Crystal Blue’s Skincare Story: How I Beat Malassezia Overgrowth
Hello everyone, f.c. here! Today I have the distinguished honor of bringing to you all the very first guest post on Simple Skincare Science, written by no other than our own Crystal Blue. :’}
If you’ve been here awhile you’ve probably seen her comments around blog; always super encouraging, empathetic, and willing to lend a hand to those in need with AMAZING advice.
She will be sharing her skincare story to hopefully help others put pieces together for their own journey. Who knows, maybe we’ll even get lucky enough to have her do ingredient breakdowns and reviews in the future! 😀
If this is something that interest you, please feel free to send me an email!
Okay, I’ll shut the hell up now and let her take it away. 💙
Table of Contents
- 1 Introduction.
- 2 Origins, Or The Crazy Train Begins.
- 3 Acquiring Baggage.
- 4 Breakthrough.
- 5 Becoming Sherlock.
- 6 What I Did To Cure Myself.
- 7 My Skincare Routine.
Crystal Blue is who I am, I am 57 years old, and in this post, I am going to go through my story of a long-standing bout with a fungal overgrowth called malasezzia on my face.
I’ve been reading F.C.’s Simple Skincare Science for over six months now, and I asked about sharing my skin saga, just as F.C. did. His story gave me the confidence to share something of myself…. speaking of that, here’s a little background on me:
I’m a six sigma certified project manager at a major healthcare company by day, and I live a pretty quiet lifestyle at night, pursuing my passions, which amount to a weird, yet wonderfully diverse mix of writing, science fiction, growing things and cooking them, Aikido, belly dance, and of course, the science and chemistry of skin care. I’d start a blog, but picking the right subject is hard!
First, allow me to make one thing very clear: this isn’t a post to blindly tout Korean skincare products; they just happened to work for me. I’m not affiliated with any skin care product or company, except the one I work for, and that shall remain nameless.
I know how the healthcare system works, I have a decent knowledge of medical terms, but like anyone else, it was a far different experience to be the patient vs. the provider.
This is a dialogue of what happened, how I discovered the problem by using analytical thinking, and the change of lifestyle I took to solve my skincare woes. Like most ongoing healthcare problems, it wasn’t just a single thing, it was a combination of factors that produced a break in my skincare health.
Origins, Or The Crazy Train Begins.
The emotional rollercoaster towards the answer has been incredibly frustrating, scary and exhilarating by turns. I started off without skin problems; up through my early thirties, I had good skin, and a total of about 6 zits in my high school history. My skin got dry in winter, but then, everybody got dry skin in winter where I live.
At some point, it changed. One winter I had a rash appear, and it didn’t go away.
It spread from the nasolabial folds outward in a matter of days; my partner laughingly referred to it as the plague until he was hit with a flying stuffed rabbit ala Monty Python and the Holy Grail.
However, laughter faded as it persisted, no matter what creams and ointments I used. I became a stranger in the mirror, with a very unsightly face that looked like my skin was being slowly sandpapered off around my nostrils, upper cheeks and chin.
Of course, I first trotted straight to my primary care doctor and asked for a dermatologist. Sadly, the American healthcare system didn’t work well for me. I was refused a referral to the dermatologist by the primary care’s nurse practitioner who rather snidely told me to just stop wearing makeup.
I tried first aid cream, Neosporin, and plain old Vaseline. I put away the L’Oreal and tried the Clinique, then the Phisoderm and the plain lukewarm water. Over the next 2 years, I tried two more doctors; one said it was seborrheic dermatitis and one said it was rosacea, and gave me glossy brochures of their personal skin care lines.
Aestheticians were vague, telling me to see a doctor and then produced a variety of products that either irritated my skin further, or just plain didn’t work. So, after all this had happened, I felt the first twinge of despair, with no idea of where to go and what to do.
I resigned myself to having a skin condition for the rest of my life. And I lived like this for about 15 years.
I went through bouts of self-loathing, where I literally avoided contact outside my home and cried every night, re-living every critical look or comment through the lens of my own hyper-critical eye. I endured some truly humiliating moments because people judged me on my appearance.
