Our struggles can lead to success, and my story that I am about to share is proof of that. Some of my teenage years and most of the mid-twenties I struggled with acne, which caused me self-doubt and many tears. There’s a positive side to it because it made who I am today. It made me discover a passion in life and a new profession, which is why I do what I do now. I help people to realise that there’s a link between diet and skin conditions like acne. Our skin is our body’s the second largest organ (after gut microbiome) and one of the most significant systems by which the body eliminates waste and toxic load. That’s why it’ always worth looking for the root of the problem that might go far deeper than the surface of the skin. By sharing my story with you, I want you to see that dermatology and acne medication are not always the answer. Your body can heal itself as long as you can provide the right environment for it.
Approximately 85% of young people worldwide suffer from mild acne, and I was one of them. The leading cause of teenage acne its the increase in sex hormones called androgens. When you hit puberty the excess hormones cause your oil glands to produce too much sebum, leading to an overgrowth of bacteria called Propionibacterium acnes.
With the right skincare and a balanced lifestyle, most young people manage to win this battle with nature over clear skin. But those who were not lucky enough with the genetics or gained some other health issues throughout their mid-twenties are becoming a new number in the statistics. That indicates that between 40-55% of the adult population age 20-40 are diagnosed with low grade, persistent acne.
Unfortunately, I’ve made to this number too.
When my first severe acne breakout happened, I was going through a lot of stress and wasn’t concerned about my health at all. I was a student in an unstable romantic relationship living in a foreign country. The lack of sleep and terrible mood swings were my long-time friends at that time. Suddenly, most of my cheeks and chin got covered in nasty pimples. Like many other young girls, the first solution for my skin proposed by the local JP was to get on the contraception pill.
The pills didn’t work their magic and even made my mood swings even worse, leading to excessive hair loss and weight fluctuations. After trying several contraception pills and a bunch of unsuccessful beauty salon treatments, I decided to go to the dermatologist.
I remember as today, my first visit to the dermatologist. In New Zealand, such services are not cheap, and that time I was ready to pay $350 for a visit. I sat on the chair, waiting to go in all excited to see someone who will help me understand what is wrong with my skin. Someone who will help me to get to the bottom of this problem. To my surprise, the whole appointment took no more than 10 mins. After a short talk, I was given a topical steroid medication “to try and see if it works” and a pack of ROACCUTANE pills for a month. After that month, I had to renew my prescription as this kind of medication cant be just purchased over the counter.
Long story short, after a month of taking Roaccutane, I was hooked. I wasn’t hooked particularly on the pill but on the immediate results I experienced. If you are not aware of what Roaccutane does here is a description from the package leaflet:
“Roaccutane contains isotretinoin – a substance related to vitamin A, and one of a group of medicines called retinoids (for treatment of acne). Roaccutane is used to treat severe types of acne (such as nodular or conglobate acne, or acne that is at risk of causing permanent scarring) in adults and adolescents from 12 years of age only after puberty.”
“You must only take Roaccutane if you have severe acne that has not got better after any other anti-acne treatments, including antibiotics and skin treatments. Your doctor must have explained the risk of birth defects: you understand why you must not get pregnant and what you need to do to prevent it.”
“Rarely, Roaccutane may cause severe allergic reactions, some of which can affect the skin in the form of eczema, hives and bruises or red patches on arms and legs. If you develop an allergic reaction, stop taking Roaccutane, seek urgent advice from a doctor and tell him that you are taking this medicine. Cut down on intensive exercise and physical activity. Roaccutane can cause muscle and joint pain, particularly in children and teenagers undertaking vigorous physical activity. Roaccutane has been associated with inflammatory bowel disease. Your doctor will take you off Roaccutane if you have severe bloody diarrhoea without any history of gastrointestinal disorders. Roaccutane may cause dry eyes, intolerance to contact lenses and visual difficulties including decreased night vision…”
And so on. I think now you get the picture.
In simple words, the high dosage of vitamin A dries out your oil glands (and everything else) which practically stops your skin from breaking out. After only a month, I have noticed impressive results, and in three months, my skin was as clear as never before. The massive list of side effects couldn’t stop me from enjoying my new acne-free skin, and I continued taking the pills for a year.
In my case, the results were not long-lasting. After I stopped taking the medication, my acne was back as bad as before. In a desperate need of a quick fix, I ended up doing a yearly course of Roaccutane two more times over five years. One day my skin broke out in a terrible rash, and my whole body was aching. I’ve decided to stop the torture. I knew I was looking for the answers at the wrong place. It was time to get to the root of the problem.
