I’ll warn you now – this post is a long one. But, if you’re like me and you’ve suffered from acne for years without seeing any improvement, this will be worth the read.
Acne vulgaris is the most common skin condition in the United States, especially for adolescents. If your pores become clogged with dead skin and excess sebum (an oil produced by your sebaceous glands designed to protect your skin), it manifests into a pimple. Although everybody experiences acne from time to time, some people are more prone to breakouts than others. Acne can also worsen over time: some people don’t experience acne until their 30s, or even their 40s. I started experiencing acne when I was in high school. I would get a pimple here and there, but in time they usually went away. When I started college, the added stress of my rigorous coursework and the change in my diet caused me to experience more severe and frequent breakouts. I tried new skin products, but nothing seemed to work. I ended up taking matters into my own hands (literally), and I would end up picking at my face and popping pimples. This was ultimately the WORST thing I could have done, because it left my face spotted with horrible scars and hyperpigmentation that would take months to heal. It did take months, and eventually years, but after endless trial and error, I was finally able to treat my acne (and prevent new breakouts from forming).
For the longest time, I thought acne could only be treated by some miracle product (*ahem*, Proactiv). But no matter how many creams, deep treatments, or DIY remedies I tried, nothing could get rid of my stubborn acne. I began to research the causes of acne, hoping that if I learned what’s actually causing my breakouts, I could prevent them from forming in the first place. I learned that acne is often a key indicator of a deeper issue going on inside your body, and you can often pinpoint the original problem based on where your breakouts tend to be. This way, you can heal your body from the inside out. Here are some root causes of acne you may not even be thinking about-
Does most of your acne lie on your forehead? It may be linked to digestive issues. Your body is designed to filter out toxins from food and the environment, and those toxins leave your body as waste. But, if your gastrointestinal tract is not functioning properly, your body will find another way to excrete those toxins (i.e. through your skin). Acne based on the lower forehead is linked to problems in the intestines, such as IBS. It could also be signs of a bacterial imbalance, especially if you’ve taken antibiotics. Antibiotics mess up your body’s microbiome by killing off “good” bacteria that your gut needs to properly break down food.
Acne in between your eyebrows tends to be associated with toxic buildup in the liver. You may break out in this spot if you’ve eaten a big meal right before bed, or possibly if you went out and had a lot to drink the night before.
Stress is the most common cause of acne, but why? When you are feeling stressed, your adrenal glands begin to produce an androgen called cortisol. Releasing this hormone is the body’s natural way of dealing with fight or flight situations. When your body is in a chronic state of stress, and your adrenals are constantly producing cortisol, that becomes your body’s primary focus. Certain functions like the digestive system, the endocrine system, and the immune system are put on the back burner, and the resulting symptoms include weight gain or weight loss, fatigue, and acne.
Hormonal acne and stress-induced acne are quite similar. If you are a woman, you might see these breakouts pop up around your neck, jawline, and chin right around your menstrual cycle, or possibly during pregnancy. This is because hormonal balances tend to drastically change around these times. High levels of testosterone (another type of androgen) can cause acne, also. This is because testosterone increases the production of sebum.
One of the most beneficial ways to treat acne is making a few key changes to your diet. Although there is no one food that “causes” acne, there are certain foods that may be contributing to your breakouts. Dairy, for example, often comes from pregnant cows that are fed growth hormones. Our bodies convert these hormones like testosterone, which can cause a breakout. The “Clear Skin Diet” suggests that by limiting foods high in sugar, you can minimize breakouts. Sugar spikes insulin production, which in turn increases androgen production. A diet rich in anti-inflammatory foods can help prevent acne. Try to eat lots of antioxidant-rich foods, such as berries and green leafy vegetables. If you aren’t a big fan of salads, try combining these ingredients into a smoothie with other sweet fruits like banana or pineapple. Another excellent food group is fish high in Omega-3 fatty acids, like salmon, tuna and mackerel, and also nuts like almonds and walnuts. The most important thing, however, is to drink water. Hydration is key! Staying hydrated helps to flush the toxins out of your system.
If most of your acne is stress-induced, try to think about what’s causing stress in your life. If it’s caused by a stressful week of exams or a tough week at work, that’s okay. These things happen. But if your studies are leaving you in a chronic state of stress, perhaps it’s time to consider if this is a career path you truly enjoy or not. Is your stress caused by a toxic relationship? If so, there is nothing wrong with removing yourself from toxic people.
