Note: I am biologically female and this post is based off my own experience with my own acne prone skin. I am not a medical professional, skin doctor, or even a scientist. I’m just a girl with a face and a dream for skin as beautiful as a baby’s bottom. Or…something like that. Take all of this information with a grain of salt, and do what is best for you and your skin.
I’m so glad you’re here!
I am both pimple positive and positive that I currently have a pimple. Five pimples actually and one cyst on my right cheek that has currently been there for two months. I seriously just ran to the bathroom mirror to count my pimples and cysts.
I hesitated for a long while to even write about my acne experience online. Each time I write about acne I feel as if I am telling those who still struggle with acne that they aren’t enough. As if having clear skin means that I have reached the ultimate goal and that those who still have acne haven’t quite made it yet. This is simply not true. This article today is my first attempt at writing down my skin story and truth be told I might make changes to the article as I think of additional parts of my story. I never want this post to even hint that I believe that YOU are not beautiful with acne and scars. This is in no way meant to push you to even try to remove acne from your life. Who am I to tell you how to be your best self?
I cried a lot about my acne. I hated it. I wanted it gone. But ultimately I wanted it gone for the wrong reasons. I thought having a clear face would make me more confident, beautiful, and lovable. These where issues residing in places other than my face, though. And I shouldn’t have been surprised when the acne started to clear up and I wasn’t magically feeling better about myself. I think the concept is similar to those struggling with eating disorders who think to themselves that they will be happy once they reach a certain weight. I thought I would be happier once I had clear skin.
Darling, I only wish it were that easy. I’m not trying to project my own issues onto you, but I did want to express upfront that I love you and your skin, and that I accept you and your skin exactly as they are no matter what.
This blog post is a chunk. It’ll take you more than a minute to wrap your arms around this whole baby, but here’s the layout for the article:
- Background for how acne entered into my life
- My experience with medical intervention (including my experiences with Isotretinoin drugs)
- The discussion of three things that I believe positively impacted the health of my skin over the years
- Hormone health
- Gut health
I’ve also included a list of recommended reading if you reach the end of this article and are hungry for more resources!
Welcome to my Skin Story
Skin. It’s something that we all have and yet… some of us walk around with the dewy skin of perfection while doing seemingly nothing to attain it, and still others of us must fight for the health of our skin every. single. day. To all my loves with acne – this one’s for you.
Over the years friends and followers have questioned me about how I “finally got my skin to clear up.” They knew my cystic acne at its worst and they knew the present day face was vastly different. They wanted in on the secret to skin health. ***Spoiler alert: there is no secret. No cream, no pill (yes, I’ll discuss isotretinoin drugs), no diet, no regimen can promise you clear skin for forever.*** Over the years my answer was often “I didn’t do anything“, which at the time was truly the best answer I could offer considering that I tried hundreds of different doctors, medications, supplement, skincare regimens, and diets for years and never felt that they were offering me any true relief. If I had invested all of the money that I wasted over the years on various attempts to get rid of acne I would probably be ready to retire by now…
How acne came into into my life:
I was about thirteen when I first experienced acne. I guess the hormones pumping through my body were doing their thing because I started to get some small red bumps around my chin, jawline, and mouth. I didn’t think much about it until I was at my yearly dermatology appointment that same year (I have had skin cancer surgeries in the past for pre-cancerous spots, so I get checked/biopsied once a year) and the doctor was more concerned about the state of my face than he was about my risk of DYING from skin CANCER. Ok, so the dying thing might have been a little dramatic, but c’mon I was only 13. We tend to be a little over exuberant at this age. During this visit the doctor informed me that I needed to get a new hobby because I checked/measured my moles too often. Can I help it if I want to catch skin cancer in its early stages? The nerve.
That day the doctor threw me a prescription for a topical antibiotic lotion. I dutifully applied said lotion, it seemed to help (although I remember it causing a strange redness), and I moved on with my life. Around this same time, my dad commented that he was “proud” of me for not making a big deal about my acne. I wasn’t whining about it or refusing to leave the house because of it. At the time my acne was a non-issue for me. The pimples were red and annoying, but overall they were pretty inconsequential.
This same pattern continued over the next several years. Doctors would see my skin, ask me if I wanted some help with it, I would shrug and say “sure, why not“, and then I would dutifully apply and/or take whatever poison was given me.
