I’ve struggled with acne for 13 years and have finally been able to clear my face and heal my body from within. Acne destroys your self-confidence and self-worth. It can be very discouraging if you’ve tried everything, but I promise with time and patience you can heal.
How I Naturally Healed My Acne – My Story
I’ve been to many dermatologists, and tried a countless number of creams, ointments, washes, antibiotics and spironolactone. Unfortunately, all these products did was cost money, and destroy my skins microbiome as well as my gut microbiome (antibiotics).
Over the years I’ve done tons of research, read many books, and listened to a lot of podcasts about acne. And, of course have my own experience with acne over the past decade.
Below I will share with you my experience with acne, and what worked for me to heal my acne AND body. Keep in mind that this is my story, and that it will not work for everyone. I am not a doctor, and this post is not to be treated as medical advice. At the end of this post I will have a list of resources that have helped me along the way. I encourage you to view the resources and do your own research.
What Causes Acne
There are many misconceptions about acne. For example, if a person has acne they are dirty and don’t wash their face; the person is too lazy to take care of their skin with a proper routine; the person has a bad diet; or the person lives an unhealthy lifestyle.
These misconceptions could not be further from the truth. I let these assumptions bring me down when I struggled with acne. My mind was consumed with thoughts about whether people were judging me for my acne. I was supposed to be this health and fitness “guru” that everyone knew me as, and now I had a face full of acne, which I felt made me look ‘unhealthy.’
I’ve had acne since I was 12-years-old. I’ve seen about five different dermatologists and tried tons of different creams, ointments, face washes, antibiotics, spironolactone, and birth control. Name a treatment and I’ve tried it. The products or pills would work for a few months, but it would always resurface. My acne was so severe in college that I went on birth control and my acne cleared up instantly. However, 5 years later when I decided to go off birth control, my acne came back in full force.
My acne as a teen was always on my forehead, nose, around my lips, and on my chin. It wasn’t cystic acne but could be painful at times. This time (after birth control at 24 years old) it was totally different.
It was a different kind of acne that was red tiny bumps all over my cheeks and down into my jawline. I would occasionally get regular pimples as well on my chin and jawline. Around this time I was researching and implementing lifestyle changes hoping it would clear my face.
Some possible causes I considered were:
- Was I allergic to my laundry detergent?
- Was my skincare or makeup making me break out?
- Is it just my genetics screwing me? (mom and aunt both had acne)
- Was it hormonal acne?
- Food intolerance or gut imbalances
I thought I was doing everything right, and was for the most part. Eating a real food diet without sugar, gluten, dairy, and grains; exercising every day; trying to keep my stress levels down (although due to a death in my family this was difficult at times), and getting a good night’s sleep. I also changed to non-toxic skin care and makeup, switched to natural laundry detergent, and non-toxic cleaning supplies.
After all these changes my skin was still not getting better. During this time I had also been experiencing other symptoms with my gut, and hormones. My stomach was hurting a lot and I wasn’t getting a period – this was a major red flag.
This is when I learned that acne starts within your body. There is no miracle cream, cleanser, or pill that will heal your acne long term. It’s all about lifestyle changes.
I started working with a functional medicine dietician, and took a stool test (GI-MAP) as well as a hormone test (DUTCH test). These test were pivotal to my healing journey. The test revealed that my gut was extremely out-of-whack with parasites, major gut imbalances, and H. pylori; and my hormones were non-existent (after birth control) with low levels of estrogen and progesterone.
After implementing supplements to eliminate the pathogens and balance my hormones; as well as counseling to lower my stress; my acne finally started healing about nine months later. During those months of healing, I thought that my acne would immediately get better, but unfortunately it took a lot longer than I expected.
With healing acne, patience and time will be your best friends.
How To Figure Out The Cause Of Your Acne
Healing acne is truly a lifestyle change. But, figuring out the cause of your acne and where to start can be tough. It can be as simple as changing your diet or removing a food OR it can be more complicated like treating hormone or gut imbalances. After I was clear on the causes of my acne, I was then able to start treating it.
It can be tempting to try another expensive facial cleanser, lay out in the sun, or take birth control to get rid of the acne, but remember these things don’t get to the root cause.
Food Can Heal
Contrary to belief, diet does affect the skin. If you want to improve your skin health, I highly recommend adopting a more nutrient dense diet with whole foods.
Switching to a paleo (whole foods) way of eating has transformed my skin appearance. Find what works for you and go with it! I recommend implementing the suggestions below for 1 whole month to see if you notice any changes.
Here are the ways I improved my diet:
- Eliminate dairy & whey protein: milk, cheese, ice cream, yogurt, and yes-pizza (sorry). Even a little amount of cheese can trigger my acne, so I take it as my body doesn’t digest dairy very well. I stick with dairy alternatives like almond or cashew milk, coconut oil or ghee, and coconut yogurts.
