Acne. Just the word makes you cringe, doesn’t it? Well sadly, SO many people suffer from it. And one of those people was me. I can’t tell you how many creams and products I bought in desperation, just to try to clear it up overnight. After tons of trial and error and research, here’s what I want to share with you from what I learned and what worked for me. Keep reading to get a free acne face mapping guide + checklist!
I want to preface this by saying that everything in this blog post is what worked for me personally. I’m obviously not a doctor, and everyone’s body is different. This is what I found from the extensive research I did and what helped my body heal. I encourage you to do the research as well!
The REAL Cause of Acne
A common misconception with acne is that people assume you don’t wash your face or have good hygiene. Although hygiene and skincare are a factor, that is not the main cause of acne! The reason that all the “miracle” face products I was trying were failing (ahem, Proactive) was because acne starts from within. This was such a huge realization for me, and actually, the main reason that I began to be seriously interested in non-toxic living and a holistic lifestyle. We often think that getting pimples as a teenager is just a right of passage. But in fact, it is our body’s way of signaling that something is wrong!
Which is why I hate to break it to you, but there is no overnight solution for acne. There isn’t one product that will cure it magically. It’s truly a lifestyle shift! I do not believe that you can just slather on a cream and fix it. What happens when you stop using the cream? Your acne will likely come back because internally, something is still wrong.
(side note: I’m not discrediting dermatologists. I go to one every year to have my skin checked out. I also had acne in high school and used a topical cream from the dermatologist which did heal it temporarily, until it came back with a vengeance! I am just trying to stress the importance of healing from within.)
Acne starts from within your body, which is why most “miracle” facial products simply do not work long-term.
Trust me, I know how debilitating acne is and how horrible it makes you feel. I had the worst acne of my life on my wedding day. Some days I didn’t even want to look in the mirror, nor did I feel pretty. It’s a shame that we equate our self-worth with how we look on the outside, but it’s the sad truth. Here are some before/after photos to give you hope that you CAN heal yourself naturally:
How to Determine the Cause of Your Acne
First of all, it’s important to know the cause of your acne before you treat it. Did you know that breakouts on different parts of your face signal different internal problems? I had painful, cystic acne on my jawline and chin, meaning my hormones were totally out of whack. I had recently come off the pill and it TOTALLY messed up my body and hormones (that’s a story for another time!). I also had acne on my forehead meaning my diet and my gut were NOT healthy.
Want to learn what type of acne you have? Plus get a FREE printable checklist with action steps to clear your acne? Just fill out the form below and it will be sent to your inbox! Don’t worry, no spam here.
So after I learned what the cause of my acne was (mostly hormones, diet, and stress), it was time to start treating it. I apologize if this post starts to get really long, but trust me, this is info that I SOOOOO wish I knew when first struggling with acne!
Here’s what we’ll cover:
- Natural supplements
- Skincare do’s and don’ts
- Oral hygiene
- Environmental & product detox
- Wellness rituals
- Healing acne scars & pigmentation
This post contains affiliate links.
A healthy diet is SO important when trying to treat acne (and just in general!). Here are some of the ways I adjusted my diet:
- Less dairy, specifically milk. I still eat dairy in small amounts like cheese and yogurt occasionally, or a small amount of half & half in coffee. But I try to make sure it’s organic and grass-fed because conventional dairy usually has added hormones and antibiotics in it. Also, dairy is inflammatory which is why I try to eat it in small amounts. Cow’s milk contains a high amount of IGF–1, a growth hormone that causes your endocrine system to kick into high gear and your immune system to turn against itself. It also signals your oil glands to produce more sebum (in turn clogging pores and creating acne). If you’re not totally willing to give up dairy, you can try consuming it raw – that’s a lot easier for bodies to digest. I also find that ghee and goat’s milk is easier for me to digest and doesn’t break me out!
- Avoid soy. For those who give up dairy, they usually turn to soy alternatives. However, I try to avoid soy because it contains phytoestrogens that mimic estrogen in your body. Estrogen dominance = acne. Most soy is also genetically modified and inhibits zinc absorption in your body (zinc is necessary for clear skin!). Instead of cow’s milk or soy milk, try oat, walnut, or coconut milk instead!
- Cut the canola and vegetable oils. This is misleading for a lot of people. Vegetable oils like corn, canola, and soybean MUST be healthy, right?!? Ehh not so much. Most vegetable oils are highly processed, genetically modified, and contain high amounts of trans fats and omega-6s, which are inflammatory. These oils can also alter your sebum and make it more susceptible to bacteria, causing acne. I use organic olive oil, coconut oil, or avocado oil instead. Much healthier for your heart too!