Honestly I can’t quite remember all of the drugs that I tried over the years of minor acne, but I know they were a mix of antibiotics, retinoids, and various variations of benzoyl peroxide. Sprinkled in the mix were prescription washes (I remember one with sulphur at one point). I tried Proactive for a long while since I lucked out and ended up getting sets for free each month as a gift from a friend. Mostly the treatments either burned my ridiculously pale, sensitive skin or made my ridiculously pale, sensitive skin absolutely intolerant to the sun. I could not spend any time in sunshine at all. I remember sitting in class with my face legit on fire and thinking – “No pain. No gain.” But, again, my face was kinda a non-issue. I hated the pimples, but they covered such a small area, were superficial, healed quickly, and I kinda thought they were to be expected on the face of a person my age. I was somewhat self-conscious, but I persisted without much of a hiccough.
I used the treatments from my various doctors and kept on with my life. Pictures don’t lie. I had some pimples, but my skin was plenty clear. Maybe a little ruddy, but still quite clear. I have a memory from that time of me feeling the skin on my cheeks and thinking “At least there aren’t any pimples on my cheeks. They’re still nice and smooth.”
My my my. If only I had known then how much could change in such a short period of time.
The Demise of my Skin’s Health
I’m not sure of the exact month, but somewhere around the fall of 2012 the health of my skin took a rapid nosedive. The pimples spread from around my chin area to my forehead, my cheeks, my neck, and my back. And they morphed from harmless little pimples to deep, nasty, cysts that took literal months heal. The cysts were so gross that after months of existence on my face the skin around the cyst would become dark and crinkly, burst open, and ooze a nasty fluid of infection and blood only to leave a gaping hole in my face that would proceed to become infected several more times before it would finally heal… with a purple scar. It got to the point where I was afraid to smile too broadly because I was never quite sure when one of the cysts would rupture. There was one time when one burst… while I was talking to someone.
I cannot have an open, honest conversation about my skin health without noting that Fall 2012 marked the entrance into an extremely emotionally, mentally, and physically stressful time for me. I won’t bore you with details, but I’ll hit the highlights to help you understand what kinds of things my body was dealing with at the time. This is important when trying to understand the health of the skin, which tends to be the last organ affected by poor health and the last organ to be nourished by the body.
University – Fall 2012
Fall 2012 arrived and the health of my skin began a rapid decline. That semester I transferred from a two-year college to a university on a demanding scholarship program. That semester I promptly (accidentally) offended the dean of the honors college. This dean also happened to be a female former navy officer, who also happened to be the creator of a class that I had to take four semesters in a row, and happened to be the professor of my very first thesis class of my program. I offended her by giving my opinion of her class (I didn’t know it was her brain child at the time) during an open forum where I was asked to list the the class’ pros and cons.
The dean called me into her office a few days after the forum to tell me the ways in which I failed to properly voice my opinion as well as things that she believed were my faults. It was during this “meeting” that she made me look her in the eyes while she criticized me and I cried. She also gave me the only C I ever got. This same dean also needed to approve my thesis prospectus AND I had to present to her for my thesis grant. Lemme tell ya – it was a long few years in the educational world for moi.
During that same fall semester I lost a classmate tragically (a story which holds much sadness for me even to this day), my great grandmother, my music teacher, my dog, and tried to help a friend grieve after losing her husband very tragically. During this time I also wrecked my ancient Camry into a periwinkle blue BMW…that belonged to a professor on campus.
Did I mention that my boyfriend also disappeared this semester, too? We’d been having issues, but one day (around the same time I had the wreck) he disappeared from my life forever. He returned my stuff via a friend and I haven’t seen him since. It took him THREE years to finally get up the balls to EMAIL me about what actually went down before his disappearance. Ultimately, thank the heavens that that relationship ended when it did, but… still it hurt.
GERD first made its appearance around this time, too. I thought about adopting the celery diet because it was about the only food I could eat without feeling like death. The pain from my childhood back damage reared it’s ugly head around this time, too. I spent most of those last few years of college with numbness running down my left leg. My family moved to Europe and left me to finish college in the states. I was “babysitting” their houses and cars and experiencing all sorts of car/homeownership issues (think dead car batteries, floods, frozen pipes, and the like). I also dated a guy with addiction struggles that was absolutely not healthy for me. Our relationship was up and down and on and off constantly. I wrote most (if not all) of my honors thesis while lying flat on my back with my laptop balanced between my knees. I worked crappy jobs with questionable ethical standards and too little pay, but I was too overwhelmed by life to find other options. I dropped 30 pounds.
So what does all this have to do with my skin story?
It has everything to do with my skin.
I was hanging onto my last shred of sanity. And it would only get worse over the next few years. I was emotionally, mentally, and physically exhausted. More months past and more stressful situations occurred. I thought about dropping out of school.
