How to heal your acne for a clear complexion… that lasts? The key to clear skin lies in balancing the root causes of acne — focusing on hormonal balance, boosting digestion and gut health, supporting your liver, and calming inflammation. Here are 7 key steps to start your journey to clear skin from within!
This post is a collaboration with Suzi from Gurl Gone Green. Suzi’s an esthetician and sharing her best tips for topical skincare for acne-prone skin over here on her blog.
Confession: I used to cry when getting ready for work in the morning and sometimes even call out sick when my breakouts were so bad.
I was exhausted with trying (and failing) to cover my blemishes with makeup.
Frustrated with searching for that holy grail product that would give me my skin back.
I couldn’t understand why this was happening to me as an adult… and why the heck wasn’t it happening to any of my friends!
Do you know the feeling?
You’re most definitely not alone. I’ve been in your shoes and it’s estimated that acne affects up to 50% of all women in our adult lives.
Ironically, my skin cleared by accident — while I was working to balance other aspects of my body and health. Little did I know that was the key!
In the years since then, I’ve made it my mission to learn as much as possible about the root causes of adult acne, and have guided dozens of women through the process of rebalancing their bodies to clear their skin in my Nutritional Therapy practice and 6-week small group nutrition and skin coaching program Holistically Clear.
Why do we experience acne in the first place?
The conventional approach to acne isn’t cutting it for most women, and it’s clear why: acne is NOT just a topical problem.
The science makes it clear that true acne — not cosmetic acne caused by comedogenic / pore-clogging skincare ingredients or “fungal acne” / malassezia folliculitis — is really a symtom of internal imbalances within:
- Specific hormones out of balance
- An inefficient liver
- Chronic inflammation
- Chronic digestive issues and poor gut health
- Oxidative stress
Of course, every body is unique and acne is a complex issue, as are its root causes.
But there are a few key steps you can take to start bringing balance back to these root causes and heal your acne from within…
7 Key Steps to Healing Your Acne From Within
TWEAK YOUR DIET FOR BALANCED BLOOD SUGAR LEVELS
This is 100% the most important step you MUST take to heal your acne.
Because spikes in blood sugar cause insulin (and with it, insulin-like growth factor 1 or IGF-1) and androgen hormones to spike, and these are the biggest and baddest hormones behind acne.
Now here’s the thing about balancing your blood sugar levels that you MUST know: it isn’t as simple as just cutting out table sugar, cookies, and soda from your diet.
Because all carbs are broken down into glucose once digestion, which means all carbs are essentially sugar to your body once digested.
Now of course, a cookie and a sweet potato or an apple are of course nutritionally very different! But if you’re eating only starchy veggies (like sweet potato) or fruits (like apples) in one sitting or all day long at each and every meal, this is going to be spiking and crashing your blood sugar levels (just like a box of cookies would), causing those acne-causing hormones to rise, and ensuring your acne stays put. No, we don’t want this!
I talk more about the keys to balanced blood sugar levels in my Clear Skin Smoothie Guide, which you can get over HERE when you sign up for the waitlist for my 6-week Holistically Clear group nutrition and skin coaching program.
DITCH THE DAIRY
Here’s the thing about dairy: it naturally contains the acne-causing hormone insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1). Yes, even organic and pasture-raised dairy produced without growth hormones!
And though it also comes packed with protein, most dairy products also contain quite a lot of natural sugars (lactose = sugar) and so can cause blood sugar levels to spike… and we now know that spikes in blood sugar cause those acne-causing IGF-1 and androgen hormones to spike as well!
So it’s no surprise that studies have found a link between dairy consumption and increase blood levels of IGF-1.
Plus, dairy is also very pro-inflammatory, and since acne is an inflammatory skin condition, we want to do as much as possible to calm inflammation.
GIVE YOUR LIVER SOME T.L.C.
Your liver is one hard-working hustler of an organ! And while it knows how to do its job, it can get over-burdened thanks to the stress, blood sugar spikes and crashes, and pollutants that come with modern life. (This is one of the many reasons why it’s so important to make the switch to all-natural skincare products and detox your home!)
But we need the liver to be in tip-top shape for the sake of balanced blood sugar levels, balanced hormones… and so our skin!
Because in addition to metabolic wastes and toxins, the liver detoxes excess and used hormones, and it manages blood sugar levels by storing and releasing glucose as well as producing ketones.
