Nutritional Healing for Acne: 4 Simple Steps that Work for Me!

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In a recent post of mine, a commenter, Laura Jo, asks about simple steps to nutritional healing from acne. Like Laura, I was taking daily doses of antibiotics daily as well as applying a topical Vitamin A cream. Here's what I would have loved to have known back then, as a poor college student with limited access to good quality foods:

First off, I want to basically share my understanding of what acne is. Acne, like all skin rashes and ailments, is the body's attempt at detoxifying. The skin is our largest organ and therefore our largest detoxifying agent. Since the body can "detox" for virtually any reason, be it hormonal imbalances, diet, etc, there are many seemingly diverse "causes" of acne.

The truth about our body is that it's always trying to heal itself. Acne is one of the ways our body communicates those imbalances to us. When treating acne, we need to work with our body's natural systems rather than working against them.

Therefore, the use of probiotics, birth control pills, or heavy drugs like acutane should be avoided at all costs, because while they may in the short term fix the symptom (acne), the drugs are actually creating more imbalance and thus causing an awful cycle which could lead to digestive disorders (from gut dysbiosis) or infertility (due to the use of synthetic hormones).

So, what can be done simply and naturally? I offer below 5 steps that work for me, and would be a generally good starting point for anyone who wishes to battle acne in a natural, inexpensive way.

1) Probiotics: Get off the antibiotics as soon as possible. They are doing more harm than good, and ultimately not curing the acne! Instead, nourish and replenish the good bacteria in your gut with probiotics. You can purchase a supplement at a Natural Food Store for a good price, or if you are so inclined, you can buy or make your own kombucha, beet kvass, or kefir. Personally, if I was a college student, I would probably be overwhelmed at trying to make anything besides class....so this would be a time when investing in a good probiotic would probably be well worth it. Three Lac, BioKult, and Metagenics are good brands for probiotics.

2) Cod Liver Oil: Vitamin A is typically prescribed in a topical form for the treatment of acne and for scar healing. Cod Liver Oil is one of the best, whole food sources of Vitamin A and it's something that everyone needs. Vitamin A is crucial for healthy hormone function, and the omega-3 fatty acids play a role in hormone communication as well. The college lifestyle of stress and lack of sleep can quickly deplete vitamin stores, and Cod Liver Oil has perfect ratios and amounts of Vitamins A and D. I particularly recommend Green Pastures Fermented Cod Liver Oil (in capsule form) and Dave at Green Pastures has a fascinating and informative blog post about Vitamin A where he explains how vital it is for us to get our Vitamin A from animal products rather than vegetables. The article mentions that those with thyroid problems (which is more of the population than are aware) have trouble converting Beta-Carotene to Vitamin A and must take more Vitamin A than "normal" in order to meet their nutritional needs. I know my thyroid and adrenals are weak, and that could be one of the reasons I struggled so much with acne in my adolescence. That and the fact that my diet contained no animal sources of Vitamin A.

Personal story: I did not begin taking Cod Liver Oil until about 5 years ago, and until then still really struggled with off and on bothersome acne. Since taking it acne has not only gone away, but my scars (which were significant at one time) have totally disappeared.

3) Cleanse properly: I used to spend lots of money on fancy "3-step cleansing systems" and they were somewhat effective. The 3-step rule is valid: Exfoliate-Tone-Moisturize. So often, these cleansers are harsh and full of chemicals (at worst) or just plain expensive (at best). I have found a 3-step cleansing system that is cheap and that works.

First of all, I wash my face with a washcloth and about 1/2 a teaspoon of baking soda. I gently use the baking soda, rubbing in a circular motion, around my face. I rinse with water afterward.

Secondly, I use a slightly acidic solution to tone my face. It can easily be made by diluting 2 TBS raw apple cider vinegar in 8 oz of pure, filtered or distilled water. Yeah, I know, the vinegar smell is not appealing for a high schooler or college student. That's why I suggest adding a few drops of Tea Tree Oil and a few drops of Lavender or Lemon Essential Oil (do whatever floats your boat, really!) Add until it masks the ACV smell! I use this on a cotton ball and gently apply it to my face.

Finally, I moisturize with coconut oil. I keep a small recycled cold cream container in the bathroom filled with coconut oil. I also mix essential oils of choice into this and use it for a deodorant as well as a facial moisturizer! Jojoba Oil is also a good choice.

4) Consider going off gluten/grains for a time. I read recently in Rachel Matesz's book The Garden of Eating that societies of hunter-gatherers who eat no grains have zero incidence of acne. I personally believe that my unknown wheat intolerance contributed to my chronic acne all of those years and since going off of wheat in particular (and all grains, to some extent) has helped. Try to stay off gluten for 2-3 months if possible, to allow your body to cleanse and detox. Focus on meats, veggies, and salads. Either way, stay away from processed, refined grains and sugars!


