In Pursuit of Clear Skin - The Highs and Lows of my Acne Journey
Updated: May 10, 2019
As I sit here writing this, I have been struggling with acne for the past four and a half years. By no means has the journey been linear. There has been progression and regression, ups and downs, failed experiments and frustration - a lot of frustration.
By no means is my skin perfect today; however I'm in a place where I can start sharing my knowledge with you. I feel it is my responsibility to do so. I want to be the resource I needed to find 4+ years ago. Moving forward, I will be sharing more about dealing with acne naturally through food, strategic supplementation and safer skincare products - because this was my approach. If you search Pinterest for natural acne remedies, guaranteed I've tried them all.
Grab yourself a snack and a cup of tea. I'll try to keep the story of my skin journey brief- let's dive in.
The Early Days
Like any kid entering puberty, I dealt with oily T-Zone and zits. As early as Grade 6, I remember needing my school photos touched up because of a giant pimple on my forehead. Through Middle School my skin wasn't bad but spottier than most of the other girls in my classes. Once I hit High School my skin started to spiral downwards. FAST. The spring before graduation my skin became very red and inflamed and I was dealing with painful cystic acne all over my forehead, cheeks, chest, and back. I remember being under a lot of stress - applying to University, applying for scholarships, preparing a solo for the year-end dance recital, studying for exams, managing the social stress of grad and prom – and feeling very self-conscious. I had to have my makeup professionally done for prom. The lady had to apply concealer ALL OVER my face before applying foundation. I also remember alternating between birth control pills at this time. I had been on the pill since I was 16 due to a doctor's recommendation that it would help to normalize my cycle and clear my skin, however it wasn't doing much for my skin.
[Summer 2010 - Please excuse the look. It was hard to find photos from this time frame because I attacked all the "good ones" with the "Touch-up" tool. Notice: red/inflamed skin, clusters of pimples on the forehead and chin, deeper cysts on the cheeks.]
What I thought was causing my acne: “Puberty, genetics, and ineffective facewash. I need to hit up the drug store for the latest and greatest in acne treatment.”
Clean and Clear
My skin stayed consistently terrible that summer and in September after starting University I found myself crying in my doctor's office about my painful and self-confidence shattering acne. She prescribed Clindoxyl which is a topical acne medication containing antibiotics and benzoyl peroxide (basically bleach). Within six months this product had cleared all the acne from my face chest and back (it had also stripped all the color from my towels, pillowcases, and pajamas). The product was also helping to lighten my skin tone and reduce scarring. As my skin improved, so did my self-confidence and self-esteem. Looking back on this time in my life, I needed that boost. I don’t regret using Clindoxyl for 3+ years.
[2012 - Family trip to Paris. Notice: pale, clear skin, no scaring. This was the peak of my Clindoxyl days.]
What I thought was causing my acne: “What? I don’t have acne anymore, that’s a thing of the past. I get a zit or two before my period, or if I haven’t washed my pillowcase in a while. Otherwise I’m fine, no complaints.”
So that's it the story ends there right? Not quite. Hell, we're just getting started.
Walk the Walk
During the time that I was working on my Holistic Nutrition distinction, I continued to use the Clindoxyl medication. During the program we talked briefly (I mean a brushed over 10 minute discussion) about acne and how to address it with future clients.
It wasn’t until after I finishing schooling, that I had the desire to dig deeper into this topic for myself. I had decided that I needed to start walking the walk. I thought that in order for future clients to take me seriously I need to be this vision of health and I shouldn't be taking any medications. I (naively) thought that I was well equipped to deal with my acne naturally. So without advising my doctor I stopped using Clindoxyl cold turkey. Big mistake.
Within two months my acne was back in full force and I was devastated. The big, deep, painful, purple, cysts from my high school days were back, my self-confidence took a major hit and my stress levels spiked. It was around this time that I started working at a Natural Health Clinic alongside a chiropractor. I was so excited for the opportunity, but I felt like a total imposter. Who would take this face seriously? Honestly. I was coaching people about how to eat healthier and lead healthier lives – who was I to be sharing that knowledge when I clearly didn’t have a handle on it myself. How could they trust me?
