Acne has been the thing I have really struggled with basically since the age of 13. As a woman in her 30’s it’s extremely painful and embarrassing to have something that is so exposed for the rest of the world to see. I can cover my kidney scars and no one has to know my daily bathroom habits, but the skin is such a vulnerable condition to deal with. I mean this shit was meant to stop when I got out of my teens right?
I am taking a big deep breath and a huge leap of faith by putting myself out there by talking about this! Even though I feel like runny away and hiding, I know so many others, like myself, are struggling with skin conditions such as adult acne. I also know I can’t just keep quite as I know knowledge is power and I really have to share what I know, in hope that it will help someone else who is going through the same thing.
It has particularly been problematic in the last few years since I came off the oral contraceptive pill, which I was on for over 10 yrs. It has taken quite a few years (and it still continues) of commitment to healing my gut and addressing my hormonal imbalances. I have come a really long way since then but I still have a way to go.
Even though I am still a work in progress ( aren’t we blood all?) and I am still on my own healing journey ( it’s been a long and winding road since losing my kidney) I want to share my knowledge along with my own experiences in healing acne so far.
Ok so let’s get down and dirty!
What causes it?
- Acne (Vulgaris) Is caused by a combination of increased size of pilosebaceous glands, sebum production caused by hormones, high turnover of cells, sebum and bacteria. (1)
- Acne is an androgen (testosterone) dependent condition. Testosterone controls sebaceous gland production and exacerbates excess production of keratin around the hair follicular of the skin. These then clump together and clog the pore. Acne is often associated with disorders that produce excess androgens such as polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS).(1). Not all people that have excess androgens have acne this may be due to an individual’s sensitivity to androgens. Weak androgens can be converted to strong androgens in the hair follicle.(2)
- There is greater activity of an enzyme called 5-alpha reductase, which produces more testosterone in the skin tissue.(1)
- High insulin levels can also interact with receptors in the sebaceous gland, therefore stimulating excess sebum production. For this reason, acne has been referred to ‘skin diabetes’(1). High insulin = more sebum production= more acne
- Higher intakes of milk and milk related products has also been linked to acne vulgaris (3)
- Elevated cortisol from stress will also stimulate and thicken sebum production.(1)
Ok So Now What?
Learn how to stabilise your blood sugar levels
Because of the link between insulin and testosterone in acne suffers, controlling blood sugar levels is crucial. You need to get off that blood sugar roller coaster.
This can be done by :
- Removing all processed foods from the diet. If it comes in a packet then you shouldn’t (generally) be eating it.
- Removing all added sugar from the diet. This includes all those perceived healthy sugars including maple syrup, rice malt syrup, agave, and dried fruit.
- Sticking to low-sugar fruits such as berries is also a good idea. No more than 2 servings a day.
- Avoid all refined carbohydrates – this includes bread, pasta including gluten free options. A small amount of rice and quinoa and buckwheat etc may be ok but in small amounts only.
- Ensure you are eating adequate and good quality protein with each meal. If you eat meat – try to go for the cleanest as possible. If you don’t then get savvy on where your protein comes from. Again it must be clean. If you eat tofu, make sure it’s organic and has no added rubbish in it. You can watch my video post here on how to read a food label.
Remove foods that are causing inflammation
- Consuming foods that cause an immune response in the body will cause inflammation and aggravate your acne. Inflammation in the body is like lots of little fires throughout your body and your immune system are the firefighters trying to douse the flames. The problem is if you keep eating foods that cause the fire its like pouring petrol onto the fire while the hot fiery men are trying to douse the fire with water….. a bit of a lost cause, right? To figure out what foods you’re sensitive to you can do an IgG/ IgA food intolerance test (through a complementary health practitioner) or an elimination diet to see which food you’re sensitive to.
- Sugar, dairy, caffeine (due to spiking cortisol levels) and gluten can all aggravate acne. So removing these from the diet can allow the gut to heal. I’m sorry about the caffeine. It’s devastating I know but cutting out tea and coffee really does make a difference for most acne sufferers.
Improve your Digestion;
Compromised gut = compromised skin. This fact really pisses me off! I try so hard to heal my gut and it’s still really hard. I am in now ways going to sugar coat this. If your skin is compromised then so if your gut. Period. Go and do something about it. Here are my top tips so far….
- You need to be having a regular bowel movement at least once a day. It needs to be a number 3 or 4 on the Bristol stool chart. If you aren’t moving your bowels then your poop is staying in there for too long and excess oestrogen and other toxins and will be reabsorbed into the blood stream.
- Increase fiber intake by eating more fruit and vegetables in the diet. At least 2 large handfuls of vegetables (variation in colours) with each meal. Eating vegetables for breakfast is a great way to get more vegetables into your diet
- ½ squeeze Lemon with warm water in the morning as soon as you rise is a great way to get your digestive system to start up.
- Lemon with warm water or apple cider vinegar 10-20 mins before eating will also stimulate stomach acid, which will help with digestion of food.