- More fermented foods. It’s so so SO important to have a healthy gut flora! Your gut contains both good and bad bacteria, and you want to have more good than bad obviously! Having a healthy gut supports skin and immune health, and even mental health. Fermented foods also help control sebum production. I started incorporating more fermented foods into my diet and it made a HUGE difference. Some fermented foods are: kombucha, kimchi, and sauerkraut. You can also take a probiotic, but make sure it’s high quality.
- Reduce sugar intake. Once you start paying attention, you’ll notice just how much sugar is in the food we eat. If you typically avoid processed food, you’ll naturally consume less sugar. But it’s sneaky and can even be in foods like ketchup! So read those ingredient labels and try to be more conscious of how much you’re eating (I’m still trying to be better about this!). The American Heart Association recommends most American women eat no more than 20 grams of sugar per day, 36 grams for men. Sugar is the root of a lot of health problems. Simply put: it spikes your blood sugar, which causes you to overproduce sebum, which worsens acne. And FYI, even natural sources of sugar like maple syrup and high-glycemic fruits (like dates and bananas) contribute to blood sugar spikes. So obviously get your fruits in, but don’t overdo it! 🍭 I also advise against sugar substitutes like Splenda, those will do more harm than good!
- Less gluten. Again, I still eat gluten/bread/grains in small amounts but try to make sure it’s high-quality, whole wheat, organic, etc. Gluten is in SO many products nowadays, especially processed food. Since most wheat and grains are now so highly processed and refined, the quality has severely gone downhill. The bread that our grandparents ate back in the day is NOT the same as the loaf of white “bread” at the store now, for example. Refined carbs also spike your blood sugar. I won’t go into details of Celiac disease or gluten sensitivities, I encourage you to research if you wish to do so. But gluten is a very complex protein that your intestines cannot always fully break down. This causes your gut to become inflamed and start attacking itself. And we know from above that inflammation and an unhealthy gut = acne!
- Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. This sounds obvious, but staying hydrated is key to flushing toxins and keeping your skin clear. If you think water is too boring, try adding some lemon which can also benefit your health. A general rule is to divide your weight in half, and have that much in oz. per day. So if you weigh 150 lbs, try to drink at least 75 oz. of water per day. 💦
- Drink more tea. I tried to drink more organic green tea and organic dandelion tea. Green tea helps your skin produce less sebum, reduce inflammation, and boost your immune system (among other awesome health benefits). Dandelion tea helps detox your liver and kidneys (liver detox is essential for hormonal acne because that’s where your body flushes excess estrogen). According to Livestrong, “dandelion root is also high in vitamins A, B, C, and D as well as iron, potassium, and zinc, all of which promote clear skin.”
- Overall: eat mostly organic, real, and raw foods. I avoid fad diets and cleanses. Ditch the processed junk. Listen to what your body needs. There aren’t foods that I totally “cut out” of my diet, I just watch the amount and quality of what I eat. Eat organic when possible to avoid pesticides, fungicides, herbicides, hormones in meat, etc. which create a toxic load in your body. A good way to make sure you’re getting enough fruits and veggies is to make a smoothie (click for my fave recipe!)
Eat foods that won’t cause inflammation of the gut. A healthy gut flora is one of the most important things you can do to keep acne under control.
But like I said before, our bodies are all different. Certain foods trigger acne for some people, but not at all for others. For example, caffeine can be an acne trigger for some people, but that was just not something I was willing to part with 😊 Instead of eliminating/lessening ALL of the foods above, you can try elimination dieting, which means you take out one at a time to see if it helps your acne improve.
- Estroblock. Estroblock is a natural DIM (diindolylmethane) supplement that helps your liver detox “bad” estrogen from your body and promotes “good” estrogen. It’s a combination of phytochemicals and derivatives of raw cruciferous vegetables. Since the main cause of my acne was hormonal, I needed all the help I could get with the excess estrogen in my body. I took this for about a year: starting with the regular strength formula, then triple strength, then back down to regular, slowly taking it less and less. PLEASE NOTE: This supplement is what worked for me without side effects. Please look into it and discuss it with your doctor before taking it.
- Zinc. Zinc is essential for maintaining proper immune system function and regulating hormonal balance. Pumpkin seeds, dark chocolate, and grass-fed beef are also great sources of zinc!
