How Acne Made Me More Frugal

[Hey guys!! I’m off galavanting at FinCon for the next handful of days, so please enjoy this fun little guest post while I’m away by Jess Chua over at the Optimal Living Daily podcast. I bet many of you can relate to this – I know I can at least!! ;)]


I managed to sail through my teenage years without much trouble regarding the skin on my face.

This all changed in my early twenties when a sudden onset of acne overtook my once smooth and blemish-free complexion. Oy vey!

It was a definite hit to my self-esteem initially, and the stress and frustration became a vicious negative cycle that fed itself.

Throughout this harrowing but enlightening experience, I learned several lessons about frugality and minimalism. I had always been a somewhat thrifty person (most of the time), but dealing with acne made me more conscious of my approach to money, consumerism, and budgeting.

Here’s what my acne battle taught me:

#1. Sometimes, You Don’t Get What You Pay For

At the prompting of several concerned friends and family members, I bought a month’s subscription to a well-known acne treatment system.

Something didn’t feel right early on as my face increasingly dried out and got irritated the longer I stuck with the products.

Why is this happening? I’d think to myself several times throughout the day as I scrutinized the label and claims they made.

I stopped using the products when I noticed it was leaving WHITE STREAKS on my face towel.

What was that white substance? A quick Google search told me that Benzoyl Peroxide was one of the best “anti acne ingredients” available, and that it was a powerful bleaching agent like most peroxides.

Part of me felt like I was kicking up a fuss and just needed to continue using the system to get the results. But part of me also just wanted to seek out other options. If the ingredients could leave white streaks on a towel, what was it doing to my skin and body?

I decided to listen to my gut and explore simpler options which could be effective AND friendly to my wallet.

#2. Keep Things Simple

[EDITOR’S NOTE: Yet another example of the beauty of simplicity from yesterday! Which I didn’t plan at all I promise! ;)]

This led me to read up about basic skincare and how the Number One Thing irritated and aggravated skin needs is… less irritation and aggravation.

It sounds like common sense — and it is — though it was hard to accept when nothing seemed to be working at the time to clear up the acne.

I spent lots of time reading up about various approaches to skincare. In particular, I enjoyed the Japanese approach to it, which tends to emphasize fewer but higher quality ingredients in the products.

Trendy (and pricey!) items like “snail-mucin essence” face masks sounded tempting to try on an adventurous day. But I gravitated towards gentle and effective items like fragrance-free oatmeal bar soap to keep my face clean without irritating it.

Reading up on sensitive skin and the ingredients to avoid helped me really narrow down my choices when it came to the endless amount of skincare products out there. Through my research and obsessive studying of ingredient labels, I realized that more expensive products didn’t necessarily mean that they were free from harmful or low-quality substances.

#3. Be A More Conscious Consumer

The acne treatment system I had tried had a media budget that was upwards of $200 million, on top of several millions per year that was allocated to celebrity endorsements.

I sat still for several moments to let the information sink in. I wanted my subconscious to remember it so that I would be more discerning when it comes to marketing and advertising. There was always that glimmer of hope that the next miracle product could be the Holy Grail item that I just couldn’t live without when it came to beauty and skincare.

It was a reality check for me to realize that all the scientific studies, stamps of approval, and glossy endorsements meant nothing if the product wasn’t working for me.

Was I an outlier? It didn’t matter. I was happy that I felt more empowered now to make more discerning purchases.

#4. Minimalism — And What I Could Do Without

As I got down to the basics, I got more disciplined when it came to my approach towards food and health.

I drastically cut down on sugary and processed foods, and mostly drank water while keeping up my usual light-to-moderate exercise routines.

I realized I was happy working out by myself at home, and that I felt more comfortable there than paying for a fancy gym membership.

My low-fuss and minimal skincare routine made me think about what other things I could do without.

When it came to potential purchases, I would keep asking myself: “Is this something I really need?” Which not only helped me justify the expense, but was a solid question to ask in general in order to keep reaping the benefits of a frugal lifestyle.

As Ashley from The Frugal Model once wrote in a guest post here, being frugal doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re being cheap.

The concept of “less is more” frees you up to focus on the things that matter even more.

For example, no longer paying for the acne treatment system subscription meant that I now had about thirty bucks per month to save or spend on other things instead (like art supplies or books!!!). Keeping to a minimal skincare routine meant that I could spend 5 minutes or less on my face, versus a complicated 10-step routine requiring multiple products and a bigger investment of time and money.

