So on Friday morning I asked my social media followers to ‘Ask Me Anything’ and I would compiled all the answers into one blog post for you to enjoy. Turns out, there were quite a few questions and I had to split the questions into two separate blog posts! In this post we’re covering the root causes of acne; digestion, blood sugar and hormonal imbalances whereas the other post is more focussed the skin care questions. This blog post will cover the following topics:
- hormonal acne
- premenstrual acne
- clogged pores and ‘bumps’
- balancing blood sugar levels
- the pill
- how diet affects acne
- post-pill acne
- ashwadangha and reishi
- pre and probiotics
- hormone testing
- coming off supplements
- reintroducing foods
- vitamin A
Q&A: Blood sugar, hormonal acne, ‘bumps’ and gut health
I just wanted to say thank you all so much for being such an incredibly engaging bunch of people – I always think that no ones going to respond when I do these call outs so thank you so much for getting involved! I’d love to know if any of advice has been useful to you so please let me know in my comment box below! 🙂 Anyway, enough of the chit chat, here come the questions…!
any ‘miracle’ tips for pre-menstrual hormonal acne? – @menina_lynette
Unfortunately, when it comes to acne there is no miracle quick fix! Even Accutane and the pill usually take 3-6 months to see improvement! If I was going to give one supplement that has amazing results for many people with hormonal acne, it’s DIM, particularly a brand called EstroBlock. DIM is a powerful anti-androgen and also detoxes toxic oestrogens so its great for bringing hormones back into balance. I recommend taking at least 200mg a day with a liver support like Reishi. I would start on the regular strength EstroBlock (100mg DIM per capsule) and take 2 a day. Available in the UK here.
It’s important to note, even the best supplement can’t out smart chronic inflammation on its own. Your diet really is a key factor in reducing inflammation and supplements only serve to support your diet changes – cutting out inflammatory foods like sugar, carbs, industrial fats, coffee and excessive alcohol play a huge part in clearing the skin. The trick is to eat low carbs, plenty of green vegetables, healthy fats (loads of fat!) and protein – when you eat this way and fill up on those key nutrients, you don’t crave the ‘bad stuff’ it’s only when you cut carbs and junk AND restrict your calories that you run into problems and the cravings get the better of you!
Head over the this blog post for more information about how a low carb/high fat diet can improve acne.
I always have non-inflamed bumps under my skin – what can be done to get rid of them? – @laurennie88
Those skin coloured bumps under the skin are whiteheads, or clogged pores. They’re hardened plugs of dead skin cells and sebum that occur when sebum oxidises. When sebum oxidises, it creates a highly comedogenic substance called squalene peroxide. Squalene peroxide is so successful at blocking pores that scientists can literally give a rabbit acne by simply applying squalene peroxide to the animal’s ear(!)
When your sebum oxidises and turns into squalene peroxide it causes extra sebum production in that area plus it induces localised hyperkeratinisation where your skin produces far too many skin cells. It’s these dead skin cells and sebum mixed together that creates a clogged pore. Studies have shown the if you do not have enough vitamin E, then sebum oxidation is much more likely to occur. One study looked at blood samples of 96 acne patients all with varying severity and found that the MORE vitamin E they had, the LESS acne they had. Basically, if you don’t have enough vitamin E, then sebum oxidation is pretty much guaranteed so by supplementing with additional vitamin E will prevent blocked pores and acne. Aim to get at least an additional 200IU per day, this is the vitamin E supplement I recommend as it’s full spectrum (read more here) and contains a tonne of other beneficial skin clearing nutrients.
how does non alcoholic fatty liver disease affect acne? – @nusolutionsbyfina
The liver is really important for excretion and detoxification of waste, carbohydrate metabolism and regulation of hormones so when your liver isn’t functioning optimally then it can easily make blood sugar regulation, gut issues and hormone imbalances worse. I do think that poor liver function is the RESULT of hormone imbalances and/or gut problems, NOT the cause, so it’s important to figure out what the root cause is. However, there are lots of things you can do to help support your liver while you work on your gut and hormones. The most important thing is to use natural and organic products whenever possible – this includes laundry detergent, household cleaning products (they’re the worst for hormone disrupting chemicals) and your personal care products. Another tip is to incorporate lots of liver supporting herbs into your meals and or take them in a supplements or herbal tea: Reishi, Milk Thistle are two of the best liver supporting herbs out there – Reishi is also great for reduce androgens that cause acne! There are also some great bitter tincture that you just mix with water first thing each morning like this one and this one.
Head over to this post to learn about some other easy ways to support and cleanse your liver.
what’s the best tip for balancing blood sugar levels? – @deegoesgreen
Poor diet and a stagnant lifestyle are the main causes of imbalanced blood sugar. Eating high amounts of carbohydrates (even ‘healthy’ carbs like brown rice, sweet potatoes and quinoa) and sugary snacks cause the pancreas to dump a load of insulin and IGF-1 to help maintain balanced blood sugar. Read how insulin and IGF-1 cause acne here.
