The other day, I was trying to find a picture of me when I was in high school to show my kids. I couldn’t find one because I was so photo shy at that time… mainly because of my acne (and regular teenage girl insecurities). At that time, I tried every natural remedy for acne I could find, and none of them worked.
Tea tree oil, slathering various types of food on my face, even natural cleansers. Nothing worked. Certainly, part of it was hormonal, but there was also something deeper going on and nothing seemed to be working.
Dermatologists suggested things like Acutane, antibiotics, birth control pills and strong facial cleansers. The only one I ever tried was the prescription strength cleaners with Benzoyl peroxide and Salicylic acid. I found that it dried my skin out but didn’t make the breakouts stop, so I just had dry skin AND acne instead.
As a teenage girl, this was devastating, and I eventually decided that nothing would work and resigned myself to a future of scars and thick makeup.
The hormonal changes of pregnancy helped my acne somewhat, making me realize that there was an internal and hormonal connection that was contributing to my skin problems.
As I often do, I started researching and decided that since I hadn’t gotten answers or help from conventional methods, alternative remedies were worth a try. I also researched in detail the gut/skin connection and how hormones affected skin.
Slowly and finally, I started to see improvement. I kept a log of what helped and what didn’t along the way, and I can now say I’m acne free (and scar free).
Skin Health from the Inside Out
One thing I learned in the process of fixing my skin, was that there isn’t an overnight solution and (at least for me) the problem was as much internal as external.
When we isolate the skin and try to treat it externally as an independent organ, we miss a tremendous number of internal factors.
I was shocked to learn that those with digestive problems like Crohn’s Disease and IBS were also more likely to have skin problems, and certain medications that helped with skin conditions were also helpful to digestive troubles.(source) One study also found that those with bacterial overgrowth in the gut were more likely to suffer from severe skin conditions like acne. (source)
At the same time, I discovered accidentally that certain foods and supplements gave me the ability to tan without burning for the first time in my life (and essentially even changed my skin tone).
I found that those with leaky gut were more likely to suffer from cystic acne and skin troubles, and as we did the GAPS protocol to heal my son’s gut problems and allergies, my skin improved too.
Though the specifics will certainly vary by individual, addressing gut problems and improving gut health are important steps to dealing with acne. The process is slow, but lasting. The specific things I found helpful in improving my gut health and inadvertently, my skin health are:
- Taking a good quality probiotic. I’ve taken several over the years, but the one that seemed most helpful for acne was this probiotic. I’ve also been taking Black mineral powder lately and while my acne is already gone, it has seemed to improve my skin.
- Fat Soluble Vitamins: Once I added Fermented Cod Liver Oil to my daily regimen (years ago), my skin started to improve and it has continually gotten better over time. I also noticed I got fewer stretch marks when I was taking FCLO during pregnancy and using natural products on my stomach.
- Gelatin/Collagen: I’m a big fan of gelatin and collagen powder for many reasons, but I credit these with speeding the healing of my skin from years of acne. I also often hear “You look way too young to have five kids” and I credit gelatin/collagen with these comments as well. Two great natural brands are Primal Kitchen and Vital Proteins.
- L-Glutamine & HCL: I also started taking L-Glutamine for leaky gut and gut health, and it seemed to have a big impact on my skin as well. I still take l-Glutamine daily on an empty stomach to help with gut and skin health. I also still take Betaine HCL to improve my digestion and skin health.
I personally found that balancing hormones was a big factor for me. Hormone balance is a moving target, especially for women, but these are the steps that helped me. Several close friends had their acne drastically improve just by removing sugary drinks and pasteurized dairy (which also make sense in light of the gut connection) so that is a great place to start if you still consume those.
Topical Remedies for Acne
As I worked to fix my internal problems that were contributing to my acne, I found that external remedies actually started to work and seemed to speed the process.
I’m convinced that these still would not have worked if I hadn’t been addressing the internal aspects too, but in combination with addressing gut health, these helped:
- Using the oil cleansing method each night before bed or in the shower each day
- Raw honey as a supplemental face wash or gentle mask a few times a week
- A deep cleansing healing clay mud mask once or twice per week
- A probiotic skin cream (see below – skin biome) – recipe coming soon
- During the adjustment period, diluted apple cider vinegar (2/3 water ad 1/3 raw ACV) helped as a toner used after face washing
- Sea Spray calming salt mist for skin also helped balance the oils on my skin
Missing Link: The Skin Microbiome
Science is just starting to understand the role of microbes in skin health and I suspect that we will see a rise in skin-biome related companies and products in the next few years.
The basic idea is just as we have a microbiome in the gut, we also have a microbiome in our mouths, on our skin and in other parts of the body (source). Some emerging research suggests that probiotics and other substances that support the skin microbiome can reduce skin inflammation (source), repair the skin barrier and reduce acne (source).
There is even research on probiotic and prebiotic cosmetics and face creams (my recipes for this coming soon) that would help repair the skin on a micro level (source) and scientists are studying the possibility of topical probiotic creams and treatments (source).
Ironically, my homemade makeup powder uses arrowroot, which studies are showing can work as a prebiotic to improve the life of probiotics, which might be one reason some readers noticed that it helped their acne.
TIP: For a short term way to deliver probiotics to the skin, I like mixing a tablespoon of organic yogurt with a capsule of probiotics and rubbing on the skin. I leave on for 10 minutes and wash off.
Bringing it all Together
For me, finally getting rid of my acne required a combination of the above approaches and I can’t stress enough that this is not an overnight process! For me, it took focusing on my gut and hormones before the external remedies helped and I think this is a key factor that is often ignored with acne.
The skin biome connection is just emerging, but I’m also confident that we will continue to learn more about how bacteria balance affects skin health.
Have you ever struggled with acne? What remedies or conventional treatments seemed to help you?