I was passed over for a date with a near-perfect match on paper, because he thought I was an alcoholic and my reddened face was proof I’d been drinking before his arrival.
I had people at beauty counters and beauty salons pulling me aside and offering some magical skincare routine or suggestion in order to ‘help you, you poor dear’ — which stung me deeply.
Was I THAT ugly? Was I really a walking miniaturized version of the plague?
I noticed people began to brush me off as less intelligent or professional because of my
appearance…. when I had the courage to make an appearance.
I became isolated and went out less and less, even lying to my few friends left that I was just too busy. I was so sick of the stares and the way I was avoided, especially by men and children. I went through a period of depression, compulsively trying new products and treatments, then exploded in anger one night, throwing out everything in my bathroom and just stuck to baby shampoo, hydrocortisone and lukewarm water.
Then Six Sigma happened.
Oddly, this quality methodology that relied on fact-driven decisions changed my life. My skill set at work was increased tenfold and I found myself being sent to other departments and offices. I was sent to overseas offices, the first being Seoul, in South Korea.
There, I was hit head on with a culture obsessed with beauty and perfection, and the direct, bald comments of the Koreans shocked me at first; then something just clicked in my head, like a reverse polarity switch.
They were brutally honest, but it didn’t faze me. I started to feel defiant and said so what?
Related viewing: Grace Neutral Explores Korea’s Illegal Beauty Scene.
I went about and started to enjoy myself, forgetting I had a face that grossed people out back
home. I stumbled into a Hanbang doctor for an acupuncture treatment and afterwards I simply asked: I have skin and scalp disease, do you have a cure?
The kind man sent me to a neighboring hair shop where a couple of adjummas hoi’d and aigoo’d over my head, then mixed a paste of herbs and oil and vigorously massaged it into my scalp. 30 minutes later, a jar of the same was thrust in my hands with lots of yelling and a gentle slap or two before shoving me out the door.
Roughly translated, I’m pretty sure they said, “it puts the paste on its scalp and it rubs it in, or it gets the hose again….“ ;p #silenceofthelambs
Within a few days, my scalp showed some pink skin and it stopped itching. Bliss.
Related reading: How To Fix Dehydrated Skin According to Science: GET YO’ GLOW HOMIE
After a rather inebriated conversation with a coworker in a hotel bar about how our lives had changed after our classes, she quizzically looked at me and said, “you know, Crystal, maybe I oughta use this damned six sigma to figure out why I can’t find the perfect guy.”
At 2:45 in the morning I woke up, and asked myself something similar: why can’t I figure out what’s wrong with my face?
What followed was weeks of gathering information, tons of it. I looked everything I could think of: my products, my living environment, what I ate, where I lived, what my hands touched, even what kinds of bacteria my pets would have.
I stayed in touch with the Hanbang doctor, whom directed me to reference books and websites on traditional Chinese medicine herbs, and I even reached back to an herbal dictionary a forebear wrote. The doctor gently steered me into answering questions about everything in my life, because “we are looking for causes of illness, not symptoms.”
I created a timeline on my office wall of sticky notes, with photos of myself. Then I applied a lot of critical thinking, adding what products or beauty treatments I had used at those points in time – who was I with, how was I living? What was I eating? Where was I living? – Anything that seemed relevant went up on that wall.
It took about three months of building this crazy timeline during spare moments on nights and
weekends, but a picture emerged:
It all started 26 years ago. I was living with a scientist who was working for Monsanto. He was working on a yeast strain that could help speed the fermentation process. How did it happen? Simple cross contamination.
He came home with lab coats and work uniforms that had this yeast strain on him. He also had been affected, and had dandruff, athlete’s foot and jock itch, but wasn’t clever enough to figure it out. The yeast strain somehow seduced my existing malasezzia and created an imbalance on my face and scalp.
Poof: a love-child of overgrowth that reproduced faster than the Flash and hardier than the Alien!
What I Did To Cure Myself.
Obviously, a lot of change was needed. I wasn’t absolutely sure which factors were the leading
contributors, so I slowly applied them all in stages and kept notes on how each thing worked. In short, if
I was really going to achieve any lasting results, I had to become an educated consumer.
