This facial scrub is the only skincare product that helps me keep my hormonal acne under control

July 27, 2020

A few months ago, I had to switch my birth control. I get migraines with aura, and because of that, I have a higher risk of stroke when using combination pills, thanks to the estrogen in the formula. So, after talking to my OBGYN, I switched to a progestin-only pill, which is the safer option.

The only drawback? Progestin-only pills have a tendency to make your acne worse. So my once-clear visage, which I’d put a ton of work into since I was about eighteen, was suddenly dotted with hormonal acne on my chin and cheeks. And the only solution my doctor gave me was to discontinue the birth control pills — which I’m not quite ready to do yet.

So I started scouring the internet and quizzing my beauty editor friends to try and find a solution. And after doing a big dig through her magazine’s beauty closet, a friend of mine passed along Carbon Theory’s Charcoal and Tea Tree Oil Breakout Control Facial Exfoliating Scrub. I was super keen on this because I’ve had success with charcoal and tea tree oil separately before. But I was about to find out that when you combine the two, magic happens.

What makes the Carbon Theory exfoliating scrub effective?

Like I mentioned, this scrub contains two serious acne fighters. Charcoal acts like a magnet, drawing out bacteria and oils from deep within the skin’s surface. One they’re out, the antiseptic tea tree oil comes in to kill bacteria while also reducing inflammation.

In other words, these two ingredients work together like peanut butter and jelly — if peanut butter and jelly were able to zap zits and clear your skin.

Now there is some debate on the efficacy of charcoal as a skincare product. “The use of activated charcoal in skincare is quite new, and therefore, research on its effectiveness is lacking,” says Dr. Annie Gonzalez, a board-certified dermatologist in Miami, Florida. There is, however, anecdotal evidence about its effectiveness. And the fact that charcoal is typically used with other known acne-fighting ingredients may contribute to its classification as an acne-fighter. Tea tree oil has been shown to reduce moderate acne in some people, so adding charcoal to tea tree in this scrub may be the reason for my positive experience.

And since this scrub is, well, a scrub, it allows you to deliver these acne-fighting ingredients deeply into the skin by removing dead cells first.

Aside from all of that, there are two things that I particularly love about this scrub. Firstly, its packaging is super unique. It almost looks and behaves like one of those squeezable baby food pouches, which makes it really easy to make sure you’re getting every last drop of product.

The other is how moisturized my skin feels after the fact. In the past, so many of my acne-fighting products would leave my skin super tight and dry. But since neither the charcoal nor the tea tree is especially harsh, my skin remains nice and hydrated.

Does it actually work?

I was shocked by how quickly I started to see results. In just 10 days, there was a major reduction in the amount of acne I had, and the zits that were there were significantly reduced in size.

Not only did my acne decrease, but my skin generally looked brighter and more even. There was a reduction in redness and inflammation. It actually looked like I had just come from a facial. The glow was real.

Here’s how I use it as both a scrub and a mask

While I usually exfoliate in the morning, since this is an acne-fighting product, I use it at night so that my skin also has the opportunity to renew while I sleep. I swap this in for my normal exfoliant when I’m dealing with breakouts, which means I exfoliate every other night.

A little bit of this product goes a long way, so I squeeze about a dime-sized dollop into my hands and then apply it to my face in a circular motion using my fingertips.

This scrub has some serious grit to it, so you don’t have to apply a ton of pressure. I massage it into my skin for about 30 seconds before rinsing it with warm water.

When I’m dealing with a bad breakout, I actually apply this scrub to my face like a mask and leave it on for about five minutes before massaging it in. This gives the ingredients a greater chance to penetrate my skin. Then, I follow the same steps as when I’m normally washing — I scrub in circular motions, and rinse with warm water.

Cons to consider

Like I mentioned above, this scrub does have a lot of grit. So if you have really sensitive skin, you might have some adverse reactions to it. I also haven’t tested using Carbon Theory’s over a long period of time — I typically tend to only use it when I’m having a bad breakout. So I can’t 100% recommend that you use this as a replacement for your everyday scrub.

On the flip side, this may not be the best course of action for serious cystic acne. Dr. Gonzalez is quick to note that hormonal acne is much, much different than typical, topical breakouts. “Because cysts lie deep in the dermal layers of your skin, beyond therapies such as creams, chemical peels, and lasers, normal topicals are typically not enough,” she says. “Although I recommend patients to start with a topical, the key is to use it consistently over the generalized affected area, not just as a spot treatment.”

When I asked her if that meant that my zit-free visage was just a fluke, she said no. “It can help treat any type of acne because the charcoal can help draw out bacteria and excess oil within pores, while the tea tree oil reduces inflammation and is a natural antiseptic,” she notes. In other words? It might work for your hormonal acne, and it might not. Everyone’s skin is different, and how your hormonal acne reacts to topicals may be completely different than mine.

The bottom line

I can’t say enough good things about this scrub. It’s become a permanent, invaluable part of my skincare routine. Whenever I have a bad hormonal breakout, I know that I can fall back on this scrub to nix the zit in record time. It’s like my acne safety net, and for that I’m thankful.