Hopefully most of you know where my title line is from but for those of you who don't, it is famous line in Greek Mythology about the Trojan war. The "face" is referring to the ever beautiful Helen of Troy. She left Sparta and it's king for another man in Troy, and by doing so she started a war among love struck men. If you want more info then watch the movie Troy; it's historically inaccurate but it has both Orlando Bloom and Brad Pitt so by watching it you're still winning at life while kind of educating yourself. Or you could google it or read a book, but I still say just watch Troy... Because hotness. Okay now that I have sufficiently "cited my source" I'm going to move on to the actual content of this post and let me just start by saying...Wow.
I mean really wow. I am SO impressed/shocked/elated/surprised/excited by the response I got on Instagram of my acne progress picture. The outpouring of support and kind words has been amazing and I am really truly so grateful for them. I'm going try as much as possible not to get too far off track on this post because I have a purpose. I want to expand what I posted on Instagram and talk about my skin journey in hopes of educating and hopefully helping some people! Hence the name of this blog post. Oh and that picture... They're the "Heroes of Troy" apparently. Imagine them as Brad Pitt and Orlando Bloom... Okay sorry, now moving on...
Because trying to get rid of acne is a Battle (like the Trojan War) and my face (not for it's beauty but for it's skin) has "sailed a thousand ships" in that it has hopefully inspired many of you to keep going in your own battles against problematic skin and never give up! You CAN heal your skin naturally! Plus my skin has been waging this war for a very loong time. Without my health and the knowledge I've gathered I would be losing miserably. But instead I am hashtag winning. Yes you read that right, #winning.
Many of you have already asked questions on Instagram and I am hoping that with this post I can answer many of them so I don't have to type the same answer repeatedly on my cellphone where I am prone to many typos and consequently frequently confusing answers. I want to mention that I am not an expert or a professional in this subject. All I know is from hours upon hours of research (don't worry I won't include any of that here) that I have done and my own personal experiences so please do keep that in mind!
Can I be a complete NERD and fan girl for a second!? I am just so excited that freaking Liz Wolfe (realfoodliz.com) author of Eat the Yolks and the Purely Primal Skincare Guide (formerly Skintervention guide - and possibly the best purchase I ever made) reposted my picture and said that I INSPIRED HER! How freaking amazing is that!? I mean to have someone you so genuinely admire and look up to say that you inspire them is just really life affirming and fulfilling. I really am elated and HONORED and HUMBLED by this. I really truly am. Okay fan girling complete.
I have had acne for what feels like my entire life. This isn't 100% accurate but I remember getting my first pimples when I was around 11 years old. Ever since then it has been an identity that I have worn and I suspect no matter how clear my skin is I will wear that identity for the rest of my life. Plus I have scars... SO there's that. I was living in Korea at the time and honestly I didn't think too much of it. But when I moved to America at the ripe age of 13 and realized that no one else had the skin problems I did I began to become self conscious about it. So began my attempt to get rid of my acne. I started my first "3 step acne system" I don't even remember the name that consisted of a face wash, toner, and lotion of some sort. That did me no good and did not last long - maybe a couple months at best.
I heard or read somewhere else to just use a specific bar of soap so I did that and it didn't help, shocker I know. Then I moved on to good ol Proactive which helped a bit for a few months (by this time I was around 14-15 and at the peak of feeling like crap about myself) but here's where things really took a turn for the worse... I got contact dermatitis mostly on my forehead and T zone but it was really all over my face. For those of you who don't know what this is, it's like poison ivy but you don't get it from a plant, rather it's from touching your face in any way shape of form. It was itchy, scaly(it looked like snake skin peeling from my face), there was pus and it was a disgusting, and super uncomfortable mess. I went to the doctor and was put on steroids and other medications with antibiotics that made me dizzy and ill throughout the day. Which didn't bode very well for my 12 hour days (as a junior in private ballet school I had school for 5 hours then ballet for 4 hours 5 days a week and 3 hours of ballet on Saturdays... I had Sundays free to catch up on homework). But I got through it and was back to washing my face with a very mild bar of soap.
From there my mom and I decided to attempt the whole "natural" thing. We bought witch hazel as my toner, and I don't even remember what brand the random cleanser we found at the health food store was. When that didn't work we went to a dermatologist who prescribed me tetracycline (another antibiotic) for my skin plus Tazorac to put on topically. We called her within a few weeks to say it was all making my skin worse and I wasn't feeling well and she said I just needed to continue with it and give it time. Yeah okay I had a bad feeling about it so we stopped it right after that and never went back to her. From there over the next years I proceeded to try at least 7 more (that I can remember) different acne treatment "kits" or "complete systems" including some "natural" options. Oh and a round of 10 microdermabrasion sessions. None. Of. Them. Worked. I read a book on acne that told me my diet had nothing to do with it that it was purely my sebaceous glands clogging and there was no particular reason for it beyond being UNLUCKY.