I could be wrong, but in my experience I have yet to meet a fellow acne sufferer who declared – “One day I woke up and my face was covered with acne! I have no idea where it came from!” No. That doesn’t seem to be the case. The acne comes slowly. So slowly that we don’t realize that each pimple and each new cyst is a cry for help from our bodies.
Pictures tell me that my cystic acne took about two years to reach its peak of severity. This peak also correlates perfectly with the publication of my thesis, my graduation from college, a nasty breakup, and a move to a new state. By this time I was bleeding for 20-25 days each menstrual period. I was diagnosed with GERD (Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease) and a hiatal hernia (when part of your stomach bulges through the diaphragm). My back pain was so severe that I completed my school work standing up or lying flat on my back. I couldn’t keep my left leg from going numb. My entire body hurt. No doctor could seem to help me. They gave me a lot of non-answers about my issues and suggested that my health would not improve until my personal life “contained more love and happiness.” Considering what I was going through that seemed like a laughable option.
I call this time in my life “the dark ages”. When people say that your 20’s are the best days of your life I look back on these days, shake my head, and mumble… “I sure hope not.” My mom called to check on me one day during this time. At the time they lived in Europe and I in the States so it’d been several months since I had seen them. She sounded so chipper when she said, “How are you?!” All I remember is losing it. I burst into tears and declared that I thought I was dying. She clarified with “You think you are dying? Or you WANT to die?”
I didn’t WANT to die. I simply could not understand why my body was breaking down at such a rapid rate. I was in and out of doctors’ offices. Getting countless terrible tests (including a nerve test where they SHOCK you. NOT a good experience) and getting no answers for why I wasn’t getting better from my various ills. I landed in the ER a couple of time from complications to other procedures. School was drowning me. My relationship was sucking the life out of me. Couldn’t eat. Couldn’t sleep. I would hold it together long enough to go to school and go to work, but after that I was a useless puddle.
I remember eating tubs of ice cream back then…which I’m sure did not help my reflux situation at all…
The light bulb moment
Why do I keep bringing up this list of stressful happenings in my life? Because it’s my belief that these months and years of emotional, physical, and mental stress caused the ultimate breakdown of my endocrine system and in turn the plague that gradually sprouted and blossomed on my face. The acne got really really bad. The cysts came in clusters sometimes as big as a quarter. They got infected and no matter the routine they didn’t want to heal. The pain became so intense that I would come home at the end of the day, wash off my makeup, pop two advil, ice my face, and then spray it with lidocaine numbing spray. I was desperate for relief.
Not only is cystic acne incredibly painful physically – it’s also incredibly painful emotionally. Inside I felt like I looked like a monster and no amount of makeup made me feel better about myself. All I could see were the cysts, the puss, and the redness that consumed my entire face. I dreaded being around people and hated making eye contact. I could feel them judging me for the plague on my face. I could feel their pity, too. Acne has a way of making you feel very very low about yourself.
I’m no doctor – let me make that clear. But in my personal experience and from my own research and my COUNTLESS years of dealing with incompetent doctors (seriously I should start walking into a room in a white coat, saying “I don’t know“, and charging people 1000’s of dollars for my knowledge). Acne is a symptom of something else – diet, genetics, stress, endocrinological state – something! Acne doesn’t appear for no reason. Countless dermatologists told me that my acne was “too deep” for them to treat. They then sent me to an internal medicine doctor who said they didn’t specialize in…skin. If you are experiencing acne don’t allow a doctor to discourage you.
A small note on holistic practitioners and functional medicine doctors. First let me say that I am not against them; however, insurance rarely – if ever – covers their services so cost has always been prohibitive to me. Many natural doctors focus their treatments on supplement regimens over a long period of time. I’m not huge on taking gobs of pills even if they are ground up beetroot. That doesn’t seem to me to be nature’s intention. I also have never been able to afford several hundreds of dollars for an office visit PLUS several hundreds of dollars worth of supplements. I would starve to death in an attempt to cure my acne. So I did what I could afford.
Like I said above, my acne increased and became more severe as the stress in my life increased. I began to slip physically, mentally, and emotionally. Unfortunately (thankfully) most of my photos from those days have been lost to never-never land due to a mishap with my iPhone at the time and an Ex-induced deletion of my old Facebook page. But I do have a few left from the later years of my acne.
