How I’m Healing Cystic Acne Holistically
Let’s talk about acne! I know first-hand how frustrating and isolating acne can be. I’m sharing my story with you so that anyone else who is going through it right now might feel a bit less alone. My experience with acne has, like so many others, been long and full of confusing moments. Acne, no matter how common it is, can be embarrassing and even isolating for those who suffer from extreme cases. Millions of men and women experience adult cystic acne, and while numerous “treatments” exist for the condition, I got tired of the harsh, aggressive approaches that didn’t address the root issue and just aggravated my skin more. It took me a long time to realize that acne isn’t just a phase that passes after puberty, but a reflection of an internal imbalance. My acne journey turned a corner when I decided to be my own health advocate. I did my own research and found that to heal my acne, I had to heal my eternal imbalances.
Truth be told, I never thought I'd speak publicly about my acne. In fact, I spent years doing everything I could to hide it. Talking about my journey, however, has given it so much meaning and helped me realized that no one is alone in this struggle. I hope you find my story helpful as you explore your own. I'm not a doctor or a licensed medical professional, so this is simply my experience that I'm sharing with you. Everyone is different and you must find what works for you, so keep that in mind as you read.
My Acne Story
I started getting acne around the time I was in 5th grade. Puberty was embarrassing enough, but my pimply skin definitely made me stand out from my classmates. My mom took me to a dermatologist, who started me on the standard gauntlet of topical treatments like Retin-A and heavy doses of benzoyl peroxide-based creams. None of them “fixed” my acne. Most of them dried out my skin and limited my condition only temporarily. I thought stronger medication was the next step, so I tried my doctor’s prescription of oral antibiotics for several years, which is crazy when I think about it now. By the time I got to college, I decided to try Accutane and cure my acne “once and for all.” If you’ve ever tried Accutane, you’ll know that it’s a very harsh drug that takes a toll on your body. Like my previous treatments, it worked for a short time before my acne ended up coming back again. It made me feel like nothing would ever cure me. Looking back, it’s crazy to think about all the ineffective treatments I tried that didn’t actually solve the root causes of my acne.
Eventually, I developed deep and scarring cystic acne. I was about 25 at the time, frustrated and embarrassed because of my skin condition. Why was this still happening to me? Hadn’t I “done my time” on this in my teenage years? Clearly, I was missing something. I felt alone and embarrassed as if I had somehow failed because I hadn’t cracked the formula for perfect skin. My dermatologists kept suggesting more and more of the same, even suggesting I go on Accutane for the third time. It was at that point that I decided to take my health into my own hands and find my own answers.
I began doing my own research and started reading about Ayurvedic skin-care (and other Ayurveda health treatments). What Ayurveda taught me many things, but one of its main lessons was the notion of seeing our health in terms states of balance vs. imbalance. Health issues like my acne represented, it told me, unique imbalances that keep people from experiencing true personal health. I needed to solve the imbalances in my life that caused me to break out. It may sound reductive, but when I began to really try what my readings suggested, it was like a light turned on inside my brain. I finally started seeing my acne for what it really was and looking at its root causes for its solution.
I wish I could tell you that there is some silver bullet or one change out there that can solve your acne. The truth is, that doesn’t exist. Every body is different and every bout of acne is different. What I can do, however, is tell you what worked for me and address some common causes of acne. Here are areas in which I made changes that affected my skin. No one thing alone solved my problem, but rather together healed my skin. I’m not a medical professional or doctor, but here are my experiences.
The acne on your face is a reflection of what’s going on inside your body. Ayurveda teaches that the location of acne on your face can reveal clues about the imbalances causing it. Mine was painful cystic scarring acne along my cheeks and jawline, which is often linked to hormone imbalances. I, in consultation with my holistic doctor, decided to get a comprehensive hormone test which basically requires you to test at a particular time in your cycle for estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone all together, not just one or the other. What that revealed was that my progesterone was low, leading to an estrogen imbalance. I’m now addressing this imbalance with a combination of herbs and acids in consultation with my holistic doctor. What I found interesting was that my normal doctors had tested my hormones many times and told me I was fine. What I found out was that these tests were only for 1 hormone at a time and were not done at a set time of the month. I’m not a medical professional of course, but personally found this experience illuminating and invite you to take an active role in the kinds of decisions you make with your own doctors.