THIS WAS WHERE MY HEALING JOURNEY STARTED
As it happens in life, when we start searching for answers and looking for solutions, they appear in front of us in different kinds and forms. Not so long after I stopped taking the pills, I was scrolling through Instagram and have noticed a post from the Medical Medium about healing powers of celery juice. I was intrigued, and I spent the whole afternoon reading through his posts, and other peoples testimonies left as comments on his page. I’ve realised that the problem is much deeper than just my skin. If I want to see the difference, then I need to start making some significant changes in my lifestyle ASAP.
At that stage, I was already married, had a baby, moved to Thailand, and my acne was still quite persistent. Moving to the island was a perfect life opportunity to change the old habits and get into a new lifestyle routine. After spending some time digging into all the holistic treatments available today, I finally came up to the conclusion what my body needed…desperately.
I know that mainstream and social media have used that powerful word so often that it might make you cringe. We continuously are given options of “detox this and detox that” and most of us jump into it for quick results without serious approach. What I liked about Medical Medium is his outlook on detox. My first step to clear skin was his 28-Day Cleanse that I did while living in Phuket. In his article, Anthony explains that cleanse is important because we get exposed to all kinds of pathogens and toxins as we go through life. Things like toxic heavy metals, pharmaceuticals, household chemicals and viruses get collected and cause all sorts of chronic and mysterious illnesses, including acne!
I liked the idea of going through cleansing, not for some superficial changes but the overall health of my body. I have followed the Medical Medium protocol, and even after the month was over, I continued to support the new great habits I have gained.
When I discovered celery juice through Medical Medium, it wasn’t so widely known as it is now! Now you can find a bunch of information online and hundreds of compelling stories about how celery juice helped many people to heal. While cleansing, fresh celery juice was the first thing I have had in the morning before smoothie. It helps to flush out toxins, reduce bloating and eradicate strep bacteria, often linked to acne.
After a month of juicing, I have noticed a considerable difference in my skin. I was still breaking out, but my skin wasn’t as inflamed anymore and was healing faster. Also, I noticed that I was less moody and hardly had any sugar cravings, which positively reflected my whole well-being. Green juicing has become a great habit that I always follow these days, and believe plays an essential role in my skin’s detoxification process. Whenever celery is not accessible, I use whatever other green veggies available—most of the vegetables are hydrating and loaded with essential minerals and vitamins.
Medical Medium designed this unique smoothie to help pull heavy metals like mercury, lead, aluminium, nickel, copper out of your organs where they accumulate. Heavy metals are often overlooked in the beauty and wellness industry, but they can be very harmful. They can serve as a feeding ground for strep and yeast cells that can lead to an unhealthy gut. This can have a significant impact on the appearance of the skin and overall health.
The heavy metal detox smoothie has combined powerful natural ingredients to help rid your body of heavy metals and nourish your skin without compromising the taste. While detoxing, the first four days were a bit hard. I have noticed a lack of energy, headaches and overall aching feeling. I have read that some people had some severe side effects, like blue hands and lips but it didn’t happen to me. I continued drinking that smoothie for quite some time without any complications. Now I always start my day with my own beauty smoothie, including some of the HMD smoothie ingredients. Smoothies are a great way to include all the vital foods that your skin needs to thrive in your diet. If you need any ideas to start with your smoothies, check out my guide to the basics of smoothies and smoothie boosters.
While on the detox, I had to eliminate certain foods, including most animal products. Since I have been vegetarian for more than seven years now, saying no to meat wasn’t a problem. The hard bit was to eliminate dairy. My diet was built on cheese and many other products that included dairy. I did know that there is a possibility that dairy triggers my acne. Still, I never really had enough will to fully eliminate it from my diet to see if it would make any difference. The detox was a perfect opportunity to do so, and it has become a turning point for me to go plant-based.
It takes about 2-3 weeks for the dairy to eliminate your body. The overall results after the cleanse were great. I was getting fewer breakouts, and the overall feeling was incredible. I have decided to continue to avoid dairy. Still, it took me a while to get used to the new food habits and find new food options that were good enough to satisfy my cheese cravings and nurture for my skin.
That experiment turned out to be a great success because it pushed me to learn more about healthy cooking and whole foods. The new big changes in my skin’s appearance and well-being inspired me to dive deeper into the world of plant-based nutrition and its effects on skin ageing and health. With time I completely stopped eating dairy products, and when I look at my skin now, it shows me that I made the right choice. I have also eliminated eggs from my diet. I consume honey and fish occasionally, but eating mostly whole-foods, plant-based diet had a significant impact on my skin and health overall.
WHAT IS A WHOLE- FOOD, PLANT-BASED DIET?
A whole-food, plant-based diet is about foods that come from plants in a minimally processed form. The diet is about eating an abundance of unrefined plant-based foods to meet your nutritional needs.
