As a young child, it’s hard to wear your health on your skin. I have an autoimmune condition, eczema, and that made me uncomfortable physically and emotionally as a young girl. Kids don’t always filter their thoughts so as you can imagine, I heard a lot of comments about my irritated, red, rash laden skin. It was awful! In fact, the horror of it punctured my spirit so deeply that it sent me on a life-long mission to uncover the root cause of the health issues that plague us the most, using natural ingredients from around the world as part of celebrating my signature “food as a medicine” approach.
While any health condition evokes my deepest compassion for the suffering and challenges it causes, I have a special place in my heart for issues of the skin since I have been through it personally. Since we literally wear our skin every day, can’t take it off and can only mask it so much with makeup, there is a lot of vulnerability that comes with imperfect skin. Additionally, skin conditions can take a long time to heal. The skin is our largest organ and it happens to be the final organ downstream of deep-seated inflammation occurring below its surface. If our digestion, absorption or elimination of food is improperly working, it can show up on our skin. If our detoxification pathways aren’t optimally functioning or we suffer from hormonal imbalances, our skin will reveal it. If we are stressed, lacking sleep, skimping on healthy exercise or our diet is heavy on processed food and lacking nutrient density, our skin will give us away.
As a “girl’s girl,” I love helping women unearth the possible reasons why their skin is troubling them. The one problem I hear the most about, but least expect to, is adult acne. According to the Journal of American Academy of Dermatology, 54 percent of women older than age 25 have some adult acne. Fourteen percent of adult women in and beyond their 40’s still suffer from acne. The cost of acne is around $1.5 billion a year and is spent on products, lotions, potions, and creams that don’t really work (you know what I mean!). Yet using too much product can actually make acne worse and even encourage it. Anything that can cause excessive peeling, dryness, or irritation disrupts the skin’s natural ecology and throws off the bacterial balance necessary for clear, beautiful skin.
If you suffer from adult acne and you can’t fathom aging with this uncomfortable condition trust me, there is a solution! And instead of shelling out your money and time to products in your local drugstore or natural apothecary, you simply need to redirect your resources to making some simple switches in your diet and lifestyle to improve your skin. While some acne may not fully respond to this protocol, most will. (Please work with your local nutritionist or specialist to adjust this to your needs).
What Is Acne?
Acne is a product of genetics, hormonal imbalance, inflammation, dietary factors, digestive imbalance, toxicity, weakened immunity and most likely a combination of many factors. Acne is either open (think blackhead) or closed (think whitehead).
The Story Of Acne:
- When your pore’s opening becomes blocked, often due to dead skin cells improperly shedding because of hormonal imbalance OR dietary compounds like excessive sugar or dairy then oil production occurs at higher rates. This is often due to excess testosterone, brought upon by insulin issues or poor hormone metabolism.
- Bacteria then grow and infect the pore, and because the pore is now clogged, and the environment inside the pore is anaerobic (no oxygen) bacteria flourish and multiply.
- The redness you see on your skin is the inflammation occurring around and in the pore.
When the pore ruptures underneath the skin it causes inflammatory cytokines to spill out into the surrounding skin tissue and exasperate the swelling, pain, and inflammation. This is how cystic acne forms. So, don’t pick!
Acne Loves Insulin Resistance
Overproduction of the hormone insulin creates inflammation and increases the production of testosterone. Insulin is produced anytime we eat, but even more so when carbohydrates are consumed. And especially when refined and processed carbs are eaten. Insulin (either overproduction of it or cellular resistance to it) issues don’t just stop with testosterone. A hormone called IGF1 (insulin-like growth factor 1) has the ability to stimulate cell growth, which is one of the reasons insulin is linked to chronic diseases like cancer and obesity. In terms of acne, too much insulin circulating increases freely circulating IGF1. The “free” part here is important because it’s what’s unbound and available in our system that is the most active, or potent.
IGF1 can lead to increased stimulation of keratinocytes, leading to inflammation and blocked pores. High levels of circulating insulin also impact other hormones related to acne production. High insulin can decrease the hormones responsible for natural cell death, called apoptosis. This is a healthy type of death that we want occurring in the body. Delays in cell death not only increase inflammation but they also lead to more cells available to clog pores and form that annoying acne we despise!
Birth control pills, creams, and even supplements may often help subdue the inflammation component of acne but they aren’t a long-term solution since they simply address the symptoms of acne — not the root cause. Understanding why you have acne is key so you can treat it properly. Not knowing the root cause of your acne and treating it with a generic solution is like assuming that since people need to wear shoes, any shoe will do. As women, we certainly respect the power a great shoe has on our day!
