better skin

The Skin Experiment

Look at that glowing, clear skin. Not one issue. But a week later, that was not the case.Acne. It's something we all know. Some more than others. Puberty messed with most of us as teens, but for some, it lingers on into adulthood and can be a real, true bummer.What causes it? We know the basic science behind oil production, the pores of our skin, etc., etc. But REALLY. What causes it? What makes it worse for some and not others? Is it genetic? Something we are predisposed to? Once it's here, does it stay forever?Is there anything we can do on a daily basis to reduce the inflammation and the emotional and physical pain that often comes with it? I know this from personal experience because, while my skin wasn't too bad when I was a teenager, when I was 26, my skin broke out. Not like a little. A LOT. It was really bad, and it really messed with my self-esteem and self-confidence. At the time, someone in my life was attending the Professional Training Program at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition. She met with me a couple of times and asked me some questions about my nutrition. I balked. "Please!" I said. "I'm a vegetarian."You know what that meant? It meant I ate no meat and a ton of sugar and starchy foods. Yup! And canned Indian food (they make that). Eating no meat meant I didn't have a ton of energy (apparently my body likes and needs animal protein) so I pulled sugary foods into my body to make up for it.There was also that self-love thing. That also made me eat a ton of sugar. I was grieving a break-up and just generally was learning how to love myself. I felt sad and lonely a lot, and sugar releases certain chemicals in the brain when you eat it. Dopamine is a "feel-good" neurotransmitter and, for a short while, can erase feelings of sadness and loneliness. It doesn't last, but the effects of excessive weight gain, skin issues and lethargy do.I didn't love my life. I didn't love myself. I based my feelings of joy, happiness and self-worth on the actions and opinions of others. I thought that I needed a partner to be happy. I thought I needed a certain kind of job to be happy and worth something. All this thinking and stressing took a lot of time so naturally I didn't have time to cook. I actually had no idea how important this was to having healthy, glowing skin--free of acne.So great! I overcame all that, enjoyed healthy glowing skin for YEARS and then, in the past few weeks, it began to come back. Only this time, for a completely different reason. I'm taking testosterone injections for my transition process to male. It's super cool in many ways. My voice is changing, my muscles are getting bigger with little to no work and I'm growing hair in new and interesting places. It can also cause breakouts on the face and back--I am going through puberty, after all. Remember that? Imagine going through it again as an adult. Acne was something I feared prior to taking my first shot but I was pretty sure my expertise as a health coach would minimize the "damage" I would experience.  Upon seeing things get a little dicey lately as the T levels rose and stabilized in my body, I got serious and followed my own best advice that I would give to someone else. It's helping. And I feel grateful for my past experience with this issue, and everything I've learned about what causes it and how to address it from my experience as a health coach.


1) Don't Mess: Seriously. This is the #1 thing you can do to improve the condition of your skin. Messing with it is so tempting, I know. I KNOW! I get it, really I do. When my face was covered in a mess of painful bumps, I just wanted them to go away. I am totally convinced that messing with it prolongs it. Your fingers contain millions of bacteria and when you touch your face, especially a part that's already inflamed with infection, you are making a bad problem even worse. Keep your hands away, wash it and pat it dry and just ride it out. Yes, it looks bad and it sucks but messing with it makes it looks worse for longer. Which do you prefer? Also, avoid drying soaps. Your skin gets confused and only produces more oil as a result. Wash it with a gentle, mild cleanser with no perfumes or additives and then leave it. No touchie. That makes the biggest difference more than supposed hi-tech acne washes.

2) Drink Water: Your skin in our largest organ and we are something like 70% water, right? If you're dehydrated, all the stuff moving through your system stays stuck and doesn't move through--like a clogged pipe. It makes for a mess. Drink water. Think of it like cleaning your pipes out. Saturate your skin with plenty of fresh, clean water every single day--in addition to whatever else you're drinking. 

3) Avoid Sugar: Sugar causes inflammation in the body. We know this from science. You can Google it yourself and find out. Dr. Mark Hyman writes about this a lot. It's his thing. If you are already prone to experiencing inflammation in your body, sugar is going to exacerbate it. It also makes your liver work harder to process all that junk, and your liver produces all your hormones. Hormones create oil production. Oil production on your skin can lead to acne. See the connections here? Sugar alone won't cause acne but it certainly makes mine worse if I'm not eating plenty of fresh veggies to flush it all out. Notice the ratio of sugar and bread to vegetables in your diet. See what you notice.

4) Eat Your Greens: I can't tell you enough how much this is true for me. I got really serious this past week and was like, "ok, this needs to stop". I cooked up a bunch of raw greens one night and I'm totally serious when I tell you that my skin improved over night. It was awesome. Try this for a week and tell me what you notice.

5) Herbs Might Help: So, I don't know how you feel about taking herbs but I try it from time to time. Liquid version or powdered in a capsule, there are benefits to both. I threw back some milk thistle and dandelion because those help detox the liver. Did they make things better? Who knows for sure what did it, but taking these suckers certainly didn't make it worse. You can also just EAT dandelion but it tastes really bad (to me, anyway) so taking it in herbal form worked better for me*.

6) Other Blockages: Your skin can also be a barometer to measure other places in your life that are blocked or stagnant. Sleep? Stress? Emotions? Schedule? All these areas will screw with the ways things are or aren't flowing in your life. Get in touch with these other things, aside from your nutrition, that can use un-clogging. In the past, I certainly had a lot of pent-up anger and grief. Recently, that hasn't been an issue but the pace of my life/schedule was causing me to make not-so-great food choices. See all these connections? That's what holistic health is all about. The whole picture. Good luck with this. Please feel to weigh in below with your experiences. You can help others with tips or just by sharing how it affects you and if these tips help you or resonate with you.

*UPDATE! Some good friends recommended an herbal tea/concoction and I'm giving it a try. I will share my results in a follow-up post. Stay tuned!