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This post on healing acne naturally was first published in 2010. It has been updated and republished.
This is about my journey from breakout to clarity – about healing acne naturally with nutrition and natural skincare.
This is a summary; the explicit information that I used is in the Purely Primal Skincare Guide.
The basics: I used whole, traditional foods, digestive support, and natural products. I also used PATIENCE, because when you're working WITH your body to correct long-term imbalances that have been masked by harsh treatments, you've got to give it time.
It's a process, but a rewarding one. My skin has been clear now for nearly five years, during which time I became a Nutritional Therapy Practitioner specializing in, among other things, skin care and healing.
Remember, above all, that my transformation wasn't just about topical strategies. No amount of oil cleansing can fix a nutritional deficiency, and nutritional deficiencies can set the stage for acne, skin problems, hormonal imbalances, and even surprising consequences like stinky pits and bad hair.
The quality and sources of our food – the only fuel we have – and the quality of our digestion determines how well every single bodily process works. Non toxic skincare? That's just another way to be kind to your skin.
It all began around 2008, when my skin began to improve on a Paleo-style diet (with a little patience and the Oil Cleansing Method). Over time, I gradually ditched the dermatological acne medicines I was on at the time – there were at least four, including one oral antibiotic I took long-term and another topical antibiotic (sorry, gut flora).
There was also a sulfur-based topical med and a topical benzoyl peroxide prescription, not to mention the many others I'd tried over the last decade.
I'll be honest: one prescription I didn't ditch at the time, out of sheer vanity, was my topical retinoid. (Wrinkles? Ew!)
(Eventually, I gave that up too.)
I'd also tried plenty of OTC remedies – yes, I even tried Proactiv.
Things were looking really good at the beginning. But suddenly, after a good run of clarity, a few blemishes started to creep back in. It began near my neck. A few weeks later, a few more. And then something went completely awry.
(This was the first “before” picture I ever took, except for some really poor-quality ones I had a friend snap of my problem skin with a disposable camera in college. Back then, my skin was much worse – but I didn't think my story would one day be all over the internet. Before-and-afters are a new phenomenon, and sorry, but I'm OLD.)
Suddenly, my jawline acne had flared up again, and with a vengeance. I looked like I was harboring a fleet of angry ticks ready to pop on my jaw. I couldn't shake it – it wouldn't go away. It began to crawl up my cheeks and chin. Shamefully, I even tried using those antibiotics again. I dipped in to my bag of leftover, half-used prescription tricks. No luck.
So I started researching. I'd seen some temporary improvement, of course, with a switch in my food. Paleo seemed to agree with my skin – at least for awhile – and transitioning to natural skincare had helped my face feel less…angry. I felt like I was on the right path to healing acne naturally, but I needed to really home in (no, not “hone in”) on what was working and what wasn't.
At the time, I was furiously researching ancestral health, focused on the work of Steffan Lindeberg, Loren Cordain, and the book Nutrition and Physical Degeneration. I read anything I could find on diet and acne, acne-free cultures, and how the body uses nutrition to build healthy tissues.
I was floored to realize that despite the change in diet, I still wasn't necessarily incorporating the most nutrient-dense foods that contain the vitamins and minerals that help balance hormones and that feed the skin at the cellular level.
I realized that I didn't just need to eliminate irritating foods. I needed to ramp up my intake of certain vitamins and minerals, as well as support my body in digesting and assimilating them, all while sharpening my natural skincare knowledge.
With this information, I was on my way.
Here's a fun little realization I had along the way: Interestingly, many of the meds and products I'd used in my quest for “decent skin through medicine” were actually based around several derivatives of the nutrients I needed to add to my diet. For example: sulfur, vitamin A, and vitamin D. I was also taking antibiotics, when what I really needed were probiotics.
