Acne sucks. There’s nothing else quite like having a big insecurity (on your face) that you can’t get rid of.
In my early 20’s I had painful, cystic acne, mostly around my mouth and jaw. I tried everything from Proactiv, to face masks, to toners, to the oil cleansing method, to a prescription that forced me to avoid sun exposure. At one point, I even remember wishing my doctor would prescribe me Accutane so that I could at least have some relief from the painful blemishes that would not let up.
Now that my cystic acne is healed, I have so much empathy for others who have the same problem. I know how hard it is to feel extremely self-conscious, out of control, and in physical pain because of your skin.
Here are the things that did work for me:
1. Balanced my hormones
I was prescribed the birth control pill at age 16 due to irregular periods, and stayed on it until about age 22 when I started to notice severe cystic acne all over my chin and jaw. I've never had more than a few small zits before, so I knew something was totally out of whack with my body. Looking back, this all began around the same time I started experiencing a multitude of other symptoms like hair loss, fatigue and mood swings. At the time, I blamed everything on the pill. This was also around the time I started to become interested in natural medicine and nutrition, so going off of the pill felt like a natural progression to me. When I went off of the pill, my acne improved for a short period and then came back with a vengeance which led me to step 2, reassessing my diet.
2. Changed my diet
During a majority of college, I was on the Kashi go-lean, Splenda, skim milk and booze diet. As you can imagine, these foods didn’t do my skin any favors. This meant I was consuming tons of processed soy and wheat, artificial sweeteners, and dairy on a daily basis. These foods contributed to a leaky gut due to consistently eating them despite signals from my body that I was intolerant to them (severe bloating and acid reflux). To this day, I will almost immediately start to break-out if I eat soy, artificial sweeteners or dairy.
***Sometimes dairy is worth it for me though 😃
Another thing that was severely lacking in my college diet was essential fatty acids. Once I began to add in egg yolks, avocado, and coconut oil, the quality of my skin improved drastically and I noticed that the oil production and tone of my skin began to normalize. I also began to slowly shift towards more of a paleo-style way of eating that included lots of vegetables, fruits, sweet potatoes, eggs, and meats. I focused on eating more slowly, in a relaxed and parasympathetic state to aid digestion.
3. Healed my gut
Like I mentioned in step 1, after I went off of the birth control pill, I began to get really interested in finding natural cures instead of turning to prescriptions. Another medication I had been on for over 4 years was Prilosec (a Proton Pump Inhibitor prescribed for acid reflux that essentially turns off the production of stomach acid). I knew that Prilosec was “working” for me (read: no acid reflux) , but the more research I did, the more I felt intuitively like I needed to ween off of it. I was still experiencing some mild acne despite making dietary changes, and noticed that the days I skipped my Prilosec I noticed immediate breakouts and skin irritation. To be honest, weening myself off of the medication was a painful process and took a long time. One of the biggest things this signaled to me was that my gut still needed healing, and I needed to slowly increase my stomach acid production in order to digest and absorb nutrients again. There was a lot of trial and error involved and I wish I could go back and help myself with the knowledge I have now, but here are a few things that really worked for me:
- Apple cider vinegar and bitters with meals (both act as a digestive aid, increasing stomach acid production and lowering stomach ph)
- High quality probiotics and fermented foods (I like prescript-assist) kombucha, sauerkraut and kefir (if you tolerate dairy) are all great options.
- Nutrients to help heal and seal my gut lining (bone broth, aloe vera, licorice - this product is a great combination of all gut-healing nutrients and I still use it as needed)