If you've ever dealt with chronic, cystic acne, you likely know just how stressful, confusing, and costly the search for a solution can be. I expended a ton of energy, money, and time seeking out a solution for my adult acne. Countless prescription regimens, antibiotics, and expensive products later, it seemed like nothing worked. I tried oral supplements, quitting sugar, and bought products that friends and family swore had cured their acne. No one solution was the answer. But the good news - there was and is an answer. This is how I healed my cystic acne, naturally.
For the longest time, I believed that acne was a skin problem. I thought that by using the right cream or cleanser I could cure my acne. But the truth is - chronic, cystic acne is really a symptom of what's going on internally. While it's different for everyone, no cream or cleanser was going to treat the root issue that causing my acne.
So it's no surprise that what has made, by far, the biggest difference in my skin was my decision to quit consuming dairy, egg, and red meat products. It was easy to make this decision because I was desperate! What was really hard was sticking to it. The first time I attempted to quit dairy alone, I didn't see an immediate difference. Eight weeks later and I still hadn't seen any significant improvement in my skin. Totally discouraged and convinced that dairy wasn't a contributing factor, I let dairy back into my diet. Six months later, I cut back on dairy and eliminated both eggs and red meat from my diet, and my skin took a major turn, for the better! I haven't looked back since.
What this has taught me is that, very simply, my body is sensitive to foods that are high in hormones - namely dairy, eggs, and red meat. Really sensitive. While you may or may not have a sensitivity to these foods, there's a good chance that the food you're eating is in some way contributing to your acne. Common food culprits include: dairy, eggs, red meat, soy, certain nuts (ie. almonds), gluten, sugar, and/or alcohol. The easiest way to find out is by eliminating them from your diet, one at a time, and seeing how your skin responds.
TIPS AND RECOMMENDATIONS
- Try eliminating dairy, eggs, red meat, or any of the common culprits from your diet (you may have to test a few - eliminating dairy and/or sugar didn't work for me, but eliminating both eggs and red meat did!) for at least 2 months. This can only work if you completely eliminate them from your diet, with zero exceptions or 'cheat days.'
- It takes time for your body to stabilize and adjust to your new diet. Give yourself the 2 months (minimum) to really see results, though it may happen much quicker. I know it's not easy! Take it one day at a time.
- After the 2 months, you may choose to reintroduce a small amount of that food into your diet. Notice how your skin reacts 2-3 days later. Diet-related acne typically shows up 2-3 days after you've consumed whatever food is causing it.
While eliminating eggs and red meat has had the most profound, positive impact on my acne, there really is no one solution. The following have played (and continue to play) a key role in supporting my skin as it heals.
One of the major flaws with prescription acne treatments and regimens is that they are so dehydrating. In my experience, prescription skincare is incredibly harsh and drying. In fact, using those products felt a lot less like skin care than skin punishment. Plus, they never worked!
Something that all skin, but particularly sensitive and reactive skin, needs and loves is hydration. Hydration equals water. Among countless other benefits, hydration can help support healthier, clearer skin by flushing acne-causing toxins and skin irritants out of your body faster. While you can hydrate your skin using certain hydrating (not to be confused with moisturizing) skincare products, these alone weren't sufficient for me. I needed to seriously up my daily water consumption and really hydrate my skin from the inside out.
One of my favorite ways to stay hydrated is to make infusions or caffeine-free teas throughout the day. Infusions equal hydration + immune, liver, digestion, etc. support! Today, I start my day with hot, lemon-infused water or turmeric ginger tea whenever possible, drink a ton of water throughout the day, and end my day with more herbal tea before bed.
TIPS AND RECOMMENDATIONS
- Medical professionals recommend that we consume 1/2 - 1 ounce of water for each pound we weigh. (So if you weigh 130 pounds, you want to consume 65-130 ounces, or between 8-16 cups, of water per day. More weight equals more water.)
- You can create cold water infusions by dropping a few sliced strawberries, lemons, oranges, fresh mint, or cucumbers into your water. I prefer hot infusions, especially in the winter, and make these by placing sliced turmeric and/or ginger root into boiling water, or by pouring boiling water over mint, lemon, orange, or lavender and letting it infuse for 10-15 minutes for enjoying. Depending on your unique needs, you can use specific plants that support detoxification (burdock root), immunity (echinacea), or reduce inflammation (turmeric.)
- Hard, root-y plants, such as turmeric and ginger, should be boiled on the stovetop for ~10-15 minutes to infuse the water with the root's maximum therapeutic benefits. Softer plants, such as herbs and fruits, don't need to be boiled.
