acne diary//dietary changes

I don’t talk about it much here, for various reasons (that’s going to change, though), but it’s no surprise that I’ve been dealing with acne for the past several years. It’s probably got to do with my hormones being a little out of check, but I’d mostly made up my mind about two years ago that oral medication isn’t the way to fix things because it messes other things up in the long term, and isn’t exactly an economic solution either.

There’s a lot of trial and error when it comes to figuring out where your problem lies. There are a crazy number of things that could act as triggers for acne, things that make your skin go from ‘healing nicely’ to full-out pimple parade. I’ve struggled with bad breakouts, dry-skin, huge cysts which make your skin hurt, peeling skin (from topical medication I got from a dermatologist which I have now stopped using), and of course, the whole bunch of general negativity and anxiety and worry and frustration that comes along with being an acne-ridden teenager when your peers have some of the best skin you have ever seen, and don’t even seem to be trying to do anything to keep it that way.

I don’t know whether it has to do with the reality that as you grow older you just get more comfortable in your own skin, and can deal with everything a little better, or whether  it’s just the crazy hormones are settling down a little as I get out of my teenage years, but right now, things seem to be on the track to getting much better and I think I found a way to keep moving forward. After giving up the $90 dermatologist visits and the $35 facewashes and creams, I decided that there wasn’t any point in continuously giving this guy money for prolonging my problem without much solution. I turned to my diet and made some changes.

Figuring out what triggers your acne is a long process that takes months and even pushes years. I’m a vegetarian, so that eliminated seafood being a possible trigger. I generally eat quite healthily as well, as my mum always keeps the house stocked with at least eight different types of fruit at any point in time so that we snack on healthy things if we want to munch on something.

Everyone will be more than happy to tell you what foodstuff will make acne worse: caffeine and sugar are the two that come up most frequently. It’s easy enough to cut coffee and reduce sugary goodness in your diet. But when that doesn’t really make up a large part of your diet, it’s not going to solve anything, so you dig deeper. For a while I gave up bread (this wasn’t easy) and replaced bread with whole-grain cereals. Things seemed to get a little better, so i kept going. Then one day I ate spinach, and my skin broke out really badly, and while it hurt and everything was sad, we celebrated a little victory of isolating a new food item to avoid. So spinach stays on a no-eat list now. It’s ridiculous, because spinach is so healthy and full of iron, but not to me, apparently.I’ve had iron-related problems when i was 11/12 as well, where I was put on iron-tablets to replace lost iron after i fell really sick and my immunity was virtually destroyed. Problem was, my iron levels actually went back up very quickly, so all the extra iron started making my hair fall out. I guess I generally have healthy iron levels, and thus find my iron from other sources now. Saddest portion is that it’s no more palak panneer and spinach and mushroom quiche for me now. Or spinach salads.

I stuck to that diet for a few months. The spinach thing was working in that if I accidently ate something with spinach in it, I did break out the next day, and otherwise things were a little less unpredictable. This was obvious because there’s always a lot of spinach in my meals at home. So I could see a difference.

For the past two months or so, I’ve tried cutting milk out of my diet. It’s a lot harder to cut milk completely out of your diet when you start to realise there’s milk in such a large portion of the things we eat. Lots of baked goods contain a little bit of milk, cheese makes everything so much better, and changing your teh to a teh-o seems like you’re missing out on the good stuff. But it is possible to give up milk and make do with soy milk every now and then. I get my calcium from my vitamins (I take a Centrum pill daily and have been for a few years now), and I’ve also read that after a certain age, milk isn’t necessarily the best source of calcium for you anymore.