1. Internal change first
It was a change I could make immediately, and at a low cost. I went to eating a BALi diet for 1 year to help suppress the yeast overgrowths in my gut. I did get myself tested at a lab.
Related reading: Acne and Diet: The Free Comprehensive Guide to Nutrition and Skin
I noticed that when I travelled, changes in eating habits had some effect: I ate a lot more fish, veggies, seaweed, fruit sugars, and rice vs. wheat or corn. However, I didn’t follow that kind of diet back home. So, I’d clear up a bit on trips, but my skin woes would always go back to the previous state within a week or two afterwards.
My nutritional supplements were heavy at first: a multivitamin, probiotics for 3 months, ginseng tea, and a traditional herbal medicine after the Korean Hanbang doctor was consulted with the results of my investigation. I still take the vitamin and the ginseng tea.
2. Regular scalp treatment
I continued to use the Korean scalp treatment herbal paste every time I went to Seoul; then I later switched to Ryoe Shampoo and scalp treatment for dandruff, which has many of the same herbs, just in extracts. I don’t miss the adjumma head slaps.
I found out many of the traditional Chinese medicine herbs in the hair paste had anti-fungal properties. The paste had over a dozen ingredients: Ginseng, Ginger, Mugwort, Wormwood, Centella Asiatica ( AKA Tiger Grass), licorice root, pine needles, Skullcap, Job’s Tears, Camellia seed oil, honey, and more.
3. A malassezia-safe skincare routine
The girl who worked on my scalp in Seoul took me to her cousin whom worked the Sulwhasoo counter at Shinsegae, a luxury department store.
I was convinced…er bullied… to try their skin care line; they literally insisted that their Korean method would work, but without the adjumma’s head slaps. I stuck to a routine twice daily and saw real results happen in about 3 months.
Consistency was a key factor. Oil free products with anti-fungal benefits and high moisture levels kept TEWL at bay and let the skin rebalance to a controllable level of malasezzia.
4. Replaced bedding and towels
I went through my bedding and towels, replacing them and washing with an anti-fungal additive, until I deemed my skin problem had abated.
The laundry additive was a gallon of Diversey Virex disinfectant my RN friend got me from the hospital laundry. They use broad-spectrum disinfectants that have anti-microbial action on just about anything: bacteria, mildew, virus, fungi.
A concentrated bottle has lasted me for 4 years, and I’m still ¼ full. Just dilute and put it in a spray bottle, or add to laundry as recommended by Diversey. I’ve also bought Xtreme Clean; even Lysol has a laundry sanitizer on the market that can be found on amazon. If you’re Brit, Dettol makes a laundry sanitizer.
I still use the anti-fungal a couple of times a year. I figured the older bedding and towels all held a good bit of dead skin cells with yeasts/fungi, and no amount of soap and hot water would kill them off.
I replaced my down pillows with hypoallergenic fill pillows. I found out fungi are prevalent in older pillows, especially down ones. The mattress was treated with anti-fungal spray and a new mattress pad added.
I tore out my wall to wall carpet. I figured again that the fibers held the dead skin, yeast, and fungi.
It may seem germophobic to go through your whole house and sanitize clothes, bedding and towels, but it is a common practice when dealing with contamination in a healthcare setting, like a nursing home or hospital.
You can greatly lessen the chance of re-infecting yourself if you go do a single deep clean of your home and clothes. Nobody likes to think that we are a biome, and we shed bits and pieces of it every day. And remember ya’ll put your freshly cleaned cute face on the same pillow every night for 8 hours!
5. Investing in a water-softener.
First, I bought a cheap water filter from Dewifier that attached to the shower line, right before the shower head. Eventually, the house was upgraded with a whole house filtration system by Aquasana – it’s a single stage filter.
I recommend this type over a digital or electronic water descaler, because water descalers simply change the magnetic field and alters the adhesion properties of the minerals so that it no longer deposits itself. Descalers do not soften the water.
To paraphrase Wikipedia and various skin care sites, the body is always growing new skin cells deep within the dermis. The new cells move upwards toward the surface as they mature. Some mature skin cells undergo a process called keratinization — the conversion of the microscopic scale-like membrane of cells into keratin, or simpler structural proteins.