I wish this weren't the case, but here is the truth: switching to green beauty did not cure my acne. In fact, clean, non-toxic, and natural products didn't improve my acne at all on their own. I wish it were that easy! But if you've gotten this far, then you know that products alone are not the solution. Healing acne is, for the most part, an inside job.
With that being said, I'll be the first to admit that I'm just the tiniest bit clean beauty obsessed. I love trying new skincare products, am always subscribed to at least one clean beauty box (this one is my favorite), and have an ongoing list of products I must try. Plus, I'm a formulator and brand owner myself, so...it's a business expense, right? It's research.
Okay, I kid. But really, I've had first hand experience with switching up my skincare ritual way more often than reasonable or necessary. And for a time, I gravitated towards products that contained clays, all the essential oils, and had ingredients lists that were 15, 18, 20+ ingredients-long. It only made sense to me that the more incredible, healing ingredients a product contained, the more my skin would love it!
What I've realized is that when it comes to sensitive and acne-prone skin, simplicity is key. Less is more. I came to realize that my skin didn't respond as well to complicated products or to an essential oils-heavy routine, or to a different routine every night. My skin would become inflamed or irritated, or in some cases, I noticed breakouts where I normally wouldn't break out. That's certainly not the case for everyone. But what works for me is avoiding harsh or drying ingredients and products that have long ingredients lists. I avoid switching up my products too much. I feed my skin simple (but very luxurious!), quality ingredients. The less I complicate my skincare, the better my skin looks and feels.
TIPS AND RECOMMENDATIONS
- Avoid switching up your skincare routine often. Find products you like, that feel good, and stick with them. If you love discovering and trying new products, limit yourself to something like one new product every two weeks or one per month, so that you can easily identify when a certain product irritates your skin or exacerbates your acne.
- Use products that have a simple, clean ingredients list. Avoid using comedogenic ingredients like coconut oil or cocoa butter on your face. I recommend our Balancing Act and Blemish Correct Intensif serums. They have just three and four ingredients respectively, contain no essential oils or added fragrance, and are incredibly luxurious! I formulated this duo specifically to gently and effectively support skin (like mine) healing from chronic, cystic acne.
- Avoid the use of too many essential oils, especially while your skin is healing. Essential oils can be sensitizing and are sometimes misused (ie. used in overly concentrated amounts) in formulas.
While my acne journey started many years ago as a teenager, the healing of my acne only just begun somewhat recently. It's been a long road with plenty of speed bumps and road blocks. The changes (and sacrifices, because that's what much of it felt like in the beginning) I detailed above have had a profoundly healing impact on my skin. They've healed my acne in a way that no prescription cream, antibiotic, or product alone could. Now, much of what I deal with as far as my skin is concerned is the damage left by years of chronic acne - namely, scarring. (This is what I use and recommend for scarring.)
However, I still find that my skin is sensitive and prone to breakouts in the event that I eat poorly, use certain new products, or slack on any of the above. I believe that the true, root cause of my acne goes beyond a food sensitivity.
So what's next for me on my acne journey? My next step is to have a hormone panel done by medical professionals. As I've become more educated on acne and have spoken with women who have dealt with similar issues, I've realized that hormones have likely been the biggest contributing factor in my skin's health, or lack thereof, throughout the years. In fact, many adult women who suffer from cystic acne can attribute it to a hormone imbalance. The problem is that doctors don't typically suggest or even mention this as a potential cause of acne and so most women don't find this out until they themselves seek out hormone testing, or worse, until they have problems later on with fertility. If you have cystic acne and have the opportunity to get a hormone panel done, it certainly can't hurt.
Finally, if you struggle with chronic, cystic acne, know that you are far from alone. 54% of women over the age of 25 have some facial acne. Up to 55% of adults age 20-40 are diagnosed with persistent acne. (Journal of American Academy of Dermatology) Adult acne, especially of the cystic variety, is painful and often embarrassing. Those who are uninformed assume that you don't care for your skin or that you're just not using the right products when, in fact, it goes so much deeper than that. Finding a solution is not easy or without trial and error as every individual is different. This is simply my personal experience - I hope you've found it helpful! Please feel free to reach out here or you can find me on Instagram @wabisabibotanicals.
Have you tried any of these natural acne solutions? Leave your comments and questions below!
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Great article! I too have found that eggs cause cystic breakouts. I also find that taking pantothenic acid daily helps keep 95% of my breakouts at bay. Miracle in a pill. But I’ve also given up dairy, eggs and meat. More for environmental and moral reasons than for my skin. Totally worth it. You can see a day or 2 later after reintroducing it when the cysts begin to emerge. Good to finally have found the cure though.