Treatments + Diets I tried:
Honestly, I cannot remember all of the different treatments and diets that I tried in an attempt to clear my skin, but the ones right off the top of my head are:
- Benzoyl Peroxide
- Topical antibiotics
- Prescription washes
- Vegan diet
- Paleo diet
- Gluten-free diet
- Low fat + high carb vegan diet
- Every kind of skin food supplement
- Arbonne skincare
- Birth control pills
By the way, I may get shot for saying this, but I believe that dermatologists are the WORST option for treating severe acne. I say this because they treat acne in isolation as if the skin is entirely separate from the rest of the body. They don’t take into account any other issue in the body.
My Experience with Isotretinoin Drugs and Acne
I was offered two opportunities to try isotretinoin (you may know the drug by its brand names such as Claravis, Amnesteem, Absorica, Myorisan, Zenatane, Sotret, Accutane). It is a popular internal medication for the treatment of severe acne..
For those not familiar with this drug, isotretinoin belongs to the same group of medicines called retinoids. If you’ve ever used a topical retinoid then you know that they tend to cause severe dryness and peeling of the skin. This internal version of the drug does the same. By the way (I can hear a collective groan from all the dermatologists as I type this), isotretinoin carries NO guarantee that you will remain acne free. It may take several rounds to be effective. It may not be effective for your case of acne at all. And each round runs 3-6 months and can bring on many side effects from stomach pain to black spots on your nails. It’s also really expensive.
I won’t go into details about why I ultimately opted out of this drug, but I will say that I came to my own conclusion after talking to several pharmacists about the drug’s specifics (including risks. In fact, many pharmacies in my area have banned it from their shelves) and talking to patients who took the drug themselves for at least one full round. But if you’d like a private discussion as to why I opted out of isotretinoin for my cystic acne treatment please don’t hesitate to reach out to me here or over email.
The first opportunity I was offered isotretinoin for free (which is nice because it’s crazy expensive). By chance I attended a dermatology appointment with my grandparents and SOMEHOW they thought I was the perfect candidate for their new acne study. It was enlightening to talk with the research doctor that day, though. She explained things to me about acne that not one single doctor had ever mentioned to me. Other doctors mentioned the role of genetics in acne but they hadn’t explained to me how exactly those genes expressed themselves.
The research doctor explained to me that although they have not isolated a particular “acne gene” they do know they genes determine how quickly your skin sheds its dead skin cells and how much oil your skin produces. She explained that deep, slow healing acne cysts were in part caused by skin that wasn’t shedding its dead layers efficiently. Isotretinoin drugs force the body to rapidly turn over skin cells and thus produce clearer, cyst-free skin. Genes also determine how your skin reacts to hormonal shifts and acne-causing bacteria.
My mother suffered from cystic acne on her back as a teen. My uncle (on my mom’s side) suffered from severe cystic acne on his face. As I was listening to this research doctor tell me about the wonders of cystic acne I knew I was already predisposed to acne genetically. I also questioned my body’s immune response to acne-causing bacteria. Back when I was a child I was diagnosed with dermatographic uticaria which is a fancy way of saying that I’m allergic to physical touch. My skin gets puffy, itchy, and very red whenever I scratch or brush against something. Doctors blamed my fair skin and blue eyes for my chronic skin issues and postulated that the random skin allergy might ease with age. But it never did. Could this hyperactive immune response be responsible for my acne?
I entered the study, but struggled for the next several weeks with whether it was the best option for my body in the long run. I backed out a few days before I was to go in for my first round of bloodwork (when you take this particular acne drug they draw blood regularly during your treatment to ensure that your liver function is healthy).
My second attempt with isotretinoin came a year or so later during a routine visit to a dermatologist for a skin cancer scan. Like the doctor at age 13, this doctor was far less concerned about my potential for skin cancer and far more concerned about the state of my face. He wanted me to start isotretinoin immediately. He cared little about the health of my body when I expressed concerns about the safety of the drug. In fact, when I hesitated with the drug he shot back, “Do you want to walk around with a scarred face??” I was annoyed, but I’m pretty used to dealing with asinine doctors so I stated that I wanted to see some research that deemed the drug safe and gave the doctor my email address.
In all of his doctor abilities he could only provide me with ONE study. And not even ONE study because he said he could only find the abstract. AND the study was pathetically small and only followed the participants for a short period of time. No, deal, doctor. I’ll walk around with my scarred face instead.
My skin in various stages of healing from years 2014-2017
So…What did I do?
As I said before… I’m not quite sure what worked and what didn’t but I will say that I stuck with these things for several years before I saw lasting results. People were consistently approaching me with special skincare routines, and supplement regimens, and even high dollar makeups that “can make your skin look like you don’t even have acne” but none of that appealed to me any more.
