Considering how emotionally-charged it is, acne is a highly misunderstood topic. It’s so commonly treated just on the surface, with astringent products that a) are made exclusively of things you do not want to put on your delicate and absorbent skin, and b) don’t even come close to solving the real cause of the problem.
I’ve personally had adult acne for the past 10 years or so. It was “under control” for a good portion of that time, due to a topical treatment prescribed by a dermatologist. However, if I didn’t use the treatment daily, bam! Acne would emerge.
About a year ago, I asked myself a question: If I eat a healthy diet, drink plenty of water, keep my face clean, etc… why do I still get blemishes? I had a feeling they were a sign of something deeper, and I wanted to get to the bottom of it. I stopped using the dermatologist-prescribed cream and my (natural-ish) acne-fighting cleansers, and started oil cleansing. All was lovely for about a month, until bam! Acne was back, and with gusto.
I had very enflamed acne around my chin area. I cared for it diligently with a specially selected set of skin-healing evanhealy products. The products seemed to help a little, but I still most certainly had acne. Frustrated that none of my healthy lifestyle habits or expensive products were helping me, I scheduled an appointment with an integrative physical therapy and wellness practitioner (the physical therapy was for something else). I figured my acne issue was beyond my control and she would have to break its complex code.
Her advice to me was so incredibly simple I was amazed I hadn’t seen it myself: she suggested I cut out dairy and eggs (which, at the time, I was eating daily) and see what happened. She explained that both contain naturally occurring hormones that can put your own body’s hormones out of balance, causing hormonal acne.
Almost immediately, with no other changes to my skincare routine, the acne subsided. I was dumbfounded that after all those years and harsh products, this was the answer. Even though I’m not lactose intolerant, I know now that my body has a certain threshold for how much dairy (or eggs) it can handle before tilting out of balance. I can eat these foods every now and then with no repercussion, but if I overdo it, I can tell on my skin a couple days later.
After finding the internal cause of my condition, I now think of my skincare routine as something to nourish my skin, rather than something to fight against it. If you also suffer from adult acne, know that it’s not something you need to endure forever. There are answers, and they’re probably not the ones you’ve been hearing from your dermatologist.
No one’s better to explain this than my friend Hayley, a licensed esthetician who has built an amazing practice as a therapeutic skin coach. Hayley uses a holistic approach to treat inflammatory conditions like acne, rosacea and hyper-pigmentation. What sets her apart from the one-size-fits-all dermatology prescriptions is that she works to understand each of her clients’ health histories and the root of their skin health concerns, treating every individual with a custom combination of non-toxic products and lifestyle recommendations. And she’s super sweet!
If you’ve been struggling with your skin or would just like a more natural approach to your skincare routine, contact Hayley for a consultation. She’s based in Los Angeles but can do consultations via phone or Skype as well.
Today Hayley’s bringing her knowledge to the blog with a Q&A on acne causes and treatments. Enjoy!
Hayley Roy, Therapeutic Skin Coach
What is acne?
Acne is inflamed or infected sebaceous glands in the skin. To break that down: Your sebaceous gland produces oil that lubricates and protects skin as well as removes old, dead cells as part of your skin’s regenerative cycle. When your sebaceous gland isn’t turning over quickly enough, pores get plugged with oil, sweat, dead skin and bacteria, becoming inflamed and infected.
Not all forms of skin breakouts are necessarily “acne.” If you are constantly dealing with whiteheads, pustules, papules and cysts, then you are dealing with acne. If you have only one breakout every once in a while it may just be a temporary imbalance or even a reaction to something you’ve put on your skin–but it’s not considered acne.
Acne is serious and some of the cases I have seen and treated are heart-breaking. It’s really important to know the difference so you can address your skin concern accordingly. If you are not sure, I am happy to give you an assessment for clarification.
What really causes acne?
Adult acne is usually an indication of an internal issue such as an acidic gut, overactive liver or hormonal imbalance. The inflammation from any internal imbalance needs a place to dump out excess waste and, unfortunately, our face is the place is ends up. It makes its way through our lymphatic system so that any stagnation will create an inflamed follicle.
Some forms of breakouts are also due to incorrect product usage. It is incredibly challenging to correctly navigate the masses of skincare products out there, especially since most products are stuffed with ingredients that are not serving you and could possibly be harmful to your long term health. The toxins in these products can build up in your liver and show up on your face (and create a sensitized state for bacteria to grow as well).