Ultimately, the best way to correct insulin resistance is to eat a very low sugar diet where you’re getting plenty of protein a day and LOTS of healthy fat – like seriously lots! Eat a lot, then double it – that’s probably about right! You want to be aiming for about 60% fat of your total calorie intake so track a few days on My Fitness Pal – more info in this post – and see how much fat you’re really getting. There are supplements that can improve insulin resistance and balance out blood sugars but it’s important to remember that you can’t cheat a poor diet and your supplements should always be secondary to healthy food choices. If you’re eating a low carb, high fat diet and want to speed up results then you can consider the following supplements: Magnesium Glycinate, Myo-Inositol/D-Chiro-Inositol and Berberine – I believe these to be the most effective. There’s also Lipoic Acid, Chromium and Cinnamon but those first three are most likely to generate results not just with your blood sugars, but also lots of other areas such as anxiety, hormone balance and leaky gut.
is going on the pill a quick fix for acne cysts? – @victoria_shae
Unfortunately not, even conventional prescriptions for acne such as Accutane and the contraceptive pill can take up to 6 months before patients experience clear skin and even then, the results aren’t permanent as you’re not addressing the root cause. The pill especially causes huge problems for the skin when you decide to come off it and you skin will likely end up worse than it is now so please consider using the pill as an acne treatment very, very carefully. There a lots of other options but you need to commit to a healthy diet and regular supplementation for a minimum of 3 months. Taking supplements for 4-6 weeks then giving up isn’t enough time to see the full benefits. Most supplements need to be taken for 3-6 months to see proper results and the first 3 months is often that hardest and sometime only small improvements are made so perseverance is key. If you would like more information on getting to the root cause of your acne I recommend booking in a consultation with me.
will post-pill acne clear up on its own eventually? – @leannesray
It entirely depends on what your skin was like before your went on the pill. If you never suffered with problem skin and your first real bout of acne was in the month after coming off the pill, then chances are that the symptoms will eventually pass – but it could take up to 2 years. However, if you had problematic skin before going on the pill then the root cause of acne will need to be addressed whether it’s digestive issues, hormone irregularities or blood sugar imbalances.
do you recommend taking vitamin A supplements to clear acne? – @laurennie88
True vitamin A (retinol from animal foods) improves acne by preventing dead skin cells clogging up your pores, reducing the amount of oil your skin produces, protects your sebum from oxidising (vitamin E also does this – see below) and suppressing androgen formation so they are highly beneficial for the skin. Popular to contrary belief, carrots and sweet potatoes don’t provide a lot of absorbable vitamin A. This is because there are two types of vitamin A – retinol (found in liver, eggs and ghee) and carotenoids (found in vegetables). Retinol can be used directly by the body without the need to be converted whereas carotenoids must be converted by the body into vitamin A. As vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin, there must be fat present for the body to be able to convert this vital nutrient. One study showed that only 3% of carotenoids found in raw, uncooked carrots could be converted into true vitamin A – but if you cook those carrots in a load of fat, that stat jumps up to 39%! Another reason why we should all be eating a lot more fat in our diets.
You really don’t need any more that 10,000IU of vitamin A a day to achieve the acne clearing benefits from it. I don’t recommend synthetic vitamin A supplements as they can have a lot of risky side effects. Food based retinol contains all the necessary co-factors that make consuming it safe AND actually much more effective – specifically vitamins D3 and K2. Without D3 and K2, even at 10,000IU you are at high risk of suffering from vitamin A toxicity. Vitamin A should never be taken as an isolated supplement as toxicity is really serious and can result in miscarriages, liver abnormalities, bone mineral loss and even death. By eating plenty of whole food sources of vitamin A from animal liver, ghee, butter, eggs, cod liver oil etc you can enjoy all the great skin benefits of vitamin A safely. The only way you can take a vitamin A ‘supplement’ safely is if you take raw, grass-fed liver capsules like this brand or this brand. It’s a little harder to get them in the UK but you can buy these from iHerb or make your own!
how much ashwadangha and reishi powder should i take each day? – @elisabethogden
Ashwadangha and Reishi are both fantastic adaptogens that can help balance hormones. Ashwadangha is great for boosting thyroid function and Reishi is fab for balancing out excess androgens as well as being an excellent liver tonic. With Reishi you need to be taking about 2g-3g a day (roughly a teaspoon) for optimum benefits so you’re doing the right thing by taking it as a powder – capsules are usually only 500mg each so you would need to take 4 a day to get the bare minimum and that ends up being very expensive. As for Ashwadangha, dosing depends on the individual and the symptoms you’re trying to treat. I would start at 500mg (or 1/4 a teaspoon) twice a day and maybe slowly double the dose if you feel you need it. With regards to them causing stomach upset, the only reliable information I can find on that is it can aggravate the stomach of those with existing stomach ulcers, so as long as you don’t suffer from stomach ulcers then you should be fine!