There’s excellent scientific evidence that many plants come with an abundance of skin-loving nutrients and phytochemicals that fight inflammation and premature ageing. So what I did, I just made sure to include the most healing ones in my diet as much as possible. It includes all kinds of fruit, berries, dark green leafy vegetables like spinach and kale, all kinds of beans, seeds, quinoa, buckwheat, etc.
In several months on a whole-food, plant-based diet, my body has responded, and my acne went from moderate to mild. After a year of my nutritious plant-based diet full of foods like whole grains, seeds, beans, vegetables and fresh fruit, my skin has transformed. I was only getting occasional monthly breakouts, my scars started to fade, and my overall skin elasticity noticeably improved. I have finally got the glow I always dreamed of!
A balanced plant-based diet is rich in vitamins and nutrients that are so vital for skin health. Increasing the number of foods high in fibre, antioxidants, and good fats can help regulate your hormones and control breakouts.
Down below I have listed other ways that helped me to deal with my acne along the way:
While on this journey, the amount of salon treatments I have tried is impressive—anything from light therapy to charcoal laser facial. There’s no point going through all of them, as it’s all quite personal and results can vary. I will mention some of the most effective treatments that helped me keep my skin intact on this journey.
PROFESSIONAL ACNE EXTRACTION
When acne extraction performed right, it can do wonders for your skin. Extraction techniques vary from specialist to specialist. If you find the right one, it can help you carry yourself with more confidence while dealing with your skin issues. It worked great for me because my acne type was comedonal, it’s when you get those hard little bums that can sit deep in the skin and can either have black or white surface. During extraction, the specialist uses the hands or a sterile tool to pull the skin and squeeze out the pimple. By unclogging the pores, you get a smooth canvas for your products and makeup. It’s not an acne solution, but it can help to prevent future breakouts.
Peels are resurfacing solutions used to target fine lines, sun damage, breakouts, discolourations and scars. It’s a chemical exfoliation process that makes the top layers of the skin to shed. Many peels are based on similar active ingredients like glycolic acid, salicylic acid, lactic acid etc. The difference between at-home and professional chemical peels is the strength or concentration. Most chemical peels you can buy from over the counter won’t make your skin peel visibly, where after the at salon procedure you might experience profound shedding.
Light-duty chemicals peels played an essential role in my acne skincare routine. While living in Phuket, I was getting a peel done every month at Healthy Skin Clinic. They used an active blend of lactic, glycolic and salicylic acid, which gently exfoliated my skin and helped with a detoxication process.
IPL FOR ACNE
It might be a surprise for you, but Intense Pulsed Light therapy can be used on the skin to treat acne and quite effectively. When the light flashes over the treated area, it triggers a biochemical response which eventually will kill bacteria within the pores. It’s a non-invasive procedure and in some cases, can treat inflammatory acne with a great outcome. I got good results after several treatments, but it didn’t last a very long time, even though I know people who got rid of acne just by having a course of IPL treatments. The procedure is not suitable for everyone, so make sure to check all the pros and cons with your skin therapist.
I wasn’t sure if I should include this treatment, as I have experienced different outcomes. From my experience, I think you should have this treatment in mind as an option if you have mild acne and post-acne scars and hyperpigmentation is your primary concern. This treatment is focused on exfoliation of skin’s debris, drainage of fluid buildup and extraction of clogged pores while also plumping and hydrating the skin. Instead of all of these being performed by hand, the esthetician uses a medical-grade device with different attachments. The treatment also includes acid peels and serum applications that are infused into pores with a pen-like device. I have done this treatment three times, and one time out of three, my skin ended up breaking out more than usual. I think that happened because my acne was quite inflamed when that procedure was performed. That’s why I’d recommend this treatment for someone with a minor form of acne.
Your home care is as crucial as your diet. If you are on a budget and have to choose between purchasing the right skincare and visiting the salon, I recommend you to choose first. Your at-home skincare regime is essential but doesn’t have to be complicated nor expensive. Here are the essential steps of my at-home skincare routine:
Thoroughly washing your face in the evening and the morning helps combat excess oils, reducing the chance of developing some new spots. I prefer to use gentle cleansers with clean ingredients to maintain a balanced pH and avoid overdrying.
I don’t use any physical exfoliants on my skin, as I prefer chemical peels. At-home chemical exfoliants are mild versions of in-salon chemical peels and can be purchased at many beauty shops. As staple anti-acne ingredients in your chemical exfoliants, you should look for glycolic and salicylic acids.
When it comes to masks, I always choose natural ingredients. Going through the endless options of skincare brands led me to the DIY face masks that are affordable and effective.
For purifying effect, I like to use a natural clay powder. There are many different types of clay, and some of their health benefits can vary, but they all do the same thing – soothe and heal the skin by removing excessive oil. The clay colour depends on which part of the world it has been harvested and usually comes in pink, white, green, blue and black. I am a big fan of Russsian clay, as I find it very effective but not overdrying for the skin.
