If you opened this post, you likely already know what it feels like to be a full-fledged adult dealing with acne (or you know someone who does). I can commiserate - it's awful. Whether you are in your 20s and wondering how anyone your senior is going to take you seriously at a big meeting, or you are hitting menopause and wondering what you did to deserve acne and wrinkles, this post is for you.
This is also the most personal post I've ever written. Overall, I'm a fairly confident, secure woman. That said, acne can make even the most self-assured person doubt facing the world, because it's your face. While all my research and education has helped me heal my body's neurological issues and cure my psoriasis, my face has been my final frontier.
My acne journey started in high school, with 3 years of antibiotic treatment (sorry, microbiome). I've tried every topical on the market, from Proactiv to straight benzoyl peroxide, and I even went on Accutane for one week (my body vetoed that option quickly). Nothing helped until I went gluten-free three years ago, which cleared up my cystic acne, but the rest has been unbelievably stubborn. As a health coach, I've felt like I have somehow failed. I sometimes wonder why someone would trust me to guide them through life-altering changes to feel their best when I haven't been able to figure out how to simply clear my own skin.
When I feel that way, I remember 3 things:
- Others notice much less than I worry they do.
- I have helped many people make great and lasting improvements (even with their own skin!).
- There is always more to learn, discover, and try.
So this past month I did yet another experiment, and lo and behold - it's working! The scars won't fade overnight, but you can see in these please-don't-burn-these-images-into-your-brain pictures, from April 1 to April 28th a lot changed!
Would you like to get to the root cause of YOUR acne? Read on!
Acne is typically either environmental, hormonal, or related to gut-health. Mine has all been gut-related.
Think about environmental factors. Do you break out on your cheek where you hold your phone? If so, carry alcohol wipes to keep your phone surface clean. Do you break out only on days you wash your hair? Try switching shampoos (especially if you have "back-ne" as well). Do you have flares when you are really stressed out? Stress acne usually only happens to someone who already has acne (so there is another underlying cause), but managing stress levels will certainly help. Start a mindfulness or meditation practice, take up yoga, try long walks in nature, or pick up boxing to release some angst. If you have a stress flare-up, self-care (long baths and massages, anyone?) and topical treatments are your best bet to get back to clear skin.
Determine if hormones are triggering your troubles. If you're female, does your face break out at a certain time during your cycle? Keep a journal for a few months, recording both your menstruation and your skin condition to see if any correlations appear. Using an app like PeriodTracker can be helpful. Once you've established a connection, I recommend taking a Vitex supplement to naturally support your progesterone levels and keep your estrogen in check.
Get to know your gut, and help it get happy. Do you deal with bloating, gas, constipation/diarrhea, nausea or stomachaches? If so, you can bet your acne is connected. Gut issues can indicate food sensitivities or conditions like SIBO (Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth) that can be treated with diet. If this is you and you need some guidance, you can get in touch with me here. Do you tend to break out after a night of drinking? This also points to gut health. Does your tongue have a thick white coating most days? Or do you constantly crave sugar? These can suggest Candida fungal overgrowth. Candida is a yeast that lives in everyone's digestive tract, but it can become out of balance/overgrown with antibiotic use or a diet high in added sugars. You can read more about Candida in my March post. I find that Candida acne is often small bumps, especially on the forehead and hairline.
My story: As I mentioned above, my cystic acne and psoriasis resolved when I went gluten-free (food sensitivity). I did a Candida cleanse last fall that cleared up my very itchy shins and improved my bumpy forehead, but I was still left with chronic breakouts along my jawline, cheeks, and temples. This past month, I started a low-FODMAP diet to help with bloating and slightly inconsistent digestion... and my breakouts have been stopped in their tracks! This likely means I have SIBO. While I treat it with the diet protocol, I'm thrilled to know I won't have to deal with bad skin anymore.
Here are some tips for everyone, no matter what causes your flare-ups:
Get some sunlight. Not too much. If you have very dry or easily-burned skin, be safe and keep exposure to a minimum just to get your vitamin D. For all you oily olive and dark-toned folks, a very slight base tan can even your color and help dry your skin out a bit.
Eat a well-balanced, whole-foods, plant-based diet. Nutrient deficiencies, which can occur either because of a poorly balanced diet or because of malabsorption (read: gut issues), can be the root of stubborn acne. You could get micronutrient testing, or just work on healing your gut and eating well.
Take appropriate supplements. I've found zinc to be especially helpful, and I take up to 120mg a day (with food!). It has anti-inflammatory effects, supports your immune system, and is often low in people with bad acne. A good quality fish oil for omega-3 fatty acids will help bring down inflammation as well, and can be especially valuable if your skin tends to be dry (but won't make it oily if it is already, don't worry). Probiotics are hugely beneficial, particularly if you've ever taken antibiotic treatment for your acne (or any other reason) or are dealing with Candida overgrowth (I'm not sure how I feel about probiotics with SIBO just yet).
Throw away your magnifying mirror and don't pick. I admit I'm pretty bad about this, but try to repeat after me: if you can't see it in a regular mirror, no one else can see it either. If you must squeeze blackheads, do so gently and after opening your pores with a hot washcloth or steam bath.
Get plenty of sleep. This piece of advice shows up on every post, no matter what it's for, but that doesn't make it any less true.
Be choosy about what you put on your skin. I'm not an expert on topical skin treatments, but I'll tell you what I do and use. (My skin is oily, has a fast cell turnover rate, and is not especially sensitive.) In the morning, I "wash" my face with water and a silicone face scrubber (it's a light exfoliant) and put on Acure Organics facial moisturizer. When I get home for the day, I "wash" my face with a hot washcloth (no soap) and put on coconut oil for the night. Once or twice a week, I exfoliate with Bobbi Brown buffing grains and use a mint or clay based mask. I spot treat pimples with tea tree oil (a natural anti-bacterial) and use rose hip seed oil to help fade scars (which I wouldn't have if I didn't pick). When I wear face makeup, I use a sheer layer of Cover FX Foundation, which has never contributed to a breakout.
Most importantly, remember that you are not alone, it can get better, and you are beautiful (and handsome!) regardless.