I have asked myself countless times throughout this life: WHY do I have acne? Why am I a person who has to struggle with this when for so many people it's a thought that never even crosses their mind? Most people get a singular pimple and complain about being "broken out". Not even.
Anyway, after high school I went to a new dermatologist and was put on the pill. Yippie!! I was so excited because I had heard that it clears up your skin! And along with being on the pill I was given Duac and again the Tazorac plus a few other topical treatments. For the first time possibly since I was 11 years old I had clear skin. It felt like a miracle. I could go outside without makeup on and not die of sheer and utter shame. I finally felt like I was like everyone else. Ya for conforming to "normalcy". Granted my face hurt and peeled 24/7 because it was so dried out and I inexplicably lost a bunch of weight but still I was happy, I thought it was over. I thought I had won the acne battle. "Silly girl trix are for kids!"
Then I lost my health insurance coverage because my new job didn't offer benefits. This meant bye bye BCP and Duac. I was off the pill for about a year and during that time I started putting on weight (over 10 lbs) and got my beautiful full fledged acne back (this includes acne on my chest, back and arms btw). I got back on the pill in 2011 after being off for about one year, but didn't experience the same magical effect as last time. Instead I kept gaining weight (another 10 pounds to equal a total of 20-25lbs weight gain total) and my acne wasn't going away but I was "okay" with it. I told myself: This is just my life. I have acne and that's it. I'm the size of a "normal" person now, I'm just not ballet thin anymore. I'm doing fine.
But I ate and felt terrible all the time. I was genuinely eating mutiple full sized candy bars every day, all sorts of fast food, fried food, really anything and everything. I've always been a thin person so I never worried much about that. But in January 2013 I was sick of feeling and getting sick. I felt disgusting and despite not actually being very large in size, I felt huge for my frame. I did the master cleanse and dropped a good 13 lbs and kept it off. I felt amazing. AND the entire time on the cleanse I did not break out once. True story. When I started reintroducing foods I decided to leave dairy as a food group out all together. I started eating what I thought was "healthy" as in whole grains, gluten free, brown rice, meats and veggies (I've always loved meat) and no dairy what so ever. I also got laser treatment for my acne with chemical peels every 2 weeks and was using Obagi skincare. My skin was looking pretty good for a little while there but I was never breakout free. In order to do more detoxing (and wanting my skin to be a little better) I did the master cleanse again in July 2013. I broke out the entire time I was cleansing, and I lost more weight than I wanted to - I was not happy. My sister in law had told me about this paleo thing and I researched it while cleansing. I discovered Elana's Pantry and realized that I could eat bread made with almond flour while doing paleo. UHM OKAY SIGN ME UP! I've been Paleo ever since - August 2013. My skin wasn't terrible at this point but it wasn't good either.
I wanted to get even healthier - plus I wanted to be fertile for the sake of being able to have children when I wanted to - so I got off the pill in November 2013 (the same year) which is when everything changed. I started really having acne again. I closed out 2013 with my first round of all paleo holidays and started 2014 with a face and body full of acne. I also purchased a yearly unlimited bikram yoga package and I was still using the Obagi at this point because I felt it had worked in the past. But really I didn't understand why I was breaking out again when I was eating so well and doing bikram more often than ever. I was working 2 jobs, teaching ballet in the evenings and working a desk job during the day. I started in a new job in April of 2014 and revved up my yoga. My skin was getting worse and worse. I bought the Purely Primal Skincare Guide (formerly Skintervention guide) and began to read my tail off. I also started listening to the Balanced Bites Podcast and getting myself further and further immersed in the world that is the paleo community. There is just so much to learn and know! Anyway, I did a 30 day bikram challenge around May/June (the 12th picture below) which is when my skin was at it's WORST EVER. Like in my entire life, my skin has never been this bad. Okay the contact dermatitis may have been worse but that was different... Here's what I was doing at this time:
1. Oil Cleansing (OCM) with coconut oil, using ACV/water as a toner, using baking soda/water paste on occasion to exfoliate, Beauty Balm from Green Pastures to moisturize, and occasional Aztec clay mask.
