Skin, Deep: Egyptian Skincare Secrets and Learning to Love My Acne-Prone Skin
Skin, Deep is a series that explores the ways in which our heritage, culture, upbringing, and life experiences impact the relationship we have with our skin.
I'm Amanda Megrya. My background is Egyptian, but I was born and raised in Sweden.
It’s so funny because ancient Egyptians used so many of today’s trending ingredients to fight wrinkles and keep their skin healthy and glow-y. They were obsessed with beauty and treated themselves to high-quality makeup and skincare. A lot of our beauty rituals come from ancient Egypt–who wouldn’t want to look like Cleopatra?
Ancient Egyptians were obsessed with oils and used olive, almond, moringa, castor, and sesame oils to keep their skin looking healthy and youthful. These oils were also popular for hair care, they’d mix them with coconut milk and shea butter to condition and strengthen their hair. They cleansed their skin with a paste made out of clay and olive oil and used milk, baking soda, and honey to make masks. Queen Cleopatra would bathe in milk (usually donkey milk, that’s becoming really popular in the beauty world today) to exfoliate and used sea salt from the Dead Sea to revitalize her skin. They also used aloe vera for everything.
We’re starting to see these ingredients more and more in Western skincare, because they work. Whenever I’d get acne, my grandma would tell me to make a yogurt and honey mask, tone with rosewater, and use pure black seed oil and olive oil on it. However, I love mixing all natural ingredients with clinical skincare containing active ingredients and proven formulas. So I’m taking the best from both worlds.
MY STRUGGLE WITH ACNE
I’ve suffered from acne for 13 years, which shattered my confidence. It’s been a constant battle. Acne has made me hate myself numerous times, to the point where I literally thought I was too ugly to live. I was afraid to look at people, thinking about how badly I repulsed them. The more aggressive my acne got, the quieter I became. I turned down job offers, stopped going to school, and lost the will to do anything. My life got really dark and I lost my personality and myself, the happy person everyone was used to was no longer there. All that joy was replaced with severe anxiety that I’m still battling today.
It came to a point where I could barely leave the house anymore, let alone without makeup. Full-coverage foundation became my only weapon, but within an hour I'd feel the panic: "I'm clogging my pores and making it worse." I'd wipe it all off on the bus, leaving my skin red and more irritated and I'd turn around and go home.
My skin kept getting worse over the years and my last resort was Accutane. I thought that Accutane was the only thing that could keep my skin clear, until my friend rescued me from it years later (I was on it for six years).
This friend works in the beauty industry and is a skincare guru. She made me feel like I was still a person behind the acne. Not only was she very understanding and comforting, she actively helped me make smarter decisions by educating me about how the skin works.
She explained how I was stripping my skin and wrecking my barrier, leading to more acne; and she led me to the right products–AHAs, BHAs, and Vitamin C–and helped me feel comfortable in my own skin. I realized that acne is treatable, but it can’t be cured; it all comes down to understanding your triggers and learning how to manage it.
FINDING THE RIGHT PRODUCTS
Do I think feel that beauty and skincare brands understand my skin? For drugstore and department store brands that's a big, fat no. Cosmeceutical brands, yes! This took me a really long time to realize. I fell under the spell of fancy marketing and spent a lot of money on drugstore brands as well as fancy department store brands promising clear skin.
The more I began to learn about ingredients, the more I realized that drugstore and department store brands contain so many bad ingredients. For all those years, I was harming my skin with drying alcohols, synthetic fragrance, clogging silicones, and harsh surfactants (because I thought the cleaner, AKA tighter, my skin was, the better).
I would always buy products for acne-prone skin; but tell me, why would a brand that understands acne-prone skin include drying alcohols, SLS, and fragrance? Those are ingredients that are known to cause more acne by forcing the skin to overproduce sebum. They sell products for short-term results: alcohol dries out pimples, SLS makes you feel squeaky clean, and fragrance and silicones are included to make the product feel extra luxurious–but in the long run, you’re stripping and clogging your skin, causing more acne. It took me years to recover from the harm these brands caused me; I thought I was the most acne-prone person on earth. But now that I use clean, clinical skincare I’ve realized I am not as acne-prone as I thought I was. My skin is balanced and most times it’s also acne-free!
I’m consistent with my skincare routine; I keep it simple but effective. I layer products to give my skin a little bit of everything it needs, but I also listen to my skin. I don’t go bananas with the acids and retinols if my skin needs a break; I take a step back and readjust my routine. On days where I have extra time on my hands I’ll use a sheet mask and a jade roller to treat my skin!
The think I love most about my skin is its ability to bounce back! Despite all of the at-home acne "surgeries" I’ve performed on my skin throughout the years, I don’t have any scars but one (and I’m not even sure if it’s acne-related, lol!). Acne doesn’t define me, or anyone. We have to let go of the heavy energy that’s attached to it. Once the tension is released, you’ll realize that a zit is just a zit and who cares who sees it? We’re much more than just that zit.
As told to ILLUUM.
For more from Amanda, follow her skincare adventures on Instagram.