Veiled Glory said...

I might also add, get all the conventional dairy out for at least two weeks (or during an entire fertility cycle). This will clarify if a milk allergy is at fault.


emloris said...
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Carrie T said...

Veiled Glory,

Thank you for that important addition! It was late when I posted that --- I knew there was something else! Dairy allergy is another symptom (of a greater problem) that also contributes to acne. You're totally right about that!


Now there's a good use for the dairy you'll be giving up for a few weeks!!! Totally true; and that's why I use the raw apple cidar vinegar toner which would also be right in probiotics!

But yes, a plain yogurt (or kefir) mask works well!

Thanks for the great input, ladies!


Laura Jo said...

Thank you so much, Carrie! I think I'm going to stop taking my antibiotic next week - I'm almost out anyway. I've been feeling pretty crappy this year, but wasn't really sure why. I think perhaps this is contributing to my not-so-great health.

I also just wanted to add that I started reading blogs a few months ago. I actually stumbled onto Kelly the Kitchen Kop first, and then was introduced to myriad different ones since. Now, I have them all in my google reader and am totally addicted =P I just wanted to thank you (and all the other bloggers!) for the great information and encouragement. As I mentioned before, it's kind of hard to switch to a whole foods diet while you're relying on campus food, but I'm making changes, and I hope that it will help me feel better.

I will get started on this routine as soon as I can gather all the ingredients. Also, I already take a flax oil pill daily.. is that in any way the same as CLO? or should I be taking both? I'm not really familiar with all these supplements. Thanks, again!!

Carrie T said...

Laura Jo,

I hope you didn't mind my referencing you in this post!! I'm so glad you've found the blogging world of traditional nutrition; how I wish I would have know this at your age! Good for you!

Yeah, it's not a huge surprise that you've been feeling icky this year. College is a big transition of course, but, as I said in the post, acne is only a symptom of an underlying issue. Antibiotics only exacurbate (sp?) whatever's really causing the acne (candida, thyroid problems, nutritional deficiencies).

I would definitly add Cod Liver Oil. Flax oil has its benefits for sure, particularly omega 3, but Cod Liver Oil contains the important vitamins A & D in addition to many other cofactors and omega -3 acids.

If you can afford it, I would totally spring for the Green Pastures Fermented CLO capsules....it's worth every penny nutritionally!

Keep us posted on your progress and journey!



Tara said...

Hi - I found this post so interesting. I have been struggling with acne around my chin area for the longest time. I use a gental soap and moisturizer. But I had just run out of my soap and had just bought some high quality coconut oil to cook with. So I tried the baking soda. First off I found that I needed to use much more than a half teaspoon. I wet a wash cloth and dipped it in the baking soda. Then I realized that I needed to rub very carefully because it becomes quite rough with the soda. But I loved the results! I felt very clean (and exfoliated!) I don't have raw apple cider vinegar thought - does regular cider vinegar work the same? Then I used the coconut oil and went to bed. It felt so lovely on my face and so soft! You didn't mention removing make up. I wear very little, just some mineral makeup and mascara. I let the baking soda take off the mineral make up, but obivously didn't use baking soda to take off the mascara. So before I washed I used the coconut oil to take off the mascara. Seemed to work ok. What do you use?

Ali said...

I'm seventeen and have struggled with mild acne for too long. Before I got into natural, real foods, I would buy the cleansers that never worked, and, I suspect, made things much worse. Recently, reading here and there, I formulated my own face care routine that works wonderfully. Coincidentally, it happens to be exactly what you do exept for the coconut oil. I just can't bring myself to put oil on my face. So far, I'm using rose water mixed with glycerin when the weather is dry.

Thanks for sharing your experience!

Jan said...

I am a little confused. Did you mean to say stop taking probiotics or did you mean antibiotics? Because right after that you said to take a probiotic.

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Kelsy said...

Good information! Since we started the GAPS diet 5 months ago, my acne has almost completely disappeared! I still get little pimples here and there, but even those are starting to pop up less frequently. Between the grain-free diet, zero toxicity beauty products (no petroleum products, no perfumes), and probiotics, I'm looking and feeling like a million bucks!

I hardly ever wash my face any more and only need to shower 2-3 times per week. Just a little baking soda scrub followed by coconut oil does the trick.

Based on some of my other symptoms that have cleared up since going on GAPS, I'm pretty sure my acne was caused by Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS).

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