In addition to making some of these key internal changes, it’s extremely important to find a skincare routine and stick to it. Don’t get discouraged when your acne doesn’t disappear overnight. It may take a few weeks to see results, but these results will last long term. Here are some of the products I’ve used that significantly improved my skin.
THE ACNE.ORG REGIMEN
The Acne.org regimen is a 3 step process that treats acne while also limiting irritation. You can start off by taking a quiz on their website to find out which treatment is best for your skin type and the severity of your acne. Their 3-step treatment comes with step-by-step instructions for how to apply their products most effectively. On their website it states that you can expect completely clear skin in 3-4 months, or faster for some people (It took me about 4 months to completely clear my face). In addition to the products sold on their website, Acne.org is also full of information about different types of acne treatments, their ingredients, and also ingredients to avoid.
The first step to the Acne.org regimen is the lathering foam cleanser. I used to use a lot of harsh exfoliating cleansers (apricot scrubs, sea salt scrubs, you name it) that were actually harming my skin by causing micro tears from the intense scrubbing. This product helped limit irritation, and it did a great job at removing makeup.
2.5% Benzoyl Peroxide Treatment
I was skeptical about using a Benzoyl Peroxide treatment because I was afraid it would dry my skin out. I suffered from dry skin for a while, and although this product did cause a bit of flakiness for the first couple weeks, my skin quickly developed a tolerance to the product. You start out with a very small amount, and slowly work your way up to using 2 full pumps. Benzoyl peroxide (BP) kills the P. acnes bacteria that’s known to cause acne. It also unblocks the drainage of sebum, so your pores stay clear. This product was a key essential to clearing my acne. Be very careful when using a product that contains BP- it can bleach fabric if you aren’t careful. Wash your hands after you apply it, and wait for it to fully absorb before you let anything touch your face (like a T-shirt or a pillowcase).
Moisturizer (with Licochalcone)
Licochalcone, the active ingredient in the Acne.org moisturizer, is derived from licorice root extract, and it’s both an anti-inflammatory and an antioxidant. It is soothing, and also helps control the production of oil. It is very important not to skip this step, especially when using the BP solution, because you want your skin to stay moisturized. If your skin is too try, your body will start to overproduce oil in an attempt to hydrate your skin. Keeping your skin moisturized will prevent this from happening.
AHA+ (10% Glycolic Acid)
I began using the AHA+ moisturizer about two months into using the regimen. This moisturizer differs from the original moisturizer because it contains alpha-hydroxy acids, or AHA’s. These unique chemicals (derived from foods such as citrus fruits, apples or grapes) are excellent chemical exfoliates. Glycolic acid, one type of AHA, is excellent at fading acne scars and hyper-pigmentation. Since it is a chemical exfoliate, this helps with flakiness that you may experience with the BP treatment. I use this product at night, 2-3 times per week in place of my regular moisturizer. After a few weeks, I noticed that the Glycolic Acid was working a little too well, to the point where I could literally rub dead skin off my face. I ended up replacing my cleanser with a gentle exfoliating cleanser with Salicylic Acid, so I could slough off those dead skin cells in the morning. That combination has worked extremely well, and my skin looks much brighter. Salicylic acid is another excellent acne-fighting ingredient, but it’s not as strong as BP.
I know some of these ingredient names may seem scary, but don’t let the word “acid” scare you away. A lemon is more acidic than glycolic acid, for example, and you wouldn’t be afraid to touch a lemon to your skin. However, if you do have extremely sensitive skin, there are plenty of all-natural alternatives out there.
I hope that you find this information useful, and hopefully you learned a bit more about what’s causing your acne. Everybody’s skin is different, and it may take a while to find the perfect product combination or to see fully clear skin, but don’t give up! Finding a helpful skincare regimen, developing a healthy digestive system, and adopting a low-stress, wholesome lifestyle has had a serious impact on the quality of my skin. All these changes I’ve made have helped me become a happier, more confident person. I don’t feel like I have to hide behind makeup anymore. Although my skin isn’t perfectly clear, it certainly has come a long way. Hopefully by making some of these key changes, you’ll see a major difference in your skin, too.