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 detailed strategies that I used are in the upcoming second edition of my Purely Primal Skincare Guide (get on the list for updates on its release).
The basics: I used whole foods, digestive support, and natural skincare 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.
(During that time, I became a Nutritional Therapy Practitioner specializing in, among other things, skin care and healing.)
It’s a process, but a rewarding one. My skin has been clear now for more than TEN YEARS, after a decade of struggling.
Remember, above all, that my transformation wasn’t just about topical strategies. No amount of oil cleansing can fix a nutritional or digestive issue, and nutritional and digestive issues can set the stage for skin problems of any kind, from hormonal acne to eczema.
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. Better, smarter skincare? That’s just another way to be kind to your skin.
For me, from around 2002-2008, I struggled with just about everything: hormonal acne, dry, flaky skin, oily skin, blackheads and redness (sometimes all at once).
I took at least four prescriptions, including one oral antibiotic (sorry, gut bacteria), another topical antibiotic, a sulfur-based topical, a benzoyl peroxide topical, and a topical retinoid.
During that time, I also tried everything from Proactiv to Arbonne.
Things were looking pretty good for awhile.
But suddenly, the rebound effect came on in full force.
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.
FYI: because I “came of age” in the “before times” (ie: the pre-smartphone, not everyone puts every available photo of themselves on the internet times), before-and-after photos are scarce. I did have a friend snap a photo of my problem skin with a disposable camera in college, so I could show my dermatologist. 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 relative to my time on earth, and sorry, but I’m OLD.
Back to my story. Suddenly, my jawline acne had flared up again, and with a vengeance. I couldn’t shake it – it wouldn’t go away. It began to crawl up my cheeks and chin and down my neck.
I tried everything – 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, when I switched my food from the Standard American Diet (and round upon round of crash dieting) to a real food focused, Paleo-style diet. Paleo had definitely helped my face feel less…angry.
I felt like I had a glimpse of what might work, but I needed to home in (no, not “hone in”) on what would really create transformation.
At the time, I was furiously researching how food impacts health, in particular “modern diseases” like acne and eczema.
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 my dietary changes, 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.
With this information, I was on my way.
Here’s a fun little realization I had along the way: many of the prescriptions and products I’d used in my quest for “decent skin through conventional wisdom” 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 was to nurture the good bacteria in my gut.
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 strategies I started with to get me through that frustrating, seemingly unbeatable flare-up. And to this day, years later, I haven’t had another!
- Adding sulfur-rich foods in small amounts, including sauerkraut, garlic and egg yolks.
- Adding small amounts of fermented foods, like carrots and beets, while I was working on digestion.
- Eating raw carrot salad for its hormone-balancing properties (as outlined by Ray Peat, Ph.D)
- 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).
- Supplementing with cod liver oil, which provides critical skin-nourishing vitamins.
- Supplementing with brewer’s yeast from Lewis Labs for a source of nucleic acid and chromium with complimentary B-vitamins. Lewis Labs 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. That said, any brewer’s yeast can be beneficial.
I ate the foods above 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’ll explain in the next edition of the Guide.
I also added digestive support, and at particularly stressful times in my life I’ve been 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’ll discuss this the Guide 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 land 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.
I’ve never returned to the many prescriptions I ditched. And I’ve never looked back!
Astonishingly, after going through this process, I noticed that I can be “looser” with my everyday diet and withstand the types of stress that used to cause major breakouts.
There’s absolutely NOTHING like getting and keeping clear skin when you’ve been on the bad-skin merry-go-round for years, 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 full-time family to watch over – that’s why I’m putting everything I know as a Nutritional Therapy Practitioner and as a person who has healed her skin naturally in the next edition of my Purely Primal Skincare Guide.
Lots of love – and thanks for reading!