In the end I believe my skin began to consistently heal after working to improve my hormone health and gut health. And after finding the right kind of skincare for my type of skin.
#1. Hormone health:
Your skin can tell you a lot about the health of your hormones just as a menstrual cycle can tell you a lot about your hormones. If you are female, I recommend receiving a full hormone panel from a primary care physician, OBGYN, or endocrinologist (I opted for both the OBGYN + Endo). As I mentioned above, when my acne was at its worst I was also having crazy long periods. It was almost as if my periods just never ended before the next one began. So a trip to the OBGYN allowed me to rule out things like PCOS* (polycystic ovarian syndrome) and endometriosis*. The Endo doc allowed me to rule out more serious issues like problems with my hormone producing glands and genetic issues.
Getting your hormones tested
In order to help balance your hormones you need to know exactly what your hormones are doing naturally without the alteration of artificial hormones such as birth control. This can be done three ways: saliva, urine, and blood. Let me repeat that I am not a doctor, but I would suggest that you test at two different times in the cycle – particularly the ovulatory and luteal phases. For me, my body makes progesterone, but if I am stressed or not eating well it tends to drop off rather easily which was causing my random bleeding mid cycle. My body wanted to have a full cycle and make a period but it struggled to hold onto the blood because of my progesterone levels.
Eastern medicine has taught me over the years that progesterone is a calming, warming hormone. It was explained to me like this: Estrogen makes the grass grow (builds up the blood lining in the uterus), but progesterone cuts the grass (stops the lining from continuing to grow and allows the body to hold the lining for implantation of the embryo). Estrogen can wreak havoc on the body if allowed to increase for too long OR to stay in the body for too long. Too much estrogen can cause all sorts of symptoms such as insomnia, bloating, moodiness, food craving, headaches, and yes… acne.
I also suggest that you get your stress hormone levels (such as cortisol) tested. I won’t have the space to go into all the details, but the body deprioritizes reproduction in times of stress and it will actually steal sex hormones such as estrogen+progesterone and make stress hormones out of them. BUT the tricky little thing is that the body will not make sex hormones out of stress hormones. So there are occasions where sex hormones are out of balance simply because you are stressed and the body shortcuts the stress hormone making progress. These kinds of tests do not have to be invasive. I had one expensive cortisol test taken, but I also had 3-4 heart rate variability scans while I was getting my health back in shape and those told me quite easily that my anxiety was much too high.
*how’s this for a crazy diagnosis: They did a hormone panel and an ultrasound and said that I had all the right physical manifestations and symptoms of PCOS except… the multiple cysts on my ovaries so they said I had PCOS… but not? In the end the doctor decided not to open my belly to rule out endometriosis, so I cannot be sure about that.
How to get Lower Cost Bloodwork
I won’t sugar coat it, though. Hormone testing can be highly expensive so you might have to shop around with different doctors and discount plans. Don’t let the doctors bully you, there are all sorts of discount lab services around the US, but most doctors offices don’t want to deal with them so they WON’T mention them. Ask the doctor, the nurse, or even a billing agent at the medical office (they know the cost of healthcare best of all and often can help you find the best prices). Also, doctors won’t mention this either, but they all have access to billing codes (insurance term) and prices for EACH blood test that their labs’ offer. If for some reason you don’t have access to any of the discount lab services I mentioned above then you can at least see the full price breakdown before they suck your blood and your wallet. Then if need be you can split up the blood draws and save up between draws. I used to work in a medical office and dealt with insurance and billing every day so I’ve learned a thing or two about our messed up healthcare system.
What if hormone testing isn’t an option for you?
Maybe the reason is financial or maybe you panic with needles, but regardless of the reason you can also get a guesstimation of your hormone status by charting your menstrual cycle. I’ll attach a photo of one of my cycle charts so you’ll know what I mean. Women use charting for preventing and planning pregnancy, but it can also help you see what your hormones are doing each month.
From this chart I can see that I ovulated and that on day 13 my progesterone kicked in (marked by the dot with the “1”) because my waking body temperature (BBT or Basal Body Temperature) rose sharply above my baseline body temp (that purple horizontal line). But then my progesterone starts to lose altitude on day 21. I know this because my body temp goes down down down (and progesterone should keep me running warm) and I started to spot. During a perfect cycle your body temp would stay high and would only drop suddenly when you were about to start a full bleed. But here you can see that I spotted for 3 days and then did nothing at all for 2 days before I fully started bleeding for my period. Which then proceeded to come for the next 8 days.
