How I’m Healing Cystic Acne Holistically

Let’s talk about acne! I know first-hand how frustrating and isolating acne can be. I’m sharing my story with you so that anyone else who is going through it right now might feel a bit less alone. My experience with acne has, like so many others, been long and full of confusing moments. Acne, no matter how common it is, can be embarrassing and even isolating for those who suffer from extreme cases. Millions of men and women experience adult cystic acne, and while numerous “treatments” exist for the condition, I got tired of the harsh, aggressive approaches that didn’t address the root issue and just aggravated my skin more. It took me a long time to realize that acne isn’t just a phase that passes after puberty, but a reflection of an internal imbalance. My acne journey turned a corner when I decided to be my own health advocate. I did my own research and found that to heal my acne, I had to heal my eternal imbalances.

Truth be told, I never thought I'd speak publicly about my acne. In fact, I spent years doing everything I could to hide it. Talking about my journey, however, has given it so much meaning and helped me realized that no one is alone in this struggle. I hope you find my story helpful as you explore your own. I'm not a doctor or a licensed medical professional, so this is simply my experience that I'm sharing with you. Everyone is different and you must find what works for you, so keep that in mind as you read.

My Acne Story

I started getting acne around the time I was in 5th grade. Puberty was embarrassing enough, but my pimply skin definitely made me stand out from my classmates. My mom took me to a dermatologist, who started me on the standard gauntlet of topical treatments like Retin-A and heavy doses of benzoyl peroxide-based creams. None of them “fixed” my acne. Most of them dried out my skin and limited my condition only temporarily. I thought stronger medication was the next step, so I tried my doctor’s prescription of oral antibiotics for several years, which is crazy when I think about it now. By the time I got to college, I decided to try Accutane and cure my acne “once and for all.” If you’ve ever tried Accutane, you’ll know that it’s a very harsh drug that takes a toll on your body. Like my previous treatments, it worked for a short time before my acne ended up coming back again. It made me feel like nothing would ever cure me. Looking back, it’s crazy to think about all the ineffective treatments I tried that didn’t actually solve the root causes of my acne.

Eventually, I developed deep and scarring cystic acne. I was about 25 at the time, frustrated and embarrassed because of my skin condition. Why was this still happening to me? Hadn’t I “done my time” on this in my teenage years? Clearly, I was missing something. I felt alone and embarrassed as if I had somehow failed because I hadn’t cracked the formula for perfect skin. My dermatologists kept suggesting more and more of the same, even suggesting I go on Accutane for the third time. It was at that point that I decided to take my health into my own hands and find my own answers.

Skin care journey from 2017 to 2019

I began doing my own research and started reading about Ayurvedic skin-care (and other Ayurveda health treatments).  What Ayurveda taught me many things, but one of its main lessons was the notion of seeing our health in terms states of balance vs. imbalance. Health issues like my acne represented, it told me, unique imbalances that keep people from experiencing true personal health. I needed to solve the imbalances in my life that caused me to break out. It may sound reductive, but when I began to really try what my readings suggested, it was like a light turned on inside my brain. I cleared out my skin-care cabinet and began making my own treatments at home including DIY face masks like my Spirulina Face Mask and homemade oil moisturizers (watch the video tutorial here). One big change was removing all the harsh, skin-drying products I was using. I found a holistic doctor who helped me recognize the hormone imbalances that were likely causing my acne. They showed me that caffeine, sleep, and stress all affect the skin negatively, so I stopped drinking coffee and switched to matcha green tea, committed myself to longer, stronger sleep, and began meditating daily (or at least I try to!). It sounded crazy at first, but given all that I’d been through up until this point, I promised myself that I would give this new approach four months before going back to my old treatments. It’s been about 2 years since I started, and the results have been incredible. The process was slow, and certainly non-linear, but I can happily and gratefully say that my acne is gone.

Here are tangible steps I took to help me clear my skin holistically:

  • Keeping up with eating no dairy and watching the sugar. I no longer ascribe to any specific food dogma and am always trying to find what feels good.

  • Switching from coffee to matcha and drinking lots of water

  • Treating alcohol as something for a special, not daily occasion

  • 5-10 minutes of daily meditation (I love using Headspace!)

  • Movement in the morning – walks, yoga, running

  • Finding the right skincare products

Thank you for reading this and for your interest in holistic ways of healing acne! Remember that you’re not in this alone and you’ve got this. I created a Skincare Facebook Group as a resource for you to connect with others who are healing their acne and share tips and support.