In my early twenties an ex-boyfriend once said this to me: ‘if you had clear skin there’s no way you’d be interested in me, you’d be way out of my league.’ He did not mean to hurt me with this comment, he is one of the kindest men I have the pleasure of knowing, but unfortunately this was one of the most painful back-handed compliments I have ever received and it still haunts me when I am having a ‘bad skin day’. My bad skin has been the bane of my life. I plan to talk about my own insecurities here, but just as a quick aside, it upset me that he thought I would be that shallow. Yes, I’m vain, (sorry, let me correct that, my EGO is vain). My Ego wants everyone to think I’m pretty, I can’t deny that. And he was a pure stunner (my Ego is also shallow enough to appreciate a very handsome man, though we all do, don’t we?) But even if I had the most perfect alabaster complexion I would have still wanted to be with him. It made me sad too that he thought I was ‘settling’ for him, No, I couldn’t believe my luck, in many ways I think the comment says more about his insecurities that it does mine. wow, we all have them, don’t we? But the real thing I want talk about here is my fifteen year battle with my skin, and how I have come to realise the long, hard way that no matter how bad our skin is, there are solutions, and NATURAL ones at that, and some of them really do work! So hopefully if you’re reading this and are suffering as I have, something here might just help.
The Story of my skin: First I’m going to tell you all the things that didn’t work over the years and later on in the article, exactly what did.
I saw numerous doctors and dermatologists over the years and have tried everything- Benzoyl Peroxide (turns your pillow orange), Adapalene Cream (no orange pillow but you still have to go to bed with a slimy face every night), taking contraceptive pills that apparently clear your skin (Dianette made me come out in a rash from head to toe after taking it for 3 days, Yasmin turned me into a suicidal-verging monster on the days running up to my period). I’ve popped so many other pills: Doxycline, Lymecline, Tetracycline (These are dangerous. Yes, they clear your skin after taking them for a few months but literally decimate all your gut bacteria, removing the bad, but also ALL the good bacteria that is integral to your overall health. The gut is now recognised as the body’s second brain. I ran repeat prescriptions on these for about 4 years as no doctor ever called me up on it. It more or less cleared my skin and kept it that way, so I was happy. But I had no idea of the damage it was doing below the surface until I stopped taking them when I came down with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, and they turned out to be a big part of the cause. I am still recovering from the damage done by these pills and I have a gut so full of candida that I can’t tolerate any sugar whatsoever. Right now I’m so intolerant to sugar as a result that I can’t even eat so much as a carrot, let alone a piece of fruit, or god forbid some chocolate, or a teaspoon of honey to sweeten my herbal tea. Can’t eat A CARROT, it seems too ludicrous to be true, I wish it was. It’s temporary, I hope. The few years of clear-ish skin were really not worth this. I didn’t go so far as trying Roaccutane, but if you’ve considered that then you may have read reports that it can allegedly cause depression and can irrecovably damage the kidneys.
So I tried of course all this, and not to even start in all the different cleansers, toners and moisturisers- from bargain bin Clearisil to top of the range Chanel, Clinique, Clarins, even completely natural organic products. For sensitive skin, for oily skin, for combination skin, for easily irritated skin, for blemished skin. I could go on. NONE of it really worked. Some of them worked temporarily, and then the problems would re-appear a few weeks later.
I have suffered with pretty severe acne and rosacea since I was 11 years old. In my teens I had spots mostly on my chin, nose and forehead. In my twenties it tended to be spread across my jawline, cheeks and often on my chin too.
I can remember in primary 7 the very first stick of Boots’ ‘Collection 2000’ concealer I had (which of course was not even slightly the same colour as my skin) that I used to cover up the spots on my chin. As I moved into high-school concealer turned to tinted moisturiser, turned to foundation, turned to concealer, foundation and powder, turned into… let’s just say that when I looked in the mirror I wouldn’t recognised ‘me’ until I had applied a caseload of different cosmetics. Between the ages of 13 and 15 my eyebrows were also non-existent, I had plucked them to within an inch of their life, they looked like this ~ (not a keyboard character of a lie, photos from that time make me cringe).