Charting keeps track of your basal body temperature, your cervical fluid type and quantity, and your menstrual flow to answer questions such as when you ovulate, wether or not your progesterone is staying strong, and when you can expect another period.
If you are interested in charting your cycle then I recommend the Kindara app (which I used for the chart above) for your phone and reading Taking Charge of Your Fertility by Toni Weschler. I myself could write a book on the wonders of charting and how to do it accurately, but… I don’t really have the room here, so please don’t hesitate to reach out if you would like a separate blog post about charting your cycle. I plan to write an intro to the Kindara app soon as well since people ask me about the app frequently.
I’ve had my hormones tested…now what?
First listen to your doctor, but also don’t be shy about taking your health and wellbeing into your own hands. As I eluded to earlier, my doctors were not much help when it came to my hormone health, so I started looking for answers on my own. My older sister was on a similar journey for answers and led me to a holistic health coach in NYC named Alisa Vitti.
Alisa Vitti experienced similar issues and diagnosis from doctors as did I. She was diagnosed with PCOS and instructed to take birth control for the rest of her life. If she wished to conceive, doctors assured her that there would be medication for that as well. This didn’t sit well with her. At the time she was studying at Johns Hopkins to become an OBGYN, but she soon turned her research and her efforts inward and used her time at school to find hormone answers for herself and other women struggling with the same hormonal issues. I’ve attached her full bio here if you would like to know more about her and her research.
Her practice has absolutely exploded so she now only sees her clients online, but you don’t need to pay to see her in order to reap the benefits of her research. Read her book Woman Code and I can promise you that it will blow your mind.
The gist of her research is that the body needs certain nutrients from certain food at certain times of the month. She’s also one of the pioneers in research that shows that women should not only eat foods according to their cycle but that they should exercise and even live according to their cycle. Sound extreme? It is in a world that believes that humans should be able to perform on the same level with the same intensity every single day. But the female body cycles. We can have dramatic hormone shifts from day to day. And Alisa will show you how the shifts change your digestion, energy level, skin health, libido, and even shifts in mood and thought processes.
If you’ve seen any cycle syncing charts for foods like this one below then you’ve seen a product of Vitti’s research.
Cycle Syncing Food Chart From “WomanCode”
Her book, blog, and emails can be pretty RA! RA! (ya know. Like a cheerleader) so you kinda have to look past all of that if it’s not your thing. The gist of her program is:
- Balance your blood sugar
- Get your digestive system moving efficiently (this includes improving liver function)
- Eat whole foods according to where you are in your cycle
The thing that sold me on her was that I didn’t need to pay a fortune to use the program or buy supplements in order to try this method of hormone balancing. It was essentially learning how to pay attention to what my body was telling me at the time. Within 3 months I began to see results and I still follow her lifestyle habits even now.
Extra support for your hormonal wellbeing:
I hit the personal research hard and found that other women had positive results from incorporating abdominal massage into this transitional period of health. I was getting better, but I wanted a little extra support.
I used good ole Google and discovered that there was a Mayan Abdominal Massage Therapist on the north side of the city where I was living. This woman was an angel in my life and I thank the heavens for her. Because of the years of crazy bleeding I had developed anxiety about my period. My control freakishness was going crazy every time I tried some new plan to make the bleeding stop.
At one point the doctors decided to “fake a pregnancy” via artificial hormones to see what my body would do when I was given a break from bleeding for 9 months. I hated the way the drugs made me feel mentally and physically. They were willing to let me continue the drugs for as long as I was comfortable, but I opted to stop at 9 months and detox from the hormones. It was quite a ride.
Maya Abdominal Massage Therapy
Abdominal Massage Therapy is as straight forward as it sound. It’s massage therapy on your abdomen. Each time I waited for the therapist in the waiting room she would bring me a glass of water, a clipboard with a piece of blank paper, and a large box of crayons. It’s easy to sit in a waiting room and fiddle with your phone until it’s your turn, but this therapist was adamant about staying present in her space. If you were in her office then your phone was off. So she provided you with hydration and asked you to draw a specific scene/item/emotion until she came back to get you.
Each session started out with a conversation about how my periods were progressing and about how I was feeling about cycling overall. Was I anxious? Was I sleeping? Was I eating comfortably? Was my digestion calm and regular?
The particular type of massage therapist acted as a female advocate in a way that no one (not even a doctor supposedly specializing in female health ever did). She empowered me and educated me and it was like a breath of fresh air after being locked in a closet for days. She helped me feel like a woman again. With her I was no longer sick. I was a strong, healthy woman talking to another strong, healthy woman.