I also like to use an algae-based mask to detox my skin. You can use most of the green superfood powders that you can find at the health store for this mask. My favourite choices are spirulina and chlorella, which belong to the algae family. Chlorella powder is packed with phytonutrients that help to repair your skin cells and improve its appearance. Spirulina is packed with vital ingredients for glowing skin: vitamins A, C, E, K, several Bs, zinc, copper, potassium, selenium, calcium and many more. These ingredients could be used on its own or together. It’s really up to you! I like to mix algae powders with just honey or aloe vera gel. Both of these ingredients have antibacterial properties.
For a more lifting effect, I go for an alginate mask. Alginate is a popular skincare ingredient used in the spa salons. Its formulated with alginic acid salts extracted from brown seaweeds. These salts can absorb water quickly and bind with it, forming a viscous gum. When modified into the mask and applied on the face, it leaves a tightening effect on the skin. Regular use of alginate masks makes the skin smoother, unclog pores, reduce puffiness and improves face contour.
Vitamin C serum might not prevent your skin from breakouts, but it will make it more durable in the long run. Vitamin C is a strong antioxidant, and it helps to protect your skin from sun damage. Apply it every morning before the sunscreen.
Also, on the nights when you are not using your chemical exfoliant, you should introduce Retinol to your skin. Retinol is a form of Vitamin A and a powerful skin-booster. It’s antiaging, and just like Vitamin C plays a vital role in collagen production. Plus it’s great for fading those post-acne scars.
Another ingredient that you should look out for is Azelaic acid. Its usually derived from grains like barley, wheat, and rye and it works on skin as a gentle leave-on exfoliant which helps unclog pores and refine skin’s surface. Products containing Azelaic acid can help to even out the skin’s texture and prevent future breakouts.
Moisturiser is a crucial step in your skincare routine. There are many options available on the market, and it can be either in the form of a gel, cream or oil. I like to go for something hydrating and mattifying and can be used as a primer under the makeup.
Sunblock must be an essential step in your daily skincare routine regardless if you have acne or not. It protects the skin from UV rays and prevents the appearance of dark spots. If you have oily acne-prone skin choose a sunscreen that is light in texture – it will reduce the risk of clogged pores and breakouts. Also, look for sunscreens designed for acne-prone skin and contain ingredients like zinc or zinc oxide that are often used to treat acne.
I get most of my nutrition from the food I eat, but I make sure to stay on top of my intake of B12 vitamin with the help of the supplement.
You might have also heard about the Omega 6 to Omega 3 ratio.
For healthy skin, the recommended ratio is 4:1. Because we tend to eat more Omega 6 than Omega 3, it can affect the skin. Omega 6 comes from vegetable oils, peanuts, soy, and most processed foods that when eaten in excessive amounts, cause inflammation. Omega 3 is anti-inflammatory and is vital for skin’s protection. I make sure to get my Omega 3 from flaxseeds, chia and seaweed, but you can also take it as a supplement.
STRESS AND SLEEP MANAGEMENT
Lack of good quality sleep and stress are some of the leading acne triggers. Stress and sleep deprivation can lead a person to a poor diet, which can trigger inflammation in the body. When inflammation is increased, the skin’s cell function is reduced, promoting acne breakouts. Also, lack of sleep can shift hormonal patterns and affect the quality of your skin. If on top of that, you are continually stressed, then you make a perfect environment for acne. Stress increases levels of cortisol, which causes the sebaceous glands to produce too much sebum. Then it mixes with dead cells and causes breakouts. So if you are serious about your skin, you need to start to be more responsible and selective where you put your energy into. If something causes you a lot of stress and makes you devalue your health, then ask yourself if it’s worth it.
What helps me to keep myself balanced is exercising and cooking my own food. I think both of these activities are a great way to deal with worrying and tension. Plus being in control of my diet and my body gives me an empowering feeling which helps me release stress. Usually, if I go for a run in the morning, I am more tired by the evening as if I didn’t exercise. It means that I am most likely to get a night of better quality sleep.
SO WHAT CAN YOU TAKE AWAY FROM THIS?
Most importantly, what I have learnt over the last years, is that beauty is an inside job and beautiful skin starts in the gut! The gut can directly affect your face, so if you live with the imbalance of bacteria, it can lead to skin sensitivity and acne. The best way to improve your diet and support a healthy microbiome in your gut is by eliminating factory fed meat, dairy and highly processed foods. If you do that, while increasing the daily intake of nutritious fruit and veggie, you will allow your body to cleanse and eliminate toxic pathogens. By cleaning things out and rebooting your health, you will strengthen your immune system and give your skin a whole makeover. Make your inside health a priority and use the outside as a reflection of your inner health!
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