My using make-up as armour began as early as this, and I can even remember receiving a mean-spirited email from a ‘friend’s’ nasty big sister which was a cruel, finger-pointing article entitled ‘You wear too much make up’. At the time I was devastated, I am pretty sure I was too embarrassed to tell a soul, but despite the cruel method of delivery, she was right! But nothing could convince me that I would look better without make up. Throughout my teens and twenties I was painfully aware of my skin at all times, whether I was having a ‘good skin day’ or a ‘bad skin day’. A good day meant I might only need one pump of foundation, concealer, powder, mascara, and then I could leave the house brimming with confidence. On a bad skin day in order to leave the house I would literally have to trowel it on, in a thick impasto, and only then would I allow myself to see people, only then I could walk down the street and if I noticed people looking at me thought they must be doing so because they found me attractive, and not because they were judging me because of the spots on my face, thinking ‘look at her, she’s be attractive if it wasn’t for her dreadful skin.’ Yep, that comment from my ex haunted me big time. I’ll admit, some days I couldn’t even leave the house, I would put on make-up even if I was going to spend the whole day IN the house, just so as my flatmate didn’t have to see me without make-up, and I wouldn’t cry upon encountering a mirror. I’m aware this all sounds really dramatic, but I know if you’ve had acne problems like me, you might have done the same, or similar, I sincerely hope I was on the extreme end.
I remember reading articles in magazines talking about girls whose boyfriends NEVER saw them without make-up, how they would sneak out of bed an hour early in the morning to ‘put on their face’ before their beloved awoke so that there wasn’t the slightest chance they would say what they really looked like. I remember thinking how sad this was at the time, but I realise now I was pretty much right there with them, I hated when my boyfriends would so much as look at me in the morning as I was so full of skin-based insecurity, and God forgive you if you so much as tried to tell me that you didn’t notice my bad skin, or give me a compliment, you would be swiftly rebuffed, savaged even. However if I was fully made-up, I accepted compliments readily. Over the years several boyfriends, friends and my parents said to me time and time again ‘maybe your skin would get better if you just didn’t wear make-up, if you just left it, let it breathe’. Did I ever listen, NO. No, I kept scrubbing, popping pills, layering the make-up on. Were they right? Yes.
But I haven’t worn a scrap of make-up since June of last year, so coming up to almost a year now, and for the first time in my life I am happy looking in the mirror at my make-up free face and don’t think twice about leaving the house without a scrap of make-up on, I don’t even wear mascara now. Yes, I do live the life of a chronically ill hermit these days so I don’t have to get dressed up much. I even get a kick out of casually just going to splash some water on my face, in the middle of the day, just cos I can. For years this was an alien concept to me as this would mean making my mascara and eyeliner run and would mess up my impasto of foundation, concealer and powder. So- what really DID work? Food worked.
So many doctors told me that there was no real connection between what we eat and the state of our skin. I have learned through the experience that this is just completely false, what we put in our body has absolutely everything to do with how we look on the inside, as well as on the inside.
I clocked during my teens that whenever I drank milk my spots got worse. So I cut out milk when I was about 14. Over a number of years I realised the same applied to all lactose — cheese, yogurt, cream — so I cut out all of these- out with the dairy milk sadly, (not easy for someone who was addicted to their daily Twirl every night during the final stressful year of university.) It is very common for acne to be a result of lactose intolerance. And of course, I did what any normal person does when they cut out lactose, I switched to soya milk. It was only years of dreadful skin later (almost 10 years later in fact) I realised that soya is often even worse for acne prone skin than lactose. Spots in women are most commonly caused by hormonal imbalances and soya really messes with your oestrogen levels. You may not be intolerant to soya, however, in my experience it is definitely worth looking into if you are trying everything to solve your acne problems and nothing seems to be working. I discovered that If I so much as have even so much as a tiny bit of soya lecithin in something I will be greeted with huge big pustules on my cheeks a couple of days later, nice. This also extends to eating intensively farmed fish like salmon that have been fed soya. So lactose and soya products were out. Just a few months ago I ate a rainbow trout I thought was wild but turned out to be farmed. I didn’t leave the house for a week my skin was so abysmal, and I was thrown back into that pit of insecurity.
But I still was suffering, things were improving, but nowhere near to the point I would dare go out barefaced: maybe 1 pump of foundation instead of 2. When I came down with my Chronic Fatigue in September 2013 My skin was the worst it has been in my entire life. There was just no covering it up. Even the harsh antibiotics had stopped working. Now, I am now pretty sure my CFS was caused by Adrenal Fatigue/HPA Axis Dysregulation, brought on by living my life at 100 mph for too long; that and by the Candida which grew in my gut, caused by far too many years on the Contraceptive Pill and the antibiotics for my skin, such as Tetracycline). Despite this I continued to layer the make up on for roughly the next year. I wouldn’t admit how sick I was, I would do my very best to cover it up. I did my best to cover it up in my entire life, not just on my face.
