As a teenager, I never experienced any acne. I’d occasionally get a blackhead and deal with it, but I never had any cystic acne. When I turned 21, I started seeing closed comedones (aka whiteheads) and the first signs of cystic acne. I had huge flare-ups and would attack my skin with over-the-counter products to get rid of the spots. I tried everything before I sought professional help. I was put on antibiotics, the pill, natural supplements, isotretinoin, prescription creams, and topical ointments, but I refused to go on Accutane. Nothing worked. This went on for seven years. I would get flare-ups, I would go on prescription creams, my skin would calm down, then I would have another flare-up. It was a vicious cycle.
Three years ago I decided I wanted to find a way to be OK with my skin, embrace myself how I come, and stop covering up with layers of makeup. I wanted to feel better without it. I decided I needed to address my skin issues from the inside out. I did a lot of research on the links between acne and other health issues. I quickly found that the type of acne I was experiencing was hormonal. I realized that a lot of things had changed in my diet that affected my hormones since I moved to the U.S. from Europe.
To counteract those changes, I stopped eating anything that is a cow by-product, including beef, milk, and cheese. Suspiciously enough, I never had issues drinking milk or cheese in Greece, my home country, but that’s because cows in Europe are different. They’re another breed, smaller, and produce milk with different hormones.
I also cut back on pork and lamb, all added sugars, and any processed flour by-product like white bread, as well as white potatoes and white rice. Instead, I started infusing my diet with the good stuff. Fatty fish full of omega-3s, magnesium-rich foods, seaweeds, seeds, nuts, dark chocolate, and tons of fruits and veggies. Leafy greens and apple cider vinegar help me clear up a breakout like nothing else. Probiotics are a game changer, and I take them religiously as well as ground flaxseed with my smoothies. I also tripled the amount of water I drink and pretty much stopped drinking alcohol. As a general rule of thumb, our daily water intake should be half of our body weight in ounces. I’m 124 pounds, so I try to drink 60 ounces of water daily.
Not too long ago, I came across the book WomanCode by Alisa Vitti, and it put everything into perspective for me. I started syncing my diet to my menstrual cycles. I learned so much about my body and how I can get everything I need from my foods and supplements. Honestly, I’m surprised I wasn’t taught any of these things about my menstrual cycle and being a woman back when I was a teenager. This information should be readily available to young women.
I still get a few cystic spots when I get adventurous with my diet, but I never get those serious flare-ups anymore. What matters to me now is feeling and being healthy. I’ve learned so much through my journey these past nine years. What I learned is that our skin is an organ—and the last one to get nourishment. When it’s backed up with toxins and excess estrogen in our bloodstream, acne is the natural result. Skipping the pizza and going for the salmon is a conscious decision I have to make for my body now, but it’s such a small price to pay for taking control of my health.
People ask me daily how to cure acne, and it’s frustrating to me because it’s not a disease that you can just get rid of. It’s not a cancer. It’s our body’s natural response to what we put inside of it. I find that it is extremely difficult for people to understand that relationship and follow certain eating habits, so they choose the “easy” way, such as birth control, Accutane, or both. Those are just a way to put a patch on the situation and don’t offer permanent results.
Below are the dietary guidelines I followed to clear up my skin.
No cow by-products
No red meat (including beef, pork, and lamb)
No refined carbs or sugars (including white rice and white bread)
No white potatoes
No processed foods
Yes to goat cheese and feta cheese
Yes to fermented foods like sauerkraut, kombucha, kimchi, and miso
Yes to apple cider vinegar daily
Yes to lots of water
Yes to herbs (cilantro is an incredible liver booster)
Yes to lean, organic meats like chicken and turkey (but not every day)
Yes to probiotics daily