Of course, while there's nothing wrong with medicine – and I DO NOT advocate ANYONE give up their meds without the help of a doctor and a gradual approach – I realized that, perhaps, these meds were only masking the real problem. I needed better nutrition. I needed to digest my food better. I needed good bacteria instead of no bacteria. My mind was expanding, and at the same time, my skin was really improving!
This led me to research other nutrients I might be missing, and, over time, I've incorporated other super-foods and targeted digestive support to nourish my skin.
Here are a few foods I started with, that got me through this frustrating, seemingly unbeatable flare-up. To this day, years later, I haven't had another!
I began incorporating:
- Sulfur-rich foods including sauerkraut, garlic and egg yolks.
- Other fermented foods, like carrots and beets, which also help with digestion (note: those with SIBO or candida will need to work with a practitioner before incorporating fermented foods). Raw carrots also have estrogen-balancing properties.
- I used coconut oil, as well as other oils topically for their anti-microbial properties (topical coconut oil isn't right for everyone, but I've found that topical tallow balm is pretty much foolproof);
- Judicious sun exposure for a natural source of skin-improving vitamin D (note: the sun can cause oxidation of the acne-causing oils on the face, so you DON'T have to expose your face to the sun. Wear a wide-brimmed hat. Exposing your arms and legs to the sun is sufficient for generating vitamin D)
- Cod liver oil and butter OR emu oil, which provide vitamins A, D, and K2 MK4 – all critical for healthy skin at the cellular level;
- Brewer's yeast from Lewis Labs for a source of nucleic acid and chromium with complimentary B-vitamins. This brand had nearly 140% DV dietary chromium, and unfortunately, a change in supplier means that Lewis Labs no longer has high-chromium brewer's yeast available. I'm stubbornly looking for a similar product, with no luck yet.
I ate these foods consistently BUT NOT OBSESSIVELY. As in, I wasn't eating a bowl of fermented carrots for every meal or guzzling cod liver oil. While I packed the nutrient-dense foods in, that doesn't mean I binged on them. A little goes a long way.
In addition to my Oil Cleansing Method, I began experimenting with other natural remedies from toners to masks to oils on my skin. (I ALWAYS spot-tested first!)
I also began adding other superfoods, like traditional homemade broth and omega-3 rich seafood (I don't recommend omega 3 supplements, as I explain in the Guide, as they do not provide the other critical skin-care nutrients in seafood).
I also added digestive support, and at particularly stressful times in my life I'm careful to support digestion on an ongoing basis as well. For me, stomach acid support and supporting my gut flora were most important; for others, liver support, enzymatic support, and gall bladder support might be needed. (I discuss this in the Guide as well.)
Over time, I've built upon this routine and continued to see amazing, CONSISTENT results, even through episodes of stress AND through the hormonal ups & downs of pregnancy.
Back when things first went downhill, I had everything from large lesions (yes, I picked) to small, hard bumps and the Queen Mother of zits – underground mines – migrating down my neck. Several weeks later, and continuing in the months after I implemented these changes, the improvement was immense, and over time, nothing but a few pink remnants from healed blemishes remained.
To see my skin in action, check out my clear skin secrets video.
I've never returned to the many prescriptions I ditched. And I've never looked back!
Astonishingly, during this time I seemed to overcome the pitfalls of being “loose” at several different points with my everyday food due to weddings and family gatherings, as well as the stress of lots of air travel, all of which usually hold the promise of a few new blemishes, if not horrible breakouts.
There's absolutely NOTHING as exciting as getting and keeping clear skin, and healing acne naturally is an accomplishment that only those who have struggled with skin issues can truly understand.
Often, these kinds of posts inspire as many questions as they give answers. Check out the comments, because you may find what you need there. I absolutely love helping others, but please remember I'm only one gal with a farm and a family to watch over – that's why I put everything I know as a Nutritional Therapy Practitioner and as a person who has healed her skin naturally in the Purely Primal Skincare Guide. Please consider having a look!
Lots of love – and thanks for reading!
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