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For over 10 years, I’ve suffered from acne. I’m finally getting the courage to share this blog about my holistic acne treatment in hopes that it will help someone else out there who is feeling the same pain.
Like most who struggle with acne, my track record for failed treatments is long and expensive.
These treatments were extremely harsh on my body, but I was desperate and wanted to have clear skin more than anything. The Accutane cleared up my skin for about 3 years, but it eventually came back.
I went to numerous doctors and was switched onto different birth control pills in an attempt to treat the acne – with no luck. I was told to “just stop picking” at my face or my favorite “well it’s not THAT bad”.
Like most acne sufferers, I also tried a bunch of home remedies for acne:
None of it worked.
I eventually ditched my hormonal birth control because I felt like it was making things worse. Oh man, my acne came back with a VENGENCE.
May I add, that despite being a registered dietitian through the latter part of this experience, my conventional education never led me to believe that diet had anything to do with acne – WHICH IS SO MESSED UP ?.
I spent thousands (yes thousands) of dollars working with an esthetician to cure my acne.
While it worked in the short term, I had to keep going back almost every month to keep it at bay, which was not sustainable.
The conventional treatments, home remedies, and harsh chemical peels were not treating the root cause of my breakouts. They were simply band-aids covering up the real problem. Unfortunately, it took me over 10 years and thousands of dollars to figure this out.
As I jumped into advanced training for functional nutrition, I began to treat the root cause of my acne using the protocols I learned – thus forming my holistic acne treatment story!
That’s what I’m here to share with you today! If you struggle with acne, I hear you. I know you’re tired of trying new things and getting your hopes up only to be disappointed and back at square one. My hope is that my personal story (with professional expertise sprinkled in) will allow you to take away some helpful tips to try at home.
Note that our bodies are all different. While I can’t guarantee that this protocol will provide the same results for everyone, these are all safe and healthy steps to take for a more holistic life either way! So basically I’m saying: it doesn’t hurt to try.
In formulating my own 5-step holistic acne treatment, I used the common acronym in functional medicine known as S.T.A.I.N.
Keep this in mind for when we discuss each step!
The “S” in S.T.A.I.N stands for “stress”.
If you want to treat the root cause(s) of your acne, you have to consider the fact that stress may be one of them.
I was in denial about this for years.
For the longest time, I thought my acne was hormonal. But after some functional medicine testing, I realized that my main sex hormones were actually fine.
But, my stress hormones were through the roof!
More oil production can often lead to more breakouts because the pores become clogged and infected with common acne-causing bacteria.
Stress is also connected to other unhealthy behaviors like stress-eating and poor sleep, which all contribute to acne in some way as well (3).
I use a meditation program called Ziva Meditation (affiliate link). This program teaches you how to meditate on your own, without any woo-woo, gongs, or crystals!
But you can also use other stress management tools such as:
Make this a habit, and schedule it at least once per day, every day!
The “T” in S.T.A.I.N stands for “toxins”. Eliminating toxins was the next step to treating the root causes of my acne.
For years, I was using extremely harsh products on my skin, in hopes that one would “fix” it.
None of them helped for long, and I had to keep spending more money to sustain any little improvement in my acne. I finally decided that if I was carefully choosing what to put INSIDE my body, then I needed to carefully choose what to put ON my body.
I switched to natural skincare through a company called Beautycounter. This B-corp company uses safer, organic, and sustainable ingredients whenever possible. They have a “never list” which means they ban about 1,500 potentially harmful and/or questionable ingredients from their products.
I started with two main Beautycounter acne products (affiliate links):
Full disclosure, after finding success with these Beautycounter acne products, I decided to sign up as a consultant (#discounts yo).
But, as a science girl and health professional, I never want to make it seem like doing ONE thing will be the panacea (aka magic pill) to your acne. These Beautycounter products helped me in my holistic acne treatment journey for sure! But, you will get the BEST results if you also treat the other pieces of the puzzle, too.
If you’re looking for a one-stop shop to save the most money, then I recommend trying the full Beautycounter acne set (cleanser, toner, acne treatment gel, and lotion) for best results.
I particularly love the Beautycounter makeup line (like the Beautycounter Tint Skin foundation) because it offers a middle ground. I try to avoid wearing makeup if possible, but sometimes I just feel more comfortable with a light foundation if going to work or to a social outing.
Where to buy Beautycounter? You can order directly from my consultant page.
Below you can see a before and after picture (after implementing Beautycounter PLUS other diet and lifestyle changes).
No makeup or filters for either picture. As you can see, I still have some leftover acne marks (being completely transparent here) that will fade over time, especially with some TLC from other Beautycoutner products and continued lifestyle changes.
But for the most part, I no longer have active breakouts besides the occasional pre-period zits (or if I fall off of my usual diet and stress reduction routine).
The best part? Knowing that I’m nourishing my skin with safer skincare ingredients, yet feeling the confidence of clearer skin after 10 years. ❤️
The “A” in S.T.A.I.N stands for “adverse food reactions”.
Eliminating potentially inflammatory foods is the 3rd step in my holistic acne treatment story. Unfortunately, I was told for years from dermatologists that diet has nothing to do with acne. Looking back and knowing what I know now, I cannot believe that they tell people this. If they don’t want to talk to people about nutrition, that is FINE BY ME (refer to a dietitian!) but telling patients that diet has nothing to do with their skin health is just flat out wrong.
