Throughout my teenage years and early-20s I suffered with cystic acne. I don’t take that word “suffering” lightly. I did suffer; emotionally and physically (they hurt). Moving through puberty and the emotional turmoil of finding your place in this world. Feeling insecure and yet trying to find confidence. All of this is difficult for anyone moving into adulthood but for those of you, like me, who are also dealing with acne it can be so much more challenging. I tried everything. Literally! Both natural remedies and toxic ones. Initially my doctors had me try antibiotics, birth control, and eventually Accutane. Ugh! The horrors of accutane. None of them really worked. They may have improved things for a bit only to be replaced with skin eruptions once again. Once I headed off to college and started learning more about natural and alternative medicines I started experimenting with other remedies I could find at the health food store. Again only minimal improvements. Nothing lasting. It was only once I got to the root of the problem that I saw a lasting change. In my mid-20s I finally decided to seek out treatment with Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) for my hormonal imbalances and irregular cycles. I was diligent for 3 months, drinking horrible herbal decoctions every night and getting weekly acupuncture treatments. And guess what?! It worked!! My cycle started regulating and…….an awesome side benefit, my skin cleared up! During this time I also started my holistic nutrition education and subsequently started experimenting with different dietary regimens. Through my diet I was able to keep my skin clear and although I won’t lie the occasional pimple will still rear its ugly head (especially when I get off track with my diet or under times of high stress) I have never seen the return of my acne! This experience was proof to me that acne is a much deeper issue. Let’s dive in and uncover the strategies that really work. Not the gimmicky ads to buy another product but actual healing from the inside out. We first need to talk about the real causes of acne. Like I said above, it was only once I started repairing the underlying imbalances that I saw real change. For me those imbalances included hormonal imbalance, sluggish detoxification, and an imbalanced microbiome from years of anti-acne medication use and the wrong diet.
Rather than use antibiotics I have helped many clients clear their acne by adding probiotics (the good bugs) back into their gut. A healthy microbiome is a key piece to keeping inflammation down, detoxification humming, hormones balanced, and skin clear and healthy. Read more about the Microbiome here and how you can support a healthy and balanced gut. In a nutshell, you want to avoid foods that disrupt diversity and include more of the foods that improve diversity. Avoid: sugar, artificial sweeteners, processed foods, bad fatsInclude: fiber and probiotic-rich foods
Another contributing factor to acne are food sensitivities. When you eat foods that create irritation and inflammation in the gut, this eventually increases inflammation elsewhere in the body, including the skin. A 2-4 week elimination of all suspect foods followed by a gradual re-introduction of each food should help you identify any potential offenders. The most common culprits include sugar, dairy, gluten, corn, and soy. For me personally if I go on a stretch of too much sugar and/or alcohol it definitely shows up in my skin.
The skin is our largest detoxification organ. When our bodies become burdened with too many toxins and sluggish detoxification pathways we start to see symptoms; including acne. By supporting detoxification and the liver, we help our body clear out toxins and improve skin conditions. Read more here about why seasonal detoxes are important for all of us and how you can easily move through one.
When hormones surge and get out of balance acne can flare-up. This is why we more commonly see acne come up during puberty but this is by no means the only time. Any time in our life when there is hormonal change can be a trigger; pregnancy, breastfeeding, pre-menopause, menopause. If your acne seems to be worse cyclically, then it’s likely due to hormonal imbalance. There are so many factors that influence our hormones, including digestion and detoxification. Stress is also a big factor. I personally had to address all three of these pieces plus work with a TCM practitioner to see a re-balancing in my hormones.
Stress is definitely still one of my biggest triggers for break-outs at this point. And as you know stress can be a very tricky component to manage. Read more about Living Mindfully With Stress to help inspire strategies for more successful stress management in your life.
Another trigger of acne and break-outs comes from what you put on your skin. Chemically-laden products, even those that claim to be good for acne, can irritate and inflame the skin and only cause more problems in the long-run. Personally I found that when I made the switch to organic natural products without fragrances or others toxic additives my skin started to look better. And although I was terrified of adding oil to my skin initially I found that once I started using natural oils like coconut, cocoa, and olive oil on my skin it began to look amazing.
Take Home Message
The bottom line is this, acne is not just a skin problem, it’s a systems problem. There are imbalances underneath the surface that are showing up as acne on your skin. So unless you’re willing to dive deeper and start healing from the inside out, it will continue to be a problem for you. First, get to the root of the problem. What other areas may be out of balance; digestion, hormonal, detoxification. Identify and remove any possible food sensitivities while improving the quality of your diet. Start with the basics (colorful plants, healthy fats, good quality proteins, lots of fluids, less sugar and processed foods) and choose specific foods that will nourish your skin from the inside out. For chronic imbalances you may need to upgrade to professional support as I had to by choosing to work with a TCM practitioner. If you feel like you need a helping hand with this please feel free to reach out to me and schedule a free 15-minute consult. For those of you reading this with young children, lay the groundwork now for healthy skin so they won’t be facing acne in their teenage years. Start with the right foods and with a healthy gut. Explore possible food sensitivities and other microbiome imbalances. The work you do now will go a long way to providing a less tumultuous transition into puberty. If you enjoyed the information in this article and want to make sure you don’t miss out on any future topics related to skin and health, Join The Tribe. Every week I deliver insights, inspiration, and more straight to your Inbox. (this article was first published on 6/28/17)