2. 'No poo'ing on my hair
3. Bikram at least 3-5 times a week including some advanced classes.
4. Supplementing on and off with Vitex, Maca, Fermented Cod Liver Oil/Butter Oil Blend( FCLO/BO), Milk Thistle, and l-glutamine.
5. Eating pretty standard paleo without specific modifications.
Okay so that all sounds pretty good right? SO what freaking gives!? This went on and was a process for months mind you. While I thought that I was doing pretty great for myself I also found out that my acne is strongly driven by hormones, specifically testosterone. For a female I have some crazy high testosterone levels (tested by my OB/GYN and confirmed again this year with the Naturopath). There is a lot more to that whole situation but I'm not going to go into that here. SO what did I change to start seeing results despite being crazy discouraged? Well here are just a few things that I believe contributed to my overall success:
1. I switched to doing the OCM with Grapeseed Oil. Such a simple change but made a huge difference for me!
2. I stopped 'no poo'ing. It was stressing me out that my hair looked like crap 24/7. I tried to make it work for months but it just wasn't for me. Instead I use JustNaturals Shampoo.
3. I stopped working my second job, started dancing again and almost entirely stopped going to bikram. I think this is a huge one. I was pushing myself so hard in class and it was not good for me. I still love bikram yoga, don't get me wrong but I had to take a step back for my health.
4. I started consistently taking a double dose of FCLO/BO (2tsp instead of 1tsp) ironically because I felt like I was getting sick and read to take a double dose for that but saw improvement in my skin! I reduced my l-glutamine to 1/2tsp of powder in water daily and decided to scrap everything else.
5. I did multiple 21dsd's which helped my sugar (helping regulate insulin) addiction and began trying to get nutrients as much as possible. Sardines, gelatin, offal, fermented foods, and the list goes on. Most recently I did AIP in January and saw my Naturopath who gave me great insight into what was going on with my body.
6. TIME. I swear this seems all tied up into a pretty little bow by this post but man has it been a PROCESS! The body takes time to heal. I'm still working to heal my body. Everything takes time and patience and forgiving, and understanding, and persistence and determination. Repeat after me: "I know I am doing my very best and my very best is good enough."
By the time I went to the Naturopath (or Functional Medicine Doctor) in January 2015 my skin was already really doing well but I still knew that my hormones were out of whack. We did both blood and genetic testing that gave me a wealth of information about ME in early February. The genetic testing specifically was super informative as it showed what medications and supplements I do well with based on my genes. For instance I found out that my body functions optimally with high amounts of Omega 3's. I've been eating a can of sardines a day minimum pretty much since then. I learned a lot of other things too and I am taking a bunch of supplements with his guidance for the next few months to try and fix my hormonal imbalances. Then I'll have my blood drawn again and we will reevaluate. It's still a process but I have been genuinely amazed with the fast results. Knowing what your gene's respond to took so much of the guess work out of what to try.
ANYWAY, this post is way too long and I just want to reiterate that you need to look at every freaking aspect of your life when you're looking at something as complex as a skin issue. And please research and educate yourself as much as possible! Very rarely is there a quick, simple, or easy fix to these problems but the answer is there - you just have to find it! Once you get yourself balanced you have to do your damn best to maintain it and continue to make changes as your body's needs change. Keep that in mind. Your body today is not the same as it was yesterday and it's not the same as it will be tomorrow. We are constantly changing for better or for worse. If you're going through a struggle, please don't be discouraged, and feel free to ask me any questions you have! And just please believe that YOU CAN HEAL YOURSELF NATURALLY! Be patient with yourself. Be forgiving of yourself. And above all else, LOVE yourself. You can do this with perseverance and persistence. Now time for pictures...
The pictures below are all of the same side of my face (obviously) over the course of multiple months starting probably in March or April of 2014 until February 2015. They are unattractive and unflattering. But I hope they give you a visual and I hope they give you hope. None of them are retouched or edited in any way. I'm not wearing any makeup in any of them either as I'm sure you can tell. Now truth time - I totally started slacking with the progress pics as my face started improving... It jumps from: you can tell it's getting better to now in February when it's looking great (I had just woken up in the picture so just pay attention to my skin please haha). I also took a lot of progress pics WITH makeup on but that's not a fair comparison next to these pictures. I apologize for that but regardless here we are! Oh and that last picture is from January BEFORE I saw the Naturopath to show you that I achieved this on my own prior to his help and intervention. I originally took the picture to show my puppy sleeping on my butt again but hopefully you get the idea!
xoxo - Harmony