Leaving Acne Behind: How I Got Clear, Radiant Skin in 12 Steps, Without Prescriptions

According to the American Academy of Dermatology, acne is the most common skin disorder in the United States, affecting 40–50 million Americans.

Like so many, I have suffered from acneic skin for as long as I can remember. I tried everything, including chemically laden prescription medications, only to leave my skin red, dry and irritated. This past year, I finally decided to take the natural approach and get to the bottom of it. I made an appointment with Dr. Lipman, as I wanted to get off birth control without experiencing a resurgence of acne, and I also wanted to find out what else may be at the bottom of my skin condition.

Turns out that what I needed was a completely new regimen to take care of my skin from the inside, out. Below, I’m excited to share with you twelve steps that helped me to reduce blemishes and scarring, and to enjoy glowing, radiant skin—without prescriptions and harsh, chemical-filled products. My skin’s never looked better!

Twelve Tips for Clear, Radiant Skin

1. Watch your blood sugar

Even if you’re not a diabetic, your diet affects your blood sugar levels. Some foods break down quickly, requiring your body to release more insulin to use up that fuel (in the form of glucose). Scientists have found that more insulin means more acne. In fact, researchers from the Colorado State University found that a diet that leads to elevated insulin levels is involved in the production of acne.

Foods that increase insulin are called “high glycemic” foods, and include white bread, sweetened cereals, pasta, baked goods, white rice, sugar-sweetened drinks and foods, and the like. “Low glycemic foods,” on the other hand, break down more slowly in your system, and help you avoid sugar and insulin spikes. In fact, a study published in 2007 found that subjects on a low-glycemic diet had far greater reductions in skin lesions and other symptoms of acne than a control group.

NOTE: Consider limiting your sugar intake, too. Along with watching your overall blood sugar levels, you may also want to make a point to reduce your sugar intake. A study published in the Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2006, for example, showed that those participants who had a high-sucrose diet also had a higher level of systemic inflammation than those who had an overall decrease in sucrose consumption. Inflammation is a key factor in creating acne.

Sugar also spikes insulin levels—and more insulin means more acne. So the more you can lower your sugar intake, the clearer your skin will be. For me, this meant no sugar at all. I do enjoy fruit (limited to mostly berries, pears and apples) and dates as the occasional sweet treat.

2. Cut back on meat and dairy

Standard brands may be full of antibiotics, but even organic types may contribute to acne. A 2009 review of 21 studies, for example, found that cow’s milk increased both the number of people who got acne and its severity.

Dairy foods boost male hormones, which are linked to acne. Beef, as well, can increase insulin levels and inflammation, which contribute to acne. Meats are also acid-forming foods, which means they can affect your body’s pH level—too much acid leads to inflammation.

To fight acne, you need an anti-inflammatory diet. Choose foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which are great natural anti-inflammatories. See step 4 for dietary suggestions, and consider grabbing a copy of The Acne Diet for more information.

3. Eat less trans fats, omega-6 fats, and fried food

Trans fats are those unhealthy fats that clog your arteries, and they can also increase inflammation that encourages acne. Many of our modern-day fried foods and processed foods are also full of omega-6 fatty acids.

These aren’t unhealthy per se, but we get far too many in our American diet, which puts us off balance. They also worsen inflammation in humans—definitely not what you want when you’re fighting acne.

4. Eat more omega-3 fatty acids

Whereas omega-6 fatty acids encourage inflammation, omega-3 fatty acids do the opposite—tame inflammation. Eat more wild fish, flaxseeds, avocado, walnuts, free-range chicken, and organic eggs.

5. Avoid all hormone disruptors in skin care

These include parabens, phthalates, triclosan, PEGs, and some synthetic fragrances. Again, these can throw your hormones out of whack, which can lead to acne. Some of my favorite non-toxic brands are of course my own skin care line, CV Skinlabs, as well as products from Indie Lee and Suki Skincare.

6. Avoid SLS in your skin care products

Sodium lauryl and sodium laureth sulfates are harsh and drying and can lead to more inflammation. Because they strip the skin of its natural oils, they can also encourage the skin to produce more oil to compensate—definitely not what you want when you’re suffering from acne. You’ll find these chemicals in many common cleansers, so read labels carefully to avoid them.

7. Don’t touch your face

It’s hard, and a lot of us don’t think about it, but our fingers contain oils and bacteria that can result in a breakout almost immediately. Practice keeping your hands off your face. It’s also a good idea to avoid pressing bacteria-laden phones to your face, and to change your pillow cases, towels, and washcloths often. In fact, I never use a washcloth twice.

8. Wash your makeup brushes often

At least once a week, you need to wash all your makeup brushes in warm water and soap, then let them air dry. These brushes can harbor bacteria, and then when you apply your makeup, you’re putting bacteria back on your face—the perfect recipe for acne. Check out this post for tips on how to clean your brushes.

9. Never leave your skin naked for more than 60 seconds

Anytime you leave your skin wet or damp, you risk dehydrating it. So right after your bath or shower or after washing your face, tone and moisturize immediately.

10. Take precautions before your period

Women, take note—your menstrual period involves changes in your hormones, which is why you may experience more acne at these times. Right before that time of the month, you want to step up your skin care.

This is the time to use alpha-hydroxy acid cleansers, which help exfoliate and get down into the pores for a deep clean. You may also want to up your intake of vitamin B6—it can reduce the skin’s sensitivity to testosterone, which in turn helps the acne cycle—and calcium and magnesium, as well. These last two help reduce sugar cravings, and may help reduce inflammation.

11. Use skin-friendly oils

I never thought that I’d be advocating oils for people with acne, but the right kind of oils can work a lot better for your skin than heavy moisturizers. Some acne-friendly oils include jojoba, hemp, borage, primrose, and chia—they all have some anti-inflammatory effects, and help protect skin from free radicals while moisturizing gently.

12. Drink fresh water and lemon first thing in the morning

It’s hydrating, full of antioxidants, and helps alkalize the body, reducing the risk of inflammation. It also helps support liver function, which is the main organ that detoxifies the body. If you’re full of toxins, you’re more likely to break out. Milk thistle and dandelion tea are also great detoxing tools. I use about 175mg of Milk Thistle as part of my regime to help keep my system as toxin-free as possible.

What tips do you have for avoiding acne? Please share.

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