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Lessons From the 4 Biggest Skin Mistakes I Made in High School


Lessons From the 4 Biggest Skin Mistakes I Made in High School
Jude Chao
Jude Chao

Sep 06, 2017

If you’ve ever felt like it’s a miracle your skin survived high school, join the club. Even the most well-beauty-versed among us had to go through our trials and errors. Here, editor at large Jude Chao remembers (and cringes over) her biggest skin mistakes in high school and the lessons she’s learned from them.



I try not to dwell on the past too much, but with back-to-school season in full swing, I’ve been reflecting on my own school days and the many mistakes that were made. Including skincare mistakes, of which I’ve made many. This list is just my top four.


I chose four because in Chinese superstition, four is an unlucky number. It evokes misfortune, and “misfortune” very aptly describes what my high school skin suffered at my overly enthusiastic hands.


1. Excessive scrubbing (and then more scrubbing on top of the scrubbing, and then some extra scrubbing for good measure)


Let’s get the big one out of the way first. Have you ever heard of St. Ives Apricot Scrub? This U.S. drugstore staple (which also comes in an acne care variety) contains a high concentration of coarsely ground walnut shells in a thick, scrubby paste. It’s the stuff of nightmares for many of us now, including my colleague Coco Park, but back in the day, I abused the hell out of the stuff.


This is what happened: I used it once and enjoyed my newly baby-soft skin. I enjoyed my newly baby-soft skin so much that I used the scrub again the next time I washed my face. Then again.


biggest skin mistakes


Then something weird happened. My skin started to feel rough again. So I figured I needed to scrub more. My skin got even rougher and more breakout-prone. Solution? In my teenaged mind, I needed to scrub more. And so it went. At one point, I was using St. Ives Apricot Scrub as my twice-a-day face wash and wondering how much more I’d have to scrub to get rid of the flaky, scaly, bumpy mess that I was convinced needed to be scoured off the surface of my face.


I know better now, of course. Those escalating texture and acne problems were a direct result of overscrubbing, particularly of overscrubbing with a very rough and abrasive product. Whoops.


What I would do differently if I could go back in time:


Slap the St. Ives scrub out of my hands and introduce myself to the concept of exfoliation in moderation.


(Side note: I was also shaving and scrubbing my legs every day. I had no idea that all that exfoliation was exacerbating the weird scaly texture that I was trying so hard to get rid of.)


2. Counterproductive masking sessions


As you may know, I’m a huge fan of a good masking session. My masks of choice these days are sheet masks, with the very infrequent foray into a creamy and gentle clay mask and some wintertime honey masks.


A'Pieu Aqua Nature Blackhead Clean Off Nose Pack biggest skin mistakes


I loved masking all the way back in high school, but unfortunately I had no idea what I was doing, which is the overarching theme of this article. I just grabbed cheap masks from the drugstore and slapped them on one after the other in ritualistic spa nights with my best friend at the time. A typical spa night went something like this:


— Violently resurface face with the aforementioned St. Ives Apricot Scrub

— Suck out all moisture with random harsh clay mask

— Painfully peel away an extra layer of skin with sticky peel-off mask that hurt when removed

— Maybe, if my skin was lucky that evening, feebly attempt to nourish skin with nondescript cucumber-themed gel mask that was probably more alcohol than cucumber

— Not moisturize

— If my skin was especially unlucky that evening, dab toothpaste onto spots. (Don’t do this! Most toothpastes are very alkaline and contain harsh surfactants that will just further compromise the skin in that area and make things worse in the long run.)


Those spa nights were great fun and wonderfully bonding girl time, but not so great for our complexions, neither of which improved with this course of action.


What I would do differently if I could go back in time and bring products with me:


Confiscate all the scrubs, clay masks, and peel-off packs, and give myself some sheet masks and soothing, hydrating sleeping packs. I think high school-me would have done well with COSRX’s Ultimate Moisturizing Honey Overnight Mask, which would have calmed inflammation while providing some much-needed moisture.


