My journey with cystic acne first began in 2009 when I switched from one birth control pill to another. At the time, I had no idea what was going on with my face, as I always had clear skin. When I came home from college that summer, my dermatologist put me on antibiotics to try to clear it up, but after responding very poorly to that drug, I switched to the birth control pill called Yaz, and my skin cleared up within weeks. I was over the moon, as my skin was super clear and no scars were left behind.
Flash forward to 2012, where I was now leaving Yaz behind for a copper intrauterine device (IUD) because Yaz made my hair fall out in droves. Yet, little did I know that coming off Yaz, and polluting my body with copper, would cause my skin to erupt in painful, huge cysts and nodules.
I had white heads, red bumps, black heads, jawline cysts so big they felt like tumors, nodules that stayed for weeks and months, hyper pigmentation, hives... you name it, I probably had it on my face. Unfortunately, I don't really have pictures that accurately show how bad it was because I avoided cameras like the plague and would literally get nauseous at the thought of taking a selfie, so you'll just have to trust me ;)
But, here I am, five years later, and I haven't had a single cyst in months *runs to woods behind my house and knocks on every tree just in case :)*. And since I know how debilitating, frustrating, infuriating, etc., it can be to struggle with acne, no matter your age, I thought it would be helpful to share what worked for me.
Before I get to what worked for me, I want to say that no matter what your skin looks like today, it is okay. You are beautiful, you are loved, you are deserving of love, and f#$% beauty standards that say that acne/not having clear skin = ugly. I'm still working on fully accepting my post-battle with acne and its scars, but I'll get there, and so will you <3
1. Cleaned Up My Diet
A lot of physicians will claim that diet doesn't have anything to do with acne, but for *me* that couldn't have been farther from the truth. I was struggling with MAJOR leaky gut and candida, and if I ate anything to aggravate either/both of those conditions, you could expect a spot to show up on my face (read: sugary foods, gluten, dairy, eggs, and high histamine foods).
As such, I have diligently employed a scientific experiment with food over the past five years. I removed food from my diet one after one and journaled what happened. I first went gluten free, then dairy, then processed foods, until where I am at now (full vegan as of last week!). What finally fully cleared things up for me was finally removing meat from my diet. Since removing meat, I have not had *any* cysts on my face, but as you will see I did a handful of other things to help as well.
But before I move on, please understand just because I can't eat something doesn't mean you should remove it from your diet. Unfortunately (just in this case hehe), we are all so uniquely different that you will have to experiment. You may also decide that you can't/don't want to have a restrictive diet. That is your choice. I am vain, and I would much rather eat less food than have cysts on my face.
I also recognize that eating healthier can get pretty expensive if you don't have a strategy in place or are just learning. Thankfully, there are plenty of tips and tricks to eating healthy on a budget. From meal prepping to buying produce that's in season to cooking in bulk, you can definitely eat healthier without blowing your paycheck.
Regardless, you should assess your diet if you are having major skin problems and do some research to see which foods can cause inflammation and trigger cystic acne.
2. Employed Detox Methods
This step has been the ultimate game changer, and it made complete sense to me once I stopped overcomplicating acne by trying to find some "magical" cure/product/supplement. Think of it this way, your skin is the *biggest* detox pathway your body has. For *me* (yes, I'm going to draw attention to the individuality of what has worked for me every time lol), I have *very* sluggish detox pathways (read: liver, gallbladder, kidneys, etc.) due to gene mutations being turned on thanks to this toxic world we live in, my run-in with copper toxicity, Lyme disease, and years of living with very high stress.
As such, once my body was in a state of the biggest traffic jam of toxins, bacteria, heavy metals, undigested food particles, sluggish lymph, etc., and couldn't vacate through regular channels (again, liver, kidneys, gallbladder, etc.), they decided to hit the "eject" button and throw a party on my face. And since my diet was still crappy, I was still drinking alcohol, and swallowing supplements at an alarming rate, my detox pathways were getting more and more clogged by the minute.
Recently, I have worked to incorporate a multitude of detox methods into my life and the change to my skin has been astronomical. I hesitate to share some of these methods since some people may find them "controversial," but they have helped ***me***, and I *thoroughly* research everything I do. Also, please understand that I *am not* a medical practitioner and make sure to do your own research before incorporating any of these methods.
Here's a quick list of what I've been doing to help detox:
For *me* the enemas, major-organ cleanses, and fasting have made the most difference in my skin. Should you want any more information, leave me a comment or contact me via email :) I am more than happy to assist!