The crunch point finally came in June of last year when I said- ‘That’s it, for today I am no longer wearing any make up, I am no longer going to put any cosmetics, or anything that is not 100% natural on my face or in my body and when I am well on the inside it will finally show on the outside.’ This turned out to be the best skin-related decision I ever made.
The Story of what FINALLY worked: What did I start doing differently? I read up on the oil cleansing method, tried with jojoba oil and within days I had more spots than I had to begin with, so I decided I couldn’t be patient to wait and see if that was just ‘purging’ or if oil cleansing was just going to give me more spots. Instead I opted to use raw, unpasteurised honey to wash my face in the evenings (it feels so lovely and soothing, smells great and you do just want to lick your own face!). I only wash my face at night, not in the morning, as your skins oils naturally balance themselves overnight, at most all you need is a wee splash of water. I still use a moisturiser- an all natural and organic Frankincense cream from Neal’s Yard but intend to change this to a homemade oil blend when I have done enough reading on aromatherapy. So that’s literally ALL I use on the skin on my face- honey to wash in the evening, just a bit in your palm, use it like a facewash and then rinse off with warm water. And infrequently I might use a tiny bit of bicarbonate of soda mixed with water to make a paste to really gently exfoliate. Also, as a treat every now and then I slather 20+ manuka honey on my face as a facemask and leave for a couple of hours before washing off (this is incredibly comforting and it highly anti-bacterial, so great for helping to soothe the skin). On the couple of occasions I have put on a tiny bit of powder and mascara I use a bit of jojoba oil on a cotton wool pad to wipe the make-up off before cleansing with honey. And as for what I put IN my body.
Changing to a Paleo orientated way of eating has been revolutionary for my skin. The daily diet of brown rice and spinach, humous with carrot sticks and apple and ricecakes that I thought was so healthy for me and my skin… really wasn’t. Of course, it is best to eat as many vegetables as you can, organic if possible, some fruits if you can tolerate them, and drink lots and lots of water.
But I now know that the superfoods for my skin are not being completely vegan, but rather, and this was a HUGE shock for me: the best foods for getting clear skin are: Liver (grass fed), eggs (especially the yolks) and fermented foods such as sauerkraut (and kefir, if you can tolerate lactose). As I can’t tolerate lactose, like many acne sufferers, I eat a lot of Co Yo products, probiotic yogurts made from coconut milk that are dairy free and sugar free, and good for your gut, therefore good for your skin, and taste amazing. Admittedly, liver does not taste as amazing, but it is quite literally the most nutrient-dense food on the planet and it is the extremely high levels of Vitamin A which acts as a skin clearer (Roaccutane is basically a really high dose of Vitamin A). Eating liver once a week has cleared my skin. Fact. And by eating fermented foods such as sauerkraut, I have helped through my diet to encourage the growth of good bacteria in the gut, and healthy gut bacteria is absolutely essential for clearer skin. As I said, I am still in the process of building up the good bacteria in my gut after the years of Tetracyline had wiped out all the good bacteria as well as the bad.
Also, Omega 3 fatty acids are essential for skin health- you can find these in oily fish such as sardines, mackerel and wild salmon, and if you are veggie in flaxseed and hemp oil. These good fats are very beneficial for the skin, as are eating avocadoes, extra virgin olive oil and coconut oil, (which is especially good for Acne as it has anti-fungal properties).
I strengthen this by taking a high-quality daily probiotic supplement, my herbalist recommended Solgar’s ‘Advanced Multi-Billion Dophilus’ and I took this daily for a few months, and the difference in my skin was immense. At my Homeopathic doctor’s advice I switched to Dr Mercola’s ‘Complete Probiotics’, which is a top product too. So my skin is almost completely clear. And they key was to look to my gut, and not my face at all.
These are the things that have finally helped me see the way through the woods when it comes to my skin.I wish I’d known many of these things fifteen years ago, it would have saved me a lot of hassle. An indispensable guide on all of these dietary changes and natural cleansing methods can be found in Liz Wolfe’s ‘Skintervention Guide’, a PDF on purely paleo skincare. I have found this in-depth guide completely invaluable this last year and would highly recommend it if you are looking to clear up your skin for good, and the natural way. I am covering many of the basics here, but if you want to read much more in depth, I’d highly recommend this. You can buy it online here http://purelyprimalskincare.com/ Ok, I am off to go splash some cold water on my face!