What natural (or lifestyle) methods do you recommend to treat acne?
As a holistic esthetician, I look into all of your health habits prior to making a topical suggestion. The best way to see if an internal imbalance is affecting you is to look into your gut health and hormones. Implementing an alkaline diet is essential to creating the homeostasis our skin needs to have a fighting chance. I also suggest getting a good probiotic to build good bacteria in the gut. Fermented foods are also excellent!
Supporting the liver is also massively important. You can’t expect good skin while drinking tons of alcohol and eating excess sugar. Cut the processed foods out and start reading your labels. Stick to natural sugars high in fiber, such as fruit. Also, as much as I love a good pressed juice, you may be doing yourself a disservice by only drinking your sugar instead of eating the fibrous nutrients packed in the raw veggies and fruits. This can really stress your liver and dump out excess toxins on your face, chest or back. My favorite liver support is Traditional Medicinals’ dandelion root tea and Health Forces’ Liver Rescue.
I also truly believe that there is an epidemic in women’s health and no one is talking about it. Most women are dealing with some form of hormonal imbalance, whether it be PMS, low libido, PCOS or infertility. Start taking charge of your hormones by getting in touch with your endocrine cycle. Our bodies are on a series of schedules and all we have to do is start recognizing our patterns. Journal your symptoms and your foods. Food can be the greatest medicine but you just have to know which foods are best for you. If you note which foods you are eating and how you feel afterwards you will start to recognize patterns within the first two weeks. This can be life-changing. I also suggest reading WomanCode by Alissa Vitti. It is a step-by-step guide to getting your hormones back on track the holistic way.
Another of my favorite skincare practices is dry brushing, which will help your lymphatic system detoxify your body, keeping toxins from dumping out on your face.
What to do about acne scars?!
This is tricky. Depending on how long they have been there as well as their depth it can’t always be a guarantee that they will fade 100%. A couple things to keep in mind are:
- Too much sugar creates advanced glycation (when your amino acids start to get snatched away from your cells), which will accelerate aging and give you less of a chance of maintaining your skin cells’ integrity. So, be careful of your sugar consumption.
- Keep in mind that our bodies regenerate completely in 7 years. You’re not out of luck if you work on your internal health. Lots of antioxidants will help restore more collagen in the skin. CO-Q 10 (either as a supplement or an ingredient in your skincare) is a great way to receive a burst of a natural antioxidants that help with collagen rebuilding.
My favorite routine for reducing the appearance of scarring would definitely include some Rosehip seed oil as it has a high content of vitamin A, C and omegas 3-6-9. This is great for brightening, strengthening, and nourishing the skin all the while accelerating your cell turnover. The Yuli Cell Perfecto is a great treatment specifically designed for acne scarring.
Masking is also essential to keeping your skin’s blood flow pumping! For severe cases of acne with tons of inflammation I suggest the Signature Mineral Mask by MV Skincare–the silica, zinc and magnesium mixed with French white clay is perfect for calming without over-drying. For less inflamed cases I love The Problem Solver by May Lindstrom. This mask has tons of warming spices including cayenne and ginger, so you will flush and it will feel spicy. You must hydrate afterwards for both masks.
As a skincare coach, what are the top pieces of advice you give people suffering from acne?
Besides working on your internal health there are a couple skincare steps that are often overlooked:
- Oil cleansing is a great option for people who have a tendency to over-strip their skin. Your oil production will only increase if you start stripping your oil. Feeding your skin with a jojoba oil or castor oil is fantastic. My favorite oil cleanser is by Olive + M.
- The most commonly missed step in a skincare routine is toning. This is pH balancing and crucial for setting your other skincare up for success. Mist a toner all over your face after cleansing to regulate your pH and apply your treatments immediately while your skin is still damp. This will help your treatment serums or oils absorb appropriately into your skin. Anything high in immortelle, aloe vera or rose is great for acne. A personal favorite is Josh Rosebrook’s Hydrating Accelerator.
And finally, be very kind to yourself. Nothing is permanent and with a little guidance you will be where you want to be. Shifting your mindset and creating positive health habits for yourself are what truly turn your skin around.