STRESS & SLEEP
Stress can be a huge part of acne. An overabundance of the stress hormone cortisol can cause inflammation, dry up your skin, and make acne much worse. A lack of sleep can only exacerbate this. Eliminating stress isn’t always a doable thing, but managing it certainly is! Try breaking a short sweat every day, enjoying a long walk, calling an old friend, trying to get your zzzz, maybe giving 10 minutes of prayer or mediation a chance, or having a laugh – all of these things can add up to big changes and (bonus) can help add to your happiness J
What goes on in our gut reflects on our skin. I used to think that my gut health issues were completely separate from my acne, something that my regular doctors confirmed. It wasn’t until I started doing my own research and found out how linked things in our bodies are. I spent years with digestive health issues related to diet, but also likely my years on prescription oral antibiotics as a teen. Here are a few changes I’ve made to boost my gut health that might also benefit you:
- Adding smoothies and blended soups into my diet. There are so many reasons that these are great for your gut health, but the biggest are that they’re fiber-rich, but still easy for your body to digest. Working these into my day boosts my system and helps give me skin that reflects it. You’ve likely seen the embarrassingly huge amount of soups and smoothies I eat, so check these recipes out on Copina Co if you’re looking to try them for yourself.
- Fasting for 12 hours between dinner and breakfast. This of course doesn’t always happen, but is something I’ve noticed make a big positive change in my health. It’s something I try to do most days since it helps give my body the chance to fully digest my food and rev up for the day ahead.
- Eating your greens! I find that eating cruciferous veggies and working spirulina or chlorella into my diet as supplements when I’m on the go help me be my best. You can find them in tablet or powder form at most major supermarkets.
CLEAN FACIAL PRODUCTS
There are a million facial products out there designed to treat acne. It felt at times like I’d tried them all, but my acne only seemed to get worse. I’m a pretty “Type A” person, so when a zit came around, my first instinct was to hack my way out the problem by using the strongest products I could find. What I didn’t know is that dry, irritated skin just makes acne worse. Harsh chemicals in many products can also strip our skin of its natural bacterial balance, leaving it unable to deal with dirt well. What helped me was finding the right kind of skin care products, learning to make my own, and taking a “less is more” approach to skin care. Some of my favorite skin remedies are now ones that come from my pantry. I use my 3-Ingredient Spirulina Face Mask, Matcha and Manuka Honey Mask, Avocado Facial Treatments, Turmeric Yogurt Masks, and natural oils like organic avocado and chia for my eyes to help boost my skin and love it!
These sound like small changes, but upping my water intake and switching out coffee for matcha have also made huge impacts on my skin! Dry skin only gets more irritated and stores bacteria more easily, so keeping it hydrated and happy is huge for your skin health! I used to drink 2-3 cups of coffee a day and found that it left my energy depleted and my skin totally dehydrated. I decided to try switching from my many cups of coffee per day to having 1-2 cups of matcha tea instead and the difference has been night and day. It would of course be awesome if I wasn’t having any caffeine at all, but matcha makes me feel my best. I even created a whole guide to how I make my matcha in case you’re interested. What I love about matcha is the ritual of making it and the fact that it’s packed with antioxidants and doesn’t dry me out.
I know that acne can be an incredibly frustrating and isolating thing, but it doesn’t have to be! Millions of men and women have acne… Kendall Jenner has acne… I have acne! You’re not alone! My goal in sharing my own story is to help at least one person feel a little less alone if they’re going through something similar. I love sharing daily updates and my favorite treatments on Instagram and also created a Facebook Group for sharing encouragement and solutions!