Basically the upper layer of your skin, a.k.a. epidermis, contains an outer layer of skin cells that have become a dried, keratinized shield. The upper layers of these cells are naturally worn away through contact and the continuous upward push from younger cells.
Hard water has been a common cause of dry skin and dermatitis. However, hard water is not necessarily a problem in of itself — remember we have many natural hot mineral springs in the world that help us with other skin conditions. However, the deposit of minerals onto the skin can irritate as well as heal.
The minerals prevent many products from lathering and rinsing off, so when hard water is combined with our soaps, shampoos and lotions, it creates a residue on skin; you use more products in an effort to clean it off, get more water sucking residue left on skin and create a perpetual cycle of irritation. So basically, the good stuff can’t get in there and work.
6. State of mind shift.
My mental state of mind was, for lack of a better word, lousy. I’d become ultra-defensive, cynical, and jaded against the healthcare system and the beauty business. I had to let go of the burden of all the negative experiences I’d so carefully packed in my emotional baggage, or I’d become like that permanently.
To quote Natalie Lue from Baggage Reclaim, “become more of who you really are by breaking the faux rules you’ve written for your life, confronting your emotional baggage so it stops running you, and choosing wellbeing over pleasing.”
Geneen Roth’s book Women, Food and God provided the mantra to be kind to myself and stop the internal dialogue of self-hate. I have the words, “imagine treating yourself with the kindness
that you show people you love,” written on my bathroom mirror.
Every time I heard someone speak or read how someone hated how they looked, I made myself say something positive. They didn’t have to explain the feeling of having their problem marginalized, or the silent upwelling of despair, exhaustion, angst — those feeling were old friends.
Meditation has also become part of my life; whether it’s on a yoga mat outside, a Youtube
video, or a quiet moment at an airport, 15 minutes is set aside daily.
And lastly, I put myself in front of a photographer about a year after my skin healed. It wasn’t vanity, it was a test of will to get myself comfortable in front of people again.
To summarize this saga, it was not a short trip, but a long journey. It took a step outside of “the normal” to look for an answer. Healing from the emotional damage is needed just as much as the physical damage that happened over the years.
One of the biggest questions that I had been left with was that if western medicine is so excellent at diagnosing and relieving symptoms, why did it take so long to come to the right answer?
Maybe it was lack of self-esteem and courage that held me back from insisting on answers, but looking
back, I will add some factors:
First, I had never thought to question a doctor, I assumed they knew better than I, and that assumption cost me dearly. I do not condemn doctors or aestheticians; there are many unsung heroes and competent professionals out there that make the right diagnosis and bring beautiful results to visages all over the country. I am sure had I found one, my skin condition would not have dragged on for as long as it did.
Second, there is one thing that the Korean Hanbang doctor intuitively understood — a combination of things creates synergy. Synergy is the creation of a whole that is greater than the simple sum of its parts. I learned that my long running skin problem was a combination of many things; therefore, curing what ailed me would take many things, not just one wonder cream.
Third, there is a great deal of misinformation out in the skincare universe; you have to sort through the too-busy professionals, the paid reviewers, and unsubstantiated claims to discern facts.
The only advice I will give is be stubborn. Grow a stainless steel backbone and a Kevlar attitude until the stubbornness pushes you to a real answer. I find it ironic that a quality program for work got me to look at more than just symptoms of a health problem and helped me become the educated consumer of skin health care and skincare products I needed to be.
But as problems tend to be a wadded, tangled up ball of many different things, so are the solutions. Real life medical problems don’t follow textbook examples. Everything worked to provide some direction, even Seoul’s brash and brutal opinions.
Be Curious. Stay Curious. Find the answer. I did.
My Skincare Routine.
The core of my face care starts with cleansing oil, followed by foaming cleanser and simple toner and
serum from Sulwhasoo.
I add other serums, sheet masks and the occasional skin cream as needed. I change products seasonally, as winters are cold and dry, and summers are hot and humid. The seasonality is a step beyond the norm, but it works for me.
