around 8 weeks (a blocked pore is called a microcomedone). The end result of a microcomedone is usually nothing – the plug is expelled from the skin and you never even knew it was there – but sometimes a microcomedone will develop into a whitehead, blackhead or if they become inflamed, a pimple or full-blown cyst.
Whether a pore becomes a microcomedone is dependent on the parts of the chain before it – principally how your hormones are affecting you which in turn is governed by factors of diet, stress, lifestyle and your genetics. From start to finish, the microcomedone formation takes around eight weeks and the actions you take on your skin today determine whether microcomedones are forming or not in eight weeks time.
How’s that goal of perfect skin sounding now? Not so easy to achieve? but alas it goes back further still…
Twelve weeks ago...
The effects of a poor diet and stagnant lifestyle also take around 12 weeks to disappear.
It typically takes at least 90 days for any consistent lifestyle changes to take effect – although sometimes it can be shorter than that (balanced blood sugar for example can be achieved in under two weeks preventing estrogen dominance and all the devastating symptoms that come with it).
Recent studies have begun to show a link between chronic inflammation and acne. Anti-inflammatory diets (basically fruits, vegetables, healthy fats and fish and cutting out any simple carbohydrates, red meat and dairy) can help reverse some of the causes of chronic inflammation but these typically take between 9 and 12 weeks to have any noticeable effects.
Your lifestyle and diet choices today will continue to have an effect on your skin for months to come (I’m writing this at the start of October so what I eat today will show on my skin until at least after Christmas. A very sobering thought :-/)
And back to today - following your progress
With so much going on in your skin over such a long time it really is a great idea to track your progress with any acne treatment - whether its a block of carbon soap or an entire Roaccutane course. You can see if somethings working or not, keep yourself on track and remain positive about your progress. The proverb 'change comes when you take control' is so very true. My tip would be to take weekly photos rather than daily - in skin nothing really changes in day.
Perfect skin is not the answer to happiness. Perfection is mercilessness and only leads to feelings of inadequacy, when not met. Breaks outs still happen, life still goes on. Progress gives us grace by allowing us to stumble and make mistakes. Be honest, even if you had perfect skin – can you say you wouldn’t spend your days anxiously worrying one day it might not be?
Real happiness is found in letting go. In not letting the condition of your skin be your focus. In accepting yourself and moving forward.
The secret of happiness is progress, not perfection.