Note: I do not plan on doing all of these things regularly for the rest of my days on this planet. These methods will continue to be used until symptoms that surface as a result of toxic overload subside.
3. Balancing Hormones
In addition to regular cystic/nodular acne, I also suffered from hormonal acne. How do I know this? Mostly due to the location of my acne (read: jawline and chin). I also had hormone tests done, and my estrogen, testosterone, and DHEA were through the roof. As such, my doctor had me go on natural supplements to eradicate these imbalances: saw palmetto and DIM (I use Estroblock triple strength).
Where did the imbalances come from, you ask? My long, long history with birth control pills jacked up my hormones beyond belief, and then that was all compounded from the major stress my body was under from copper toxicity and not having my period for over half a year from the IUD. In addition, many of my regulatory organs were messed up as well (yes, very scientific, but I'm trying not to get too wordy here so y'all make it to the bottom haha :)).
4. Drinking Habits
So, I've already touched on detox pathways getting clogged and toxins, so it makes sense that for *me* drinking caused an issue. Regardless of what kind of alcoholic drink you consume, your liver is going to have to get to work to break down the toxins and get them out of your body. Any guesses what exit route my body chose for this act? That's right, my lovely faccia (face in Italian ^_^).
I took three years off from drinking (which was a huge deal for this former beer-drinking rugby playing Jameson slinging binge-drinker), which certainly helped, but it wasn't a cure-all for me. I do have some tequila every now and again, and while I don't get cysts, there are times where I get a pimple or two after drinking. While I never plan on drinking the way I used to, sometimes a girl has gotta throw back her tequila and get to dancing.
Before I start this section, I will say that supplements WILL NOT CURE your acne if the underlying cause has to do with an internal organ issue, a dietary problem, or anything else that is chronic. Supplements can certainly help keep your acne at bay, but do you really want to be taking them for the rest of your life when you could get to the root of the problem? Of course, that's up for you to decide, and your root problem may be different from mine, so that's where you put on your detective hat.
But, supplements that aid your imbalances or sluggish organs can certainly help. For instance, I mentioned up above that I take supplements for my hormonal issues while my body works to recorrect itself. I also take supplements to aid my immune system (e.g., vitamin C and zinc), which in turn should help flush out toxins quicker. I take a probiotic daily to aid in my leaky gut and candida issues, and I also take an herbal supplement that helps my liver detox.
So, it's up to you to figure out what will work for you and what won't. What I will say is that antibiotics never worked for me, nor did any of the mainstream prescription creams thrown my way from the dermatologist. But, I'm that gal that western medicine truly never works for in terms of chronic issues, so that's not too surprising.
Okay, so admittedly, I was always one of those people who rolled her eyes at people saying that you have to remove stress to get rid of acne, but I do feel it helps, as a tertiary solution. For me, when I'm stressed I eat poorly or forget to eat (which means I can't take my supplements), and don't get enough sleep, forget to wash off my makeup/am not good with my face care routine (another post on that soon, I promise!). All of these things can contribute to throwing off what's going on internally, which can in turn cause inflammation or a disrupted detox pathway, if you're a sensitive person like me.
In my life, I have come to accept that I will most likely ALWAYS have stress in my life, but it doesn't have to be paralyzing. I am a go-getter, Type A, hard worker who loves to push herself and have tasks to complete. I am working on finding a middle-ground there, but I am not someone who is going to be happy living a care-free life - it's just not how I'm wired.
Instead, I have employed the following methods to help me destress after a challenging day:
So What Do I Do With All This Information?
I completely understand that everything presented here may be overwhelming, and that's because it is, at least on the surface. It took me five years to figure this out, and each day with a big ol' cyst on my face felt like a month.
If you need advice on where to go from here, please feel free to message me - I am truly, truly more than happy to help, and I am in the process of becoming an acne-focused health coach.
If you'd rather not do that, I would focus on *one* of the five things I suggested and figure out baby steps to incorporate the change or alteration. Regardless, I wish you the best of luck on your journey to clear skin, and I am always here to help!
In case you weren't already aware, March is Women's History Month, which was first instated in 1987. As such, I thought it would be relevant to discuss how I believe that my sex and gender have affected my interactions with doctors and the types of treatments I've been prescribed over the years.
Before that though, I would like to offer up the following disclaimer: I am aware that men can be mistreated in appointments too, especially when it comes to mental health and any matters that aren't physical. I hear your struggles and your pain and I empathize, truly. Yet, this post is meant to focus on women, as it's women's history month and I'm a woman. Therefore, this critique will focus on the intersection of my *individual and unique* experiences in the health care system.