1. Cleansing oil for malasezzia?
Gasp! You bet I did. I was deathly afraid at first and said no, but the woman at the Shinsegae sale counter and her cousin were able to convince me by showing me the ingredient list translation and went into a 5 minute explanation about the main ingredients.
They even got into my phone and called the Hanbang doctor; he was rather tickled and brought his wife on, because I’d chosen a skincare line with his beloved Hanbang herbs. The main oily emollient is a synthetic ester — Isopropyl Palmitate, or IPP for short.
For those of you whom have bacterial or cystic acne, this is an ingredient which is comedogenic and therefore an acne trigger, NOT an acne problem solver.
I suspect the emulsifiers used to break down the isopropyl palmitate may have made the fatty acid chain indigestible to the evil malasezzia. Plus caprylic acid is in the ingredient list; so there may be less IPP than usual in the recipe.
I also follow up with a foaming cleanser, which removes quite a bit of the oil cleanser. It’s not like I’m slathering pure IPP on the face and sleeping on it.
2. Foaming cleanser
Sulwhasoo’s Snowise EX cleansing foam because the pH is 5 – 5.5, and contains the herbal extracts the line is famous for.
The scent of the pine is a refreshing novelty that enables my fantasy of a spa day in an Asian mountain inn. pH does matter! If you don’t know why, check out these related articles:
- Skincare Discovery: Why the pH of Your Cleanser Matters
- Why the pH of Skin and Products Are Crucially Important
Sulwhasoo Essential Balancing Water is part of my core product lineup. It’s always in my basket, and always used.
Toner, or Skin (Korean nickname) is the one thing that made a huge difference in my skin’s hydration —without the oils that fed my malasezzia overgrowth. Its texture is not water and not gel, but something in between – think of the viscosity of glycerin.
Asian toner is different than European/American toners – think of it as more of a hydrating moisturizer that is just the water without oils or esters in it that make it creamy. That water is chock full of beneficial herbal extracts that soothe skin, and once absorbed after a few minutes, my skin is able to soak up the creamy skin treatments better.
Sulwhasoo first care serum is another part of my core product lineup. The company went through something like 3,000 herbal ingredients from the traditional texts to create a blend of 5 items that have proven worth to skin quality.
Obviously, a serum is a concentrated extract and like toner, it has a water/gel texture – at times thicker, depending on ingredients. I use more than one type of serum now, depending on what I think my skin needs and time of year it is.
Yup, my crazed analytical brain has even studied trends in seasonality on my skin. I can’t help it, it’s what I do.
5. Other products / ingredients.
Serums with Centella Asiatica. This herb is also known as Tiger Grass, Gotu Kola or Indian Pennywort. It’s an old remedy; I went through many brands of serums and ampoules, but Pure Heals ampoule was a brand that I bought several times.
Benton snail bee high content essence — Like F.C., I consider this a Holy Grail.
PyungKang Yul – this is a skincare line from a leading clinic in Seoul. The rebalancing gel and the moisture ampoule deliver some serious hydration with minimal formulation.
CosRx has some excellent cleansers – the good morning low Ph cleansing gel rocks; they have a Centella line, BHA and AHA/BHA toners, and swath of products that have created a good buzz in the K-community.
I am a fan of sheet masks, as they delivered the moisture my skin needed without lots of oil. Most that I have used regularly have snail mucin, bamboo water, Centella, or Propolis. And yes, some brands are more worthy than others.
My reasoning boils down to this: With a mask, the moisture and active ingredients have a chance to sink deeper into the Stratum corneum. If I pat on a serum and run, then just my upper SC layer gets the benefit. And the glow evaporates.
Remember when you swam all day or sat in the tub until your fingers wrinkled? Your skin became waterlogged, yes? That piece of fabric soaked in essence sitting on your skin for 10 to 30 minutes helps the SC to suck up all that H2O and molecules of goodies suspended in it.
I saw girls in the Korean jimjillbang (public spa bath) slapping saran wrap over their sheet mask and sitting there sweating away for a good hour. I’m surprised someone in Gangnam hasn’t taken their seal-a- meal to their face or something.