3. Really inappropriate beauty buys


I came of age in the ’90s. We didn’t have beauty blogs and beauty vlogs and Instagram and Reddit and communities like W2Beauty’s to share experiences, rate products, and read reviews written by our peers and skin twins. In my cohort at least, skincare knowledge and research were limited to sales associates at department store beauty counters or the limited and quite possibly advertiser-driven beauty features and expensive recommendations printed in glossy magazines. Which I devoured every month. Vogue, Allure, Glamour, Cosmopolitan, Seventeen, and YM were my beauty bibles.


biggest skin mistakes
A magazine ad for the alcohol-laden Sea Breeze toner from the 1980s.



There wasn’t a whole ecosystem of skincare hobbyists or resources to learn about ingredients and formulations. There certainly weren’t ways to quickly find multiple people with my same skin type and concerns, nor were those people sharing which products worked for them and which ones didn’t. What I’m saying is that I liked skincare but had no clue how to make an informed purchasing decision, so I bought whatever the magazines and beauty counter sales associates told me to. Most of the time, those purchases were mistakes.


My memories of the Dark Ages of my youth are hazy in this new millennium, so I don’t remember most of my terrible purchases (though I do remember an unfortunate run-in with the Clinique three-step system). I do remember the endless breakouts and desperate additional purchases. Some of the breakouts were just a fact of adolescence, but I wasn’t helping anything by throwing my allowance at pricey products not compatible with my skin.


There is still plenty of questionable skincare advice out there. (Actually, social media has allowed some pretty terrible advice to proliferate much further and faster than in the pre-Pinterest days. And also, baking soda does NOT go on your face EVER. And don’t put lemon juice on your face, either.) But the wealth of truly helpful and well-researched skincare content available today more than makes up for it, in my opinion.


What I would do differently if I could go back in time:


Drag my 1990s self into the time machine and come back to the 2010s, where it’s possible to read extensively on any skincare subject I want and to find multiple reviews from different sources and skin types about so many more products than my teenaged self could have imagined possible. Also, teach myself the concept of YMMV: Just because something worked perfectly for someone else doesn’t mean it will have the same effect for me.


4. Not wearing sunscreen


This one needs very little explanation or backstory. I didn’t wear sunscreen, and I spent a good part of each day outside.


biggest skin mistakes
Photo by Tomas Salas on Unsplash


In my defense, sunscreen education in Ye Olden Days of my youth was nowhere near as prevalent as it is today (and it’s still pretty spotty today). But I was aware on a theoretical level of the damaging effects of UV exposure, thanks to all those magazines. I just didn’t put that awareness into practice. I’m not sure why I thought “shielding the upper half of my face with my hand sometimes when it’s especially sunny” was a solid sun protection strategy.


What I would do differently if I could go back in time and bring products with me:


Shove a carton of A’Pieu Pure Block Natural Sun Cream and A’Pieu Pure Block Aqua Sun Gel at past-me and make past-me read present-me’s review on both these excellent and affordable daily sunscreen products.


My youth was filled with skincare disasters, and yours might have been too, but even if it was, don’t despair! Our skin is a resilient organ, and with the right care and attention, it can bounce back from quite a lot. Mine did, and for that, my teenaged self thanks my older self.


Do any of these mishaps sound familiar? Share your own biggest skin mistakes from your youth in the comments or on your Beauty Wall!




Jude Chao
Jude Chao

Jude writes as Fiddy Snails at the K-beauty and skincare blog Fifty Shades of Snail and can be found on Instagram @fiddysnails. Named the ELLE Malaysia Beauty Blogger of the Month for June/July 2017 and one of ELLE Magazine‘s 10 Cool Beauty Bloggers to Watch in 2018, Jude loves ginseng, snail, honey, propolis, and tuna fish kimbap, though she generally doesn’t put the kimbap on her face.



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