First impressions are a big deal. Research shows that we often make judgements about someone within 7-17 seconds of meeting someone new. 55% of a person’s opinion is determined by physical appearance and 7% of the opinion is based on the words that are used. That 55% is based on what the person is wearing, their hairstyle, makeup, smell, and physical appearance. With that being said, it is no wonder why so many people are concerned about the health of their skin. After all, a person’s face is what you’re looking at when you’re talking to them (unless you’re a man talking to a woman with a revealing top).
Many of my clients socially isolate themselves when they are having a breakout. They may not even realize that they are doing it until we talk about it during our consulting session. They cover themselves in lots of makeup (which often makes it worse), can’t look at other people in the eyes when they talk to them, avoid social events, or act completely different than their true personality because they are uncomfortable in social situations. Many of them think people are focusing on their acne instead of listening to them. Their confidence plummets. To be honest, I never really notice someone’s acne unless they bring it up. I think people have a lot of body dysmorphic tendencies when it comes to their skin, when it may really not be THAT bad. If this resonates with you, give yourself a big hug and know that you’re not alone. There are ways to overcome this!
On my client intake form, I ask the women I work with what their main concerns are. I want to know what THEY would like to work on and fix. Of course, I could jump to the areas that I personally see as the most concerning, but I truly want to work WITH my clients instead of just giving them a random protocol. Can you guess what some of the most common concerns are?
2. Weight gain
3. Disordered eating thoughts/behaviors
Of course, things like infertility and menopause symptoms are very often brought up as well. I can almost bet that when a client returns the form, she will mention one of those 4 things. The sad part is that if a woman presents with these symptoms to a doctor, the doctor’s suggested remedy will often be a prescription medication or a shrug of the shoulder. Medications, like Accutane, just treat the symptom, not the underlying cause. That’s NOT okay. There are so many natural things we can do to help reduce, eliminate, and prevent these common symptoms. After all, our body is meant to heal, right?
So let’s break down one of these four issues: hormonal acne.
Why does it happen during the menstrual cycle?
The typical hormones that drive acne include IGF-1, insulin, DHEA, cortisol, and testosterone. It’s important to note that neither one of these is bad or inherently causes acne. It’s almost always a result of the hormone(s) elevating above the desirable level which triggers the symptoms. When you add in another trigger (such as impaired gut health), skin problems ensue.
When do you typically notice acne pop up? Many of the women I work with state that their acne is the worst the week or so before their period. That makes perfect sense when we look at how hormones are fluctuating in the body. Testosterone can peak mid cycle (around day 14) along with estrogen, setting up the perfect storm for your skin.
PCOS is a specific type of hormonal imbalance that is very common in women of reproductive age. It presents with many symptoms, including acne. If you’re dealing with PCOS, it’s very likely that your hormonal acne is caused by surges in insulin and/or testosterone that are commonly seen in this population.
Why does testosterone cause a problem? Testosterone can stimulate oil-producing glands that cause excess oil to accumulate and clog pores. The clogged pores can become overwhelmed with bacteria, which your immune system tries to fight. While your immune system is trying to help solve the problem, the attack can cause redness, swelling, elevated pores, and pus (yum!).
Similar things happen when your blood sugar is elevated. The excess insulin causes inflammation in your body which can result in clogged pores, redness, and acne. The elevated blood sugar can also cause your skin cells to multiple rapidly (through surges in IGF-1) and not shed in time, leading to thickened skin that can’t breathe, resulting in skin eruptions.
Cystic acne, a more severe form of acne, is also often related to hormonal imbalances, inflammation, and an overproduction of sebum leading to blocked pores.
How one goes about treating acne regardless of the source, is essentially the same and requires one to identify the underlying cause. Fixing the gut, lowering inflammation, eliminating food allergies/sensitivities, reducing stress, clearing the liver, and cleaning up one’s environment/diet go a long way!
Who is the most at risk?
1. Those who are unaware of possible food sensitivities/allergies that they are dealing with
-Especially dairy (conventional poses the biggest risks), eggs (particularly the whites), soy, gluten, and nuts
2. Those who have a history of antibiotics
Do you know that acne is often due to an imbalance in our gut flora? Whenever we have problems with our skin (including acne, eczema, and keratosis pilaris) we MUST look at the gut. This is something conventional doctors often miss. In fact, they are the ones giving antibiotics that are killing all the good bacteria and causing an overflow of bad bacteria.