“I’d like you to meet your Uterus”
Ok, so she didn’t whip out a scapal and literally show me my own uterus…
But she did whip out several clay models. The first one was red, heavy for its size, and fit almost perfectly in my palm. “This is your uterus right after your period ends” she declared. Then she handed me another. It was a deep purpleish red, even heavier, and easily twice the size of the first. “And this is your uterus the day before you start your period“. Mind blown. I had no idea how big my uterus got right before my period. She pulled out anatomy books, and drawings, and models and explained to me how the uterus and ovaries are suspended in the pelvic cavity.
At a routine PAP smear my GYN made an interesting declaration while she was poking around inside of me. The last thing you wanna hear when you have a giant piece of cold metal inside of you is that your doctor can’t reach your cervix. Excuse me? She said it was pointing towards my back and that she needed to pull it forward in order to get a sample. Heaven help me.
Apparently my uterus was folded over in a rather unusual position.
The abdominal massage therapist speculated this same issue and asked me if I had ever been in an accident. The only accident I’ve experienced was when I fell on a rock and ruined my tailbone. It’s possible that my uterus could have been flopped over since then. Who knows.
But could this ultimately cause bleeding, pain, and hormone issues? Maybe? Maybe not? But, regardless, I did the protocol to improve the ligament structure down south, ditched heavy lifting, and I improved for one reason or another.
#2. Gut Health:
With all the info floating around on social media right now I’m pretty sure I don’t have to convince you that the health of your guts affects many other aspects of your health. That’s the way a body works – no part acts in isolation. They work together. And if one part is struggling in some way, then other parts of the body are affected.
The skin is no exception. I mentioned this above, but it wasn’t until I started working with Vitti’s program that I realized that the body uses the skin for getting rid of all sorts of stuff. It’s the body’s largest organ and it will use it for elimination if need be.
I talk about about my experience with chronic stomach issues in my post Oh my GERD so I won’t bore you with the details here, but the gist is that stress is rough on the digestive system. It can cause all sorts of issues.
I feel as if there is a large amount of information floating around the internet on what kinds of lifestyle and diet habits you should adopt in order to achieve good gut health. It’s confusing. It’s overwhelming most of the time. And some of it simply does not work because every body is so different. Because of this I have chosen to leave the “Gut Health” section of this post rather short and simply state that when I was working on my gut health I had only two goals.
- Get off and stay off proton pump inhibiting drugs such as omeprazole and only take acid reducing drugs as Zantac (ranitidine) once in a while if I overate or tried something crazy spicy.
- Have a bowel movement AT LEAST once per day. And for that bowel movement to be complete and a healthy consistency (aka not a tiny amount or be the consistency of pebbles).
I wasn’t reaching for the stars here. I wanted off the drugs and I wanted to be able to reliably use the restroom without straining.
I’m not a supplement fan at all. I believe the body was designed to extract nutrients from food not from pills. We are gaining more knowledge but we still know very little about the way the body uses all of the components in food. Because I swallow a nutrient does not necessarily mean the body is using it. That said, I resigned myself to the fact that I can’t seem to keep my digestive system happy without these two supplements:
- Magnesium – I love Natural Vitality Calm
- Probiotics – I switch around depending on cost but I’m currently taking Primal Defense Ultra by Garden of Life
These days I follow the WomanCode eating protocol I mentioned above to ensure I am getting the right nutrients for my endocrine system, so my diet is full of whole foods and limited in processed. I eat little dairy and only eat small amounts of meat each week.
In short, if my reflux is bad and I’m not using the bathroom regularly…my skin begins to breakout more easily.
#3. Use the Right Kind of Skincare for your Skin:
During the years or countless doctors visits it became apparent from my physical manifestations that I had the genes that encourages acne and cystic acne problems such as high oil production, slow shedding of dead skin cells, and a sensitivity to bacteria and irritants making me more suseptible to inflammation. Knowing this I knew I needed to find a clean skincare company that could help me pander to these skin needs.
Here’s the typical behavior of my skin:
- Reddens easily with heat, lack of sleep, and contact (I have dermotographic uticaria)
- Stays oily throughout my cycle
- Requires regular exfoliation otherwise it gets both flaky and oily AT THE SAME TIME
- Blackhead, whitehead, and cyst-prone
- Heals very slowly from acne
I was introduced to the skincare company CocoKind via Instagram influencer @shutthekaleup. She used the products and she’s got skin of perfection so naturally I was like… maybe I should try this stuff too!