- Eliminate processed sugar: this is really important. To this day, if I eat sugar I break out for up to one week after. Processed sugar is a toxin to your body. If you want to heal your body from the inside/out eliminate candy, cookies, cake, and processed fours. Track your food in a calorie tracker for 1-2 days. You will be surprised how much sugar you eat. Even Paleo baked goods that use natural sugars like honey, maple syrup or dates still spike blood sugar. Feel free to still eat low sugar fruits like blueberries, black berries, strawberries, or raspberries.
- Eliminate gluten: breads, grains, wheat, etc. Gluten is one of the top allergenic foods that contribute to skin issues. It’s linked to skin conditions like eczema, psoriasis, and vitiligo. I avoid gluten 99% of the time. Even when eating out I avoid meals that I think might contain gluten. Gluten causes inflammation in the gut which then can trigger acne.
- Consume healthy oils: eat and cook with healthy oils like coconut oil, olive oil, avocado oil, and ghee. Avoid vegetable oil, canola oil, soybean oil, etc. These oils are some of the worst foods for our skin.
- Avoid processed foods: fast food, frozen meals, chips, cereal, microwave meals, breads, meal bars, sugary foods, etc. My tip is to avoid anything that doesn’t come from an animal or nature. Watch out for sneaky marketing like “organic”, “healthy”, “nutritious”, “gluten free”, “heart healthy”, etc.
- Alcohol: high in sugar and leads to blood sugar spikes. It dehydrates the skin and depletes the body in important nutrients. You don’t have to remove alcohol forever, but eliminate it for 30 days and I promise you’ll notice a difference.
- Caffeine: I’m guilty with this one as I drink a cup of coffee with collagen every morning. However, I did eliminate coffee when healing my gut and hormones, which in turn healed my skin. Caffeine is dehydrating and acidic. It also puts our body into fight or flight mode which is taxing to our adrenals. Again, you don’t have to remove it forever, but see how you feel after 30 days.
- Drink more water: stay hydrated throughout the day by drinking filtered water. I aim to drink 80 ounces – 1 gallon of water per day. You can also drink herbal teas like dandelion, chicory, or milk thistle that support liver and kidney function.
- Food intolerance(s)/allergies: foods that you suspect you are intolerant to. The most common are eggs, soy, corn, gluten, peanuts, shellfish, dairy, beer, salicylates, histamine intolerances (fermented foods, cured meats, dried fruits, citrus fruits, avocados, aged cheeses, beer, wine), FODMAP’s. If you suspect you have a food intolerance, read more here.
- Overall: Eat whole, unprocessed, organic foods to get the highest quality, nutrient rich foods possible. Eat organic if possible to avoid pesticides, and buy grass-fed, or pasture raised quality meats. Aim to eat 4-6 servings of vegetables and include plenty of garlic and onions.
Along with a healthy diet and lifestyle in place, supplements can help with your healing journey. Below are the supplements that helped my skin as well as gut/hormone health. Supplements will be different based on skin types and underlying issues.
- Take probiotics: if you have acne, dry, blotchy, or itchy skin, consider taking probiotics. What’s going on inside your microbiome is reflected on your skin. Adding probiotics into your microbiome can increase beneficial bacteria and make a big difference on your skin. Make sure to get a spore-based probiotic as the drug store ones do not make it alive to your digestive tract. My favorite brand is Just Thrive.
- Omega 3’s Fish Oil: decrease inflammation, which is associated with acne.
- Zinc: reduces inflammation and calms androgens, the hormones that trigger acne
- Turmeric (curcumin): has anti-inflammatory affects and can decrease acne causing bacteria
- FemGuard+Balance: designed to support healthy female hormone levels during menstruation and menopause. This helped eliminate my hormonal acne.
- Vitamin D: If you aren’t getting enough sun then I recommend getting your vitamin D levels tested to determine how much your body needs.
- Collagen: collagen helps keep your skin firm and tight.
- Avoid medications: birth control, antibiotics, steroids. My acne was a nightmare after getting off hormonal birth control.
Skincare and Makeup
- Washing face to often: You might think washing your face more will get rid of your acne, but it really dries out the skin leading to acceleration of oil production, causing breakouts. I oil cleanse my face at night, and splash my face with cold water in the mornings.
- Picking & popping pimples: I know it’s hard to resist popping pimples and extracting blackheads, but it can lead to scarring and often times makes my pimples worse or spreads to other parts of my face giving me more acne.
- Washing with HOT water and over exfoliating your skin: overdoing either of these can really strip the skin of its natural oils which leads to over production of oils (aka breakouts).