Comfort, style, support, color, and the little things like width and fabric can all make a huge difference in how we both function and feel every day. We are all unique. So while the condition may be the same, (acne), how we treat the condition will be different for each of us.
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That said there are some universal solutions that will work for all. Here are my nine tried and true solutions for controlling your worst breakout!
Cut back on sugary, starchy foods, especially flour-based products. They raise insulin levels higher than your body was naturally designed to handle. Gluten products are especially high in transglutaminase. Transglutaminase is an enzyme that helps digest wheat, but it can be inflammatory. The more of it around, the more likely a person susceptible to inflammatory acne will be predisposed to a breakout. Gluten is also known as one of the most common allergens. You may not have Celiac disease but perhaps gluten products still provoke an inflammatory response in you. It is possible to be sensitive yet not allergic to food. Other foods you might react to but not be truly allergic to are dairy, soy, corn, eggs, yeast, and peanuts. If you suspect a sensitivity to one of these or another food not listed here please try removing it from your diet for a few weeks and see how your skin responds.
That said, regardless if you have an overreaction or not to dairy I strongly suggest limiting or completely cutting dairy out of your diet for a minimum of six weeks but possibly indefinitely if you have long struggled with acne. Dairy is loaded with hormones and even the best grass-fed and pasture-raised versions can still elicit a breakout due to the naturally occurring hormones present in all dairy. Dairy is a calf’s first food and intended to increase its growth by raising insulin so it doesn’t matter how “clean” your dairy is, the hormones naturally in it can impact you if you are sensitive.
Eat more healthy fats — especially healthy omega-3 fatty acids. Additionally, ensure the proper balance between omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids. Too many omega-6 fatty acids (such as vegetable oils like corn, safflower, sunflower, canola, and soy) can create inflammation. Trade in your cottonseed and peanut oils for healthier options like virgin coconut, avocado, olive and my favorite, tea seed oil. If dairy is tolerated, small amounts of grass-fed ghee are okay to rotate. Maintain a balance 1:4 omega 6: omega 3 respectively. This might look like 1 gram of Evening Primrose Oil to 4 to 6 grams omega-3 fatty acids.
Supplement with polyphenols. Scientists have identified more than 500 unique components of plant chemicals, called polyphenols, which help protect plants from disease and environmental threats. These polyphenols are like little natural nutritional powerhouses, and many of them have been studied for their link to reduced risk of chronic disease and potential to promote a longer more healthy life. Many of the health benefits associated with polyphenols are related to their ability to combat cell damage known as “antioxidant” activity. Specific polyphenols are exceptionally poignant in steering our bodies towards healing and repair. Since acne is a condition requiring intensive repair work to the skin, supplying yourself with what I call, “Powerphenols” is a brilliant way to supercharge your healing process. Take a daily dose of EGCG, berberine, resveratrol-trans, and curcumin to begin your skin’s restoration process.
Get sound sleep! Sleep helps your body to manage stress properly, and when you manage stress, you’re better able to manage inflammation. Try getting to bed on time for your unique needs. Curious about what kind of sleep schedule really works for you? Please take my sleep quiz found in my new book, Glow15.
Incorporate High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) and Resistance Training (RET) into your workouts to regulate circulating insulin, lower blood sugar and control cravings for refined, and sugary carbs.
Apply targeted topicals to your skin to stimulate a biological detox inside your cells called autophagy. Activating autophagy helps your body automate the detox process that removes dead skin cells, diminishing the opportunity for pores to become clogged. Use special ingredients that have been shown to activate autophagy including caffeine, ceramides, trehalose, and polyphenols. In Glow15 you’ll find some of my favorite recipes for making DIY topicals to heal and repair skin.
Swap out your morning coffee loaded with cream and sugar, and try my favorite beverage, rich in polyphenols, healthy fats, and moderate caffeine. I call it AutophaTea since the ingredients all independently activate autophagy. You can find the recipe here.
If you’ve ever been too self-conscious to go to an event, hang out with friends, go on a date, stand up tall and proud at work or leave your house without even a touch of concealer on, then I urge you beautiful one, please try my simple and effective 15-day program in Glow15. You will be so relieved to find several simple solutions to healing the imbalances at the root of your acne. Your skin will undoubtedly improve and your confidence will grow as you blossom into the radiant woman you are and always have been!