I've stripped myself "naked" on this blog by sharing my deepest struggles with food and body image, heck I even posted pictures of myself in undies of when I was anorexic/in the depth of my bulimia. Yet, hitting publish on this post today was a whole new level of anxiety-causing.
Ever since I was about 15 years old, I've had problems with my skin. But what started with the typical teenage-pimpled face got worse and worse over time instead of getting better. Now, before I go on, I want to make clear that I never had a severe case of acne and I don't want to offend anyone who's looking at the above picture thinking "If only she would know what real acne looks like!". It actually used to be waaaay worse, but turns out I was pretty good in a) deleting any pictures that showed my bad skin or b) photoshopping the heck out of them. Obviously, there definitely are kids on the block who had it way worse than me. Still, it affected me very much.
I felt uncomfortable, naked, embarrassed, humiliated and not taken seriously. As thought my own face was a distraction to others. I felt like I was walking through life with a big fat sign on my forehead reading "I don't have my shit together."
Not everybody understands the hardship accompanying acne. And it's incredibly annoying to talk to people who go "Oh, I can totally relate!" while gesturing towards two tiny blemishes on their hormonal jawline that will most likely go away in a day or two.
Trust me, it's a whole different story when you don't want to leave the house because you feel the only way you will look acceptable is when you cover your skin in a 2 cm thick layer of foundation, powder, and concealer (picture on the left is how much makeup I used to wear...) Or when you don't want to go to the beach with friends for a swim because that would involve your make-up coming off. When I first met Phil, I would to go to bed with my full makeup on and make sure to get up before him so I could reapply everything again...Crazy to think about that now!
I think that people who've never really had bad skin don't understand how soul-crushing and confidence-killing it can be. And like I said, I'm not even a severe case, so I can't even begin to imagine how hard it must be for people who have REAL bad skin.
Like so many others who struggle with skin issues, I tried everything and I mean literally everything from taking the contraceptive pill (note I wasn't sexually active at the time, but I'll get to that later), the most expensive creams on the market, GP-prescribed lotions, homeopathic tinctures, zinc supplements, weekly facials and growing my own aloe plant so I could use the juice on my face (supposedly this works miracles for some, but it was a nightmare experiment!). Of course nothing seemed to help...
With all lines of attack exhausted and me becoming increasingly frustrated, my GP gave me the final option…Roaccutane (formerly prescribed in the US as Accuntane).
I was vaguely told about the risks of some temporary side effects: nose bleeds, depressed mood, blurred vision, joint pain, severe blistering. And that's the short list. They basically said that these side effects were so rare and unreported; it was nothing to be concerned about. They emphasized that I would have very dry skin and that I should be ready to invest heavily in Vaseline and chap sticks. There would be monthly blood check ups and I couldn't get pregnant while taking the medication and should at least take two forms of contraception.
In retrospect, this was the worst decision of my life. I’m really not being over dramatic about it.
I honestly don't even know how on earth I agreed to take Roaccutane. My mom has always been super anti-medication, especially one's that haven't been around on the market for too long, but I guess she agreed to let me take Roaccutane because she saw how desperate I was.
Within months, I was a changed person. And not in a good way. I was always tired and would sleep hours on end, my whole body was hurting, I was loosing my hair and I couldn’t do as much sport as I wanted to anymore because of joint pain. Looking back at it now, I realize that the medication was making me depressed, but at the time I honestly didn't make the connection.
During the seven months that I was on the medication , I also gained quite a bit of weight, which previously had never been an issue for me. I don't know if it was the medication, my lack of exercise, my depressed mood that caused me to eat more, or a combination of it all. Either way, I looked in the mirror and no longer recognized the person in the reflection.
Once I finally went off the medication, two things happened:
- My skin got horrible again. (Am I the only one who experienced this? For anyone out there who has taking Roaccutane as well, I'd love to hear your input!)
- For the first time in my life I decided to go on a diet. And that was the beginning of my eating disorder...(read the full story here, here and here)
In short, the medication f***cked me up royally. I'm not a doctor, I don't know your case. I do know, however, that for me, it was the worst decision of my life and it the one and only thing I truly regret in life.
I have spoken to people who took Roaccutane in the 80's (back then it was prescribed at a much higher dosage) and they still suffer from the side effects today. Acne isn't worthy of putting your body under this much distress. Did you know Roaccutane was originally introduced as a cancer drug? Go figure. There's a reason why you're not allowed to get pregnant while taking Roaccutane; because there's such a high chance of a child being born disabled if the mother is on Roaccutane.
Don't take a chance with Roaccutane, it's just not worth it!
I know, I know, in most cases Roaccutane successfully rids acne and most people don't have severe or lasting side effects, but honestly, it's not worth taking the risk. Don't. Gamble. With. Your. Health.