- Avoid over the counter acne medications (salicylic acid, benzoyl peroxide and sulfur): if it’s working for you and not making your skin as dry as the Sahara desert then stick with the routine. However, in my experiencing these medications just dried my skin out which led to more acne, dryness (pealing) and redness.
- Use moisturizer: this might seem wrong, especially if your acne prone with an oily skin type, but remember that your skin needs moisture. Keep your skin hydrated so it doesn’t produce more oil, causing more acne.
- Oil Cleanse: This way of cleansing has transformed my skin. I use Primally Pure Cleansing Oil for dry skin.
- Using a facial serum based on your skin type: After oil cleansing in the evenings I apply this facial serum for dry skin.
- Wash makeup brushes weekly: bacteria and old makeup builds up on brushes. I recommend washing them at least once a week.
- Hair products: do you have acne on your face, neck, or back? Hair products can accumulate on the skin from the shower, sleep, and sweating. Watch out for products that contain ingredients such as petroleum, silicone, cocoa butter, sodium lauryl sulfate, ammonium lauryl sulfate, mineral oil, jojoba oil, coconut oil, and lanolin. Hairsprays can also trigger acne since they are alcohol based. Verdict: Choose products without sulfates and mineral oils.
- Switch to non-toxic skincare and makeup products: I ditched all of my skincare (including body products) and makeup products that contained harmful ingredients and replaced them with products that have clean ingredients. Everything you put on your skin absorbs into your body and into your blood stream. According to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), the average woman uses 12 products day, containing 168 unique ingredients. EWG also says that one in 13 women are exposed to ingredients that are known or probable carcinogens in their personal care products every day. Use the EWG’s Skin Deep database or Think Dirty App to see how your products rate.
- Laundry detergent: your skin may be allergic or irritated by your laundry detergent. Switch to a more natural and hypoallergenic detergent.
- Switch to a fluoride free toothpaste: Yes, fluoride toothpaste can definitely trigger acne. I recommend tongue scraping in the morning and oil pulling with coconut oil. Take a tablespoon or more of coconut oil and swish it in your mouth for 5-10 minutes. It pulls out the toxins and bad bacteria from your mouth. Then brush with a fluoride free, natural toothpaste.
- Sterile environments: If you’re living in a spotless house with everything sanitized you are killing off beneficial bacteria, which could be affecting your skin. It’s important to use non-toxic cleaning products to clean your environment.
- Dirty pillow cases: I flip my pillow case over every night and change it every other night so that bacteria from the night before doesn’t get onto my clean skin.
- Imbalanced hormones: do you have acne specifically around your menstrual cycle? If you have an irregular menstrual cycle or severe PMS, this is a sign of hormonal imbalance.
- Stress: Stress was a major trigger for my acne. I tried to keep my stress levels down by seeing a therapist as well as working out and relaxing. Do you notice breakouts come up around stressful days, weeks, or months?
- Sweat everyday: Sweating is extremely important for your skin to release toxins and open up the pores. Get your sweat in during a workout or a sauna session.
- Get a shower filter: removes chlorine and bacteria from the water for soft skin and hair. If you have issues with dry flaky skin and scalp, I would definitely get a shower filter.
- Ditch the plastic water bottles & food container: Plastic contains toxic chemicals that aren’t good for you, or your environment. They have a significant impact on your hormones by raising estrogen levels -which cause acne. Switch to glass or stainless steel water bottles, and glass food containers. Ditch the plastic for good!
What I Learned About Acne
- Gut health is directly related to skin health. A well-balanced gut will keep your skin looking clear and glowy. If you currently have gut or digestive issues work with a health coach or functional medicine doctor. It’s important to figure out the root cause of your acne.
- Time is EVERYTHING. Your body heals from the inside-out. If you don’t address the root cause of your acne, then it may never heal. Stop spending money on countless products and dermatologist and work with someone who is going to get to the bottom of your acne AND get you results.
- Work with a functional medicine doctor, dietitian, or health coach: I worked with Laura Schoenfeld. She is a functional dietitian who was able to order me a stool test and hormone test. I recommend working with someone in functional medicine because finding the root cause to your acne is the priority. Dermatologist, gynecologist, and practitioners will tell you that acne has nothing to do with diet, or gut health (just my experience), and will often just give you a prescription, which does nothing to help you long term.
- Primally Pure: Their products are non-toxic (they really work!) and smell so good! I use their facial oil to cleanse my face, and facial serum to moisturize.
- Gut Health: Dr. Jolene Brighten Gut Health Articles, Dr. Ruscio, Chris Kresser.
- Beyond the Pill Book by Dr. Jolene Brighten: read for post birth control acne, gut health, or hormone health.