The results of cutting dairy slowly out of my diet have been pleasing. I haven’t had a major breakout since I stopped drinking milk and yogurt on a daily basis. I haven’t had any other negative reactions as a result of cutting milk and yogurt out of my diet either, which is great (edit: I do remember drinking milk one day in late June/early July, and feeling sick to my stomach after a few sips of milk. I felt nauseous for hours, and it took me 2 cans of ginger beer to feel less nauseous. That was a good reminder to just stay off milk). I did my best to stick with this no-or-atleast-severely-reduced dairy intake diet of mine when I went to the US in July, and I’m thankful that non-dairy alternatives are found in plenty there. I think I came back from the US with better skin, actually. The weather’s so lovely in the Bay Area.

I’ve had my share of issues with acne. It’s troubled me for so long and I’ve been through some real ups and downs over the past seven or so years. It’s been exhausting, downright irritating and painful, and this change has helped me in more ways than one. My skin is slowly healing and now the main problem I’m dealing with is just the remaining scars, that are fading. But this feels like progress. I’m healing.

I’m also in a good enough place right now to post before and after photos. Acne is relative. We say “I have really bad skin” and sometimes it’s not that bad, or it’s worse than you imagined. The ‘before’ image below is from when I was 16. It’s taken on my 16th birthday, actually. I was happy, but had terrible skin. It actually got worse than this at several points between ages 16 and 21, but the ‘after’ photo is an accurate view of my skin at the moment (or in July when I was in the US, if you’re nitpicking). I have some BB-cream on my face to give the scars some coverage and also provide SPF, but I generally don’t put much on my face other than that and some powder.

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The fight continues, but at least I feel like I’m winning at the moment. Seeing progress only makes you more motivated to hang in there and keep working on it so that things get better. I can’t say anything about the effectiveness of oral medication for acne, especially in the long run, but I feel like knowing what works for my body in terms of what goes into it is a better long-term solution. I’m happy to avoid milk if it means I can keep my hormones exactly as they are and not alter them unnecessarily.

Things will get better. They have to.

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Comments
3 Responses to “acne diary//dietary changes”
  1. lepearl2013 says:

    I enjoyed reading this. I am really happy you are progressing in your battle with acne. I admit I do not have it anywhere near as bad as you, but as a 23 year old woman now, it gets very annoying when my face turns into the blotchy crater fest. When will the hormones go away?! I have been considering cutting dairy/bread from my diet for a long time as I have very bad irritable bowel syndrome… sigh.

    • ochie says:

      Thanks! ‘Blotchy crater fest’ is a fantastic phrase to describe it, and I totally understand what you mean!

      I’ve grown to realise that maybe the hormones will never be that easy to control, but with regular exercise and eating healthily, things aren’t so bad.

      Cutting bread out of my diet will be difficult, but cutting down on my dairy intake has been easier. Both would leave me a very sad girl :P

      I don’t know much about IBS, but I do know that gluten-free diets can help. I have a friend who has had gluten intolerance for years,and his stomach/digestive system just works better without any gluten. It may help!stay strong and hang in there (:

  2. Nicole says:

    Hi,

    I thought it was really brave and generous of you to share your experience with acne, and also showing photos of your skin. I too battled acne for many years. The ironic thing was it started way after puberty, so I can only attribute it to hormonal acne.

    Like you I’ve been through the antibiotics, topicals (so many topicals!) and finally roaccutane but the acne still came back each time. I finally decided that medication wasn’t the way to go and tried to improve my diet and lifestyle. This didn’t have much results for me though.

    Since I’m quite addicted to skin care and finding a ‘cure’, luckily for me I stumbled upon a local Singapore skin care brand and miraculously, it has worked for me and I can say I am acne free at last.

    I don’t think the products are sold outside of Singapore for now, but if you can get someone to help you get them, I believe it’s worth a shot.

    You can visit my blog http://pockmarkfats.blogspot.sg to read my review. I’ve also put up before & after photos, but I’m not brave enough to put my whole face.

    I’m not affiliated with the products, just wanted to share my experience and hope it helps someone. I know how much suffering acne puts you through.

    Cheers,
    Nicole

    http://pockmarkfats.blogspot.sg

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