I could probably write for days about my long-term battle with the largest organ we have… my skin. At a young age I began developing acne and I had a hard time not thinking whyyy meee. I began trying EVERYTHING (which in retrospect probably made things worse for me). My mom was so kind, willing to do whatever we could to get my skin under control. I began biweekly facials with all kinds of creams, masks, steam, mud, flashing lights, you know it I had it. I always bought one of everything when it came to skin care – price was no object. I have probably single handedly kept the cosmetic industry in business and could open up my own shop selling half-used bottles of products that didn’t do what I wanted. I started taking a low-dose estrogen+progesterone birth control pill after my MD determined my acne was hormone-related. I battled through years of hormone-related symptoms but my skin did improve slightly (key word: slightly). As I aged I just learned to ignore it to the best of my ability, but deep down I know my relationship with my skin caused self-esteem issues that began surfacing. My way of dealing with it was to slather on some makeup and try not to look in a mirror.
At 20 I decided I no longer wanted to be on hormonal birth control and I was ready to suffer the consequences if my skin flared up. For the first 3 months BC-free my skin improved, I was almost comfortable enough to leave the house without wearing any makeup at all and I couldn’t believe my luck. Little did I know it was ultimately just the calm before the storm, and on my fourth month I began developing the deepest and most painful cystic acne I had ever experienced in my life. My enter lower half of my face was covered. It got to the point that I was in so much pain I couldn’t bare to open my mouth much wider then to slide a small bite of food in. I could barely speak, let alone let anyone even see me in this state. My mom and I had a trip to Cuba planned during this time and I was able to get away from society and let me skin breath for 7 days while spending as much time in the ocean as possible. I’ve always found that salt water really helps my skin (so great when my parents put in a salt water pool, I basically bathed in it) and the vacation got some of the swelling under control. This went on for months until finally I went back to my doctor to request another form of birth control. A couple months of dosing and my flare-up had subsided making me feel slightly more human again.
Fast-forward to age 23 (aka summer 2013). I again was sick of being on hormonal birth control. I knew it was causing my body turmoil that just wasn’t worth it and after much conversation with my intern at the RSNC (http://www.rsnc.ca/) I decided that my skin looked good enough, people get pimples so what, and it was time to go off the hormones for good. Over the next three months things got progressively better, despite the fact I was under a lot of stress (which is an acne-trigger of mine). I would go weeks without even a single blemish – it was a miracle. I’m not going to lie, I’m still in fear everytime I see a pimple that Armageddon is going to strike again, but for the most part it became clear to me that my relationship with my skin needed to change. People get pimples.
Was it the hormones? I’m not sure – there were many other reasons for me to cease taking my BC and every woman is different. It’s important to discuss your options with your health care provider before making any prescription-related decision. The most important thing I have learnt over the last couple of years is that your skin really is the most important part of your body. It is your largest detoxification organ, and if other methods of elimination aren’t functioning properly, toxins will begin to exit via your skin, causing blemishes. This post may have taken a little bit of a left turn towards hormonal birth control, however, here is what I have found works for me to keep my skin healthy.
1. Water – I will admit I was not much of a water drinker before CCNM. My water usually came in the form of coffee, which is not considered water. When I began pounding the water I noticed a huge improvement in my skin overall. My hair was softer, my skin was brighter, I got to take lots of bathroom breaks from class.. it was great! I try to drink 2L of water per day, passing no judgements on myself on the days that I am forgetful. It’s important to help flush the toxins from our bodies, and if we aren’t peeing things begin sitting stagnate waiting until capacity has been reached. Not to mention we are 75% water – our cells need it to function!
2. Less is more – I was so obsessed with covering everything up I wasn’t taking into consideration that the more layers you put on the less your skin is able to breathe. I would cake on the makeup every morning and touch up throughout the day. My skin never had the chance to catch it’s breath. It took me years to find a foundation I liked that doesn’t cause me to break out, but more importantly I use it sparingly. Just a light dusting to even out on days I feel the need, and I wash my face typically first thing when I get home.
3. Clean, natural products – Like I said, I tried EVERYTHING. The problem with everything is that 90% of it is full of skin damaging chemicals and toxins which promote the problem instead of reduce. You want to get toxins out of your body not slather them on. What’s working for me now is a hydrating face wash by Himalaya Herbal Healthcare. It’s gluten, SLS, paraben, phthalate, colour/fragrance free and isn’t tested on animals (bonus!) and can be purchased at Noah’s Natural Foods.
4. Get that gut functioning – I know it seems strange to think your blemishes might be caused by something going on below the belly-button, but when toxins can’t exit via the porcelain-bowl, they begin to exit via the skin. It’s important to have your bowels functioning properly for so many reasons I can’t even count. Understanding what foods your gut likes and which it can’t handle is an important first step in optimizing elimination. Drinking lots of water, optimizing gut flora with a probiotic, and being conscious of our dietary choices will get everything functioning smoothly and lead to a clearer complexion.
5. Love yourself. You would be surprised what power acceptance has. When I began acknowledging my poor relationship with myself many shifts started happening, one of them being a clearer complexion. You are your own worst critic and at the end of the day loving every bit of yourself will be some of the most powerful medicine (and it’s much cheaper then that new product on the shelf).
My skin isn’t perfect, but it’s still my skin and I’m comfortable in it. It took me 11 years to get to this point but I no longer think the Universe is punishing me with acne. If anything, my experience with acne is going to better equip me with the knowledge, tools and compassion to help those who come to see me in practice with skin complaints. They can teach us as much as they want in school, but at the end of the day I’m going to be a good doctor because I am able to learn from experience. So take care of your skin! You need it to protect you for your entire life.
In love & health,