You know what was awesome? The support I had from the chiropractor and his (now) wife. They encouraged me to stick to the natural route and would offer suggestions about what to try next. They were the first to introduce me to natural skin care products.
I spent the next two years adjusting my diet, taking different supplements (that I really couldn't afford on my student budget), and trying numerous natural or DIY skin care products. I become my own personal Guinea pig. To my dismay, my hard work was not paying off and I was not seeing any improvement in my skin. Somewhere during this time frame I switched from a gluten and dairy filled vegetarian diet to a Paleo template, and I also stopped taking birth control pills. These dietary changes and removing the birth control pill had no significant positive impact on my skin but I knew long-term this were the right choices for me.
[2015-trying (and failing) to heal naturally. Notice: Red/inflamed skin, pimples on neck, deep cysts on cheeks.]
What I thought was causing my acne: Conventional skin care products, gluten and dairy, imbalanced gut flora, over-burdened liver, nutrient deficiencies, and an acidic body pH. Need more green juice & hot yoga.
In early 2016 I stumbled across the 21-Day Sugar Detox program by Diane Sanfilippo on Pinterest. I read that one of the benefits of the program was movement for skin conditions like acne. With nothing to lose and the clear skin of my dreams to gain, I jumped in. For the duration of the 21-Day Sugar Detox I stopped taking all those expensive supplements that were supposed to be clearing my skin. After the 21 days were up I compared my before and after photos, and to my surprise I noticed no difference in the appearance of my skin. However, it was exciting to see that removing sugar from my with my diet was just as effective as taking the expensive supplements.
You can read more about my sugar story HERE.
This was a big wake-up call for me. This experience helped me realize how much of an impact sugar was having on my face (even though I thought I ate a healthy diet and didn't think I had a problem with sugar). Through 2016 I bounced back and forth to the 21-Day Sugar Detox and continued to experience highs and lows with my skin.
[September 2016 and September 2017. Notice: overall consistency. No crazy breakouts but scarring & hyper-pigmentation on cheeks.]
Then in March of 2017 I had had enough. I committed myself to the 21-Day Sugar Detox and have stuck with it (for the most part) ever since. That summer I decided to become a 21-Day Sugar Detox coach because I knew I needed to share this life changing nutrition challenge with more people.
What I thought was causing my acne: sugar (and the downstream impacts), hormone imbalance, liver health, stress, and those damn chocolate chips.
Let's Jump Ahead to February 2018. Unrelated to my acne, I started seeing a naturopathic doctor to help with painful, irregular periods I've been experiencing. She has helped me to connect the dots between my adrenals (stress levels), blood sugar, sex hormones and skin health. This is the twisted web and currently working through.
I know now that it's not all about the food. It's about managing my stress levels as I continue to grow my Side Hustle. When cortisol is up regulated, sex hormones are down regulated. Managing adrenal health along with liver health ultimately is what's going to support my hormone health, which in turn will affect my skin health. Continuing to use safe skin care products has been on the top of my priority list.
So as I said at the beginning of this post, my skin is not perfect. In fact this week I am experiencing a breakout - the worst I’ve had in several months. I took some time to reflect and put into perspective how far my skin has come in the past 4 years. This current “breakout” is far less severe than anything I experienced previously – I shouldn’t even be able to call it a breakout.
[June 2018. Most recent skin update. Still dealing with the occasional breakout. Lots of scar work to be done.]
But here's what I know for certain:
The doctors were wrong when they said that diet doesn't effect acne. They were also wrong when they said, "You wont ever heal your acne naturally." The family members were wrong when they said, "I had acne when I was your age, you'll just row out of it."
Diet makes a HUGE difference. Safer, facial care and personal care products MATTER. You can clear your skin naturally by taking care of all aspects of your health and well being. Its HARD work, but it will pay off.
Acne is a message to be honored, not a symptom to be ignored.
If you are struggling with acne, please reach out. I remember feeling so lost/confused/defeated when I was trying to heal. I would love to help show you how eating well and using safer products can help you get to the root cause of your skin condition. The solution is on your plate, not the $129 product from Saphora.
Have a beautiful week, Lovelies. Talk again soon!