skin stories: part one
Okay so the thing about acne and why people get it, chronically or suddenly, in my opinion, is that it could be anything. I also firmly believe that sometimes, it could be nothing. It could be your hormones, your gut or your lymphatic system. It could be what you’re putting on your skin, it could be what you’re eating, it could be stress, it could be where you live, it could be how you were born, it could be any one or combination of these things. The internet will tell you a lot. It will tell you something like this one ingredient SAVED my skin and have a million comments being like YES and then another person will be like AVOID THIS ONE SPECIFIC INGREDIENT talking about the exact same thing and an equal amount of people will be all like you’re omg SO right. It can be very, very confusing.
Lots of stories and information online is nice. You feel a little less alone. But sometimes it causes us to blame ourselves. To think, what am I doing wrong? Aren't I doing everything right? This is a question I asked myself many, many times. I think it is an unhelpful way to approach skin issues. This post will not tell you how to fix your skin issues. What I think is more important, is shifting the perspective.
Instead of what am I doing that is wrong or bad, could you shift it to how can I support myself more? Or where am I not supporting myself enough?
I never had acne until I did. I had normal hormonal breakouts as a teenager and then I went on the pill for ten years and I had great skin. It was a little dry and sensitive, but not problematic. I used rosehip oil and nothing else. My diet and lifestyle was pretty unhealthy for the most part – but my skin never gave me away.
Some people go off the pill and everything is fine and they feel amazing. I went off the pill and stepped straight into withdrawal symptoms from hell (as a side note, still worth it) followed by a particularly shitty time in my life that manifested itself as full blown cystic acne. I had also just started teaching yoga. Standing up in front of people as a new teacher, with painful, angry skin was really, really hard. I did not realise the crippling effect severe acne can have on your emotional health and self worth. It’s tough. You have nowhere to hide.
Now, my skin is okay. It’s not perfect. I have scars. It’s sensitive. It gets red. Sometimes new products break me out. But I don’t have cystic acne and haven’t since this first outbreak cleared up. I was told by doctors and dermatologists I would have to be on antibiotics for at least a year, probably more, and that it wasn’t going to clear up without the pill, roacutane or a strong topical treatment. I was determined not to go back on the pill or take roacutane, and I knew a topical treatment would be too strong for my sensitive skin. After months of resisting, I finally did take antibiotics and went off them a couple months later. I know antibiotics are bad but if this ever happens again, for whatever reason, I would take them immediately because it did work to stop the infection, and had I taken them earlier I may not have such big scars. Below are a few things that worked for me during the time it was really bad. They are more steps to look after yourself rather than perfect skin 101 (I'll let you know when I've nailed that one.)
1. Seek support
Don't try to figure it out on your own. Go and see someone straight away. I eventually went to acupuncture, which in this specific instance wasn’t helpful for me, though I know many people who have had a lot of success treating hormonal and skin issues this way. I then went to a dermatologist who was lovely but deeply unhelpful (they always have been for me so far) then I went to a naturopath, which for me, was the first step that made any difference. It wasn’t something I thought I could afford, but I prioritised the appointment and the highest quality supplements and lifestyle shifts she recommended. That’s when things started to change.
2. Start taking steps to eliminate highly stressful environments from your life where possible
I’m talking about a job, a romantic partner, a housemate or family member you live with. Are you constantly around someone who makes you feel on edge? What is standing in the way of you feeling okay, safe, steady, relaxed. Another big one for me. Of course, take time to meditate, to relax and to rest, but no amount of yoga will remove a toxic person or place from your life until you actually just do it.
3. Check for deficiencies
Go to the doctor and take a simple blood test. I will always remember the naturopath saying that skin could be very, very difficult but nothing would work if didn’t have a solid foundation to build on. This was super crucial for me. In the six months between my last test and the one I took on her advice, my iron and B12 levels had plummeted and were dangerously low due to stress related malabsorption.
4. Don’t do or change everything at once
At first I was trying everything on my own and it was stressing me out even more. Everyone was like give up coffee! Use this product! Give up bread! Make your own products! Give up sugar! (which I wasn’t eating at the time anyway) I did give up coffee for a few months when I found out I was anaemic and caffeine inhibited the iron absorption (I drank decaf in the afternoons away from taking supplements) but otherwise I did not change my diet. Despite what everyone tried to tell me at the time I knew, deep down, my diet was not the problem.
5. Don’t take away what brings you pleasure and joy
This might be the most important step. Does makeup bring you joy? Keep wearing it. Does chocolate bring you joy? Keep eating it. Wine? Great, don't stop drinking it. Like I mentioned above, so much of the advice was actually removing things from my life I enjoyed. Like cutting things from my diet, taking a break from a strong yoga practice. How about shifting the focus to adding. For example, where can I add in more rest rather than removing stronger exercise? Can I be more mindful about my consumption of alcohol or sugar without giving it up.
Where am I denying myself things that bring me joy and pleasure?
My skin still isn’t perfect but I’m trying to be patient. I’m also trying to remind myself that it may never be. And that’s okay. When I was suffering from the acne at its worst I wished to be someone who had ‘just okay’ skin. Skin that could be smoothed over with a BB cream or concealer. I would think to myself people without acne don’t know how lucky they are!!! So now when I get impatient or hard on myself for not being as glowing and radiant as 18 year olds on Instagram, I remind myself, mainly. to chill the fuck out.
Anyone else with a similar story? Or totally different approach that worked? Please let me know!
Image via pintrest: Fanny Ardant, French Vogue 1991