Although we can’t prove that milk causes acne, there are large studies that show an association between consuming dairy and increased acne formation (4, 5). This includes foods like cow’s milk, cheese, ice cream, sour cream, and yogurt.
You can experiment a bit to try and find a threshold of dairy intake that doesn’t worsen your acne. I can have a little cheese here and there or an occasional recipe with dairy as long as the majority of my diet is dairy-free.
Because I know I’ll probably get some nay-sayers, I want to mention that not everyone has an issue with dairy. If dairy doesn’t worsen your breakouts, great! No reason to eliminate it then. But, if you’re trying to clear up your skin, then I would recommend at least trialing 30 days of a dairy-free diet to see if it helps. It did with mine.
Sugar causes the body to release two hormones: insulin and insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1). These hormones boost sebum (oil) production and increase androgens (like testosterone), which all play a role in acne formation (6, 7).
If you need help reducing sugar in your diet – join my free resource library to get access to handouts on low-sugar snacks, balanced breakfast meals, and tips to reduce cravings.
Processed “junk” foods include things like chips, fast food, and other salty packaged foods. These types of food usually include an inflammatory ingredient called “trans fat”. Since acne is an inflammatory condition, we want to avoid these types of fats!
The “I” in S.T.A.I.N stands for “infection”.
We have trillions of gut bacteria living inside our GI tract (10). Most bugs are beneficial, some are neutral, and some are considered harmful and may cause disease or unwanted symptoms.
Tons of research now tells us that our gut bacteria determine varying aspects of our health, including the health of our skin.
Dysbiosis is a fancy word that means an imbalance of gut bacteria (and in this case, it is somewhat of an “infection”). This could mean one of three things: the bad bacteria is overcrowding the good gut bacteria, we don’t have enough good bacteria, and/or we don’t have enough diversity of bacteria in our gut (11).
There are many ways to promote the growth of good bacteria in your gut. Note that some people may have more severe dysbiosis and require the assistance of a functional medicine doctor or dietitian.
Implementing probiotic-rich foods was VITAL in my holistic acne treatment. However, taking a probiotic pill is not the same. I didn’t like sauerkraut at first. But trying it multiple times in various ways allowed me to adjust my taste buds. The added benefit of clear skin is more than enough motivation!
Grab my build a healthy gut guide below for additional probiotic tips, meal planning info, and more.
The last “N” in S.T.A.I.N stands for “nutrition”.
What we eat affects our skin, and may be one of the root causes of acne. Here are a few things I did to optimize my nutrition as part of my holistic acne treatment. Note there are many other nutritional aspects that are helpful, but not mentioned (too long to include all of them)!
The glycemic index is a measure of how quickly foods raise your blood sugar. Low glycemic foods absorb slowly into the bloodstream. Some research shows that a low-glycemic diet may help reduce acne (6, 7, 12).
Low glycemic-foods to increase:
Whether or not you should take a multivitamin is a hot controversy in the health world. However, if you are a woman currently on hormonal birth control or recently off of birth control, then I support the use of a multivitamin. Studies suggest that oral contraceptives may deplete b-vitamins, so supporting your diet with a multivitamin may be helpful (13, 14). Read my post on multivitamins to learn more.
Since I am within the “child-bearing age” range, I take a prenatal multivitamin. I do not think that multivitamins cure acne. However, I do think they play a role in repleting micronutrients and b-vitamins that may be on the lower end of normal (or even deficient) due to birth control usage.
Vegetables are rich in micronutrients that support skin health. Try to include at least 3 cups of non-starchy vegetables per day. Veggies should take up half of your plate!
In particular, I recommend including at least 1 cup of cruciferous vegetables per day, as tolerated. Cruciferous veggies include broccoli, cauliflower, Brussel’s sprouts, kale, arugula, and cabbage. These vegetables all contain a compound called indole-3-carbinol, which supports healthy estrogen metabolism (15, 16). If you don’t normally eat these veggies, start slow as they may cause bloating in certain individuals.
Acne is an inflammatory condition. So, incorporating anti-inflammatory foods may be helpful in achieving clear skin!
Some fish contain healthy fatty acids abbreviated EPA and DHA, which are types of omega-3 fats known for their anti-inflammatory benefits. Although the research is mixed on whether fish BY ITSELF can help acne, some studies show that it may help certain people (17).
Aim to eat at least 1 serving of fish per week (salmon, mackerel, anchovies, sardines, and herring are highest in EPA/DHA but low in mercury). If you absolutely cannot eat fish, supplementing with fish oil (that contains EPA/DHA) is a secondary option.
For years, I let acne sabotage my confidence. I’ve been there, and I understand the frustration and hopelessness you may be feeling.
I tried endless amounts of harsh products, supplements, and herbal remedies. I spent thousands of dollars in the process, and I don’t want the same thing to happen to you.
Consider the outside AND the inside. Make friends with your body. Make friends with your skin and choose safer skincare.
Making the jump to treating your acne holistically can seem overwhelming, but take it one step at a time! Keep the S.T.A.I.N acronym in mind, and remember that it may take a few months to see progress – so don’t give up!! ❤️