my diet has always been the same, why am I suddenly breaking out in cysts? – @victoria_shae
Unfortunately, it can take years of eating the wrong foods (mainly too many carbs and sugar) before it shows up in your face. On the other hand, there are tonnes of other factors that can cause your skin to start flaring up with cysts – anything from antibiotic use (see below), the contraceptive pill, nutritional deficiencies or even a stressful period in your life. All these factors can contribute to the body becoming severely imbalanced and inflammation can take over. The first thing you need to do is assess your diet and work at balancing blood sugar. Are you getting enough fat? Are you eating too many carbs? I truly believe that everyone suffering from acne is also suffering from some sort of sugar sensitivity too. How severe that sugar sensitivity is completely depends on you. I for example, I’m highly sensitive to sugar and needed to reduce my carb intake to less than 50g a day, basically no fruit and no grains. However some people can eat fruit and small amounts of natural sugars like coconut sugar and honey. You will have to experiment yourself to find what works for you but going really strict to start with is most likely to get you the quickest results. This gorgeous Instagrammer I discovered recently was eating what she though was a really healthy vegan diet but still really struggling with severe cystic acne, but it was only when she cut out fruit, oats and rice and massively increased her intake of fat that her skin finally cleared, and whats amazing is all the active cysts cleared within just one month. Pinterest is a great resource for recipes and tips on eating a low carb, high fat diet (also known as LCHF).
what are the benefits of prebiotics and probiotics for acne? – @thelondonglow and @drool09
I would say that probiotics especially are one of the most important tools for clearing acne naturally. A healthy gut is key to clear skin – if you’re gut flora is imbalanced then you will likely be suffering from chronic inflammation. Chronic inflammation can occur from a number of things. for example; constipation can cause toxic waste to recirculate the body and food sensitivities that can irritate the gut lining. Acne is caused by two things; Sebum oxidisation and chronic inflammation so calming chronic inflammation in whatever ways you can is one of the most effective strategies for clearing acne.
If you’ve ever been on antibiotics of the contraceptive pill then it’s even MORE vital that you take a course of probiotics alongside fermented foods like kimchi, sauerkraut and goat milk kefir. Studies have shown that antibiotics cause a devastating effect on our gut flora – what’s most worrying is that this change in our guts can’t be reversed without intervention i.e with fermented foods and/or probiotics.
Fermented foods contain hardier and more bio-available probiotics than lab-grown supplements, meaning they are more likely to survive in the gut. However, it’s not always convenient to eat sauerkraut and kimchi on a daily basis so a high quality probiotic like this one alongside fermented foods will help your gut recover.
Read more about how the pill affects your gut flora here.
which is more accurate for hormone testing – blood or saliva? – @thewildflight
Myself, and many other acne experts believe that saliva hormone tests give the most accurate results. The problem with both blood and saliva tests is that they only show a snapshot of your hormone status. Hormones naturally rise and fall over the course of a month so the best way to test your hormones is to get a testing kit which measures your hormones OVER A MONTH – this will give you the most accurate idea of what’s going on with your hormones.
once clear, is it possible to come off supplements and introduce foods back into your diet without breaking out out again? – @leannesray
Yes definitely! Once your gut issues are healed and/or your back in control of your blood sugar levels then there’s no reason why you can’t enjoy a takeaway or a piece of cake from time to time! The important thing is to take things slowly and start with one food group at a time. I don’t recommend binning your healthy diet in favour of beige foods for breakfast, lunch and dinner as it will eventually catch up with you but try some ‘off diet’ foods now again and just assess your skin over the following few days. Everybody will react differently to different foods but most of the time it will just be a matter of finding your tolerance level. Some people may be able to binge on takeout for a week before their skin starts going nuts, for others that are hyper sensitive to carbs, sugar or dairy, it could just take one day of indulgence. Try to go into your experimentation phase with a positive mindset and don’t panic if you slip up!
In terms of supplements it completely depends on what you’re taking. There are some supplements that may need to be taken long term, things like Probiotics that are generally lacking in the modern diet. However, eating fermented foods is an excellent way to get tonnes of amazing probiotics that are often thought to be much more effective than supplement probiotics anyway. All other vitamins and nutrients can usually just be stopped when you feel like you don’t need to take them anymore. The only other acne supplements I can think of that may work better by slowly weaning yourself off them is DIM and Agnus Castus/Vitex, these have quite strong interactions with your hormones so sometimes it may be best to slowly come off them so your body can adjust. I would probably start by cutting your dose in half for 2 weeks then dose every other day for 2 weeks, then every 3rd day for 2 weeks till you finish the pack.
Thank you all again so much for getting involved with this Q&A, I hope you find the information really informative! Don’t forget you can always book in for a consultation if you need further support on clearing your skin naturally! See my acne packages here.
This has been really successful so I may try to do this sort of thing once a month or something? Let me know what you think!
Peace, Love & Clear Skin,