- Vitamin D. Also known as the sunshine vitamin! It’s great to get vitamin D naturally from the sun, but it can be hard in the winter living in Wisconsin. So I supplemented. Vitamin D is so beneficial to your overall health. It supports your immune system and also reduces inflammation in the body.
- Collagen peptides. Collagen is so amazing. It’s essential for healthy skin and is the most abundant protein in our body. Collagen reduces inflammation, balances hormones, supports a healthy gut and liver, and keeps skin looking youthful. I use the brand Great Lakes Grass-Fed Collagen.
Natural Skincare & Organic Makeup
A simple, natural, and consistent skincare ritual is so important for clear skin. Let’s start with what I was doing wrong and what was actually making my acne worse:
- Over-exfoliating and scrubbing. This is a big no-no! You need to be gentle with acne. Being rough just opens it up and spreads bacteria and causes inflamed skin.
- Popping, picking, and touching. STOP IT! I know it’s tempting to pop the zits but don’t. Seriously! You’re just spreading germs.
- Over-drying and washing with HOT water. I was using harsh cleansers like Cetaphil that severely stripped the oils from my skin. I was also showering and washing my face with really hot water. Both of these dry out skin, which causes excess sebum production, which makes your skin even more oily and acne-prone.
- Using products with benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid. These are common ingredients in acne products. However, they cause over-drying of the skin and interfere with your skin’s natural ability to heal itself. I would get super dry, flaky, red skin when using products with these ingredients! But at the same time, my skin was pumping out excess oil to combat the dryness. Hence…acne.
Over-drying skin causes excess sebum production, which makes your skin even more oily and acne-prone.
So now let’s talk about what I started doing that helped, incredibly!
- Manuka honey face mask 5x a week for 1 hour. I have a blog post about manuka face masks which goes more in-depth about its properties. Manuka is antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, anti-fungal, and draws moisture to the skin, keeping it hydrated. I swear by it! 🍯
- Gently exfoliating. Check out this blog post to see all the best gentle exfoliators!
- Moisturizing with organic oils. I know this seems really backward, it was confusing for me at first too. You would think that putting oils on your skin would clog pores or make it worse. But that’s definitely not true, as long as you’re using the right oils! Oil fights oils, so by keeping your skin hydrated, it doesn’t have to produce excess sebum. See my blog post for my fave serums.
- Rinsing with cold water in the morning, that’s it. I have to thank beauty guru Gwyneth Paltrow for this tip! As long as you’re cleansing your face at night, there’s absolutely no need to cleanse again in the morning. Just splash some cold water and pat dry, then moisturize and you’re good to go. The cold water helps you wake up, too! I also like to add some manuka honey to damp skin as a gentle morning cleanse.
- Washing makeup brushes weekly. I’m ashamed to admit that I never used to wash my makeup brushes, so gross! Bacteria builds up in your brushes so make sure you’re cleaning them at least once a week (if you use them daily). I wrote a blog post on how to do it for only $3!
- Switching to natural makeup and skincare products. Since there is basically zero regulation in the cosmetic industry, products you buy at the drugstore can be filled with toxins, irritants, and even ingredients that can disrupt your endocrine system. Be sure to check out My Faves page for a list of clean, non-toxic brands that I love and use. Making the switch has helped with acne so much because I’m putting gentle products on my skin and lessening the number of toxins in my body!
Oil fights oils, so by keeping your skin hydrated, it doesn’t have to produce excess sebum.
Wait, what do oral hygiene and acne have to do with each other? A lot, actually! Since my hormones were very unbalanced, my gums became inflamed and unhealthy (a common side effect of hormonal imbalance). They would literally bleed randomly and don’t even get me started on how painful it was to floss.
I was looking up ways to naturally cure gum disease and came across oil pulling and it quite literally changed my life. You just swish oil (usually coconut or sesame) in your mouth for 10-20 minutes and it pulls toxins from your mouth. It sounds weird, but it’s totally effective and has many health benefits. Mouths are very dirty places: toxins love to hang out there. And those toxins can travel to your gut, which causes even more problems, like acne. I still oil pull to this day, and I wrote a blog post all about it if you care to read more!
Toxins in your mouth can travel to your gut, causing acne.
Detoxing Your Environment & Products
With acne, it really helps to detox your life in any way possible. Here are some ways that I detoxed my environment and personal care products:
- Shower filter. The one I bought filters out heavy metals, chlorine, and bacteria. All of these can contribute to dry, irritated skin.