My search for the needle in the hay stack
Ever since then, I've taken a complete 18o turn and have been working on my skin holistically. I had to learn the hard way that the skin is simply a reflection of what's going on inside. But it wasn't as easy as simply cleaning up my diet and that was that. In fact, there were times where I was so frustrated because I was doing EVERYTHING right (no dairy/gluten/sugar or any processed foods, natural skin care, monthly facials and so forth) and yet my skin was still bad. Like "Why the hell are you doing this to me!?! I am doing everything right, god dammit!"
But over the last four years, I really fine-tuned what works and what doesn't work for me:
If I want clear skin, I need to be suuuuuper careful with my diet. My skin is incredibly sensitive and anything that doesn't sit well with my gut will show later on in my face. That means I try to stay clear of processed foods, refined sugar, cows dairy, poor quality animal protein, gluten, sodas, refined salt and sugar in any form really. I always thought dairy was the biggest culprit for me, but during my 8-week I Quit Sugar challenge I cut out all sugar while increasing my dairy consumption, and my skin actually got a lot better. The reason why sugar is so bad for your skin is that it causes insulin levels to spike, which leads to inflammation throughout the body.
I can't stress this enough (no pun intended), but stress affects your skin health so much. When my to-do list is endlessly piling up, it’s prime time for pimples! Which leads to stressing about my skin, which results in even more breakouts. It’s a vicious cycle. As stress also affects the way I eat, this really is the ultimate key to good skin for me. I've become so good at self-care these days, but the moment I don't meditate, exercise, journal etc. for a couple of days, you bet I'll have a skin breakout lined up. In a way I've learned to embrace this, because it's basically my body signaling me to take a step back and relax a little.
Water is one way our body can safely move through toxins and help keep our skin happy. Drink up!
Absolute killer for my skin.
Love your gut
Since our digestive system is the center of our health, skin conditions can certainly be helped along by some good gut loving. I incorporate probiotic foods (miso soup, sauerkraut, kefir) into my diet and have also introduced chicken broths as of late.
Sweat it out
It's a known fact that exercise helps flush out toxins through the skin. Lately, I've also been doing two infrared sauna sessions a month to help things move along.
Find your topical fix
This is something I'm still working on discovering for myself. For two years, I was a loyal user of Bioderma, but when I moved to Sydney I decided I wanted to try more natural products. To be completely honest, so far I haven't been able to find the one for me. Anyways, what works for me might not work for you, and what works for you in one period of your life might not work for you a couple months later. My best recommendation is to invest in some time with a natural skin care provider and really get to understanding individually what your skin needs. Which brings me to my next point...
Pamper your skin
I used to be super stingy with spending money on facials, but they honestly make such a big difference. I don't do them a lot, but when I do I time them in a way that it's a couple of days before I get my period, because I know with 99.9% certainty that I'll break out then. (Ange from Three Graces Health & Beauty is AMAZING if you're in North Sydney, otherwise I go to Eloura in Surry Hills)
Below are pictures of my skin now on good days. You can see I have a tiny bit of scarring and skin de-coloration, but nothing too major. But the moment I don't do all of the things I mentioned above (the main issue being stress), my skin breaks out again. You know that picture at the very top left? That wasn't actually a before picture, that was my skin two weeks ago. And I know exactly what caused it: stress. Which lead to unhealthy food choices, which led to even more emotional stress. It's as simple as that.
The bottom line is this: what we put into our bodies is the first place to look to alleviate skin troubles.
I get so upset hearing stories from people who get Roaccutane prescribed without being thoroughly warned of the side effects first. More than half a million people worldwide have been prescribed the medication , despite the fact that it's intended to be used only as a last resort. If you have been contemplating taking Roaccutane and are reading this, I urge you to think about it again. It's not a decision that's to be taken lightly. There are so many ways in which you can fix your acne naturally, as long as you are willing to bring patience to the table.
I also get so frustrated hearing stories from my clients and girls in general who are put on the contraceptive pill to deal with skin issues. If you are on the pill just to have better skin, stop! All you are doing is brushing the dirt under the rug. It's a band-aid, a quick fix, but it's not addressing the actual problem. The pill robs the gut flora and depletes us of all those good thriving bacteria which are so pivotal to our health. Not having them means our body struggles with digestion, which in and of itself can cause skin problems . If you want to learn more about this topic, I can't recommend Nat Kringoudis' blog enough. Some of my favorite posts are here, here and here. I personally haven't taken the pill in over three years now and I couldn't be happier with my decision.
Acne: a love story
I want to leave you with this: I know acne can leave you feeling unattractive and lower to your self-esteem, but how long will you go on feeling like some shit on your face defines you? How long will you continue to hide away at home because you are too afraid to let people see you without make-up? Always remember that you have other things going for you, and always remember to treat yourself with respect. Make peace with it, own it and let your true authentic self shine through.