3. Those dealing with inflammation
-This could happen in athletes, smokers, those eating a processed diet, autoimmune conditions, etc.
4. Those dealing with blood sugar imbalances
-This could happen in diabetics or people who just eat more carbohydrates/sugar in general
5. Those dealing with hormonal imbalances
-Especially those mentioned above (IGF-1, testosterone, cortisol, insulin)
6. Those with a backed up liver (needing a detox)
-Your body isn’t able to clear all of the environmental toxins and becomes overwhelmed/congested. This can manifest on the skin.
Where is your acne?
I find face mapping fascinating. It’s an Eastern medicine concept that believes that the location of your trouble spots can tell you what is going on internally. It may help point to your underlying issue.
Forehead: Digestive problems, small intestines/liver issues, irregular sleep schedule, stress, sugary foods
Temples: Poor lymphatic circulation, gallbladder issues, processed foods
Between Brows: Weak heart, too much alcohol/tobacco
Nose: Poor diet, GI imbalance, poor blood circulation
Left cheek: Liver problems, overeating, stress, GI problems, dirty phones, pillow, makeup brushes
Right cheek: Lungs, allergies, stress, GI problems, dirty phones, pillow, makeup brushes
Lip area: GI problems, too much spicy or fried foods, tiny whiteheads can indicate ovulation
Chin and jaw: Hormonal problems, kidney imbalance
What are some natural solutions?
The main focus is to fix the underlying cause, which could be different from one woman to the next. It’s not a bad idea to work on all of the strategies below, but you’ll want to make sure to concentrate on your “weakest link.”
1. Do a detox
I run these very often with my clients as a way to clear their liver, excess hormones, and set their body up for success.
2. Do an elimination diet
Paleo is a great place to start to avoid common food allergens. Bonus points for supplementing your diet with lots of skin health promoting foods such as avocados, fatty fish, turmeric, berries, green leafy vegetables, liver, papaya, flaxseed.
3. Change your skin care routine
Do your best to eliminate beauty products with undesirable chemical agents and fragrances. I use the Skin Deep database from the Environmental Working group to help guide my beauty product purchases.
4. Balance your blood sugar by eliminating refined sugar and eating carbohydrates to tolerance
5. Support the gut
I always recommend a high quality, multi-strain probiotic supplement and the consumption of fermented foods (such as kimchi, sauerkraut, pickles, and kombucha). My clients and I focus on using other gut healing herbs and strategies to support optimal GI function. If you’re not having a formed bowel movement at least once a day, you’ll want to work on this asap!
6. Get a facial
-Not only will it help relax you (cortisol/stress can also contribute to occasional breakouts), but clearing the skin is a refreshing way to eliminate built up bacteria and free your pores.
7. Consider topicals that help heal the skin:
-Tea tree oil (about 5%) mixed with a carrier (such as coconut oil) can help reduce redness.
-Make a green tea serum (use about 2 T. loose green tea leaves to 1 cup boiling filtered water). Steep for 10 minutes, let it cool, and use it as a refreshing, anti-inflammatory daily wash.
-Apple cider vinegar: dilute a few tsp of raw, unfiltered ACV with water and apply to skin. This is a great anti-bacterial, anti-fungal agent.
-Coconut oil: used as a moisturizer
8. Check for nutrient deficiencies.
– Vitamin A and zinc are often culprits. You can check your micronutrient status through a test called Spectracell, which I use for my clients, or you can just make sure to add foods rich in zinc and Vitamin A to your diet. These include things like oysters and pumpkin seeds (zinc) and egg yolk and liver (for vitamin A). Of course, there are other food sources that may be more appealing, but these are my nutrient-dense favorites 🙂
9. Smart supplements.
-Some of the supplements I use in my practice work by balancing hormones, especially for those dealing with PCOS. Some practitioners recommend evening primrose oil, fermented cod liver oil, DIM, zinc, fish oil, and a good B complex.
There are SO many other things I want to discuss about skin health, but instead of posting a novel, I’ll leave it there for now.
If you are struggling with skin issues, I highly recommend checking out Skintervention by Liz Wolfe. She goes into many of these topics in greater detail with lots of action steps! I discuss all of these potential issues and solutions (and more!) with my clients to help them customize a plan to resolve their skin frustrations. I’d love to help you too!
Now, let’s hear some of the strategies you’ve found to help your skin troubles!