Acne is one of the worst things to deal with. I suffered with bad hormonal acne for years, so if you're going through it right now.. I feel your pain!
There are countless theories on why acne occurs in some people and not in others. For example, it's known in western medicine that acne is caused by elevated levels of androgens like testosterone, so medications are prescribed to bring those hormones into balance. But in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), acne is often a result of Damp Heat in the body, and acne breakouts on certain parts of your face are associated with different organs.
But like with most science, it's not really settled, and more research needs to be done. One reason why finding answers to the cause of acne is so complex is because our bodies are also complex.
Eastern medical philosophies like TCM and Ayurveda, and conventional Western science all view acne through a different lens. Many conventional doctors recommend antibiotics or birth control to combat chronic acne while holistic practitioners might have you try zinc, omega-3's, and acupuncture. One thing we do know for sure: there is a hormonal component to most acne and our lifestyle can have a significant impact on our healing.
As a nutritionist who’s suffered from acne, I’ve spent years researching the science behind it and trying (probably hundreds) of supplements, topicals, and lifestyle hacks to nip it in the bud. My acne was so pervasive at times that even the cleanest diet wouldn’t make a difference. Of course, reducing sugar, refined wheat, and dairy has certainly helped, but these changes were never enough to fully eradicate the terrible hormonal acne I experienced.
My skin definitely isn’t perfect now, but it's much better than it was in the past. These are the things I’ve learned throughout the years to help control my hormonal acne naturally and maintain clear skin. Of course everyone is different, but here is what I discovered that helped me.
1. Vitamin A
This single nutrient had the biggest impact on my hormonal acne. Research on vitamin A and acne dates back to the 1940s. And when you think about it, the strongest acne drug on the market is just a highly concentrated vitamin A derivative, Isotretinoin (accutane).
Food sources with high amounts of vitamin A have proven to be the most helpful for me, like chicken or beef liver. Liver contains upwards of 17,000 IU (more than triple the recommended daily intake per government standards) in a single serving. I have yet to find the best recipe to make liver super palatable but I tend to cook it and mix it in with regular ground beef. I recommend trying to eat even just 3 oz twice per week or a couple times per month. If this isn’t feasible, cod liver oil capsules can be a suitable alternative.
2. Seed cycling
Seed cycling has been a game changer for me hormonally. My periods are much lighter, I get no cramping, and it’s helped immensely with hormonal breakouts. If you’re unfamiliar with seed cycling, it’s basically the act of eating 2 different seeds during your follicular and luteal phases. So the first day of your period and for 14 days onward, eat 1-2 tbsp ground pumpkin and flax seeds. Then switch to ground sesame and sunflower for another 14 days and do it all over again the following month.
The idea is these seeds contain different vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients to support your hormones depending on where they’re supposed to be during the different phases of your cycle (i.e. naturally higher levels of progesterone during the luteal phase). I use Beeya Wellness because it makes things a lot easier.
3. Blood sugar balance
This is a huge topic in the wellness world these days, but learning how to balance my blood sugar has truly been a game changer for my energy levels, mental sharpness, and hormonal acne. Research shows eating foods with a high glycemic index (foods that will spike your blood glucose levels immediately such as sugar and pasta) increases sebum production and can lead to breakouts.
Blood sugar balance is so individual so I wore a CGM (continuous glucose monitor) for 4 weeks to determine what foods exactly caused my blood sugar to spike. Getting this under control and eating plenty of fiber, protein, and fat with every meal made a huge difference for me (and also kept me satiated for longer). I always noticed a correlation with high blood sugar spikes and breakouts. In addition to balancing my meals, I occasionally follow the Glucose Goddess hacks and this definitely makes a difference.
4. And last but not least - choosing my products carefully.
Inflammation is also a driver of acne, but can be mediated with diet changes (like the ones discussed above). Antioxidants are compounds found in most plant foods that help to lower inflammation. Eating a diet rich in antioxidants can be helpful for lowering inflammation and therefore help with acne. But what about antioxidants in skincare?
I’m much more discerning with what products I use now and this has made a world of a difference.
Obviously I’m a fan of products with minimal ingredients and zero harsh preservatives that disrupt our hormones. But choosing products that are nutrient dense and rich in antioxidants like Vitamin C has been SO helpful. I have been using the bearberry leaf toner every night for the past year and it’s infused with over a dozen plant products that have antioxidant properties. This not only helps keep my breakouts at bay, but it also brightens my skin and reduces the appearance of scarring.
Disclaimer: The information in this blog is not intended for medical use. Please consult your healthcare provider before making changes to your supplement, medication, lifestyle, diet, exercise, or other routines.