From Lauren: today’s post is shared by Amie Tollefsrud, a nutritional therapist and who runs Rebelle Nutrition. Amie and I have both used nutrition to heal our severe acne, and we share a passion for supporting others in doing the same.
Are you eating paleo, but still having acne?
Despite the fact I am now a real-food eating Nutritional Therapist, this wasn’t always a the case. As a matter of fact, it was only about 5 short years ago that my food regimen consisted of non-fat yogurt, artificial sweeteners and diet soda- alongside a daily concoction of prescription medications taken as a temporary bandaid to my digestive, hormonal, and skin related symptoms.
As you can imagine, years of this pattern left me fatigued and underweight with wrecked digestion. My hair was falling out, and worst of all (to me), my skin was ridden with embarrassing acne.
Finally fed up with feeling crappy, I spent the next few years on a road to regaining my health, which meant avoiding processed foods, gaining some much-needed weight, and getting rid of toxins both in my body and in the environment around me.
My health slowly began to improve, my hair stopped falling out, and I regained energy. However, no matter what new health trend I tried or Ayurvedic guru I listened to, my acne remained constant, cystic, and painful.
I started to dive into the literature about what the true causes of acne were, and was shocked to find that many of the causes were quite contradictory to what the mainstream health magazines told me.
With nothing to lose (besides a unfilled RX so powerful that I would be required to avoid the sun), I decided to change a few daily habits that I had believed to be “healthy” for most of my life.
1. Intense exercise
We all know that exercise is an important component of a healthy lifestyle. But, did you know that exercising past the threshold of what your body perceives as stressful can actually wreak havoc on your hormones, and thus – your skin? At the height of my acne, I was working out at a moderate intensity, 5 days a week for 1 hour. To most people, this would be considered an appropriate amount of exercise, but for me, it was enough of a stressor to put levels of progesterone and testosterone out of their delicate balance.
At the same time, the levels of stress placed on my body due to excessive exercise had increased my cortisol output and insulin production. I discovered that low progesterone in relation to estrogen not only increases insulin levels, but amplifies testosterone and DHT conversion (a powerful form of testosterone that causes increases oil production, clogged pores, and acne) – I knew my workouts had to change. I began to incorporate only restorative forms of exercise that did not elicit any sort of stress response; against the advice from every fitness magazine I had ever read. Not only did my acne improve, but my skin looked more vibrant than ever and my weight stayed exactly the same.
Skin clearing tip: Incorporate restorative movement such as yoga, walking or stretching for 1 month.
2. Topical Coconut oil
Coconut oil has hundreds of uses and is touted for its benefits both internally and topically. Many people in the natural health community have success using it as a makeup remover, cleanser, and moisturizer. As a newbie in the natural health community, I jumped on this bandwagon in the hope that coconut oil would finally be the (all natural!) answer to my acne woes. After 1 month of using it as a moisturizer, my skin worse than ever, with new painful cysts popping up daily. I eventually learned that due to coconut oil’s large molecular structure, it actually sits atop the skin without being absorbed – a nightmare for those prone to clogged pores and acne.
Skin clearing tip: If looking for an all-natural moisturizer, switch to plant oils higher in linoleic acid (proven to actually reduce clogged pores) such as rose hip seed oil, cold pressed pumpkin seed oil, and grapeseed oil. (Additional facial oil recipes for acne-prone skin are available here.)
3. Having the “perfect” diet
Our skin cells regenerate every 27 days, meaning that the food we eat is the critical in the healing and regeneration of our skin. We know that certain nutrients are vitally important in avoiding and healing acne and other health concerns; but I believe that nutrition can only take you so far.
Constant stress and anxiety around which foods will cause you to breakout will actually do more harm than good, especially when it comes to your skin. Not surprisingly, my most painful cystic acne breakouts coincided the same time I lived in fear around food; wondering if every bite would hurt my stomach, cause weight gain, or make me break out. Stress around food not only takes a toll on your quality of life, but inevitably leads to impaired digestion and improper assimilation and absorption of skin-healing nutrients. If we aren’t eating in a parasympathetic (relaxed) state, digestive processes such as HCL and enzyme production become impaired, and it won’t matter how perfect our diet is – we won’t be digesting properly. (Note from Lauren: I couldn’t agree more with Amie on this point – stress turns off digestion. I use Vagal Tone™ with each meal to support eating in a parasympathetic state.)
Skin clearing tip: Try to avoid the leading food triggers of acne such as wheat, dairy, soy and sugar (paleo is a great place to start!) – yet prioritize a relaxed mindset as you go into each meal, no matter what is on your plate. Focus on deep breathing, eating slowly, and chewing each piece of food 15-20 times in order to increase saliva production and get digestive juices flowing.
4. High doses of B-vitamins
Skin issues are commonly a sign that the body is low on specific nutrients. Alternatively, painful acne breakouts can also be indicative of vitamin toxicity – usually a result of mega-doses of synthetic vitamins. Have you recently began a multi-vitamin regimen after reading the latest “health” article – and started breaking out like crazy? Surprisingly, high doses of Vitamin B12, B6 and biotin specifically have been linked to the onset and worsening of acne breakouts as well as rosacea. (Sources 1, 2, and 3).
Skin clearing tip: Aim to get most of your vitamins through real food sources that are more easily assimilated by the body. I love pasture-raised liver capsules as a source of naturally occurring b-vitamins, vitamin A, and zinc. When choosing a multi-vitamin supplement, look for one with methylated b-vitamins that do not go over the recommended daily allowance.
5. High protein diets
Protein is a vitally important macronutrient responsible for the structure and function of every cell, organ and tissue in the body. However, it is much less important than what mainstream health marketing would have us believe.
At one point early in my health journey, I was aiming to get a whopping 150 grams of protein per day (I am small framed) because I was fearful of losing muscle and gaining fat. I quickly learned that this was an impossible feat for my digestion, and that large amounts of protein in the diet place a heavy amount of stress on digestive organs if levels of HCL (hydrochloric acid) are inadequate. Not only can this cause digestive distress like acid reflux and bloating, but the kidneys and liver can become overburdened my excessive levels of protein and respond by eliminating toxins via the bodies largest organ system: the skin.
Reducing reliance on protein, incorporating healthy fats and antioxidant rich produce to meals, and ensuring proper levels of HCL are all very effective methods to improve painful acne.
Skin clearing tip: Enhance digestion and keep HCL levels in check by consuming warm lemon water, apple cider vinegar, Betaine HCL, or Vagal Tone™ with all protein-heavy meals. Aim for no than .75 – 1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight.
Although each of these suggestions pack a powerful acne-healing punch in addition to a nutrient dense diet, I hope the greatest takeaway from this post is that sometimes, listening to the needs of your own body can be the most powerful form of medicine for any ailment.
Amie Tollefsrud is a Nutritional Therapy Practitioner and minimalist living in Maui, HI. She recently downsized to a tiny house by the beach with her husband, where she spends her days surfing, building her online business, and figuring out how to cook real food without a kitchen. Find out more by visiting her blog, Instagram, or Facebook page.