In the end, the minimalistic approach helped to clear up my skin, and serves as a visual reminder and reward now of the frugal lifestyle choices I make.

Jess Chua writes and edits content for the Optimal Living Daily podcast, a show that narrates some of the best lifestyle content online, including some of J$’s very own personal finance articles on its sister podcast, Optimal Finance Daily.

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  1. Kate September 5, 2019 at 9:48 AM

    Me too! I’m a basic product woman also! I’m super alergic on the left side of my face only (weird!) and can only use basic products on my face like Aveeno and Cetaphil. You know if it comes in a 500ml pump pack it’s gonna be good value! I think I’ve “saved” thousands over the years on not buying the fancy stuff!

    1. Jess September 6, 2019 at 9:01 AM

      Hi Kate–cool to hear! Sensitive skin on the face is on its own level of horror, but I’m glad you’ve found some basic products that work. It is quite mind-boggling how the cost of these products can add up over the years.

    2. J. Money September 12, 2019 at 6:49 AM

      Weird that only one side of your face is allergic?!

      Once half of my face started going numb after drinking a pepsi on a plane – was so strange!! Lasted about 30 mins and then went away and never happened again. (And I’ve never tried Pepsi again either, haha…)

  2. Jen September 5, 2019 at 12:00 PM

    When it comes to skin care people can be very different. We offer a ton of different skin care products with different chemicals in them in this country but we don’t do a great job with consumer education (for obvious reason). In a past life when I used to work for two different companies selling cosmetics/skincare, etc I preferred to advise customers dealing with acne to only change one or two things in their own regime at the most (and that less can be more). More importantly, having an high level idea as to the cause of your acne helps. Benzoyl Peroxide is better at helping acne caused by bacteria and salicylic acid is better at helping acne caused by dead skin cells clogging the pores. I’ve always dealt with oily, acnegenic skin (and I’m closer to 40 than 30). Benzoyl peroxide worked better for me when I lived in S. Fl since the heat and humidity level meant that you were basically always sweating (a great bacteria breeding grown). When I moved to NC my skin started peeling and burning during the first winter since the air is so dry here. I had been using benzoyl peroxide with success for almost ten years, but had to switch to salicylic acid since dead skin cells became more of the cause of my acne in this environment (it’s been about 14yrs now). I will say if you do have to use one of these items, definitely make sure not to get cleansers or moisturizers that will irritate your skin when combined with the cleanser. Rough scrubs and harsh chemicals will only dry out your sebaceous glands, which will cause them to overreact and produce more oil in response. Much like the author, most of my skin care routine does not cost very much. Also note that your skin has different needs in the winter vs the summer, so you may need a more gentle cleanser in the winter.

    1. Jess September 6, 2019 at 9:08 AM

      Thanks for sharing those detailed tips with lots of information on how the chemicals function in different types of climate :) Everyone’s skin is different and can react to any chemical that’s on the ingredient list, and change at different ages or stages of our lives too. It makes narrowing the potential chemical culprit down more difficult, which is why less can really be more!

  3. Christine September 6, 2019 at 6:35 PM

    Love this! I have to admit I do have one pricey item in my skincare routine, a $45 little bottle for cystic acne. I went through a similar experience like you where I didn’t have acne much as a teen, then in my late 20’s I started getting adult acne. Nasty cystic acne. I tried so many products, but in the end I’m doing my best to minimize the products I’m using and the amount of chemicals. Honey for face wash is really great(good for acne and it’s tasty if you accidentally get it in your mouth. Unfortunately I still need that pricey little bottle, but I’m seeing if another brand that’s significantly cheaper will work. Fingers crossed!

    1. Jess September 9, 2019 at 9:16 AM

      Hi Christine–if the pricey item lasts a while, that makes it more “acceptable” in terms of budgeting :P

      Cystic acne on the face is one of the worst afflictions (like………why??????). I did try USDA-organic raw honey a few times as a face wash, which was quite relaxing.

      I hope that other brand you try works out!

  4. Peggie Rath December 9, 2019 at 6:12 PM

    Dermalmd has significantly cleared up my cystic and hormonal acne! I love the minty smell and the tingly sensation on my skin. This is my miracle product. I’ve dealt with acne and frugal all my life and Anti-acne serum of dermalmd really works for me!
    Expensive but worth it