- Include digestive spices in cooking such as coriander, cumin, cardamom, and ginger.
- Magnesium supplementation is also a great way to get your bowels moving.
- One of the best ways to get the bottom of your gut issues is again to TEST. This is called a comprehensive digestive stool analysis. I am or course experimenting with this myself but it’s something I should have done years ago.Urgh. Isn’t hindsight a wonderful thing?
Support the liver
- To improve oestrogen clearance your liver needs to be able to adequately clear the toxins out of the body. Too much oestrogen in the body can also increase risk of infertility and endometrial cancer (4)
- Eat foods from the brassica family. This includes broccoli, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, cabbage etc. These foods support the liver and can increase the speed at which the liver changes oestrogen into a water soluble form to be excreted.(2)
- Include turmeric in your diet. Curcumin is the active constituent in turmeric that is getting a lot of airtime at the moment. It has been shown to reduce inflammation and enhances liver detoxification by increasing the activity of glutathione activity. (5)
- Dandelion root tea is also great for liver support. (6)
- Remove toxic skin care – swap to organic and natural options. Environmental toxins including chemicals such as phthalates are known obesogens (7). That means they can make your ability to metabolise fuel correctly go a little cray cray. That will have a direct affect on your blood sugar levels so ditch the toxins.
- Remove as much plastic in your life. BPA in plastic has can put extra load on your liver(8) They are also another known obesogen(7)
- Drink clean filtered water. There are many contaminants such as lead (9)in our water that then our liver just has to clear out.
- Reduce alcohol consumption (sorry booze hounds this is another sad but true fact). Alcohol alters the mucus membranes in the digestive tract as well as the bugs in your gut. (10)
Support the lymphatic system
Acne is also linked to a sluggish lymphatic system. Support the lymph through exercise, dry body brushing and lymphatic facial massage (11). Exersice will also stimulate your lymphatic system. Movement is really the lymphatics pump so making sure you move everyday is also really important.
Manage Your Stress
Stress can aggravate the condition due to increased cortisol levels, which causes the sebum to thicken (1). Learning how to manage stress is the very important component. Emotional stress can also alter bugs in your gut, contribute to ‘leaky gut’ and can cause more inflammation, (1). We can’t all go and live off the grid so how we manage the stress is the most important factor here. Developing a meditation practice is one of the best ways to manage stress. Exercise and social interaction are also good management tools.
This post has been quite in depth however I hope this give you more of an idea (and a little confidence) into how lifestyle changes can affect your acne. It’s often slow and frustrating process to healing your gut. I feel your pain. It can be really frustrating. Just don’t give up. If you are feeling frustrated then I also recommend you go get some help from a holistic health practitioner.
- Pizzorno JE, Murray MT, Joiner-Bey H. The clinician’s handbook of natural medicine. Third edition. St. Louis, Missouri: Elsevier; 2016.
- Trickey R. Women, hormones, and the menstrual cycle: herbal and medical solutions from adolescence to menopause. 2nd ed. Crows Nest, NSW: Allen & Unwin; 2003.
- Ismail NH, Manaf ZA, Azizan NZ. High glycemic load diet, milk and ice cream consumption are related to acne vulgaris in Malaysian young adults: a case-control study | BMC Dermatology | Full Text. BMC DERMATOLOGY [Internet]. 2012 Aug 16 [cited 2016 Aug 11];2012(13). Available from: https://bmcdermatol.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1471-5945-12-13
- Gottfried S. The hormone cure: reclaim balance, sleep, sex drive, and vitality naturally with the Gottfried protocol. First Scribner hardcover edition. New York: Scribner; 2013. 409 p.
- Ukil A, Maity S, Karmakar S, Datta N, Vedasiromoni JR, Das PK. Curcumin, the major component of food flavour turmeric, reduces mucosal injury in trinitrobenzene sulphonic acid-induced colitis. Br J Pharmacol. 2003 May;139(2):209–18.
- Dandelion [Internet]. University of Maryland Medical Center. [cited 2016 Nov 3]. Available from: http://umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/herb/dandelion
- Holtcamp W. Obesogens: An Environmental Link to Obesity. Environ Health Perspect. 2012 Feb;120(2):a62–8.
- Park H, Hong Y-C, Lee K-H, Leem J-H, Ha E-H. Exposure to Bisphenol A Affects Liver Function in Urban Adults: Epidemiology. 2009 Nov;20:S73.
- Dean S. “Widespread” lead contamination of domestic tap water found in NSW [Internet]. Topics. 2016 [cited 2016 Nov 6]. Available from: http://www.sbs.com.au/topics/science/humans/article/2016/08/11/widespread-lead-contamination-domestic-tap-water-found-nsw
- Engen PA, Green SJ, Voigt RM, Forsyth CB, Keshavarzian A. The Gastrointestinal Microbiome. Alcohol Res. 2015;37(2):223–36.
- Skilton A. The gut-skin axis. In: Half Day National Seminar Series. Double Bay: Bioceuticals; 2016.