Since my skin confessions began back in January, I’ve shared my trials and tribulations about battling adult acne. There have been some successes and some failures: I’ve changed my skincare routine, I did a cleanse, switched up my diet (after many iterations), and changed the way I deal with stress. It’s now been eight months of self-testing and elimination but I think I’ve found a balance, and gotten my breakouts under control (for now). And while dermatologists and even my naturopath tell me that there’s no ‘cure’ for acne, I thought I’d share what I found on my journey towards clear-skin.
#1: Diet is a factor (ugh).
I started with no red meat and less sugar. Both my aunt and brother have complexion issues when they eat pork and beef so I figured I must have the same intolerance. Wrong. After two red-meat-free months I was still breaking out, and just as badly. Then, I tried a food cleanse (check it out here) and ate no red meat, dairy, sugar and bad carbs. While I experienced less breakouts, it was still bad enough to determine that these foods weren’t the main triggers. My naturopath, Dr.Sapna warned me that everyone reacts differently. What works for one person—say, cutting back on red meat—may not work for the next. “Even in nutrition science, it’s all hypothesizing,” says Dr.Sapna. “Maybe it’s one thing for one person, but that may not apply to the next.”
What she did recommend in my case was to cut out dairy and eggs—commonly known as key acne-triggers. (Usually, but remember, everyone is different). But, before I could protest she mentioned that I could start this experiment by cutting out only soft, ‘wet’ cheeses like brie and camembert, and milk, yoghurt, ice cream and sour cream. Hard cheeses like chedder, gouda and those found in cheese fondue (the cheese that’s melted down—Appenzeller, Gruyere, sharp chedder, Emmentaler) are low in moisture and totally fine. Even butter and eggs used in small amounts when baking and cooking, were acceptable. Phew. Now that’s manageable….
Armed with this knowledge that I didn’t have to be completely miserable for the next few months, I made the appropriate changes. I now take my lattes with almond milk, my yoghurt is from coconuts, and sadly, eggs (the protein is found in the white part of the egg, not the yolk) are no longer a weekly occurrence. Months later I still miss the creamy taste of milk in my coffee, and the occasional omelette for dinner, but my skin couldn’t be happier. I no longer get cystic acne (you know, the painful, under-the-skin bumps that last forever), and my skin is brighter and clearer.
#2: I’m constantly finding out what the triggers are. In my case, acne flare-up now includes goat cheese…
A few weeks ago, I ate a salad with feta, thinking that all was dope. Two days later I broke out in whiteheads. A week later I tried feta again. Same reaction. So my next visit to Dr.Sapna came with a few questions, namely: Shouldn’t sheep cheese be ok? I mean, my lactose intolerant friends can eat it with gusto. “In your case it’s acne, not your gut, that’s the issue,” says Dr.Sapna. “It may not be the lactose, but the casein (a protein) in dairy that’s causing your breakouts.” She admits that these types of cases don’t follow a hard and fast rule. “You could be having a more pronounced reaction because technically it’s still dairy,” she says. And while I’m not considered lactose intolerant (I don’t experience bloating or tummy issues), I should follow a casein scale. Dairy from a cow has the most casein, then sheep, goat, and lower on the scale is water buffalo (properly made burrata). Dr.Sapna says that the only way to know if casein is the trigger is to continue to experiment and see how my skin reacts. I could also incorporate a quality, whey protein in a shake, drink that a few days in a row and see if I still break out. Why whey protein? “It’s a dairy without the casein, so what you get is a clean protein that’s left over,” says Dr.Sapna. If my skin afterwards is still zit-free, then it’s likely that casein may be the prime suspect.
My calculated skincare regimen is pretty simple: wash in the morning with water, apply Peoni L’extrait, MyChelle Sun Shield SPF 28 and light foundation (my skin is good enough now that I don’t need the medium-high coverage stuff). Currently loving something old, Estée Lauder DoubleWear Nude Foundation, and something new, Glossier Perfecting Skin Tint in Medium. Before bed, it’s a good cleanse with Neutrogena Oil-Free Acne Face Wash, then a swipe of Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting Liquid. Serious hydration for my dry skin comes courtesy of my new luxe fave, Decléor Hydra Floral Rich Cream.
3: Exfoliation = less pimples
When I started seeing Dr.Sapna she recommended two products that are now staples in my beauty cabinet. Neutrogena Oil-Free Acne Wash and Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid. Both use salicylic acid, an ingredient that exfoliates the dead skin cells and unclogs pores. I use both before bed (if you choose to do this cleansing treatment during the day, you’ll need to slather on the SPF), followed by a nourishing night cream for sensitive skin. #MomTruth: When I spot a whitehead and cleanse with the Neutrogena, most times the small whitehead pops itself (thanks to the exfoliation of the salicylic acid) and then gets further dried up thanks to the Paula’s Choice. Oh yeah. They totally work. However, these exfoliaters can be drying so if you have dry skin, be sure to follow up with a really luxurious night cream. Right now, I’m loving the Decléor Hydra Floral 24 Hour Cream—especially with the colder weather approaching.
#4: That time of the month still sucks.
Hormones are still a big factor when it comes to breakouts. After cutting out dairy and eggs, I still get a few when that time of the month rolls around, but nowhere near the amount as before. So, a week or two before the main event I take a zinc-copper tablet to help dry up acne (twice a day), vitamin D3 to reduce inflammation (once a day) and Vitanica Skin Assist to strengthen skin and prevent acne and scarring (two pills twice a day). But, I’ll be honest, I’m not a good pill taker so these few days leading up to my period is all I can handle, and thankfully, all I need right now.
#5: Just breathe.
Stress is the real deal when it comes to breakouts and, the hardest to avoid. “Stress can set off your hormones, which sets off your blood sugar, which feeds on acne bacteria,” says Dr. Sapna. Great. So what’s a working mom of two to do? I’ve signed up for a spin class at least once a week (still searching for a good Ashtanga/vinyasa yoga in my ‘hood, so let me know if you have any leads…); invested in calming oils and a diffuser (you rock 889Christine!), which trust, is a game-changer (my faves are doTerra’s peppermint for energy and its Serenity mix to chill), and take deep, calming breathes a few minutes before answering an annoying email/ yelling at my kids (or husband).
So have I fixed my acne issue? I may never be 100 percent acne-free, but I no longer feel self-conscious every day and I’m confident that I can manage the breakouts that do come along. In the grand scheme of things, that’s good enough for me.