Historically speaking, women have been mistreated when it comes to medical appointments. Whether it's through body shaming, disbelieving claims about chronic pain, or the outdated practice of diagnosing women with hysteria from back in the day, being taken seriously as a female patient wasn't - and still isn't - always a guarantee. Thankfully, much of the discrimination and mistreatment of women has fallen by the wayside, but we have a lot of room to improve as a health care system.
While I have done a lot of work to educate myself before entering appointments, to do research when it comes to finding a doctor, and to refuse to be mistreated by anyone in the medical community, there was a time where I didn't know any better and I truly believe that my being female allowed certain doctors to take advantage of my time and be dismissive of the major health crisis I was going through.
Breakdowns In Doctor-Patient Communication
In May of 2012 I had a copper intrauterine device put in called the Paragard. A month or so later, I was suffering from a very severe case of copper toxicity, unbeknownst to me at the time. My mental and physical health completely deteriorated in that short span of time to the point where every bodily function was compromised and I felt like my life was over at the young age of 22. It was so bad that I had to give up my dream of pursuing my master's degree in California because I couldn't function.
Naturally, I decided to go back to the doctor's office who recommended and performed the insertion of the Paragard. I had been seeing this OBGYN for years and I thought that we had a good working relationship, but like most conventional doctors, they were clueless about how to really help me.
I recall sitting on the examination table and talking about all of the symptoms that I was experiencing, including the loss of my monthly period (that couldn't be good, right?). The suggestion that I received in return still shocks me to this day. She said it was probably because I was "depressed" because I had just graduated from college and was "sad" that that chapter of my life was over. I couldn't believe my ears. All of my other complaints were chalked up to me getting used to the device or simply dismissed.
Now, I have struggled with depression since my pre-teen years and I knew deep down in my heart and soul that whatever I was going through was far worse than a run-of-the-mill depressive episode. Moreover, to suggest that my health was completely falling apart because I was "sad" seems very negligent to me, especially considering how horrible my mental state was at the time.
Over the past few years, I wondered if a male patient would have been treated this way. I wondered why women have to go through so many side effects and symptoms just to practice safe sex by way of birth control (yes, I am aware that abstinence is an option, but it's not a realistic option for me). I wondered why I wasn't being listened to and was being called emotional (read: sad). I was especially baffled about how it was hard for the doctors to believe that a device made from copper could cause me to have copper toxicity, especially because I was displaying nearly every symptom.
The Struggle To Be Heard Continues
Thankfully, a former professor of mine suggested I seek out treatment from another doctor. After one appointment, he said that I needed to get the IUD out in order to feel better. I called my OBGYN's office and asked if I could have the device removed, as I was experiencing a number of adverse effects and didn't feel comfortable having it in anymore.
Unfortunately, I was met with pushback and almost deference, as I had only got the device in five or six months ago and it could be left in for 5-10 years. They did not want to remove the device and continued to not listen to my complaints. Again, I wondered if this would happen to a male patient - would his claims and his assertions be taken seriously?
But being the determined lady I am, and knowing that I had to get this thing out in order to feel better, I decided to check myself into the ER. I asked to have the device removed, and again, I was met with hesitation. In order to be taken seriously, I had to embellish how much pain I was in and that *only* the pain was disrupting my daily life. I didn't even bother to bring up the mental anguish I was in for fear of being sent to a different doctor or being dismissed as "sad," like at my OBGYN's office. Ultimately, the device was taken out and that day in October 2012 began my healing journey.
Since that day in October I have learned a lot when it comes to being a patient: I take responsibility for my health and if I don't like how I'm being treated I find a different doctor/practice. Yet, no matter how much responsibility I claim or how empowered I feel, you can't control what others say.
For instance, one doctor recently said to me that it must be difficult for a man to take me out on a date because I can't eat out at restaurants or drink and about difficulties surrounding child birth (which by the way, I never plan on having children anyway). While I'm sure the doctor was trying to show some form of sympathy and had his heart in the right place, the comments didn't sit well with me because I'm already well aware of how my illnesses and restrictions cause dating issues, not to mention him assuming my sexuality and that I must want to have kids.
All in all, both men and women have negative experiences within the healthcare system - some stem from gender/sex and others are just from the nature of health care or the individual practitioner's inability to communicate and listen. But I'd like to hear your thoughts - do you think gender/sex affects how patients are treated (feel free to get intersectional with this - IMO, it's the only way to address issues properly)? Have you been mistreated based on your sex/gender in a medical setting?
Hopefully, continuing the dialogue on this subject can lead to improvements in the health care exchange for all people involved :)