By this point I had tried hundreds of different skincare products ranging from your typical drugstore products to higher-end $80 a bottle nonsense. Nothing seemed to be helping consistently, though. It would seem to be calming and healing to my skin for a time and then I would find that it would stop working. Maybe this was a coincidence maybe it wasn’t, but ultimately I took chance on another skincare line and ordered my very first shipment of CocoKind.
At the time I could get free shipping from them for any orders over $40 so I searched for all the items I could get to put me at or just barely over that $40. Much has changed in the product line since then, but thankfully the products I started with are still available online because to this day they are still the most effective for my type of skin. Also, these products are highly affordable.
I started out with:
- the Turmeric spot treatment stick
- the MyMatcha moisture stick
- the Facial Cleansing Oil
- the Rose Water Facial Toner
- the Chia Facial Oil
CocoKind was founded in San Francisco by Priscilla Tsai (who still acts as CEO for the company). I became an insta-believer in her mission and products after reading one of her interviews online. People had the audacity to tell her that she would fail because they said that no one would buy skincare from someone with acne. I bet those people are seriously biting their lips now that her company has blossomed into a multi-million dollar business with online sales and brick+mortar retail in WholeFoods and Targets around the USA. TAKE THAT HATERS. They are advocates for skin – no matter the color, type, or tendency. If you’ve got skin, they are teaching you how to love it just the way that it is. Join their community on social media (@cocokindskincare) and you’ll instantly feel the love.
Priscilla knows what’s up. She knows what it’s like to be self conscious about acne. She knows what it’s like to spend months getting cysts to clear. She knows how frustrating hyperpigmentation is. She has walked the path with acne personally and this was a major plus for me when choosing a skincare line. This may sound harsh, but no human can truly understand the struggle of severe acne unless they themselves have experienced it. And for me the same applies to skincare. I trust someone with acne experience to make my skincare.
Along those same lines, CocoKind’s products are food safe meaning that I can safely consume them. I can use their rose hydrosol in my hot chocolate and I can add their chlorophyll mask to my lemonade – no harm no foul. CocoKind is truly a minimalistic, clean skincare brand. Also, their products come in glass jars and bottles which is a major plus for me, too.
Personally my skin feels its best when it can breathe. I’ve honestly never had good luck with layers of products, especially when it comes to makeup. My skin gets congested easily which in turns causes more breakouts. Over the years CocoKind had taught me how to nourish and heal my skin as well as minimize my scarring and pigmentation. If you’re the type to enjoy a good face mask you might also enjoy my Food-Based Face Mask post!
I have used nearly every single product offered from Cocokind, but over the years I have found that some products serve me better than others so here are my top products that I use regularly:
- Facial Cleansing Oil – this breaks through sunscreen, excess oil, and other impurities like no other. I rub it in and remove it with a warm, wet cloth.
- Rose Water Toner – They have another toner that’s specifically for acne-prone, oily skin, but my skin reacts much better to the rose one. I use it on a cotton pad.
- Chia Facial Oil – This stuff is HIGH in omegas 3’s which has worked wonders on my undernourished skin. Some people with acne-prone skin have said this made their skin worse and they switched to the Golden Elixir but the Golden Elixir has never worked for me and I’ve been using the chia oil for years.
- Sea Moss Exfoliator – This powder smells like a combo of dog breath and the worst foot stink you have ever experienced, BUT when combined with water it makes a lovely gel that polishes my skin perfectly. I use this about every other day.
If you’re new to this type of skincare you might appreciate this beginners guide that CocoKind wrote for their blog!
Be Patient and Kind
I can’t stress this enough. It took literal years for my skin to heal and still to this day I have random breakouts pop up. I even have some of those deep cysts show up from time-to-time.
Your skin will always have ups and downs. It is what you do with those ups and downs that really counts. If you were sitting next to me as I put the final edits on this post you would see that my face is as slick as a butter stick, and my nose pores are so plugged they’re literally bursting. This. Happens. Even after all the years of trial and error in skincare and diet. It happens.
I’ve got plans for the near future to share with you my regular skincare routine. As well as “emergency” routines that I use when I experience issues such as serious oiliness, sunburn, and random cystic acne.
I wish you all the very best and I would love to hear from you all about your own experiences with acne!
Highly Recommended Reading:
- Woman Code – Alisa Vitti
- Balance Your Hormones, Balance Your Life – Dr. Claudia Welch
- Taking Charge of Your Fertility – Toni Weschler
- Ask me About my Uterus – Abby Norman