- Purge the plastic. I wrote a blog post all about the importance of lessening your plastic usage. Plastic can affect your hormone levels and raise estrogen in your body. And remember, estrogen dominance is an acne trigger.
- Natural deodorant. Most conventional deodorants and antiperspirants contain aluminum, fragrance, and parabens that, once again, mimic estrogen. By blocking the sweat glands, you are actually trapping toxins in your body and allowing them to build up. Here are some of my fave natural deodorants that work.
- Avoiding fluoride. I mention fluoride-free dental products above, but fluoride is actually very prominent in tap water. It’s a neurotoxin! And hey, if Olivia Munn swears by drinking fluoride-free water to clear chin acne, it must be true! (there’s also an entire book about this) I use a Pure Effect water filter which attaches to your faucet. It filters chlorine, fluoride, heavy metals, and tons of other chemicals. Check out this episode of the Positively Green Podcast with author Melissa Gallico to learn more.
- Wash your pillowcase often. This is so important if you have acne! Pillowcases can get pretty nasty. I try to wash mine at least every other week, with a non-toxic detergent of course! (also, don’t sleep in your makeup!)
There are many other ways you can detox your life. Check my faves page for more ideas!
Reduce Stress. Sleep More. Sweat.
Stress causes acne and acne causes stress. It’s a vicious cycle. I was stressed from work, wedding planning, and unfortunate family deaths. Stress also kills off good bacteria in your gut, which is crazy! The stress hormone called cortisol also causes acne. I tried to do as much as possible to reduce stress like meditation, yoga, and frequent massages and facials. Also trying to be very conscious that acne itself was a stress trigger – just being aware seemed to help reduce stress around that.
The stress hormone cortisol causes acne.
Getting enough sleep is vital too. When you’re tired and don’t sleep, that induces stress and makes your body work harder to stay healthy. It’s also very important to sweat and work out. You might think that sweat makes acne worse but exercising and sweating helps rid your body of toxins!
Patience is a virtue, my friend. If you treat your body and skin right, your acne should start to clear up. But you have to allow it time to heal and balance! It took me over a year to clear my acne. It probably would have taken less time but I was trying so many different things that weren’t working at first. So hopefully this blog post helps you figure it out and you can heal yourself faster!
The Aftermath: Healing Acne Scars & Maintaining Clear Skin
Once my acne was at bay, I, unfortunately, was left with some scarring and pigmentation. Here are some natural ways that I reduced that:
- Manuka honey face mask 5x a week for 1 hour
- Microneedling 2x a month – probably one of the most effective scar-reducing method I’ve come across!
- Juice Beauty Green Apple Enzyme Peel 1x a week
- Osmia Organics Spot Treatment if a pimple starts to form
- Continue eating healthy and living as much of a non-toxic life as possible, as well as maintaining a consistent skincare ritual from above (but not stressing about being perfect about it!)
The Outcome: Truly Feeling Great in My Skin
In a very strange way, I am glad that acne signaled me that something was wrong with my body internally. It really helped me learn how to nourish myself and give my body what it needs in order to function at its best. I obviously can improve in many ways and still do not have totally perfect skin (but hey, life happens!). But I truly do FEEL so much better. It’s so important to pay attention to what you’re putting in and on your body, and it’s so amazing how good you can feel once you give your body what it needs and take away what it doesn’t.
And like I said, please do not feel like you have to take this as strict advice. These are just methods that I researched and found to work for me. Listen to your body and do what works best for YOU! 🙌
In case you are interested in trying some of these lifestyle changes to help your acne, download the FREE printable guides below! It includes an acne face mapping guide so you can figure out what type of acne you have, as well as an actionable checklist for how to heal your acne. Perfect for hanging on the fridge!
Thank you SO much for reading along and I truly hope this helps you! Please let me know if you have any questions in the comments. I would love to help you out if this is something you are struggling with.
more resources and further reading:
- Body Unburdened Holistically Clear Course: My friend Nadia is a Nutritional Therapy Practitioner and has an extremely thorough 6-week online course that will help you get to the root cause of your acne. She teaches about the nutrition, diet, and hormonal causes of acne to help you heal from within.
- Healthy Skin Glows Skin Rebalancing Protocol: An online course that will help you get your skin back in balance! Sara, the founder, is my friend and personal go-to resource for all things skincare. She’s so knowledgable and I gained so much insight about my skin from this course.
- Skyn Therapy