Discover beauty through professional reviews

NOW READING My Oily Skin Journey: A Beauty Writer’s Personal Song of Scrub & Fire
June 4, 2019

My Oily Skin Journey: A Beauty Writer’s Personal Song of Scrub & Fire

When your oily skin journey reads like an epic battle between White Walkers and a Dothraki horde, you know there’s going to be some pain. Here, contributing writer Leo recounts his tale of woe and how he came out the other side, if not unsullied, a bona fide skincare maester.


Last month contributing writer Ruth spoke about how she went through a journey of sorts with her dry skin in the last few years of discovering skincare, and it made me really think about the awful, terrible things I’ve done to my oily skin in contrast.


There was a period where I was going through about 10 blotting sheets a day but still feeling like a greaseball and my skin was a complete and utter mess. And I say mess not even because of how my skin looked but how uncomfortable I emotionally and physically felt with my skin. I never wanted to leave the house for school without makeup, and smiling too hard made my dried-out skin feel like plastic wrap stretched to its limit.


My freshman year of high school is when I remember my skin really starting to bother me. Before that, I honestly don’t know if I even washed my face, y’all. I know, current me is in complete shock as well, considering how fairly intense my routine has become. My oily skin kicked into gear, my pores definitely became larger, and I had moderate acne on my forehead and cheeks. If it had just stopped there, I might have made it through without much issue. But then my cystic acne along my jawline popped up and all hell broke loose. Or should I say a self-imposed apocalypse took place.


oily skin journey
Unsplash/Iswanto Arif


The Battle of the Walnut Scrub


I won’t be inserting any pictures because I had gone through several years ago and deleted them all, but with how bumpy my skin was, I felt like I wanted to just sandpaper it down. And so that’s what I attempted.


Yikes. Y’all know which one I’m talking about, but I went to Target, got myself a walnut face scrub, and went to town EVERY. SINGLE. NIGHT. For months. Even typing that out makes my face hurt. I wasn’t gentle about it either; I took that scrub in the palms of my hands and mashed it into my bright red, aching face. For several minutes. I actually feel sick thinking about it lol.


oily skin journey


All this led to was heightened oil production from my quite literally shredded acid mantle, and thankfully I realized I needed to do some actual research as to what might be causing  my acne rather than attempting to literally sand it off my face. After what was probably my 20th bottle, I stopped scrubbing and after several months of searching, I discovered what I thought was my answer. Spoiler alert: It wasn’t.


The Great Smothering


I stumbled upon a website focused on providing solutions for people with acne, and among all the discussion boards and helpful videos, I found they even sold their own products. The before-and-afters were amazing, and I saw people with cases of acne just as or even more severe than mine who had perfectly even skin following this method. Looking back at it now, the bottles of treatment product they sold were absolutely massive (I think it was a literal 16 oz bottle of benzoyl peroxide gel), but I got my money from my part-time job together, ordered a starter kit, and used the cleanser and BP gel as soon as it arrived just like I did with the scrub, every single night.


oily skin journey


The method here was to use three full finger lengths, which I estimate was almost a full teaspoon of the gel every morning and every night after cleansing. Go grab a teaspoon and see how much that is. There was a good three to four minutes of just slathering on the product to get it to absorb, and y’all, it was a mess. BP is, from what I understand, targeted towards acne caused by bacteria. I feel like my acne was definitely more from a clogged pore/congestion situation, which was made worse through cheese-grating my moisture barrier with the aforementioned scrub, so all this treatment gel did was make my skin even drier, even tighter, and stain every towel, pillowcase, and sheet I owned. I finished a full eight months or so on this method, and with no benefits to be seen, I went back to square one of doing nothing to my face, only this time I had to buy all new bedding. Joy.


The Birth From the Ashes


At this point, I went into a frenzy and tried everything that might seem like it could even remotely work. I used pore strips, I used wash off masks filled with menthol, toners so filled with alcohol they were probably flammable, DIY treatments made of crushed-up aspirin and cat litter (where my Michelle Phan fans at), literally anything that sounded like it could help. I would say in total, I spent a good four or five years in this state of turmoil, and I’m still recovering from the scarring I have on my skin.


oily skin journey


In another night of mindlessly roaming the internet looking for some way to not hate my skin (news flash, that process is a lot more internal and emotional than one would think), I stumbled upon a blog post.


I was looking into sheet masks (I finally decided to hydrate my skin y’all, whew), and reddit was buzzing about My Beauty Diary. In search of pictures or more details about these things I had never heard of, I found the fabled Fifty Shades of Snail, run by the one and only Jude Chao, Lady Fiddy, First of Her Name of House Snail, the Builder of Moisture Barriers. I wouldn’t be anywhere close to where I am now if it weren’t for the knowledge she continues to share and the company that she keeps #SnailSquad. I went from dipping my toe into the K-beauty pool around the time I was reconnecting with that part of my background to diving head first into the world of all things skincare. Granted, it’s a never-ending journey, but I’ve settled at a place amongst my cleansing oils, seasonal serums, and hydrating toners that have brought me so much peace.


I’m sure I’ll continue to talk at length about my progression through my Korean skincare journey, but please, please, please, whatever you do, do not follow in my early footsteps. It’s a path that is messier than Game of Thrones was this season.


Do y’all have a cringe-worthy oily skin journey or any other memorable skincare tragedies from your younger years? Or if you’re currently in the middle of one, please don’t be afraid to comment below with questions! Again, I’ll also recommend Jude’s blog, and we both talk quite a bit about skin on our respective Instagrams as well for more info.



Born in Korea and raised in Washington, Leo is another 20-something member of the K-Beauty Squad that is as committed to his love of skincare as he is to wine and cheese covered snack foods. After working as an educator and trainer in the beauty industry, he joined the team at Beautytap to continue sharing his knowledge and passion for skincare and all things chok-chok. During his free time, he’s been spotted in the wild bingeing Netflix shows, blasting K-pop while playing video games, or (much more rarely) leaving his hovel to venture forth in search of cocktails and Korean BBQ.




thanks @leolouie for sharing! what product is an HG for you as far as helping with your oily skin?

i'm actually battling an epic oily T-zone now — thank goodness i know better than to strip it. though i did strip my mildly oily T-zone A LOT when i was a teen (that's what they told us to do!), so i blame that for my suddenly super oily T-zone now.


Honestly, I would say a good hydrating toner. BHAs and those types of things can really help, but if your skin isn't hydrated at a base level, I feel like the excess oils can't even properly come through to the surface of your skin; it gets trapped in all the dehydrated layers of skin and you just contribute to that "I don't know what it is but my skin looks so bleh" effect.


That's so true. My brother has really dry, dehydrated skin, and he gets a buildup of under-the-surface bumps that I think are just clogs of excess sebum (and yet they're not pimples). I'm gonna have to convince him to start using a good toner.