Leafy greens and cruciferous vegetables— cauliflower, cabbage, kale, bok choy, broccoli, Brussels sprouts — also contain specific compounds that aid the liver in detoxing hormones. So look to get more of these veggies in your diet!
See these blog posts for some more tips:
REDUCE PRO-INFLAMMATORY OILS
Acne is an inflammatory skin condition, so we need to look to reduce chronic inflammation as much as possible.
One of the most important ways to do so is by balancing our omega-6 and omega-3 essential fatty acid (EFA) intake. Because omega-6s kickstart the inflammation process where as omega-3s kickstart the anti-inflammation process.
And here’s the thing: the average person consumes 10 times more omega-6s than omega-3s!
So we need to look to reduce the omega-6s and increase the omega-3s to rebalance and anti-inflame.
The most common sources of omega-6 EFAs in our diets are “vegetable” oils including corn and canola oil, as well as processed foods that contain these oils. Nuts and seeds are also significant sources of omega-6s.
The best sources of omega-3 EFAs are cold-water fish like salmon, mackerel, sardines, and anchovies.
SUPPORT YOUR DIGESTION AND GUT HEALTH
Chronic digestive issues and poor gut health are a significant source of chronic inflammation and stress on the body. This inflammation directly provokes breakouts, and the chronic stress negatively impacts hormonal balance (see below!).
This connection between digestive health and the skin isn’t intuitive at first, but some researchers have called the digestive system and skin “two sides of the same coin.” (source)
The digestive system is big and complex and there’s a lot going on there! But see these blog posts for some basic tips to boost digestion and balance the gut microbiome:
Should you have more serious digestive issues that aren’t remedied with these tips, a real food diet, or basic supplementation, it’s time to work with a doctor or practitioner to help you get some in-depth testing done to help you get to the roots.
REDUCE PHYSICAL AND MENTAL STRESSORS
I know, I know…. easier said than done! (Totally hard-wired for stress over here 🙋)
But the stress hormone cortisol drives the skin’s oil production up and causes it to thicken, meaning it’s able to much more easily clog pores. For this reason, studies have directly linked elevated cortisol levels to acne.
Plus, the body prioritizes production of the stress hormones over the sex hormones, so reducing stress is key for hormonal balance and so key for clear skin.
And remember that stress is more than just mental. Again, digestive issues are a major and very common source of chronic physical stress, which is one of the reason’s why maintaining healthy digestion and a healthy gut is key for overcoming acne. Another source of chronic physical stress that I see a lot with clients: over-exercising or not resting properly between workouts.
GET THAT BEAUTY SLEEP!
Studies show that lack of sleep — getting less than 6 hours of quality sleep a night — raises cortisol and insulin levels.
And we now know how profoundly cortisol and insulin impact the skin and trigger acne!
So yes, my friend, beauty sleep is very real and it’s time that you prioritize sleep as part of your health and skincare routine.
But we certainly can’t discount topical skincare when working to heal acne naturally.
I see it time and again with new clients: with the best of intentions, they’re accidentally making their acne worse with their topical skincare products and routine.
(And I did this too!)
They’re using too many products, totally over-doing it and disrupting their skin barrier — retinol or l-ascorbic acid vitamin C serum on top of exfoliating acids on top of scrubs on top of their Clarisonic spin brushes.
Or they’re using incredibly harsh, kill-all-the-acne-causing-bacteria-ever products. Not only are these products typically very drying and so cause a lot of irritation and inflammation, but they also disrupt the skin’s protective microbiome.
Also very common and very important to consider: using skincare or makeup that’s highly comedogenic or in other words, pore clogging.
Instead of working against our skin, our skincare products need to be working with our skin.
Products that help to:
- Repair the skin barrier
- Calm inflammation and irritation
- Maintain a healthy, balanced pH
- Foster a healthy skin microbiome
- NOT clog pores!
- Prevent sebum oxidation (like my Body Unburdened Beauty Blend No.2!)
- Hydrate and moisturize the skin (which heals more quickly and is more resilient)
This is the key to attaining and maintaining a clear complexion!
When you address the root causes of your breakouts — work to balance your hormones, heal your gut, love your liver, and cut inflammation — and remove the irritating topical products that are making your skin even more vulnerable to breakouts, and swap them for gentle, nourishing, but effective ingredients…
You’ll finally be able to get rid of breakouts once and for all… and keep them away!
Be sure to check out Suzi from Gurl Gone Green’s blog post for even more tips: How To Heal Acne Naturally
ANY THOUGHTS OR QUESTIONS?
Please share them in the comments below and let’s chat!